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Hosting overnight guests: 10 easy tips to help your visitors feel welcome

Because I’ve got another big book deadline looking me in the face this week, I thought it apropos to republish this post from October 2008 about hosting overnight guests in your home. With the holiday season fast approaching, most of us either have guests headed our way, or we’ll soon be guests ourselves.

As you’re reading this, we are hosting out-of-town guests in our home for a few days. Some people where we live kindly refer to us as a “bed and breakfast” because we have so many guests pass through our hallways – and we love it.

We don’t have a lot of room, but we do our best to make room for anyone who needs a pillow to rest their head for the night. Part of our family’s mission statement is to extend love to those around us, so we feel like making our home a haven for all who enter is a small way we can honor our relationships.

Yes, it’s a bit exhausting to have extra people within your walls, and yes, it does provide more work – for a time. But really, we truly love having guests. They usually play with our children, which everyone enjoys, and it provides us a nice break from the hum-drum of daily life. Hosting guests doesn’t have to be a pain – it can be something you look forward to.

Here are 10 ways you can help visitors feel more at home.

1. Be yourself.

Truly. Most house guests aren’t expecting a perfectly immaculate house, and if they are, there’s no point in loading your shoulders with the pressure to try. The best kind of guests are there to see you, not you on stage.

2. Let your guests be themselves.

Really mean it when you say, “Make yourself at home.” If you’re willing to have guests, be willing to let them put their feet up on your coffee table. This is within reason, of course – don’t let manipulative people treat you like a doormat.

3. Provide extra toiletries.

We have a basket of basic essentials that we bring out for overnighters, and we leave it on the guest bathroom counter for them to help themselves. It’s nothing fancy — just toothpaste, soap, lotion, shampoo and conditioner, and unopened toothbrushes. I stock up on some of these items when they’re on sale, and this is also a great use for those travel-sized freebies from hotels.

4. Make things easy to find.

When guests first arrive, have all their needed towels either out on the bathroom counter, or on their bed or night stand. If they’re early risers — earlier than you, anyway — leave out some basic breakfast goodies for them to help themselves. Don’t forget the dishes and silverware, too.

If they arrive after a long trip, put a little basket of refreshments on their night stand. A simple bottle of water, a package of nuts, maybe a banana, and a little welcome note can really make them feel welcome.

5. Keep coffee and tea on hand.

Even if you don’t drink it, a coffee drinker is always thankful to have the means to make a cup of joe in the morning. It doesn’t have to be anything high-end if you don’t drink it, but make sure it’s fresh.

6. Create some simple extra touches.

Place an inexpensive flower in a small vase on their night stand. Provide a great-smelling candle and a book of matches. Make sure there’s an alarm clock available, too.

Photo by Virginia

7. Provide reading material.

Collect a few magazines and put them in an easy-to-reach basket near their bed. Maybe even select a good book of short stories (short stories are good, so that guests can actually finish what they’re reading, as opposed to a long novel). If there’s something you’ve really wanted your house guest to read, now’s a great time to oh-so subtly leave it on the night stand, waiting to be read.

8. provide information about where you live

. If they’re in town on vacation, provide some brochures about tourist spots, a map, and maybe something unique about where you live for them to enjoy while they’re in town — a book from a local author, a travel guide, or a CD from a local musician.

9. Let them help around the house.

Don’t put them to work, of course, but I’ve learned after having 25 overnight guests this year alone, people will be more relaxed and feel less like an intruder if you say yes to their inevitable question, “Can I do anything?” Let them do something small, like set the silverware at the dinner table, or stir the soup bubbling on the stove. Chat with them while you work together.

10. Keep your immediate family’s time sacred.

This can be challenging, depending on the situation, but do your best to still spend some quality time with just those in your household. This is especially true if you have small children, who don’t always understand why Mom is busier than usual, or why a new person is sleeping in their playroom. It doesn’t have to be anything major — simply continuing with the usual bedtime story, or snuggling on the couch and asking about her day — can keep little ones content and less likely to act up for attention.

Do you like having guests in your home? What’s the hardest part about it? Share your hosting tips that work well for you.

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  1. steadymom

    Our home is also much like a revolving door at times with many passing through. To be honest, as an introvert, having overnight guests just doesn’t come naturally to me.

    I’ve learned many techniques over the years to make it more enjoyable, and I love the experience it offers to our children. I will be coming back to refer to this post for sure!

    .-= steadymom´s last blog ..Sponsor Giveaway :: Tiny Belles Boutique =-.

  2. Maggie

    living in a one bedroom flat means we haven’t had overnight guests yet. I think it’s a lovely thing to do though.
    .-= Maggie´s last blog ..Finished project =-.

  3. marissa

    Sigh… I’d like to see a ‘Guide To Be A Better Houseguest’! Our house is very small, and while we love to have family come to stay, I don’t think it’s fair to have dirty laundry piled up in the entry by the front door, and suitcases spilling out over the kitchen floor. Maybe it’s just me?
    .-= marissa´s last blog ..Carving pumpkins =-.

    • Tsh

      Never fear, it’s coming! 😉

  4. Nichole

    I was so glad to see this post today. I’ve been struggling with the decision of whether to have my parents and brother stay with me and my husband while they are here for Thanksgiving. We live in a two-bedroom townhouse and although small, is comfortable. However, the second bedroom is not functioning as a second bedroom right now and I want it to, but I also don’t want to buy a lot of furniture because we will be moving a lot more in the future (due to the nature of my husband’s job). I had pretty much decided that it would be better for them to stay in a hotel (they were fine with the decision either way) but I hated that they wouldn’t be there for late night chats before bed or early morning coffee and breakfast before we were ready to set out for the day. (We only get to see them once a year so our time together is precious.) However your post reminded me that I absolutely love to host people and my parents, of all people, would be very understanding of our situation and the lack of “perfection”. I have now decided that I will make air mattresses and re-purposed nightstands the most comfortable and homey they can be with the use of your tips. I’m so excited and I know we can make it work!

  5. Sue

    Thank you so much for all the great ideas. We just moved into a bigger house and were more than happy to host our first house guests last week. I will be refering back to this list often.

  6. Angela Mills

    I love these ideas. I have all these great ideas stored up for when we have guests someday. I need to get over that my house is small and invite someone to stay over! We’ve mostly only had unexpected guests that come at the last minute, so maybe I will have a little bin in my closet for those times. Once again, thanks for the great ideas!
    .-= Angela Mills´s last blog ..SpellQuizzer Review and Giveaway! =-.

  7. Greta @ Mom Living Healthy

    We have guests all the time at our house (one family member has been living with us since June!) so I have learned to be a great host. I do use several of these tips and I like your ideas about having a flower in the room or having information about the city. We used to store things in our guest room, and now we’ve cleared just about everything out so that we don’t have to disturb our guests while they are with us. That really has made a difference.
    .-= Greta @ Mom Living Healthy´s last blog ..Menu Plan Monday =-.

  8. Julie

    Thanks for re-posting this. I wasn’t reading/ writing blogs a year ago. I really love the idea of allowing guests to help. I can often be a bit of a martyr with guests and do everything for them, even when they do offer to help.

    I was wondering whether you think it is appropriate to invite guests to stay overnight if you don’t actually have a spare room for them (so they need to sleep on the fold-out lounge). My 18 month old has just moved into her “big girl’s bed” in our spare room. We can’t have anyone in with her as she doesn’t cope well with being disturbed. My husband’s (much younger) brothers stay on our lounge a lot and this hasn’t bothered me, but it did feel a bit funny when one of my old university friends came to stay last weekend. I felt bad that a woman in her 30s couldn’t really have any privacy… almost offered to have her sleep in with me and put my husband on the lounge!
    .-= Julie´s last blog ..Language Milestones =-.

    • Libby H

      “almost offered to have her sleep in with me and put my husband on the lounge!”

      I’ve actually done this… fortunately I have a very understanding husband!

  9. Lisa

    Because we live in Hawaii we have overnight guests quite often. We live too far from family for day visits and our location puts us at the top of the list for many friends to visit. Thanks for these great suggestions for making it a fun experience for everyone.
    .-= Lisa´s last blog ..Kayaking on Kaneohe Bay =-.

  10. Lisa

    Living in Hawaii we have guests quite often. We live too far from family for day visits and our location motivates many of our friends to visit us. Thank you for sharing these great suggestions for helping the visits be fun for everyone.
    .-= Lisa´s last blog ..Kayaking on Kaneohe Bay =-.

  11. Denise

    We live in China and host many people a year! I love your tips and have done most of your list.
    The other thing I do is collect breakfast recipes. I am making baked oatmeal TODAY for a group of five guests. It is a nice way to start their day and it bakes in the oven while I make coffee and set the table.
    Hosting guests is also a great way for my kids to meet a wonderful world of people.
    Just do it

    • Adrienne

      Though you posted this a while back, could you share your baked oatmeal recipe? It sounds wonderful!

  12. Caroline Starr Rose

    One of the nicest experiences I’ve had as an overnight guest was staying with some friends during Hurricane Gustav. We left our home near New Orleans, and after two days in another Lousisiana town (which flooded and had no electricity), we moved on to Memphis. Our friends welcomed us in such a gracious, comfortable manner. It was wonderful!
    .-= Caroline Starr Rose´s last blog ..Your Manuscript Has Been Requested! Now What? =-.

  13. Rayia

    Hosting overnight guests is by far one of my favorite things in the world to do!!!
    I LOVE getting ready for them, trying to think of anything and everything they may need and trying to make their room feel as comfortable and luxurious as possible! Oh, I am so looking forward to this season!
    One of my favorite things to do is make “welcome baskets”, to put in their rooms! I fill a basket with goodies and drinks just for them (chocolate, sparkling cider and munchies)! And I love using my best, freshly washed linens for my guests, it helps make even cramped spaces feel beautiful and fresh!
    .-= Rayia´s last blog ..Some time away… =-.

  14. Melodie

    Basically, be the hotel you’re not allowing your friends to stay in! I remember how much I loved going to stay with my dad and step-mom. Even though they only lived a half hour drive away going to their house was like a getaway as a teenager and young adult. There were always towels neatly folded at the end of my bed and usually a little treat on top, like an oyster shell with a chocolate in it or a tiny handmade bar of soap with a twig tied onto it with raffia. I find this is what I do now too. Now that I have a family of my own they’ve downsized their guestroom welcome to the folded towels, but even that is a nice touch.
    .-= Melodie´s last blog ..Breastfeeding, Formula Feeding and Social Oppression =-.

  15. Melanie at Parenting Ink

    Maybe I’m too good of a hostess, because we have houseguests who don’t give us an end date! What is a good hostess to do then?
    .-= Melanie at Parenting Ink´s last blog ..Nursing a Grudge =-.

  16. Alissa

    I love feeling well prepared for our guests. We finally got our system in order by storing clean sheets an towels in the guest room night stands, but NOT putting them on the bed until right before people arrive (to avoid the inevitable pet hair accumulation).

    One thing that I find exhausting is feeling like I need to keep our guests engaged in conversation or activity throughout their stay. Particularly challenging with my in-laws that aren’t really into activity…
    .-= Alissa´s last blog ..What’s in a Name? =-.

  17. Jennifer

    I love all these suggestions. Thanks so much for reposting this article! One thing I have done that guest appreciate is putting a pitcher of water and glasses in the bedroom each night before bed. I guess that kind of goes along with making sure they know where things are, because I think most of us can relate to the feeling of being thirsty in the middle of the night, but not knowing where glasses are kept/ feeling comfortable enough to go get them.

  18. Shannon

    We keep our house colder than most (we rarely use heat!) so I have foudn it helpful to have a few throw blankets and spare sweatshirts or sweaters readily available for guests. Our good friends who come over frequently know where we keep these and don’t hesistate to grab one while we are watching a movie or football and overnight guest appreciate something to cuddle up in as the night grows late.
    .-= Shannon´s last blog ..The Ward Family in Washington =-.

  19. Tabitha

    My mom is our most frequent houseguest so I have learned about her preferences. She needs an illuminated alarm clock to check the time during the night, she brings her own hand towel but likes a fluffy bath towel, she gets up earlier than us so I pre-set the coffee maker and set out ready-to-eat breakfast foods to tie her over until breakfast and she loves to flip through my newest magazines. I stock up on flavored water and popcorn condiments, too, becasuse she enjoys them. I like to surprise her with fun, new toiletries to try, too–she loves to use a new body wash or lotion while she’s here. I keep my manicure, pedicure and facial supplies handy, too, so she can pamper herself if she finds the time!
    .-= Tabitha´s last blog ..7 Random Things About Me =-.

  20. gretchen from lifenut

    I really struggle with this. I have aspirations to be like Rayia above, but I end up being more like a shady Motel 6

    It’s simply out of the lack of space/beds. It’s hard to make an air mattress cozy. I try. My mom taught me the trick of using a heated mattress pad. I use soft flannel sheets and a puffy quilt. Still, I feel a little guilty. I should include a cute basket filled with painkillers and sleep aids.
    .-= gretchen from lifenut´s last blog ..My Thanksgiving with Mick Jagger =-.

  21. Kira

    I love how even a tiny thought and action to enhance friend’s or family stay, contributes to enhanced experience for people who visit us.
    .-= Kira´s last blog ..The Art Of Effective Decision Making =-.

  22. Wilma Ham

    When my children were young we had overseas guest all the time.
    You have to relax and make sure you do your own thing as well.

    Setting boundaries and agreements in place has been great if they stayed for 3 months. That kept teh whole place in integrity and manageable.
    Sit down and ask them what their plans are and what they want to see and how.
    Make a plan and tell them the house rules as well, NOT that those has to be stringent and done in a sergeant major tone but it is easier for everybody when they know.

    As for Melanie, just ask them what their plans are so you can arrange your plans according to theirs.

    Being prepared is the key, debriefing after the guests have gone and then correcting what was not working has helped me enormously.

    It has been fun so far and they kept coming back and sending friends as well, so boundaries are not off putting but work.
    .-= Wilma Ham´s last blog ..Questions, the doors to our hearts. =-.

  23. Ann-Marie Fagan

    I’m Irish, living in New Zealand, so I’m used to being a guest and having guests come and stay for weeks.
    The biggest thing I’ve learnt is not to make alot of plans without asking your guests permission first. For me it is an invasion on them. Surprizing them is a different kettle of fish.
    Also telling them about your routines helps enormously especially if kids are involved. This way they know the drill and can choose to play along with you or do their own thing. Everyone has their own space, there is no pressure as understanding is in place. It’s like Wilma said, tell them the boundaries.
    Ultimately if you are relaxed they will be relaxed too.
    .-= Ann-Marie Fagan´s last blog ..Questions, the doors to our hearts. =-.

  24. Marcia Francois

    I love love LOVE having guests. However, now that my twins are here (4 months old) the guest bedroom is the babies’ room and my study is a study/ guest bedroom. My mother came to stay for a month when they came home from NICU and after a few days I found myself moving the computer into our entrance hall to give her some privacy.

    As others have said, I make boundaries very clear (help yourself; I only do supper for everyone) and we don’t let people (except my mother) stay for longer than a week. I just start getting antsy and want my space back 🙂
    .-= Marcia Francois´s last blog ..Keeping up with my most-hated chore, the laundry =-.

  25. gretchen from lifenut

    I have dreams of being a gracious hostess, but I feel like my attempts are one step above a shaddy Motel 6. Because of space issues (we have 7 children), our guests usually get a fairly nice queen sized air mattress.

    I put a heated mattress pad on it to help warm all the frigid air inside. Even though there is a laughable “pillowtop” it still gets cold.

    Maybe if I put a little gift basket with Tylenol PM tucked inside, my guests would wake up looking refreshed.
    .-= gretchen from lifenut´s last blog ..My Thanksgiving with Mick Jagger =-.

  26. Libby H

    I have learned some things the hard way: My husband had a college buddy come visit, and the same day Friend arrived, Husband sprained his ankle, leaving me to entertain Friend. awesome. I knew Friend some, and he is a very laid-back, flexible guy, but I learned it’s always a good idea to have a backup plan.

    Fast forward to last New Year’s, when 12 of us come together every year from across the country. Last year was our turn to host since I was 8 months pregnant and knew we wouldn’t be able to attend unless we hosted. We packed them into our little house, and I planned ahead for meals and a few loose activties. It went SO well! Almost everyone told me that that year was the best one yet! A little planning can go a long way!

    We’ll see what happens this year, since there will be three new little ones and a new spouse added to our growing group!

    • Libby H

      also, in the big group situation, doing lots of meal prep ahead of time, will free you up to actually spend time with your guests!

  27. Knittinchick

    I love the coffee idea. As a bit of a coffee fiend, I always miss it when I’m away. I love it when people keep up their regular schedule and let me know what it is (both as a guest and a host) so I can plan accordingly.

    A few other things in people’s rooms that are appreciated:
    *pad of paper and pens
    *transit maps (if they don’t have a vehicle)
    *garbage can

    In the guest washroom, I usually have a small pill bottle of tylenol and some antihistamines in case they feel under the weather… it helps to not have to announce to everyone that you have a headache!

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