Summer is prime season for invitations to friends’ beach or country homes. When staying overnight or longer, there are certain rules to keep in mind, says Lizzie Post, etiquette expert at the Emily Post Institute.
“The perfect houseguest should be very aware,” says Ms. Post, who is great-great-granddaughter of Emily Post. “Being aware of how you’re going to impact the host and the house you are going to visit is very important.”
For starters, Ms. Post likes to keep her visit short. “Fish and houseguests stink after three days,” she says. She makes it absolutely clear whether she is bringing a guest or not, so her host knows exactly what to expect. Another don’t: “Bringing a pet when your pet isn’t invited.”
Packing appropriately is essential, Ms. Post says. “Do not bring a whole ton of stuff with you,” she cautions. Instead, she advises paring belongings down to the essentials.
At the same time, it’s key to make sure you’ve packed adequately. It’s always advisable to have a short conversation with your hosts ahead of time to gauge what activities they might have in mind during your visit, “so if you’re going hiking, horseback riding or golfing, you’re prepared.”
It’s often good to try to get an early sense from your hosts about what kind of houseguest they’re expecting.
If your hosts are hoping to spend significant time with you, it’s important to figure that out so you don’t end up making too many plans that don’t involve them, Ms. Post says. In such cases, she adds, it’s wise to have a previsit chat about things you could do with your hosts while in town. “If there’s something you have your heart set on doing, I would speak up about that,” she says. Conversely, “if your host says, ‘Everyone thinks that’s really great, but it’s a bust every year,’ listen to them.” Ultimately, let them have the last word in mapping out the weekend.
Ms. Post tries not to put her hosts out in any way, so she usually brings her own toiletries as well as special items she might need. “If there’s a particular thing that you eat or drink for dietary reasons, bring something that fills that,” she says.
And while it’s good to bring a gift of wine or a bottle of their favorite liquor or champagne, it’s also polite to offer “to take them out to dinner one night, pick up some groceries or cook dinner one night.”
If Ms. Post’s hosts have children, she sometimes offers to baby-sit for a night as a nice gesture. “It’s just a little something that I can do to make their weekend a little easier,” she says.
Ms. Post sometimes likes to bring a hostess gift, something that she has thought out carefully with her hosts’ likes and dislikes in mind. “Look around their house, get a sense for what their tastes are. If someone’s not a bath-salt kind of person and you get them that bath basket, it’s a little awkward,” she says. A coffee-table book on a subject that interests your hosts, whether it’s beachscapes or airplanes, can also be a good gift, she adds.
“Personally, I think a beautiful vase with some flowers in it is a great way to go,” says Ms. Post.
She always follows up with a thank-you note after her visit. “These people have opened up their home to you. It’s definitely worth the three to four sentences you can write and pop in the mail,” she says.
Tidying up after yourself is a must, Ms. Post says. Whether it’s cooking anything or just making coffee, she says, “the best houseguests leave no trail.”
And while some hosts “really do not want their guests to lift a finger while you’re in their household,” it’s always polite to offer. Even if they decline, Ms. Post always makes sure her room “looks tidy and put away. The bed is made, clothing isn’t strewn about, the toiletries are tucked away rather than sprawled all over.”
Observing boundaries is also essential. “Snooping is a really bad idea—getting caught would be horrifically embarrassing,” she says. “And don’t just help yourself to anything in the kitchen if you haven’t been offered. … Don’t just wake up and start cooking eggs in the morning.”
Finally, Ms. Post urges all house guests to not take a common adage too much to heart. ” is a totally awesome phrase but don’t take it too literally,” she says. “You want to be aware of people’s space.”
Keep the visit short.
Leave no trail behind. Tidy up after yourself.
Don’t bring a ton of stuff with you. Pack the essentials.
Discuss with your hosts how much time they’d like to spend with you during the visit.
Always leave a thank-you note.
In addition to a gift such as wine, offer to cook dinner or to take your hosts out.