How to Be a Good House Guest During the Holidays

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A couple weeks ago I wrote about potentially using points to stay at a nearby hotel when visiting relatives instead of over-stuffing their house and ending up on a blow-up mattress or futon.  However, I know staying in a hotel during family visits is not a practical, or even desirable solution for all situations.  Sometimes you just want to (or need to) be a house guest when visiting your family members for the holidays.  Since now is the time of year that tons of people are shacking up in their relative’s guest room, here are a few reminders on how to be a good house guest.  By being a good house guest you are not only helping out your host immensely, but you are in turn doing yourself a huge favor by keeping the stress level of the house lower.

Christmas House

Lit up and ready for family

  • Communicate.  The number one most important thing you can do to be a good house guest during the holidays or any time is to communicate.  Talk in advance about when you will arrive, when you will leave, plans for while you are there, who all is coming, and more.  The more you can talk about in advance to make the trip a success, the better.  This way no one is just making assumptions about how things will work.
  • Clean-up after yourself and your family.  After a long journey, it can be easy to switch into vacation mode and let others take care of you a little, but do your best to clean-up after yourself and your family.  This means keeping your sleeping quarters organized, bed made, hang-up your towels, keep the bathroom you are using organized (ie don’t have your toiletries explode everywhere – especially if you are sharing a bathroom with others), pick-up toys your kid(s) play with, do dishes, help take out trash, etc.  You have no clue how quickly dishes specifically multiply until you host a family gathering!
  • Help with meals.  It is likely that the host will have a couple meals planned, especially around the holidays, but don’t expect them to feed you and your family every meal.  Ask which meals you can help with, and take a turn making meals or bringing in take-out out for everyone.  This includes taking turns cleaning up after meals.  You may need to make a grocery run so that your family has some of their own foods to eat (and share) and you aren’t just expecting someone else to buy your food for a visit.
  • Get out of the house.  Being together as a family is very special, but it gets less special in a hurry if you all just sit around in a house together for days on end.  Get your crew out and about both to get some energy out, and give the host some downtime without everyone in their home.  Invite others to come along and go ice skating, look at Christmas lights, go shopping, go out to lunch, build a snowman, etc.
Christmas Tree

Fun posing under the tree, but not fun if you don’t leave the house for days!

  • Watch your kids.  If both your family and the host family have kids then hopefully those kids will all have a blast playing together, and maybe even bunking up together at night.  That is a great situation, but just make sure you are keeping an eye on your own kids and not expecting the family you are staying with to take charge of making sure they are safe, fed, clean, not tearing the house down, etc.
  • Go with the flow.  You are in someone else’e space and someone else’s life, so just go with the flow.  Your hosts may watch more Fox News than you like, or let their kids eat more sugar than you like, or go to bed earlier than you like, or a million other things, but just go with it while you are there.  If it becomes too much for you then just get out of the house for the day.  Everyone will likely benefit from the space.
  • Secure your own transportation.  Whether you can use public transportation, taxis, walk, or rent a car, be sure that you can be self-sufficient.  This way your hosts don’t have to transport you around everywhere, and you have the freedom to do what you need.
  • Avoid controversial topics.  If there are some topics that you know are hot button topics to discuss in your family, then don’t.  I know this goes a little against the open communication suggestion, but talking about how you disagree with x, y, or z and then having to take turns with the bathroom and eat dinner together doesn’t sound like a very fun environment.  Enjoy each other, don’t argue.  Too much alcohol can sometimes contribute to these type of discussions, so take it easy with the spiked cider.
  • Don’t overstay your welcome.  This really comes in the planning section of the trip, but don’t plan too long of a trip.  For some families four days is too long.  For some families two weeks is too long. I can’t tell you what is too long in your situation, but there is the old saying about house guests and garbage after three days…  A visit that is a bit too short is better than a visit that is a bit too long.
  • Don’t bring your slobbery dog, set the tree on fire, mock the non-twinkling Christmas lights, show-up uninvited, drink all the egg nog, kidnap your host’s boss, or do anything else in the Christmas Vacation movie.  Seriously, that movie is fantastic is and the perfect example of what not to do.  Just look at Cousin Eddie and do the opposite.
  • Say thank-you and be appreciative.  It is a bunch of work to get ready for and host house guests, even if they are family.  The work to host you starts before you arrive and continues after you leave, so say thank you and show that you appreciate their efforts.  Consider giving them a small present to help them relax after you are gone, like a gift card to a local restaurant, massage, bottle of wine, or even just a nice bouquet of flowers.

Family visits can create life-long memories, but just be sure they are the kind of memories you want to remember, and not the kind that result in the need for intense therapy!

What other tips do you have for being a good house guest on family visits?


Disclosure: In the interested of full disclosure, I will readily admit to violating some of these guidelines myself as a house guest over the years.  However, I have never kidnapped anyone’s boss, so at least I am one step above Cousin Eddie!  Happy Holidays!

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  1. Don’t trouble your hosts with picking you up at the airport when you arrive or dropping you off when you leave. Think about taking a taxi from and to the airport if financially feasible, or public transit (metro) if convenient, or better yet rent a car for the duration of your stay. Having a rental car will give you the freedom to get out and about and explore on your own if you like. Keeping in mind that the rental car works well only if you are visiting somewhere that isn’t covered with snow.

  2. MP, What a masterful rule book ! The family and I just met out Floridian siblings, cousins, etc. We had a grand time in Disney with them for a couple of days (staying in the same hotel definitely worked, Hilton World Disney on points, with GOLD status secured free breakfast for all). Now came the choice of cramming three families in two cars (one without A/C) or renting a car for ourselves for way too much $$$$ (MCO to PBI one way) for few extra nights at their place?? My wife is really P.O.d, so you must know what I chose (as the request of the host I must say)…
    I better use the moola that I saved to get her a bigger gift ??

  3. Dan, so glad you had a grand time in Disney! Taking family trips to a neutral destination is my favorite strategy! As for the rest of it, some things sound much better on paper than practice. 😉

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