Benjamin Franklin, founding father, scientist, author, diplomat, and turkey advocate, once said, “Fish and visitors stink after three days.” As usual, he gets it exactly right with this pithy pull quote. Whether you’re visiting friends or family, after three days of living in close quarters, sharing every meal, waiting impatiently for the bathroom, staying up later than usual, and all while trying to maintain your friendship, it’s very easy for the visit to feel less like a welcome break and more of a drag on both of you.
I’m stretching this principle to its breaking point this weekend, as I’m staying three full days and four nights with my friend Mike in Boston. So how can I make sure that when I get on the airplane to head back home, both of us will be planning our next get together and not crossing each other’s names out of our address books? I’m sure you will not be surprised to find that I have a list, dearest fellow travelers, and I’m sharing it with you!
The Least Stinky Fish: The Top 5 Ways to Be a Great Guest
1. Set expectations ahead of time. This hearkens back to my advice on hosting couch surfers; if you both know what you’re getting into, you’ll both have a lot more fun. Don’t think that just because you’re family or friends with your hosts, you don’t need to set expectations — sometimes they’re the ones you most need to have these conversations with, to make sure you’re all on the same page and feelings don’t get hurt. For example, I wrote Mike last week to say how excited I was to visit, and to warn him that my knee and ankle injuries have resurfaced, with two unfortunate results: 1) I am now the least fashionable person ever, as I dress in bright white walking shoes no matter my outfit, and 2) I walk slower than a sloth on a lazy summer day. Mike was sorry to hear about my injury, of course, and no doubt he will regret being seen with me and the Great White Sneakers, but he was happy to know this vital piece of information enough ahead of time to reconsider how we should get to the various places we’re going.
2. No matter how short the trip, set aside some down time. Don’t wait until you’re halfway through your second marathon day of museums, hikes, street food, wacky local mode of transportation, tourist attractions, and shopping to realize you need to sitdownrighthisinstantoryouwillpassout — plan for it. Sure, your schedule will be different than when you’re at home, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t need time to rest when you’re away, same as you do at home. (Younger folks than I, I promise this is not an old person talking, just someone who knows what traveling while exhausted feels like — not good.) You don’t always have to crash back at the house, either; find a nice park and take a nap or stake out a corner of a local café to re-energize.
3. Pick up the tab. Not on everything, mind you, but it’s a great reciprocal gesture to pick up the tab somewhere along the way. Don’t bankrupt yourself, but do what you can, whether that’s a whole meal, or a round of drinks, or even an ice cream cone. Of course your loved one is happy to see you, but they are putting aside their normal life and opening up their home in order to do that, so show them your appreciation by paying for some food or drink during your visit.
4. Research where you’re going, even just a little. Trips based on visiting friends or family are inherently different from trips based on visiting new places; your purpose is different, so the way you prepare and the way you spend your time while there is different. I’m not going to be doing a Great Sites of Boston tour this weekend — I’ll be doing a Hang Out in Parks and Have Drinks tour with Mike. But that doesn’t mean I can’t see some of this city. So I’m checking out a guidebook from the library, I’ve poked around on some websites, and I’ve asked Mike what he might want to sightsee. So far we are going to the Mapparium and taking a swan boat ride.
5. Plan for some solo time. This is sort of similar to #2, but it’s specifically designed to separate you from your host for at least a couple hours. One of the stinkiest things about visitors, I suspect Mr. Franklin would agree, is their tendency to stick to your side for the duration of their visit. Nothing smells good when it’s been that close to you for that long. You’ll both enjoy your visit a lot more if you set aside some time to do your own thing — write some postcards, buy some souvenirs, go to that one tourist attraction your host can’t bear to visit one more time. This gives your host time to tend to their daily lives and needs as well, and the end result is that you appreciate each other all the more when you are hanging out.
So voila! Those are the top five ways to plan a trip to a friend’s or family member’s house so that not only do you have a great time, but your host does too — and best of all, you get invited back.
Solo time and down time are also good ways to reduce the need, once you get back, for a vacation to recover from your vacation.
I have the hardest time with solo time, I think. Not because I don’t need it (really I need a lot of it), but because it feels rude. As you say, though, it’s often a win-win situation for host and guest alike.
True, you do have to play it right so you don’t seem like you’re rejecting your host’s personality.