One of the best ways to understand life from another person’s perspective is to live in their home for a while. When someone invites you into their home they invite you into their most sacred of spaces, and into their life. Sharing this level of intimacy with another person can be challenging, especially when it is a complete stranger, in a new environment, as can be the case when traveling.
Whether staying with a good friend down the road, or a perfect stranger at the other side of the world, it is always important to be a good guest . Here are 6 tips to help the time spent and shared living with someone else as growthful, joyful, and tension free as possible.
Respect their rules
It might seem too obvious to mention, but believe me this is the first and single most important tip, because it is the foundation for everything. You could be the most interesting guest in the world, but if you grind on someone’s soft spots when it comes to house rules then expect a dip in hospitality. It can be as small as taking your shoes off before entering the living room, something that maybe you don’t do in your own home.
It must be drilled it into your brain though, and apologies should be made when you feel you have offended the host. Respecting the house rules is part of the unspoken contract of being a guest. I don’t suppose I even have to mention trust here do I? Don’t act dishonestly with a host, or take more than you know you are permitted to.
Everyone is different, and generally there is nothing to worry about. Most people who I have ever had the pleasure to stay with, have always been gentle with their application of rules, and of course if you are new to something mistakes can be made. No pressure really, just always gauge what is important to someone within the household.
I have stayed with complete strangers abroad, on five or six separate occasions, for around a month at a time. The deal always involved a little bit of work in the garden for example, or chopping wood, or digging. Whatever was required really. In exchange the kind hosts provided food, bed, and I was treated like one of the family. Mutual exchange. Even if it is not required of you, i.e. the host has not specified that you need help, it always feels better. Doing more than enough is always a winner, and the host is likely to return the favor.
When an exchange becomes mutually beneficial then everyone is a winner. Not only that but the dynamics can rise above “householder” and “guest” to the status of friends. Community is born when everyone chips in, so get involved with tasks, and offer a hand. This does not require expertise, only a warm heart. It can be as simple as washing the dishes, cooking, or buying in some food. Again, look at the situation and where you can offer something.
You probably want to spend time with your host; get to know them, or re-spark on old flame. Staying with someone else can be fun for everyone. Its great to have someone to share life with, and if you and the host get along well then you will likely spend some good quality time together.
Everyone has boundaries though, and everyone needs space. This is nothing personal, and people require different amounts. Couples might require time alone. Parents with children might like time with just them. Everyone for their own mental well-being should spend some time alone.
Part of being a good guest is respecting boundaries and taking a moment to think about how much space the host might want. This can be hard to define, as can all of the rules mentioned earlier. This leads to the next crucial point; good communication.
Often the host will initiate the communication anyway, soon after arrival. They will feel the need to define some of the rules and some of the boundaries. If they make the move then take the opportunity to ask questions that you may have, and to also set some boundaries of your own. If you have certain dietary needs, or want to ask how you could contribute to a mutual exchange then go ahead and speak. Perhaps you like to write most evenings but still enjoy social time. Vocalize. Express this so they know you don’t mean to be antisocial.
Communication can be done at any time, and is always appreciated. The host knows where they stand, and you end up knowing where you stand. This is true in any home, so it remains true in someone else’s.
Engage with their lifestyle and perspective
After the basic foundations have been met, and everyone trusts each other and are chipping in, it is time to progress the relationship further. This is especially recommended for travelers and people staying with strangers, and hosts in other countries.
The more open minded you can be towards the hosts the more you will learn from the experience as a whole. Be it religious beliefs, cultural differences, or gaps in lifestyles, however massive, an open mind and a willingness to get involved will be much more rewarding than a stubbornness and insistence that your own beliefs are superior. No one is saying you have to become the people you stay with; but why not eat their food, explore their religion, attend their cultural events.
What usually happens is that after you leave a hosts house and get on your way, you are able to contemplate the life they live from your own baseline perspective once again. It is then possible to integrate consciously anything that you have learnt from them. During the stay though why not give yourself over to it, enough to experience life from someone else’s perspective. It is a rare opportunity.
Show some of yourself too
All of the previous tip also applies the other way around. A good host too will want to learn something about you, and your lifestyle, your personality traits, and life choices. Being open minded to their perspective doesn’t mean abandoning your own; it means not dismissing either. So show your host your favorite meal from back home, or a trick, or some music. Show them your personality, tell them something of your life experiences and reflections, your beliefs. Really let go and open up if you can. The more deeply you share yourself the more your host might take away from having you as a guest. It works both ways. It should always work both ways.