For the first 30+ years of my life, I lived in the city in which I was born. The vast majority of my very large family also lived there, although we did have a few who moved away and would come back for the holidays. More than once we hosted these family members. Now things have changed a bit; we moved two states away, so WE are the ones that travel back home for the holidays.
I feel like I have seen both sides of the coin, so I’d like to offer a few things that I’ve learned about holiday travel:
For the Guest
Travel Dates: It seems super simple, but be sure to give your specific travel dates to your host. It’s easy to get busy with your own holiday plans and figuring out your own logistics, and forget that your host is also planning to uproot their life a little to make some room for you.
Pitching In: Trust me, your host is really happy that you chose to stay with them, but don’t forget that happiness doesn’t cover the bills. Remember that they are probably adding to their electricity, water, food bill, etc. to have you there. Nine times out of ten, if you ask them how you can help, you’ll get a non-answer. “Oh, it’s fine.” Just bring some groceries or snacks, gas up their cars, or even tuck some cash in their purse when they aren’t looking.
Don’t Veg on the Couch: It’s easy to slip into guest mode and zone out to what’s going on around you. Be sure to pay attention and help with some housework and cooking while you’re there. You don’t have to scrub their baseboard or anything, but if you see a few toys out, put them in the basket. Grab that cup from the coffee table and fold the lap quilt. It’ll only take you a few minutes and it’ll cut down on the overall mess that lots of people in a shared space make.
Busy Little Bees: If you are staying with someone for several days, plan a few hours away with your own little family unit. This will help both families to center themselves and keep tensions low. Yes, you all love each other and your time together and the holidays are fun. They are also a little stressful with so much going on and people mashed together who don’t normally have to cohabitate. Just take a little breather and know it will make everyone feel like a happy little elf again.
Pets and Politeness: Many people either want to travel with their pets, or can’t swing boarding costs and need to bring them. If you bring your pet to stay at someone else’s house, be respectful! Watch the barking, clean up after Sparky and don’t leave a dirty litter box in your host’s bathroom. Remember, everyone is in a different situation than they are at home and will act differently too, so plan for that.
For the Hostess
Stock Up: First of all, do not go out and buy new towels for your guests. I promise you that they are perfectly happy to use the raggedy ones that your family uses. What you CAN do to help them feel a little more at home is to remember that your home is not their home and they don’t know where everything is. Be sure that your bathrooms are stocked up on lots of toilet paper and bath towels. Make sure you have a plunger in every bathroom. Crazy stuff happens in a house full of people and your guest does not want to have to beg for TP or run through the house looking for the plunger while your toilet overflows.
(This also goes for kitchen essentials like paper towels and trash bags.)
Five Star Hostess: This one is near and dear to my heart: make sure that there are plenty of blankets and pillows in whichever bedroom you provide them. I am pretty much always cold and will use every blanket I can find in hotel rooms, B and Bs, and my host’s home. (Usually there are not enough!) Also, it’s pretty hard to sleep on a pillow that isn’t yours, so offering a few different types will help your guests get some Zs.
Another good idea is to have a fan or sound machine. Lots of people sleep with some kind of noise in their own home (or at least they are used to the noises that their own home makes). This is also really helpful if they have kids sleeping in the room with them. A little white noise will mask all the noises everyone makes while sleeping and insure a better night for everyone.
Just the Basics: If you can let them know ahead of time what kind of bathroom tools, baby or pet items and the like that you have, they will love you forever. Just give them a simple call, text or email to say, “Hey, I have a hair dryer, flat iron and portable baby crib (etc.), so don’t worry about bringing those.” When you are traveling at the holidays, it always seems like there is just not enough room in the car.
Menu Choices: If you can, plan a few meals and display a list where your guests can see it (paper on the fridge/chalkboard/text) so they can help you shop for supplies, do some prep while you’re at work, or even have it ready when you get home from that one last errand. (They can also get a second option if they have a picky eater and save everyone from hearing the complaints!)