Alright, so here are my personal rules when it comes to crossing the threshold into somebody else’s home, whether for a night, for a weekend, or for more:
Rule #1: Come Bearing Gifts. Never enter someone else’s home without something in hand. Anything. (If you totally space on picking something up in advance, stop into a bakery, florist, or wine shop on the way over; food, flowers and alcohol may not be terribly original, but they are always appreciated.)
- For an evening at a friend’s house, you don’t need to spend a lot (about $15-$30), but shoot for something personal and useful – an unusual salt or spice, a potted herb or succulent, a cool dish towel, or a fancy deck of cards are all nice options.
- For a weekend spent in someone else’s home, go thematic: a summery cookbook plus a treat from your hometown; a selection of cupcakes plus a fun tiered serving platter; a great-smelling apres-sun lotion plus a graphic beach towel.
- If you’re taking an actual vacation at somebody else’s home – by which I mean five days or more – you’ll want to bring along something more substantial: I think a good rule of thumb, what-to-spend-wise, is to aim for about what you’d pay for one night in a local hotel. I like the idea of bringing along a gift that you can all use while you’re visiting – a retro radio that’s perfect for the beach, a fun pool float, a succulent planter, or a neat kitchen item (like a drink mixer) that they’re unlikely to already own.
- If your hosts have kids, lucky you: just bring something for their offspring, and everyone will be thrilled.
Rule #2: Stay Out Of The Kitchen. While you should definitely offer to cook (and be prepared to follow through if the offer is accepted), I usually try to stay out of my hosts’ way in the kitchen, because it generally ends up creating more work for them (“…Where do you keep your soup pot…?”). A better plan: keep the place stocked with wine and beverages, make runs to the store for anything your hosts need, and act as sous-chef – help chop vegetables, set the table, and keep things generally neat and tidy so the chefs can do their thing. If you’re staying for more than a few days, it’s also a nice idea to treat your hosts to dinner at a local restaurant.
Rule #3: Be Neater Than You Have To Be. Keep your room and the bathroom spotless (bed made right when you get up, toothbrush neatly lined up by the sink, etc), please-and-thank-you your head off, and be respectably self-sufficient: it’ll stress out your hosts if they feel like you’re tip-toeing around.
Rule #4: Be Self-Sufficient. Once you get the lay of the land, go ahead and make yourself some coffee in the morning, grab a soda from the fridge, etc. If you feel like you’re at home (but still on your best behavior!) it’ll make everyone else more comfortable. And it’s always nice to send a follow-up thank you card (I think a post-stay gift is overkill unless you stayed for an unusually long time) a few days later.