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How to Be a Good Houseguest

Heading Somewhere Other Than Home? Learn What to Expect


Succulents in plastic pots
Claire Cordier/Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images

Sometimes, the dynamics of college life mean that you can't head home for things like long weekends or holidays. However, you may be able to head to someone else's home. Friends, roommates, boyfriends, and girlfriends can all offer a new place to stay away from campus when you both need it most. But is it really a good idea?

Heading to someone else's house as a houseguest has its pros and cons. Knowing what to expect -- and, in essence, how to be a gracious guest in someone else's home -- can make all the difference between a fun time away and an awkward one.

1. Bring some kind of hostess gift. Your mother may sound old-fashioned when she mentions things like hostess gifts, but she's right in bringing them up. A hostess gift is a small present you bring to the person hosting a party or, in your case, hosting you for several days. It's a way of acknowledging that person's generosity in taking care of you. Fortunately, hostess gifts are really more about the gesture behind them than the gift itself, so you don't need to worry about buying something fancy or expensive. A small plant (even one you can find at the grocery store), a candle or two, or a book of poetry can all work. Just definitely bring something to start your stay off on the right foot.

2. Don't treat your new digs like your residence hall, apartment, or room. Even if you have a private room in someone's house, don't treat it like it's really your own. Keep your clothes in drawers or in your suitcase -- not tossed all around. Make the bed and hang your towel up. Is it your space for the duration of your stay? Yes. But it's still your host's place at the end of the day, and treating it with respect is important. Clean up after yourself in your room, the bathroom, the kitchen, and anywhere else you may be spending time. After all, if you had someone in your place, you wouldn't want to spend your time cleaning up after them or looking at their mess, right?

3. Ask what you need to bring before you arrive. Your host may be graciously opening their home to you, but they may not be fully prepared for visitors. Ask if you should bring an extra blanket, your own pillow, or a towel. Additionally, find out where you're sleeping in advance. With your boyfriend in his room? Are his parents okay with that? Or will you be out on the couch, where your choice of pajamas is highly important given that you'll likely be woken up by family members?

4. Always offer to help with the cooking and clean-up. No one likes houseguests who are lazy and who just sit around, letting others cook and clean for them. Even if you don't know how to cook, be honest with your offer and add a bit of humor: "I'm a terrible cook but willing to help. Is there something simple I can help with that I have little chance of messing up?" Offer to set the table, wash the dishes, take out the trash, and wipe down counters. You don't have to do much but you do have to do something if you're enjoying someone else's hospitality, be it for a day or a week.

5. Let the homeowner be your guide, not your friend/roommate/boyfriend/girlfriend. If your boyfriend says it's fine that you sleep in the same bed after his parents said not to, listen to his parents -- not your boyfriend. When you're at your boyfriend's house, you can follow his rules. But now you're at his parents' house, so you must follow theirs. Similarly, if your roommate's parents tell you to be home by 2:00 p.m. so someone else can use the car, encourage your roommate to make it home by then. Be respectful of the person whose house you're in and the rules they impose there.

6. If possible, offer to pay for at least something, no matter how small. Most folks know that college students are short on cash. But even an offer of some money toward gas or a meal out is important to make. Be honest about your situation but do your best, if possible, to help out a little, too.

7. Make sure the start and end dates of your stay are clear. If you're heading home for Thanksgiving, make sure your girlfriend's parents know when you'll be arriving and when you'll be staying. In addition to being respectful of their time, having this information solidified will also help you better manage your own. If, for example, you need to be back by noon on Sunday so you can finish up your paper, be clear on that before the trip starts, not starting Sunday morning.

8. Be grateful and polite. At the end of the day, being a good college student houseguest isn't all that hard. Just be respectful of the people who are putting you up, whether they're fellow students or your friends' grandparents. Imagine how you'd like a guest to behave if you had someone in your house and act accordingly. And, of course, remember to enjoy your time away from campus!

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