When not to stay with friends

“Stay with us,” said Molly. It was an unexpected offer from a close friend.

We were swinging through Rochester, New York at the start of our grand North American tour and we wanted to visit with her and her family. But stay? Our friendship was solid. Could it withstand a full fledged visit by our family of five?

Could she handle our family drama?

It’s not an easy decision. When choosing between staying at a hotel or with friends, you’re faced with a complex decision tree – as we used to say in business school. Our criteria: how long are you staying, can your friends accommodate you comfortably, and do you know them well enough.

Did we stay at Molly’s? I’ll tell you in a second. First we’ll talk about how we made the choice.

How long will you be staying
You know the comparison between houseguests and fish, after three days they both start to smell. Well, there’s a little truth behind that. And I speak from personal experience. Over the past five years we’ve stayed with friends and family for as long as three weeks at a time. Never again.

We have a strict cap — three days. Any longer and you risk permanently damaging the relationship. Just take our word for it, and remember the three-day rule.

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How much room do you need
Is having a private quarters important to you, or would you feel comfortable sleeping on a couch in the living room? How about the kids? Before you agree to spend the night you’ll need to be able to answer those questions and be willing to ask your host.

And what about bathrooms? Do you need your own shower, or can you and your family share with your hosts. Is there someone in your crew that needs more time than the others to get ready in the morning or night? How will that affect your friend’s family?

Are you working while visiting? Then you might ask if they have a desk or office space you can borrow. Don’t forget to inquire about WiFi, too.

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How familiar are you with your host
Cohabiting can strain even the strongest relationships, but when you’re under the additional stress of traveling with the family things can get complicated. You want to not only stay with somebody you know well, but who also knows you well.

This will help you avoid miscommunications in planning activities together so both of your expectation are in line. They’ll know if you’re a late riser and you’ll understand when they want to get to bed early for work. Meals can be tricky if you’re a vegetarian and they’re on the Atkins diet. The more familiar you are with each other, the more likely you’ll feel comfortable discussing each other’s need – which is the key to a pleasant stay.

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Hosting the Elliotts

When it comes to accommodations, we’re not that picky. We’ve slept on futons in basements, inflatable beds in attics and couches in living rooms. When we have our own room, we are always grateful. Sharing bathrooms is dicey. With five in our tribe, this is the area that proposes the most potential conflict among ourselves. And since the kids are in virtual school, it’s very important that we have a quiet place to get our school work finished.

I have to come clean and admit that last year we visited Molly’s family on our way back from Niagara Falls. It was a great visit but felt too short because we had to leave early to check in at our hotel. It helps that her youngest three children are close in age to mine. This has resulted in some incredible Lego structures and epic video game battles.

So when she offered the use of her guest room, we didn’t hesitate. The answer was yes, all the way.

We hiked along the Erie Canal, shared an incredible meal at a nearby Greek restaurant, and gossiped about our high school friends. In the morning, we left with warm hugs and a promise to see each other again soon.

The prefect visit.