Having people come to spend a few days, and nights, with you? Whether you have a hovel or a mansion you can do some things that tell your guests that they are welcome visitors, not unwanted impositions. Being a good host is essential to gentlemanly behavior, but not something that Americans, as a general rule, do particularly well. Remember that the obligations of host and guest are in no way obviated if you happen to be related; courtesy is at least as important with family and close friends as with those one sees less often.
We’re constantly amazed by the very nice houses that we visit that have inadequate guest quarters. A guest room should have room not only for the guest(s), but also for a reasonable amount of luggage and clothing. Don’t use your guest room as a storage bin, filling up all the available closet and dresser space. When visitors arrive they should have some place to unpack and or/hang their things; don’t expect people to be living out of a suitcase. Of course, the guestroom, and more importantly the bathroom they are using, should be clean and neat. Bonus points for leaving fresh flowers, but more essential is to make sure that the bathroom is stocked with basics like soap, shampoo, and toothpaste for the overnight visitor.
The guest quarters, be they modest or fabulous, should be free of unwanted intrusions from kids, household pets, and the hosts themselves. If you’re strapped for space, and use the guest room as a home office or for other activities during the day, you should make this clear to your guests when they’re making arrangements. If your kids are sick, or you have pets that might generate an allergic reaction, you should also make this clear.
Unless the offer is included as part of the invitation, hosts don’t have any obligation to serve as tour guides. If the hosts offer certain activities, you should generally go along in a cheerful spirit, unless you would strongly prefer not to, in which case you should make that clear to your hosts as gently as possible, along the lines of “We’re really fine with exploring on our own – we have some things we want to see and we don’t want to bore you with them.” However, hosts often find that, when serving as guides, they end up seeing things they had always meant to see, but just never got around to.
Guests have reciprocal obligations. One should never ask if they can stay with someone, unless they have a standing invitation; they should simply vaguely state their desire to visit, and wait for, but not necessarily expect, an invitation. If the hosts have so generously agreed to provide you with free lodging, you should return the favor by offering to take them out to eat; let them recommend the restaurant, all you have to do is pick up the check.
Make sure that the hosts have some privacy; even the most generous hosts do not necessarily want a 24 hour a day obligation. You should never ask to borrow a car, as there are many potential issues involved, including liability in the case of an accident. However, if the hosts offer the use of their car, you should, at the least, leave the car spotless and with a full tank of gas. If you accidentally break something it is far better to tell the hosts, and insist on replacing the item, than to try to pretend it never happened.
Picking someone up from the airport is never a simple matter these days, what with various security procedures at airports. Don’t ask to be picked up, and always offer to take a cab. If your hosts do offer to pick you up, do your best to keep them informed as to any changes about when you expect to arrive and exactly where they should meet you.
Just because someone has a house in the mountains, at the beach, or in the middle of a city you would like to visit does not mean that they plan on offering the use of that house to guests when they are not using it. And if you are invited to use someone else’s place, you should assume it is a one time invitation, not an open and perpetual invite. It’s amazing how many people assume they have a standing invitation to use someone else’s property because they have used it once.
When visiting people with kids, one should never try to discipline the kids, no matter how unruly or generally obnoxious they may be, unless they appear to be about to cause physical harm to you, themselves, or someone else, or if they are doing real damage to your clothing or possessions. Even then, use as a gentle a hand as possible. The same is true with pets, which many hosts regard with more solicitude than their children, and often rightfully so.
If all this sounds like too much, remember that most of the world, and especially America, is filled a wide variety of hotel options. If you can afford a hotel and there is a suitable one within an easy distance of the people you are visiting, and you don’t have any particular reason to be in constant contact with your hosts, this is often the option that makes the most sense.