Modern Etiquette: Being a Great Travel Partner + Guest

Illustration by Anna Emilia

This month we’re focusing our editorial content on travel. Whether you’re planning a cozy staycation at home or something more extravagant abroad, August feels like the time of year when everyone decides to take some time off and see something new. Our little team has travel plans as far away as Italy and as close to home as Kingston, NY, so we’ve been thinking about travel DOs and DON’Ts on a wide scale.

Today I thought I’d tackle the importance of being a great travel partner AND guest. Both are great chances to show people how much you appreciate them and how much you enjoy their company. Whether you’re setting up the guest room for out-of-town visitors or embarking on a cross-country road trip with friends, there are always tips to keep in mind that will help everyone enjoy the journey as much as you.

As always, these suggestions are my own and are only made better by the addition of feedback, stories and advice from all of you. Not everyone travels the same and we all have a story or two about trips (or visitors) that went less than ideally, so if you have something to share that could help the rest of the group better handle trips and travelers, please don’t hesitate to share. Bon Voyage… xo, grace

My 5 Rules of Traveling (with a partner/friend/co-worker)

1. Plan Wisely: Nothing ruins a trip (and a friendship) more quickly than trying to cram two very different people into a stressful situation for a long duration. So before you say “yes!” to the free house and trip to the lake, think about whether or not your travel companion/s share the same idea of what’s fun. Things to consider:

-The basics (Do you want to travel the same way, for the same amount of time and spend the same amount of money? Different budgets are the quickest way to cause upset on a trip)
-The hours (Do you all keep relatively similar hours? Do you want to wake/sleep relatively similarly or is one of you a night owl and the others early-risers?)
-The activities (Do you have similar interests in site-seeing and/or activities? Or are you on totally different pages about how to spend your free time?)

2. Be Transparent: Budgets always seem to cause stress during trips with friends, so it’s best to plan ahead for how you plan to handle meals, hotels, rental cars, etc. If you’re planning to split incidentals, it may be best to agree to create a group pot of money that you use for things like coffee, cabs, etc. Or if you agree to save receipts, agree to settle up (in cash or check form) before you get home. It’s easy for those “I’ll pay you later”s to add up.

3. Give Everyone Space: No matter how much you love someone, personal time is crucial. Even if you’re sharing a car and a sleeping bag/tent for two weeks, you’ve got to be able to find private time. When Amy and I were on the book tour we were practically attached at the hip 24/7, so we found small ways to get private time. Amy would work out at the gym and I would nap, or I would indulge in long showers so I could have some quiet “spa” time to myself. I’m also a big fan of just taking your phone and turning a phone call into a long walk where you get outside, catch up with people about your trip and give your trip partner some downtime in the room/tent.

4. Never lock someone out: I don’t care how many agreements are in place, if you’re traveling with someone and plan on bringing people back to your shared room, it’s never ok to lock someone out or shut them out while you have private time with those people. If you want to add extra people to an already agreed-upon situation, it’s up to you to find a different place to do that. Unless you’re both 100% ok with sitting in the hallway while someone else has the room. Respect your travel partner, respect the room and take extra guests somewhere else.

5. Sharing is a privilege, not a right: Some people under-pack for trips and make it their travel partner’s problem. But it’s not their issue, it’s yours. If you forgot toothpaste, shampoo or a towel, take it upon yourself to find a quick detour to a shop so you can buy your own. One day of borrowing may not make a huge difference, but several weeks of mooching shampoo adds up and creates tension where you just don’t need any.

My 5 Rules of Traveling (when you’re a guest in someone’s home)

1. Be up front about your plans and stick to them: Being a guest is someone’s home is an intimate and special event. You’re becoming a part of their daily lives and most (good) hosts will do their best to make you feel comfortable and plan according to your needs/schedule. So if you plan to stay at someone’s house or use their vacation getaway, be clear about the basics and don’t alter your plans. Here are the basics:

-Time: If you told your hosts 2 nights and decide instead to stay for 5, you should be prepared to not necessarily have your request accepted. Your hosts made their plans based on your original schedule and may have other things going on after your intended departure. Unless there is an emergency (canceled flights, etc.) you can’t escape, it’s best to not wear out your welcome unless the hosts make it very clear that they’d love you to stay longer.

-Guests: Just like your schedule, it’s important to be clear about how many people will be in your group. Showing up with 2 extra friends who need a place to crash isn’t always ok. So be honest and open about your intended party size so hosts can decide if they’re ok with that number.

2. Chip in: Every host appreciates help, period. Whether or not they try to shoosh you away from doing dishes, make sure you chip in. If your hosts physically bar you from cleaning up or helping with meals, etc. treat them to a dinner out or some treat during the stay to say thank you. It could be something as simple as babysitting their children while they grab a drink or running to grab the groceries from the store. A little help goes a long way toward getting an “any time” welcome pass at someone’s home.

3. Clean up after yourself: Leave the space how you found it- and ask what is the best way to help them with bedding/laundry. Leaving a mess is never ok. End of story.

4. Have your own plans: Nothing is more awkward than someone coming to visit and discovering YOU are their sole entertainment plans. The best guests are those that have at least a few plans a day that get them out of your hair and give you some space to yourself. Planned group activities are great, but any host appreciates a few moments to breathe, clean up and get space to themselves. If you arrive without any plans, do what you can to go for walks, see a movie, see sites, etc.

5. Follow the house rules: I know some people have customs like removing shoes, not letting pets on furniture, etc. whatever the house rules are, stick to them. This is not the time to give someone an uninvited lecture on why their tradition is wrong or not accurate. If they ask you to do it, do it. It won’t kill you to take off your shoes for a few days or not give someone’s dog table scraps. You’re a guest, stick to the house plan that makes it easiest for your host.

Also: Follow up with a thank you: Even with family- it’s always nice to know someone’s kindness and hard work was appreciated.

*More thoughts on being a gracious host and guest here

MKA

Another helpful guest rule: Let your hosts know your general schedule up front. That way, they can plan entertainment or meals with you instead of constantly trying to guess when you’ll need them to be around.

Beatrice

Guests, holiday, travel, all of these promise exciting times. Euphoria takes over from common sense. This great summary however is a useful reminder that not all expectations are realistic (for everyone)!

Emily

A more specific “good guest policy”- if you have dietary restrictions, bring some things that you CAN eat with you so that you don’t put your host(ess) in the position of having to scramble or feel unprepared. I have found that being able to whip out a package of gluten-free crackers for the cheeseplate or packing your own soy yogurt for breakfast makes meals less stressful for everyone involved, especially if your travels take you to an area where grocery stores aren’t always stocked with the same variety that you may find at home.

Emily

Any suggestions for letting your in-laws know the household rules?

For example, I prefer shoes to be taken off at the door for sanitary and overall household cleanliness reasons. I am actually too timid to ask my in-laws to do this, despite subtle hints. Shoe-clad feet inevitably end up on my WHITE chase lounge and dirt gets tracked everywhere, making me feel angry at their presence. I feel like it’s obvious to not put up one’s dirty shoes on furniture but they apparently do not. I’ve asked my spouse to talk to his parents but it never happens, as he, like me, wants to be respectful.

Irena

It’s true that some people don’t think and thus are inconsiderate houseguests. By the same token, some hosts set themselves up. It helps to know the “house” rules in advance because to find out some things once you get there can be problematic. If you’re willing to say “yes” to a guest, genuinely willing, then you are upfront about key areas that are non-negotiable. People do not read minds and we all bring our own way of doing things with us when we travel. Let us know and then, if we feel we can’t go along with it, we’ll make other plans.

Also, please, please, PLEASe, hosts: Don’t say “yes” when you mean “no” There are NO “shoulds” here even if family or friends particularly if you have cramped quarters. People think that having people in your home is the ultimate sharing. It is not and it can lead to unnecessary issues between family and friends. There are numerous reasons (work from home disruption; lack of space and needed amentiies, prior engagements, etc.) why people cannot have you as a guest. Don’t equate that with “they don’t love me/us”

I live in NYC and there is no way given my work schedule in home office, one bathroom, small kitchen and no extra bed that I could have a houseguest for any period of time–no matter who it is. I tried in past because people persisted and kept saying, “Oh, no probs.” then…they got upset when the very things I told them were an issue were an issue. So, be firm. Help find a cheap room/hotel. And if they can’t afford to travel that way, it is NOT your problem.

Jessica

Also, send a thank you note or bring a token thank you gift. Or both!

When not flying, I love to bring local foodstuffs from my hometown (fancy jam, an awesome loaf of bread, etc) which has a double bonus of accomplishing Emily’s (above) suggestion of bringing food that we know fits our dietary needs.

Ellie

Here are some tried and true tips for the guest room. Try sleeping in your guest room one night, you’ll be able to see if it is comfortable. Keep a basket with travel sized, shampoo, soap, toothpaste, and an extra toothbrush for your guests. I save extra items from my hotel stays for this purpose. Another nice touch is to have a terrycloth bathrobe for your guests use as they are bulky and take up a lot of room in suitcases.

Louisa

I have to disagree with guest rule #2. My mother in law insists on washing up when we have them over for dinner, despite my many attempts to ask her please not to. I view dinner, and that nice period afterwards, as ideal ‘together’ time, an I don’t want to be in the kitchen washing up. I’m a bit funny about washing up also, and quite often find other people don’t meet my standards (only applies to my own dishes) so I hate watching knowing I’ll probably have to re-do the items again. That is, if I can find them from the random places they’ve been put away. I find it an invasion of my privacy, and actually insulting when she disregards the house rules I have set down. Particularly when she is so tight on rules in her house.

So by all means clean up any mess that you have made as per rule #3, but if your host really doesn’t want you washing up then please respect their wishes! It can be incredibly frustrating trying to find things that a guest has put away in the wrong place, and can turn that guest into an intrusion. Rule #5 should be Rule #1!

Rachel

Grace, I think these are spot on. Especially your suggestion to “chip in.” My husband and I have hosted a lot of guests this summer, and it makes things so much easier when guests help keep their space tidy or offer to do a grocery store run, etc. We don’t mind doing dishes or making dinner, but it’s nice when a guest offers to help pay for their portion of the groceries when we are providing three meals a day. We have been shocked at how many people have not offered to chip in on this front. If we weren’t budget-conscious grad student slash nonprofit employees, we would be happy to provide all of that without monetary help! But unfortunately, that is not the reality. It’s always best to check with the host to see what they need help with.

I would say also, as a more general suggestion to guests in other people’s homes, please do not assume that your hosts are on vacation just because you are. Your hosts will, I’m sure, love to take you to some of their favorite places or entertain you to a point, but please remember that you are visiting them in their “normal” life. This means your hosts may not be willing to spend extra money on vacation activities that you want to do. At the end of a crazy month that included 8 different visitors staying in our home, my husband looked at me and said, “I’m so tired of going on other people’s vacations.” As hard as we tried to be upfront about our budget and what we were willing to do/pay for, we ended up spending more money than we anticipated with EVERY visitor. Many times, we felt bad saying “no” to something that a guest was really excited to do for their vacation. Obviously, this is something we, as hosts, need to be firmer on as well, but please remember that your vacation is YOUR VACATION, and your host may not always have the time/money/desire to do the same activities as you do. You can always choose to do something alone without insulting anyone!

emma

@Emily : I, too, have a no-shoes policy in the house.

In the entry of the house, where I take off my shoes and put on my house-shoes, is a large, lovely basket with all types and sizes of slippers for guests. When someone new comes over I tell them (something like), ‘You can take your shoes off here and you can choose whatever slippers you like from here.’ Some folks have been taken aback for a moment, but no one has ever NOT taken their shoes off. Ive found that some folks are shy about their socks so I dont hover while they remove and don. Friends who come regularly and who dont remove shoes in their own house actually look forward to getting out of their shoes and getting into my slippers.

Also, call me crazy, but once I had a dinner party where – on the invite – I wrote in fine print : Please bring your houseshoes. and everyone did. fun!

LEAVE A COMMENT