I’ve just waved goodbye to my latest house guest, a young woman from Texas who has been renting my spare room for the last four or five weeks — yeehaw! Not everyone wants strangers from abroad to come and live in their home. But I’m kind of weird like that.
Since it was a long-term arrangement, she was a paying guest who arrived via Crashpadder (now part of Airbnb). But I’ve hosted other travellers who stayed through routes such as Couchsurfing or simply because they were people I’ve met on my travels.
Being born and bred in the north of England, I like to think that I have a natural gift for hospitality and my guests always feel warmly welcomed. But you don’t have to be from Manchester like me to be a perfect traveller’s host.
Read on for my top seven tips on how to be the host(ess) with the mostest.
Go with your gut: if there’s any niggling doubt, it’s better to say no.
It’s not going to be that much fun having people stay if you don’t think you’ll get on, or if they turn out to be psycho, or even worse, a double-glazing salesperson. The longer your would-be guest wants to stay, the more important to spend time researching.
If you’ve met previously, then fine and dandy. But if you’ve been approached via one of the many online traveller’s networks, then exchange several emails, check out available references (like you can with Couchsurfing), and find out if they’re a fan of Michael Buble. If so — do you really want them in your house for three weeks? You get my drift. This is one to go with your gut on: if there’s any niggling doubt, it’s better to say no.
#2: We Like to Party! (Until 10pm)
For you both to enjoy the experience, you and your guest need to be on similar wavelengths in terms of the hours you keep and the lifestyles you lead.
Do your lights go out at 10pm? Then the last thing you need is your guest to be rocking in with a traffic cone on their head at 5am. Or are you a houseful of crazies, hooked up to hookahs with Hendrix blaring at all hours? In which case a Beethoven-loving gentleman may not be ideal.
And if your household has pets, is your guest an animal lover and without allergies? You don’t want someone staying who’s going to be secretly kicking the cat or sneezing at the first whiff of fur.
#3: The House Rules, So There!
Have you already asked your guest to bring 400 ciggies through customs for you, or are you a smoke-free household and prefer it to stay that way? Is your fridge packed with bean burgers and carnivores can get their meat elsewhere, or is steak on the menu every night? Do you have beige carpets and outdoor shoes are not allowed?
These things might not seem to matter in the excitement of making arrangements, but let your guest know your house rules before they arrive, and then you’ll all be happy.
#4: I Wanna Hold Your Hand
How much are you willing to be involved with your guest as they spend time in your home and in your locality? How much would they like you to be involved? Even if they’re paying, it doesn’t mean you can’t act as a traveller’s friend and show them around town, as I’ve just done with my Texan guest.
Most travellers appreciate being shown the good places to eat, what to see, and where to go disco dancing. But don’t go overboard — unless they don’t want to meet other people or have a life outside of you.
It goes without saying that the perfect host will make sure they’re home when their guest arrives, as it’s difficult to welcome someone if you’re not. Work your day to coordinate with your guest’s arrival, maybe even offer to collect them from the airport or bus station if you’re able.
Emergencies do happen though, so ensure they have an address, directions, alternative telephone number, etc. in case anything goes wrong. And maybe suggest a nice local café, or a neighbour to have a cup of tea with, if they do have to wait for you to come home.
#6: To Eat With or Not to Eat With — That Is the Question
Have you agreed on meal arrangements with your guest? If they’re paying then maybe you’ve included breakfast in the price. If they’re Couchsurfing, then perhaps you haven’t the budget to let them eat all your cake, but you could suggest sharing the cooking for a couple of nights. I sort out a bit of cupboard space for my guests and let them use the kitchen.
Whatever the arrangement though, I like to cook my guest dinner on their first night to get to know them better. (And hope that a fondness for the aforementioned Michael Buble doesn’t turn up in a drunken confession)
#7: Home Sweet Home
There’s nothing quite like a few home comforts. Fluffy towels, freshly laundered linen, and snug slippers? I can’t imagine asking a guest to bring their own towel and linen, but that’s just me. I like them to feel at home and that means making sure they have these things.
I even have a pair of cozy slipper socks that my female guests can borrow (yes, they do get washed!). And if they need to borrow GHDs? Consider it done.
After all, being a wonderful host is all about the detail, and it’s the little things that count.
(This post was originally published January, 2012)