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Friends in fun places? Be a good guest

By Katia Hetter, Special to CNN
updated 10:50 AM EST, Tue January 3, 2012
People often flock to visit friends who live in tourist hot spots like Honolulu.
People often flock to visit friends who live in tourist hot spots like Honolulu.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Staying with friends or family can be a good option in expensive vacation spots
  • Advice for guests: Bring a gift, come and go on time, respect host's home and expenses
  • Advice for hosts: Be welcoming, but set ground rules early, and know your own limits

(CNN) -- Lisa Lee and Seneca Klassen are expecting your call. If you're friend or family, that is.

Ever since they moved to Honolulu more than a year ago to pursue Klassen's launch of a tree-to-chocolate bar operation, the couple, their daughter and Lee's mother have hosted guests every six weeks.

"As recent transplants from the San Francisco Bay Area, where we lived for almost 20 years, having friends and family visit has been really wonderful," Lee says. "When friends visit, we get to spend quality time together and show them this beautiful island and very different lifestyle."

Do you want to visit Honolulu, New York City, Vermont ski country or Paris but can't afford the high-cost hotels in those expensive destinations? With airfares expected to rise and hotel construction not keeping pace with the demand for rooms in many cities, what is the budget-minded traveler to do? Your friend or cousin's spare room, or even spare sofa, can be the ideal replacement for the hotel option in many tourist-friendly cities, presuming that you respect their space. Here are some guidelines to keep your friendship intact long after your visit is over.

"First and foremost, be considerate of your host," says Steven Petrow, a nationally syndicated manners columnist and author of "Steven Petrow's Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners." "Arrive on time. Leave as planned. Don't pretend that you're at a resort, and don't expect that there's a staff to wait on you."

Be independent

When Lena Ting lived in the Fifth and Sixth arrondissements, or districts, in Paris during two different stints, her guests benefited from maps marked with her favorite restaurants and markets that weren't listed in any guidebooks. Ting also had subway maps and passes, depending on her guests' length of stay. Some hosts may not be so organized, so do your research in advance, get your own transportation and consider any advice from your hosts a bonus.

Treat your hosts

Ward Sutton and Sue Unkenholz live and work in a 750-square-foot open loft on the fourth floor of a six-floor walk-up in Manhattan's West Village -- with their two children. "What our guests often do -- because they witness the tiny space we are in -- is to treat for dinner or take-out or bring something we will use up," Unkenholz said. "We don't need much more stuff in this space. We like to leave room for the occasional guest."

Don't drain their water tank

Whether your hosts are well-to-do or just scraping by, be aware that every home-cooked meal or extra-long shower adds to their monthly expenses. "In Hawaii, the cost of things like groceries, electricity and water is much higher than on the mainland," Lee said. "People don't realize that when they stay with us and spend a lot of time showering off the sun and sand, washing beach towels a lot and doing laundry from muddy hikes -- and we get a big hit at the end of the month when the bills come in."

Don't make a mess

Your friends are not your maids, so please keep your space tidy and your stuff contained. Lauren Ober and Becca Van Dyke of Burlington, Vermont, happily give their guests the spare bedroom in their two-bedroom apartment during ski season and other times of the year. Ober doesn't set any ground rules but hopes guests use common sense. "I can't stand it when people don't clean up after themselves -- towels left on the floor, dishes left out, leaving piles of their own crap around. Our apartment isn't huge, and so confining the mess to one room is essential."

Don't ask your hosts to change

If you're deathly allergic to dogs and peanuts and your host has a golden retriever and a toddler who subsists on peanut butter, stay someplace else. In their own home, the family has the right to enjoy dog hair and other things that can kill you. (If they really want you to visit, explain that your allergies get in the way.) Still, if a down allergy only means you need to use cotton blankets, it doesn't hurt to ask or bring your own.

Welcome your guests

Before stating all of your boundaries, make sure you actually want to have guests! If you do, welcome them with clean sheets and towels at the very minimum. Include maps and personalized recommendations. Be prepared to take them around for part of their visit (if you can) and share a couple of meals together. You can thoughtfully stock a few of their food preferences. If you don't want guests, say no. (Really, just say no.)

Know your limits

Guests don't necessarily realize their hosts aren't always on vacation when they visit. Please let them know clearly in advance when you are free to play, when you have to work and when your children must attend school. If excessively long showers drain your water tank or your budget, politely let guests know in advance. Otherwise, they won't know.

Be clear about length of stay

Guests and fish go bad after three days, so the old adage goes. An advance e-mail can help you clearly state how long you're willing to have guests. This simple line isn't a lie: "We aren't available before the 20th or after the 25th." You aren't available at other times because you've decided not to be.

Granted, some people will ignore your boundaries. Everyone has stories about the guest who wouldn't leave, the one who brought a date (but forgot to tell you in advance) and the guest who developed a drinking problem at your dinner table. "If you're a host, know that at some point you, too, will run into a problem guest," Petrow says. "After the fact, the tale will be worth telling over and over, but please don't name names,."

"In the meantime, don't be shy -- but do be kind -- about your house rules, even if making them up on the spot," he says. "It's your house. When all else fails, then it's time to evict by explaining that the guest room is needed for a new arrival." Even if the new arrival is your sanity.

Hosts, what are your pet peeves? Share tips and stories in the comments section below.

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