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Holiday Travel Travel Etiquette

9 Tips for Being a Good Holiday Houseguest

Beyond the gift giving, eggnog drinking and dreidel spinning, the heart of the holiday season is spending quality time with family and friends. But while it can be wonderful to catch up with long-lost cousins, the constant flurry of entertaining and socializing can be stressful — especially if one of your holiday responsibilities is hosting a houseguest. A good houseguest can make a delightful addition to the family for a few days, while a bad one can cause unwelcome tension at an already busy time of year.

So if someone opens their home to you over the holiday season, try to return the favor. Respect your hosts, take care of their possessions, and remember the three C’s: common sense, communication and courtesy.

1. Bring, Buy or Send a Gift

It’s always a good idea to present your hosts with a token of gratitude for letting you share their digs. The classy, albeit standard, choice is to bring along a bottle of wine or other spirits for your host to enjoy. Of course, if it’s well thought out, any type of offering will be greatly appreciated. Other ideas to consider include baked goods, a framed family portrait or a local specialty from your own home town.

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2. Ask About the Ground Rules

This is particularly important in terms of what some consider “vices” — like drinking, smoking and gluttony. Your host may not allow smoking in the house, so be prepared to stand outside to have a cigarette. If you typically have wine with dinner each night, be prepared to forgo this ritual if your host doesn’t drink.

3. Lend a Helping Hand

Ask your host or hostess what needs to be done, and be prepared to help out. Even if you’re not familiar with the home’s layout, you can always pitch in by doing simple tasks like vacuuming, washing dishes or making a run to the grocery store.

4. BYO (Bring Your Own)

This is particularly important if you’re traveling with an entourage. It’s not polite to arrive at your hosts’ home and clean them out of staple items like shampoo and toothpaste. The BYO rule also applies to food when you or a family member has an allergy, is a vegetarian or is particularly picky. If this is the case, offer to bring or prepare a dish.

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5. Don’t Expect to Be Entertained

You don’t want your hosts to feel like tour guides all weekend, but you also don’t want to appear as if you are using their home as a crash pad for your sightseeing trip. To strike a balance, be prepared to adapt. If your host plans a visit to a 19th-century re-creation frontier village and that’s not really your thing, be enthusiastic nonetheless. Finally, avoid making other plans without letting your hosts know.

6. Don’t Add to the Chaos

Many guests will find that their hosts insist they not lift a finger during their stay. If you have tried to extend yourself with no luck, it could just be that your hosts feel more comfortable doing it all themselves. If this is the case, the least you can do is clean up after yourself — make your bed each morning, don’t leave your towels on the bathroom floor, place any dishes you use in the dishwasher. Just taking care of yourself will go a long way toward ensuring an invitation back.

7. Be Considerate with Spot

Of course you don’t want to leave your pet behind during the holidays, but it’s often necessary. Conversely, if your host has animals of their own and they invite you to bring yours, make sure to pack everything that your pet requires. Although your hosts may have no problem sharing, don’t expect them to provide treats for your widdle buddy.

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8. Don’t Be a Freeloader

This applies especially to extended visits. If you’ll be spending several days with your hosts, treat them to dinner out or offer to cook a meal for everyone. Use your own phone to make long-distance calls. Don’t monopolize their computer or TV for your own purposes.

9. Don’t Wear Out Your Welcome

You know the old joke about houseguests and fish stinking after three days. Be thoughtful when planning your trip, and be clear about your arrival and departure dates and times. For many hosts, nothing is more stressful than not knowing when a houseguest plans on leaving.

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–updated by Dan Askin and Sarah Schlichter

By Sarah Schlichter

Deputy Executive Editor Sarah Schlichter's idea of a perfect trip includes spotting exotic animals, hiking through pristine landscapes, exploring new neighborhoods on foot, and soaking up as much art as she can. She often attempts to recreate recipes from her international travels after she gets home (which has twice resulted in accidental kitchen fires—no humans or animals were harmed).

Sarah joined the SmarterTravel team in 2017 after more than a decade at the helm of IndependentTraveler.com. Sarah's practical travel advice has been featured in dozens of news outlets including the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Budget Travel, and Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio. Follow her on Twitter @TravelEditor.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: "A journal. Even years later, reading my notes from a trip can bring back incredibly vivid memories."

Ultimate Bucket List Experience: "Road tripping and hiking through the rugged mountains of Patagonia."

Travel Motto: "'To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.'—Freya Stark"

Aisle, Window, or Middle Seat: "Aisle. I get restless on long flights and like to be able to move around without disturbing anyone else."

Email Sarah at sschlichter@smartertravel.com.

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