In a past life I traveled quite frequently, being categorically poor as I often was, I tended to rely on the kindness of friends, family and occasionally total strangers. After breaking the standing record for longest-time-spent-on-Dave’s couch, I came to consider myself a pretty decent house guest. More recently I spent this past week at my older sister’s house with a swarm of other family members, as I cooked breakfast for the family Saturday morning, I decided that I’m not only a pretty decent house guest, I’m a pretty stinkin’ awesome guest who you should invite over if you:

  • Feel like cooking a big dinner but don’t want to do the dishes
  • Need an expert Rock Band guitarist
  • Have children that need entertaining
  • Are just sick and tired of cooking and really would like somebody else to make you something delicious
  • Feel the need to have a wide-ranging discussion regarding national and international politics with a mildly intelligent person

While I know that you’re not supposed to stay too long as a house guest, I think the social rule comes from a long line of either unwelcome guests or guests that just aren’t doing it right. Here are the rules I try to follow whenever I find myself crashing on some kind person’s couch, floor or air mattress.

Keep your things tidy

Very important, yes you’re likely traveling, the folks you’re staying with understand that you don’t have a closet or dresser you can throw your clothes in, it is very important however that you keep as much of your belongings tidily stashed away in your suitcase. The extra effort goes a long way in making your presence far less impactful on those hosting you. Nobody likes a dirty home.

Offer to cook

Unless your hosts have more money than they should, chances are that they have jobs and when they come home from those jobs they have to cook themselves and their family dinner. Offering to cook goes a long way with a lot of people, especially if you can actually cook. (note: cooking delicious food is not difficult, but really just a test of your ability to read a recipe). Not everybody will take you up on your offer, some people (myself included) find cooking a good way to unwind after a day’s work. If you find yourself in this situation, linger around the kitchen, socialize and try to be as helpful as possible; an extra set of hands and eyes to watch a pot, or peel potatoes is almost always appreciated.

Hang out, don’t cling

Most people enjoy having company, humans are inherently social animals and having a house guest can be an nice change of pace for a lot of people. If you’re traveling through, you’ll have to walk a fine line of hanging out with the hosting party long enough to have fun together but not long enough to make them feel smothered. The system I’ve always followed is to be occupied during the day and social with my hosts in the evening. This gives them a chance to have a normal workday or weekend, and gives me the chance to explore my current location on my own and have an adventure. This set up works quite well when traveling abroad since you get the opportunity to regale your hosts with tales of your adventure in their region over dinner (note; do not trash their city, people tend to have some amount of pride for their city/region/state).

Do chores

If you’re staying with any host for any time longer than a few days, it is highly likely that some cleaning, vacuuming, laundry or dishes will need to be done. A good rule of thumb with chores is not to offer to help but just to help out where you can, a quick “let me give you a hand with that..” will do.

Nobody will turn down a helping hand when it comes to cleaning.

There are occasions when I’ve preferred hotels to crashing with friends or family, when I really need a good night’s rest and some quiet, but if you’re up for a good sociable experience, you really cannot beat crashing on a couch.

Just don’t borrow any money, they really hate that.