Every traveler should be a houseguest – but can you handle it?

You know that saying about houseguests and fish? It’s true — both begin to smell after three days.

Sometimes, it doesn’t even take that long. Years ago, I spent the night in a friend’s apartment. On the first evening, we went out for dinner. Things did not go well.

He had a little too much beer, and it turns out he was one of those angry drunks who hurls insults and makes a fool of himself. The next morning, before he woke up, I was on a train home.

Bad behavior is everywhere. The news is filled with stories. Here’s one hotel guest who was so unruly, they had to call a SWAT team. Here’s another that roamed the halls without clothes, grabbed at female guests.

Makes me wonder if, in order to be a good traveler, you should first practice being a good houseguest? In other words, does dealing with my angry-drunk friend somehow make me a better customer?


Houseguesting, if you will, can make you appreciate the hospitality industry — both as a guest and as a host.

I had a houseguest for three weeks who confessed to me about halfway through his visit that the CIA was surveilling him. Far likelier, I thought it was the cocktail of antidepressants his doctor prescribed to deal with his personal problems, possibly making him a tad paranoid.

Hosting my friend taught me that when you’re in the hospitality industry, you can’t choose your guests. Your guests choose you.

And you learn to be patient when you need to be.

But patience isn’t always a virtue. When I left my friend’s apartment (I wrote an effusive “thank you” note with a diplomatic reason for the early escape) I realized that there are times when you have to leave before your time, and that’s absolutely fine.

Good houseguests make great travelers because they take nothing for granted. And entitlement — the idea that money or elite status can buy you anything or that you’re allowed to roam the halls naked — make the travel industry worse for everyone.

When I was a boy, my family spent long stretches of time on the road, staying with friends. We owed our nomadic lifestyle to my father’s vocation as a minister. We were based in Europe, and every few years we returned to the States to raise support and visit friends and family.

Even today, I’m exceedingly grateful for the hospitality my father’s friends and relatives showed us. I never had a chance to thank all of them and many are now gone, so I never will.

But here are a few things I learned from being a houseguest:

✓ Never complain about your bed. It’s better than sleeping in the car.

✓ Clean up after yourself. Even if you have room service, they’ll remember you as a good guest.

✓ Remember to say “please” and “thank you.” It will take you so much further than any demand.

To be clear, being a houseguest is a character-building experience. If I could go back in time, I’d be tempted to bring a briefcase of cash back to the ‘70s and hand it to my father with the following request: “Get a hotel.” But I also think spending the night on all those sofas, on sleeping bags unrolled across the shag carpet, or on Army cots, has made me far more appreciative of the hotels I’m now privileged to visit.

Sometimes I cringe when I read younger travel bloggers who complain when their triple-platinum elite status doesn’t get them the suite they deserve. I wish they’d joined me on a road trip for a week, when we lived out of our car and when the hospitality highlight was sleeping on a friend’s floor and eating instant pancakes for breakfast.

We should all be houseguests, at least once.

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