This piece originally appeared on Travel + Leisure.
For some, hosting is a natural skill: They have vases of blooming flowers in every room, a sparkling-clean home, and chocolate chip cookies somehow emerging warm from the oven right as your car pulls in. But for the rest of us, it can be a hair-pulling experience: “How is the house such a mess, still? Why are they piling dishes up in the sink, attracting ants? Are these people ever going to leave?” Here, our politesse pro chimes in about how to host people without losing your cool. (Here’s hoping that karma comes back around on your next trip!)
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Is the expression that “fish and visitors stink after three days” correct?
“It’s still correct, but it’s not necessary. I would totally tolerate having my best friend visit for a week…but not so much other people.”
How do you set parameters for a visit that makes sense for you, length-wise?
“You as the host could say, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s so great you’re up in Vermont for a week! I could definitely open up my home on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and that’d be amazing, but unfortunately the way this week is going, that’s all I could offer at the moment.’ Give start and end dates, right off the bat.”
Do you have general tips for how to host people?
“If you’re going to be there, I think it’s really great when the host really guides things. When they get to the house, say, ‘You’re at the top of the stairs on the right,’ or, ‘There are three rooms upstairs, have a free-for-all, I don’t care.’ Direct them to where they’ll be staying and the bathrooms they’ll be using. Give them all the amenities they might need. ‘Everything in the fridge is up for grabs except the chocolate cake,’ or, ‘I wrote the wifi network and password and put it on your bedside table.’ Stuff like that.
I’ve got friends that don’t believe in wifi and think it eats away at [the shared experience], and say, ‘If you could put your phone in airplane mode while you’re here, that’d be awesome.’ If there’s something that’s outside the norm, [let them know]. That same friend used to allow dogs in the house; now he doesn’t. … It’s important to respect house rules.”
How do you communicate the need for help from guests?
“Good etiquette for the guest is to do things… and leave the space in such a way that [creates] the least amount of impact. If you make a snack or something like that, you clean up. If they aren’t doing that, it depends on your relationship with the guest, but you could try something like, ‘Sarah, do you mind helping me with the dishes?’ I wouldn’t tell them, ‘You can’t do that.’ I might try to communicate something like, ‘We have an ant problem right now; we’ve got to make sure no food lands outside of the kitchen.’”
Are there deal-breakers?
"If someone tries to smoke a cigarette, I’d say, ‘You’ve gotta take that outside.’”
What if people ask what they should bring?
“It depends on you, and the guests that are coming. If one of my best friends was coming up from a place I really like I might say, ‘It would be really rad if you could bring that thing.’ I would not ask that of a client or new in-laws. … I would only make that request of people I’m close with.”
Do you need to host the whole time?
“No, in fact you should, as a host, schedule some down time: ‘I’m gonna go read in the hammock for an hour, so feel free to do whatever you want this afternoon.’ If you’re the guest, and [you’re feeling overscheduled], you could say, ‘You know, I would love to plan on some down time or some time to relax or read—I’m gonna take an hour to read or nap,’ or, ‘That all sounds wonderful! You think we’d be able to schedule some down time in the afternoon?’”
Alex Van Buren is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @alexvanburen.