How To Be The Host(ess) With The Most(ess)
I'd like to say I'm writing this post because I'm the most amazing hostess you'll ever stay with. But that's not why. Instead, as a travelaholic, I've had the pleasure — and admittedly, sometimes displeasure — of being hosted by many, many people.
I'm grateful for each and every time someone opens their door, bed, shower and generosity to me, regardless if the experience ends up pleasurable or displeasurable. Truly. However, once you've been hosted by someone incredibly thoughtful and in tune with what a guest might need, it's hard to forget. Inspired by those experiences I aspire to be the most amazing hostess you'll ever stay with.
Even under the best of circumstances, it can be uncomfortable to stay in someone else's home. If only because it's not your own space, with your own things in your own routine. Likewise, there is a base level of discomfort when someone else is staying in your home, for the same reasons: they're in your space, using your things and messing with your routine.
But the beauty of traveling is stepping outside of your every day comfort zone, and the beauty of hosting is sharing your home and life experience with others. With a mindful balance of the two, a guest can explore your hometown — their temporary new world — from the comfort of your home without making anyone crazy.
How, exactly? Employ some (or all) of the tips below to put your guest immediately at ease in your home and kick the visit off to a good start, reducing tension throughout the visit for everyone.
Prepare Their Room (or Space) Before They Arrive
When I'm being hosted I'm perfectly happy to make up my own bed and grab a towel from the closet en route to the shower. However a well set-up space is a must when I'm the hostess.
I want my guests to feel at home, and believe that a guest feels so much more welcome when a bed is made up for them, with a towel, a washcloth and a pair of ear plugs waiting (ear plugs were as requisite as a towel when we lived in Manhattan and Jersey City, because I never knew if they would be as accustomed to the noise levels as we were). Don't use cheap sheets or blankets, either; make their bed as comfortable as possible. The value of a guest's restful night sleep extends to the whole household.
I also like to leave a funny or thoughtful touch on my guest's pillow to put a smile on their face when they arrive. Sometimes I'm a little cheeky with it. For example, when my single brother-in-law stayed with us, I left a chocolate and a condom on his pillow (with a verbal nod later that while he was welcome to enjoy the chocolate in the house, the protection was to be used elsewhere). If a girlfriend is staying over, I leave an eye mask or pillow and a little yummy-smelly mini-bar of soap (and of course, still a chocolate).
An expert tip from my sister, who is the consummate hostess and also an Airbnb host, is to collect upscale travel-size shampoos, conditioners and body wash or soaps from hotels (you know you do it anyway, then don't know what to do with all of them!). She arranges them nicely in a basket and adds a few disposable razors and a shower cap, then leaves it in her guest bedroom in case any small toiletries have been forgotten. I love that idea.
Lastly, if you have closet or drawer space to offer, let your guest know that they may use it. A place to sort their belongings and prevent a suitcase explosion will reduce tension for both of you.
My favorite frosting-on-top touch is fresh flowers. Mostly because I'm obsessed with fresh flowers. They make me ridiculously happy, and bring life into any space so I like to leave them for (especially female) guests.
Inquire About Their Morning Rituals
This is the most important host duty, in my opinion. Especially if your guests have babies or children (but even if not). Double-especially if jet lag is, or might be, involved. Ask your guests before bedtime about their morning routine. Do they drink coffee or tea? If so, show them how to make it in your kitchen, or better yet, have your coffeepot (french press, pour-over, espresso machine, etc.) set up and ready to brew. Do your guests eat first thing upon waking (and if so, what)? Verbalize permission to make breakfast, or be explicit about breakfast plans the next day so they know what to expect.
That way, if your guest wakes up before you, they won't feel anxiously deprived until you awake. As an early riser, I've thought I would die on more than one occasion waiting for my host to wake up and point me toward a cup of coffee. Conversely, I feel so grateful when I'm able to make my morning beverage for myself (and/or for my host, having it waiting when they awake). If you're not an open-your-cabinets-to-your-guests kind of host, that's okay, too. But make sure they know where the closest coffee shop or café is located to your home, again so they can take care of what they need to start their day.
Map Out Area Resources
There are two types of guests: dependent travelers, who need you to show them around and accompany them everywhere on their visit (not always a bad thing, and usually/often family), and independent travelers who are simply using you for a home base (usually friends).
In the case of an independent traveler, provide your guest with some information on your area (in addition to the nearest coffeeshop and café that you should point out on night one). Sure, they can Yelp! or consult TripAdvisor. But if you have local maps, travel guides or even a few good 'what's happening'-type websites to check out, it can help them maximize their visit and time in your town. It will also make them more self-sufficient. If you often host guests, it's worth your time to type up your own guide to the area with your favorite restaurants, shops and must-see's.
Give the independent traveler (and really, any guest) a spare key to your home on a keychain (harder to lose) and any specific entry instructions (i.e. do you need to do anything special with locks, doormen, etc.?). That will avoid the need to completely sync schedules for re-entry, and will allow your guests to move and sightsee freely and really feel at home.
Make Dinner and Sightseeing Plans Explicit
Be specific upfront about when you are able to spend time together versus when your guests are free to explore on their own. That's also a good time to figure out if you're hosting a dependent or independent traveler, if that wasn't already clear. I always like to prepare dinner on the first night of arrival, unless I know my guest has other existing plans, because a travel and arrival day can be exhausting, and a nice meal at home is a good way to settle in.
But after the first night, make sure you are explicit about when you can dine together or meet up so that nothing gets lost in translation or expectation, and no tension arises from miscommunication (or hanger). There's nothing worse as a guest than being unsure if your host wants to meet for dinner or cook together, and waiting until the point that it's awkward and you look like you're expecting them to feed you. Conversely there's nothing worse as a host than feeling like you've starved or neglected your guests because you assumed they were going out to try something local. Save the stress and chat about it all up front.
Hopefully one or more of these ideas will help reduce the inevitable tension of hosting a guest the next time the chance arises. It can be so rewarding to share your space with a friend or loved one (and/or make you some money, if hosting a stranger). I always love seeing my home and surroundings through fresh eyes to re-gain a new appreciation for what makes the familiar great.
What are your top tips to be the host(ess) with the most(ess)? Please share in the comments below.
... and yes, there is a sister post in the making. For every point that makes one a great host, there is a counter post about being a super guest.