At the beach, in the mountains or in the big city, being invited to a friend’s place not only lets us catch up with loved ones but also lets us save on hotels.
Of course, the flip side is that there’s a totally different set of expectations (read: you can’t throw your towels on the floor). If you’re not a master of houseguest etiquette, you might come off as ungrateful and inadvertently ruin your chances of visiting again next year.
We don’t want you to break a long tradition of shacking up at your aunt’s cute beach house every summer, so we’ve put together a guide to being the perfect houseguest. Read on for our tips.
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Be Clear About How Long You Will Stay
Make sure you lock down your visiting dates far in advance with your hosts…at their invitation. Don’t ever be vague or hope to stretch out your visit after you arrive. If your BFF says she’ll be busy after Labor Day, book your return ticket to leave a full day before so she has some time to herself.
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No Surprises, Please
Never show up unannounced—or, even worse, with a puppy, child, significant other or friend (even if it’s a mutual friend), unless you’ve cleared it with your host beforehand. You may call it spontaneous and fun…your cousin and her husband may call it inconvenient.
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Choose the Perfect Gift
Proper guest etiquette requires a gift. But you don’t want your hosts to feel pressured to haul out your pick once a year for your benefit. Try a delicious delicacy from your hometown, a flowering plant or the kind of gift a vacation house can never have too much of: beach towels, mugs that keep their drinks frosty, a book or a tote bag.
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House Rules Rule
When you arrive, gently inquire about how things are done to avoid any misunderstandings. What time do you usually wake up and go to bed? Anything I should know about your children or pets? You should pick up on other house rules—like whether you should take your shoes off or whether it’s OK to smoke—by being in tune with your hosts.
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Everybody has different comfort levels when it comes to baring it. Before you walk down the hall with just a towel after your shower or have breakfast while perched at the counter in your nightie, take cues from your host—and when in doubt, err on the side of modesty.
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You should offer to: Help cook; set the table and do the dishes; drive everyone around in your car; occupy the kids while Mom or Dad takes a well-deserved cat nap; fix a little something around the house if you have the skills; or take the golden retriever for a walk. Even if you’re turned down, your hosts will appreciate the gesture.
Don’t even ask before you: Clear your dishes when you’re done eating; buy some groceries and maybe the fixings for cocktails; get your own kids out of the house for an hour or two; and fill up the tank if you borrow the car.
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Your hosts might be excited to see a Broadway show or the Space Needle for the third time, but they also have a life that may include working during the day.
If you are staying for more than three days, call up other friends who live in the city or do some exploring on your own. Let your hosts know your plans and when you think you will get back.
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Don’t expect to use any of your hosts’ toiletries or other items. If you realize you’ve forgotten to pack toothpaste, inquire about where you can buy a new tube. They will probably be happy to lend you theirs, but you’ve demonstrated that you are not a mooch.
Also, refrain from eating the leftovers or finishing the milk.
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Leave No Trace
If there is one thing to take away from these tips, it should be this: leave the place as clean as possible when you go. The last thing you want is for your host to have to hire a cleaner after your stay.
On the last day, triple-check the bedroom and bathroom for your belongings, and strip the sheets and put them in a pillowcase at the foot of the bed. Do a quick wipe-down of the counters in the bathroom for toothpaste or hair. Make sure all your remaining glasses in the sink are washed. And, of course, return any items to their place, like a book you took off the bookshelf.
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Thank your host three times: When you arrive, when you’re standing in the foyer ready to leave and once more after you’ve gone with a thank you note.
Make it a handwritten note—here, e-mail will just not do. Throw in a detail about the fun you had and finish with an offer to open up your own place later on. For an optional but memorable thank you, pick up a fresh bouquet of flowers and leave them in a vase on the kitchen counter with your note.