- It's OK to set boundaries and stay in a hotel during the holidays, etiquette expert says
- The key is to emphasize the value of the time you do plan to spend with loved ones
- Avoid accusatory language when offering an honest explanation for your choice
It's time. Or at least very close to the time when holiday hosts and guests start thinking about recipes and menus, housekeeping and houseguests.
Do you really want to stay with family this year? "Of course you're staying with us," (insert relative here) insists. "It's no trouble at all, and we have plenty of room."
That may be true, but sometimes staying at a nearby hotel is more convenient for everyone involved.
CNN spoke with etiquette expert Lizzie Post about how hosts and guests should handle what she calls the "in-between no."
"You're not turning them down, but you don't want to be in too close."
How to say 'no'
When home life is chaotic for holiday hosts, it's OK to let people know that you're not prepared for overnight guests. Hosts who travel a lot before the holidays are likely to have a hard time getting ready for houseguests.
"It's perfectly OK to say, 'due to schedules and the way this holiday is working out, it would be easier for us if you were able to stay in one of the local inns or hotels,' " says Post, who is co-author of the 18th edition of "Emily Post's Etiquette."
On the flip side, it's also acceptable to turn down a host who's insistent you stay in their home. Just be prepared for some resistance to your decision.
"It is your choice, but do recognize that you're going to get the, 'oh, why do you want to spend the money?' You are probably going to get a relative pushing back a little bit to encourage you to stay with them."
Guests should make their own hotel reservations, but it's helpful for hosts to offer suggestions for places to stay at a range of prices.
Highlight the value of your time together
If you're sure you'd rather have your own space, be politely firm about the plans you're making. "Make sure that you emphasize that the time you're going to be spending together is time that you're looking forward to, because this can look like you don't want to spend that much time with them," Post says.
"Start out by saying 'we are so looking forward to spending the holiday with you, coming over for dinner,' whatever it is that you guys are going to be doing together, really emphasize how thrilled you are to be doing that," Post advises.
And if you're not?
"If you're not, I've got to kind of ask you: Why are you going? It's OK to say no at the start before you even have to get into where you're staying and all that jazz. You can say, 'I think we're going to stay at home this year, but thank you so much' if you really don't want to be going."
Tense relationships -- is it best to be honest?
Managing tense relationships is tricky, and there's no set formula. Perceptions of strain often vary even among those involved. A child may feel stressed about seeing a parent who is really looking forward to their time together.
"This is so situation-dependent," Post says. Bottom line: Setting boundaries is OK, but "it's all in how you do it."
If you define your parameters in a confrontational or accusatory tone, you're setting the visit up for trouble. "I would instead say, 'I know that things can sometimes get tense, so I was just thinking it might be best if I stay at the hotel and then come over for all of the events, and I can even help you prep,' Offer to take part," Post says.
Worrying about arguing with family often creates an awful scenario in your head that really doesn't have to become a reality.
Go into a visit open to the possibility that it could go well, "and then look at all the things that you can do to help facilitate a positive interaction."