Illustration by Sofia Bews.

Illustration by Sofia Bews.

Most of us, at one point or another, slept overnight at someone else’s house during childhood. When you were a kid staying at someone’s house, nothing much was required of you, other than perhaps to bring a sleeping bag, or maybe drink the weird milk your friend’s mom served at dinner without complaint. You got what you got, and good manners meant acting grateful to be invited and…not much else. But wait—what’s this? We’ve grown! And it’s time to learn How to Be a Great Houseguest Who Doesn’t Suck Even a Little Bit and Gets Invited Back.

When I say “houseguest,” I’m not talking about staying over at someone’s place in a “romantic way,” or crashing at your good friend’s house for the 1,004th time because it’s 3 AM and, whoops, you’re too tired to go home. I mean being a real-deal houseguest—like staying with a friend in another city or in their dorm room, visiting your sister at her apartment for a week over a school break (yes! still as a guest), or going with a friend to their family’s lake house over the weekend.

Visiting someone is fun! And awesome! But your hosts are letting you come into their lives and thoroughly disrupt their routine, and that is a sacrifice on their end. By inviting you to their abode, they’re basically saying it’s so nice to see your shining face that they don’t mind the extra cleaning, stress, loss of privacy, and general chaos that your visit entails. So that’s why it’s important to remember: You are on vacation; your hosts are not. For you, this is a thrilling trip! An adventure! For the people you’re staying with, your visit is…another day in their normal lives in the same place they already live. Except with the added bonus of you, sugarplum! So let’s make your visit extraordinary and do your fabulously welcoming friends and relatives a solid, shall we?

To be a Great Houseguest Who Doesn’t Suck Even a Little Bit and Gets Invited Back, you need to:

1. Show up with a gift.

This is not optional. I repeat: This is not optional. If you are staying at someone’s house as a guest, you need to show up with a gift. First of all, it’s classy—it shows, from the get, that you’re being considerate about dropping into your hosts’ lives; it also is a token of your appreciation—a “thank you for going out of your way for me” type-deal. It doesn’t have to be expensive, or even cost money! It could be literally anything: a handmade thank-you card, a bouquet of flowers from the grocery store, a book you think your host will like. Hell, it could be a six-pack of fancy cream soda—anything at all that you can physically have in your hands and give to your host upon arrival. Do this with relatives (say, your Aunt Bobbi and Uncle Doug in Tulsa) or a friend’s parents and prepare for them to be bowled over by how mature you’ve become. This can only work in your favor, as they will then gush to your parents about said maturity levels.

2. Adjust your schedule to your friend’s schedule.

It’s likely that your host was not able to get out of all their regular commitments for Your Royal Visit, so be chill if they have to go somewhere without you. Bring a book! Bring a laptop! Bring the ability to amuse yourself in a brand-new place! If, say, your host has to wake up at 7 AM and then race around frantically before going to school or work, and they say they’ll meet up with you at 4 PM…cool. No, “But I thought we were gonna spend the daaaaay together,” pouting. Find out if they want you to wake up when they do, and if they don’t, emphasize that they do not have to tiptoe around you. Let them get on with their morning as if you weren’t there. If they wake you up with all the getting-ready sounds, please, do not get up and ask if you can hop in the shower, or to even wash your face or brush your teeth. Wait ’til they leave, or you’ll disrupt their regular routine and make them late and most likely annoyed by your presence. If you both need to go somewhere early (say, you have a college interview at 9 AM), alert your host the night before, and nail down waking-up, showering, and mirror-times together. If your host likes to wake up at, say, 1 PM, and you happen to be an early riser, the same rule applies: Adjust your routine. Read. Go for a walk (if you have keys) and leave a note. Tiptoe down to the coffee shop and bring back surprise coffees and pastries like a magical elf!

One last thing, re: being respectful of your host’s schedule: If, when you arrive, they ask you what you want to do, the absolute last thing they want to hear is a detailed itinerary from you in which they are expected to be tour guides. No one—and I mean this hard, my loves—no one wants to be forced into shuttling a friend from out of town around to touristy sites all day, no matter how beloved the friend. If they ask you what you want to do, you could try saying something like, “There are a couple things I want to see, but I’m totally fine with finding my way there if they’re not up your alley.” Boom! Look at you! You’re a relaxed houseguest, but you’re still contributing ideas about what you and your host can do together, if your host is into it! NO PRESH.

3. Offer to help.

This one is basic, but so, so, soooooooo underused. If you are staying with someone, and they are cooking for you, offer to help chop stuff. Offer to run to the store. Offer to wash the dishes or put them in the dishwasher. Something. Anything. If they bat you away and say, “No, don’t worry, I’ve got this,” try…insisting. Insisting will usually do the trick. And if they honestly, seriously, are not allowing you to help with anything, go make sure the place where you’re sleeping is nice ’n’ tidy. Make the bed/fold up your nest of blankets, even if you’re going to use them again that very same evening. Pick up anything on the floor. Go arrange your toiletries so they’re neater in the bathroom. This shows that you are sensitive to the fact that you are taking up space in your host’s home, and that you respect them and their place. Be the houseguest you wish to see in the world!

4. Feed your host.

If you are staying with someone (who is not your older relative) for more than one night, you are formally in charge of seeing to it that you feed them at least one meal or a really special dessert. It can be bought at a restaurant or it can be homemade, but it must be done. Why? Because, by staying with your host, you are saving assloads of cash that you would otherwise have to spend on housing, and they’re putting in extra work, and probably some expense, in making sure you’re comfortable. (It’s also just good manners.) If you plan on taking someone out to lunch or dinner, announce, “My treat!” before solidifying plans, so they know in advance that this is you buying them a meal. If you’re cooking, tell your host you’d like to make a meal for them, and then ask if there’s anything they don’t eat. When you’re through, make sure everything in the kitchen is washed, dried, and wiped-down to perfection again. Don’t let them lift a finger.

And…that’s it! Master these four rules, and your host will start to think of your visits as times when a twinkling, ultra-polite, accommodating fairy sprinkles generous dustings of washed dishes, presents, nice gestures, and food everywhere they turn.

Bonus tip: Send a real-life thank you card when you get back. Your hosts—even if they’re your age, even if they’re related to you—will drop dead at how damn suave you are. Who sends a physical card anymore? You do, you friggin’ class act. ♦