How To Be A Good Guest or Host

I travel from place to place, staying with friends around the world who put me up in a guest room or on a couch. This way of life—my pilgrimage—makes my life, work, and service projects possible!

For better or for worse, my way of life has led me to become more opinionated about what good hosting looks like. As Will said: Whenever U are the guest, U are given a front row view of what makes a good host, and vice versa.

This post articulates my opinions, preferences, and values around being a guest or a host.

I want to make explicit my standards and ideals as a guest—and perhaps inspire others to develop their skills and values with respect to being hosts or guests.

I’m not a perfect guest, and I don’t expect I’d be a perfect host, either—I don’t expect perfection from my hosts, and I certainly wouldn’t from a guest I hosted. But I think we could stand to raise our collective ideals and aspirations for what this form of connection can look like.

Overview

Some general principles apply to being an excellent guest or an excellent host.

The Golden Rule: Treat others the way U would want to be treated. If U are a guest, treat Ur host and their space the way U would want to be treated if U were a host and U had a guest. If U are a host, treat Ur guest the way U would want to be treated if U were welcomed into someone else’s home.

Friendship: Staying in someone’s home is a personal, relational interaction between people, friends. Even if U are staying in a stranger’s home, or hosting a stranger in Urs—they are as a new friend.

It’s not like staying in a hotel: if U purchase a night’s stay at a hotel, it’s a commercial transaction between an individual and a corporation. That’s perfectly serviceable, but it’s not very intimate. I find hotels very lonely, actually.

Treat Ur hosts and guests like friends, and U will find that old friendships deepen and new friendships begin.

Theory of Mind: Being a guest and being a host are both opportunities to practice and cultivate theory of mind, our ability to understand that other people have their own experience, with their own values, beliefs, desires, feelings, etc., and that these are often very different from our own experience. Ask Urself often: what’s it like to be them?

Direct Communication: Communicate Ur needs, desires, preferences, etc. directly: “Would U like to come to the movies with me later today?” “Can U take out the trash?” “Do U need this room right now?”

Don’t expect the other person to read Ur mind or understand Ur indirect communication.

Speak clearly with direct communication, listen deeply for indirect communication.

Relevance: Consider that information U have access to might be useful to other people. Share potentially relevant information early and often: arrival times, departure times, meeting times, when U are eating or cooking, etc.

Ask Urself often, “who needs this information now?” “Does my host/guest need to know this?”

Power Dynamics: Hosts and guests don’t usually talk about this, but there’s an implicit power dynamic in hosting. The host has power in that they own or are in charge of their house or apartment. It’s theirs.

Being aware of these dynamics, and even mentioning them explicitly, can help U to dissolve tangles and find win-win, positive-sum outcomes.

Being A Good Guest

These are my ideals for being a good guest. I aspire to follow these guidelines—to hold them as a standard I strive to meet, rather than a rubric I have to follow perfectly. I am not perfect. I want to be a good guest, not a perfect one.

A good guest is easy to host. Be what Astronaut Chris Hadfield calls a zero—someone who is not actively creating problems (a minus one):

When you have some skills but don’t fully understand your environment, there is no way you can be a plus one. At best, you can be a zero. But a zero isn’t a bad thing to be. You’re competent enough not to create problems or make more work for everyone else. And you have to be competent, and prove to others that you are, before you can be extraordinary.

Every home has a rhythm, habits, a flow. Being a good guest is about flowing with the home: not disrupting the flow, but adapting to it, and only then adding to it, contributing to it.

Keep Ur eyes, ears, heart, awareness open. Watch closely how Ur hosts move, how they spend their time, what they do and don’t. When in Rome, do as Ur hosts do.

Treat their home with respect. Handle their objects with care. Clean up after Urself. Leave common areas clean and organized.

Keep the space U are staying in beautiful and clean at all times. Organize Ur belongings so they are neat and tidy. Make Ur bed every morning. And, to state the obvious: keep Urself clean, Ur own body. Shower regularly.

If Ur host hasn’t already said this explicitly, make Urself feel at home. A good host wants U to feel at home, and U can assume this. That means treating their home as if it is urs, acting as if U were at home.

Err on the side of making Urself comfortable, meeting Ur needs, honoring Ur preferences. It’s ok for U to feel comfortable and at ease in specific ways that feel good for U, provided U aren’t disrupting Ur hosts’ experience of their own home.

Not only is making Urself at home nicer for U, it also makes it easier for Ur hosts. They don’t have to guess Ur preferences, or try to anticipate and accommodate every need U might have. U know what U want—make it happen!

When logistical issues, problems, or conflicts arise, communicate directly. Seek to find choices and decisions and solutions that work for everyone. Proactively consider Ur hosts’ needs as much as possible.

Help Ur hosts while U are with them, if U can. If they ask for help, do so if possible. U can also help them secretly. Scrub their toilets. Empty their trash, or take out the compost. Clean their sinks or fridges with baking soda.

When U leave, give them something nice that feels good for U to give—a thank U card, a box of chocolates, a drawing, a memento that honors the time U shared.

Leave Ur host’s home as U found it, or, ideally, even better.

Ideally, when U leave, a host should say: “We loved having U, please come back any time!” If U hear that explicitly, or feel it implicitly, U can know U’ve succeeded and been a good guest.

Being A Good Host

Being a good host is about helping Ur guest feel at home, welcome, at ease, comfortable, safe.

If U don’t want to make Ur guest feel welcome and at home, don’t invite them into Ur home in the first place.

Explicitly tell Ur guest when they arrive that U want to make them feel at home. If U have any boundaries about the space, e.g. whether to take shoes off, whether they can eat Ur food, use Ur physical objects, etc., tell them upfront if possible.

Treat Ur guest like a roommate and or member of the family for the duration of their stay.

Communicate often with them and consider their needs and preferences, take them into account on decisions that will affect them. How are U going to make them feel at home if U don’t? (Rhetorical question.)

There are probably a number of ways that U are used to being in Ur own home, that U are in the habit of doing because it’s Ur home. Downloading the entire history of classical performances of Beethoven’s music from the internet. Inviting friends over or hosting parties. Taking a shower or doing laundry when U feel like it. Blasting Enya on Ur speakers while U cook.

Those are all fine in themselves, but things like that could affect Ur guest. Take them into consideration as U go about Ur day or planning Ur week. It’s not that U can’t do those things while hosting—it’s that U want to take Ur guests’ needs, preferences, rhythms into account to make them feel at home.

Humans are nesting creatures and they need a space of their own to feel safe. As much as is possible, treat their space—their room, their couch, etc.—like theirs. Don’t assume U can go in their space—ask for permission to enter it.

Even in the extreme case—if they are staying on Ur couch in the main common area in a small apartment—U can make them feel safe and welcome and at home by sitting elsewhere, or asking if it’s ok to come into their space.

If anything comes up during Ur guest’s stay that isn’t working for U, or U would like to be different, mention it and communicate directly. Seek to find solutions that meet everyone’s needs.

Conclusion

This is what should be done
By one who is skilled in goodness,
And who knows the path of peace:
Let them be able and upright,
Straightforward and gentle in speech,
Humble and not conceited,
Contented and easily satisfied,
Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways.
Peaceful and calm and wise and skillful,
Not proud or demanding in nature.
Let them not do the slightest thing
That the wise would later reprove.
Wishing: In gladness and in safety,
May all beings be at ease.

Karaniya Metta Sutta: The Buddha’s Words on Loving-Kindness

May U feel at home wherever U go, whoever U find urself with, on every inch of the Earth, with every step U take. May Ur home be filled with love and peace, joy and laughter. May U be safe wherever U go; may love and friendship fill Ur life. ❤️

Thank you to Jane and Doro for reviewing this post.

If U want to host me on my pilgrimage, U can learn more about it and how to contact me here.

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The art in this post was created by Sílvia Bastos, and is licensed under a CC BY 2.0 license. You can support her work on Patreon.