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How to Be the Best House Guest

08/29/2013 12:30 EDT | Updated 10/29/2013 05:12 EDT

Benjamin Franklin said that guests and fish start to smell after three days. Of course, in his day, people might visit for weeks at a time. Today, people tend to visit only for a weekend -- until the holidays roll around. Then all bets are off!

My family doesn't go visiting much. For the most part, if you want to see us, you have to come to us. As a result, we have a revolving door in the guest room. It's fun! We have visitors scheduled for September, November and December. And just this morning, an old friend called and asked whether she could visit next week. Are you kidding?! School just started, another friend is coming later in the month, and we are going to squeeze her into our schedule?

We most certainly are! This friend is the best guest we have ever had. Not only is she gracious and helpful, she always seems to disappear just when we need family time, and reappear when we're missing her company. Her visits always seem too short, and so she will always be welcome.

I've read many articles about being a good house guest. The basics traditionally include bringing a gift or taking the host family out to dinner. Do not leave your beauty products around the sink. Keep the guest room (or sleeper sofa) tidy. Follow the house rules. And yes, please remember to write an actual thank-you note, not just an email, after your stay.

However, if you want to be a great house guest, you need to set the bar a little higher:

Communicate. Be clear not only about the dates and times of arrival and departure, but also on your schedule during your stay. Do you plan to sleep in, or go for an early morning run? Are catching up with Aunt Suzie, or will you spend every minute with your hosts? I've had guests who have slept until noon, while I sat around for hours, ready to make breakfast. I've prepared a special meal, only to learn that my guests were headed out for the evening.

You are a joining a show already in progress. You may be welcome, but you're still an interruption to the daily routine. Your hosts may need to walk the dog, wait for a repairman, run carpool, or bathe the kids. Step aside and let them do what they need to. By all means, offer to help, but sometimes you're better off disappearing for a while. Read a book, watch TV, or take a stroll until your hosts are available for you. Then they won't feel bad for leaving you unattended.

Turn in before they do. Everyone needs to wind down before bedtime. Let your hosts relax on their own schedule! Even if you plan to stay up 'till dawn, say goodnight early and keep the volume down on the TV or iPad. Likewise, be quiet in the morning if you seem to be awake before your hosts are.

There is no Cruise Director. Your host is happy to see you, but she may not have any activities planned. Before your visit, go online and check out local events, places of interest, restaurants, movies, etc. If she does have an itinerary, great! But if she shrugs and says, "I don't know...what do you want to do?", you have an answer.

Respect boundaries. Some people love help in the kitchen; others consider it their inner sanctum. Your host may prefer to prepare dinner alone, or that you not fill the dishwasher, so don't push the issue. Instead ask if there is anything else you can do to help. Maybe you can set the table, entertain the kids, or take out the trash.

If you're staying for more than three days, don't be the "fish". Entertaining can be tiring! Your hosts might enjoy a break, just to have the house to themselves. Ask if they would mind if you went out for an evening, or let them know you will be sleeping in the next day. Chances are, they will quietly appreciate it.

Armed with this wisdom, go forth and visit to your heart's content! Your friends/family will be glad you did.