- Pick people you are reasonably compatible with. While we tend to get along with everyone, there are some families we simply wouldn't stay with. Chaotic or messy houses, friends who have pets in the house (hubby is allergic), a certain cousin who tends to have one psychotic boyfriend after another (complete with creepy friends who come and go at all hours) are just not compatible with us so in those cases we will stay at a hotel.
- Clean up after yourself. If you cook, clean up immediately, make your bed as soon as you wake up, if you use the clothes washer or dryer, remove your clothes as soon as they are finished...the basic rules that work for living well with roommates work for being a good house guest.
- Be "low maintenance" guests. This is the type of guests we are and this is the type of guests we prefer to stay at our house. People are super busy these days so you shouldn't expect them to take care of your every need or be at your disposal 24/7. We generally meet up with our hosts for dinner but other than that, we are out and about exploring the city/shopping/taking part in other activities on our own. We generally use public transportation or rent a car unless the host has an extra car that they don't use.
- Give back to your hosts. Even though you are not paying for a room, it is a good idea to be as valuable as possible to your hosts. When we travel, I tend to do "businessy" stuff for our hosts (everything from fixing computers to doing their taxes to helping them with their businesses, etc) while hubby will cook wonderful meals and do simple handyman projects around the house. I actually think it is hubby's great cooking that keeps getting us invited back!
- Don't stay too long. If you will be in a place for more than a week or so, try to line up a couple of places to stay. If you've been in one place so long that you are more like a room mate than a house guest, you've been there too long.
- Replace anything you have used. Our hosts will often leave shampoo or toothpaste out for us, but before we leave, we are sure to go to the local Walmart to replace these items.
- Offer to tag along if you won't be in the way. This is an especially interesting way to get to know a new country. I have went along with our hosts to: school, work, a hospital, a post office, a ritzy Polo Club (a friend was performing in a band at an event there), the grocery store, and numerous other places in foreign countries where I was introduced to the culture in ways that would have never happened for a regular tourist.
- When you leave, send your host a nice thank you note and mail/leave them a small gift. This makes a nice final impression and they will remember you favorably the next time you come to town.
Being a great house guest is pretty simple--being considerate, tidy, and helpful are qualities that not only help you in life, but can help you secure a free place to stay. Just be sure to return the favor when your friends show up in your city.