Randy Quaid posing for the camera

A Gracious Guide for How to Be a Good House Guest

It was shocking if not surreal. The email message was from a woman I’d never met and whose name I recognized only because a few months earlier she mailed me a book she’d written.

The message announced that she and her family were planning a cross-country road trip to Disneyland and would just love to stay with us since (at the time) we lived nearby and oh wouldn’t that be so much fun. She gave a tentative date they would be arriving. 

Everything I know about what not to do as a house guest, I learned from that experience, from the moment they drove up to the time they finally departed—far too many days hence.

Randy Quaid posing for the camera

House Guests Cousin Eddie and Family from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

In the interest of full disclosure, because I have friends and relatives who read these posts, be it known that all other house guests we have ever had in all of our lives have been wonderful. Exemplary. Do not worry. This is not about you.


It need not be engraved on parchment, but you do need some kind of indication that you are invited to be a guest in another’s home. Do not send a cryptic message (“Looks like we will be in your area in a couple of weeks!”), hoping that will wrangle an invitation. And for goodness sake, don’t just show up. That would forever designate you as either an interloper or freeloader. 

Specific Dates

Nail down the dates of your visit and then stick to them. When your host does not offer specific dates, trust me that does not mean to say as long as you like. Listen for subtle clues (“We’ll be super busy toward the end of July”). You may need to split your time with someone else or find other accommodations for half of your trip. 

Do not be vague

If the two of you plan to arrive with the four children, two dogs, and the new kitten—spell it out. Do not assume your host will just know this intuitively. Be very clear on who will be joining you in this visit.

Respect your space

Arriving with 16 suitcases and enough toys, devices, and equipment to keep the children entertained for weeks on end tends to appear that you’ll be taking over the entire house. Bring only what you need and will fit into a guest room and then make sure it all stays there. You’re not staying in a hotel, so don’t treat your friend’s home like one. A good rule of thumb: When you’re not in your room, it should look like it did when you arrived.

House Rules

All homes have some rules of some kind. If your hosts remove their shoes at the front door, notice that and follow suit. Don’t eat in the living room; do not allow the children to jump on the furniture. Or open and then go through every cupboard and drawer in the entire house (yes, they did and to the delight of their mother who remarked that the children are just so curious). 

Mind the Children 

Talk to your kids—before you travel—about manners, respect, and being neat. Let them know you expect them to pick up their clothing and offer to help carry groceries or set the table.


Make sure you have worked this out before your arrival. Do not expect that your hosts’ vehicles are part of the deal. Rent a car or figure out public transportation ahead of time. Should your hosts offer the use of a vehicle, return it clean, washed, and the gas tank full, regardless of how many miles you put on it or time you spent in it.

Pitch In

Do not expect your hosts to do all the work. See what needs to be done and offer to help. And if the hosts prefer for you to sit back and relax, respect their wishes. Just don’t make things especially difficult for them.

Tour Guides

You can graciously invite your hosts to join you at Sea World, but don’t expect that to happen. And don’t assume they will have discount tickets for you. Or that they will watch the children while you go out for a few hours. Remember they are neither your babysitters nor your tour guides. 

Leave a Fragrance

Upon your departure, you and all who arrived with you want to make sure you leave behind a fragrance—not an odor. And I mean that literally and figuratively. Clean up after yourselves without being obnoxious. Don’t assume you need to do all the laundry and clean the house before you leave. Just use your common sense. A lovely parting gesture is to leave a handwritten thank you and appropriate gift (flowers are nice) to let your hosts know how much you enjoyed your stay.

I have another book in my library—one I cherish and read often, mostly because it is so entertaining, well-written, and educational! Years ago its author, Darlene Dennis, sent it to me. Honestly, if you have ever had house guests or assume you may in the future, you need to read Host or Hostage: A Guide for Surviving House Guests. You’ll laugh, you’ll learn, and in the process become a gracious host.


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9 replies
  1. Sondra Keller says:

    a P.S. for “Decorate on a Dime” article. Take off switch plate and write on back: date, brand & color of paint, and how much paint you used for that room. I worked at a paint & decorating store — it’s also handy to put this into on leftover paint (best stored in glass jar with piece of Saran Wrap under screw-on lid before re-placing and storing upside down in a place that gets neither hot nor cold.

  2. Heather says:

    Hmmm a host that wants people to remove their shoes??? You are always welcome at my house…I may print this out and anonymously send it to some of my other houseguests.

  3. Betty Thomas says:

    I have another tip for house guests. Please respect the hosts bed and wake up times. My husband and I are early to bed and early to rise people. That was disturbed by house guests that told us to go ahead and go on to bed, we will be fine. Thye continued to watch tv and help themselves to snacks. Needless to say we didn’t sleep that night. I don’t expect guests to have our exact sleeping patterns but if they are up later than we are quiet is kindness. One tip for Hosts is the word NO. If someone expects you to host them and it isn’t right for you learn to say NO.

  4. Lynda says:

    I’m VERY allergic/sensitive to scented products of all types. I ask my guests to please refrain from using scented products, including laundry products, while visiting. (I provide such unscented products for them for their stay). I would encourage everyone to keep that in mind. Just because you think it smells wonderful, doesn’t mean everyone else does too. And not everyone is comfortable speaking up about it.

  5. Patricia Stariha Roy says:

    Best hosting lesson I got came from my father-in-law, who learned it the hard way, after they had moved to Florida, close to Disney World. Greet your guests at the door, or even in the drive, or at their vehicle, before they have luggage out, with this phrase. “We are so glad to see you! How long will you be here?” And don’t let them in until you have a firm answer. And hold them to it.

    • Deborah Rohrbach says:

      No, no, no! The length of stay should be determined before the potential guests even leave their house! And only after receiving an invitation from the host, such as “So you’ll be in our area in July. How nice. We will be available to have you as our guests from July 21st to July 25th. If those dates don’t work for you, we will be happy to help you find lodging at a nearby hotel, close to Disneyworld.”


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