When You’re A Guest, Leave It Better Than You Found It

We’ve all encountered the guest who knocks something over and pretends like he didn’t see it. Or the overnight guest who leaves her wet towels in a heap in the corner of the bathroom.

When you are traveling, and you are a guest in someone’s home, there is no specific manual with a list of bullet points to follow on how to be a good house guest. And there is no rule on how to be a good host. However, no matter what your relationship is with whomever you are visiting, near or far, you will leave a lasting impression on your hosts with every step of your behavior, and most notably how you treat someone’s space while you are there.

I’d like to believe that most hosts  prepare their home even just a little when they know they have guests coming to stay, whether it’s for a few hours or many days. When arriving at a host’s house and it looks clean, it’s easy to forget how much work it took to get it to all look so effortless for your arrival and enjoyment. Remember: it took a whole lot of work and love to get it that way, probably several hours and many, many dollars.

In terms of how a guest should conduct ones self in the space being allotted to place things, to sleep, to shower and dine, I have, over the years, whittled down the non-existent, formal, bulleted list to one key point that’s also an old adage:

leave it better than you found it

I take this life lesson’s meaning in a couple of ways:

1) If you must use/move/do to something that is not yours, make sure you return whatever it is to its original state, at the very least, or even better than it was originally to show your respect for the item that wasn’t yours.


2) If the thing you are contemplating using/moving/doing will require you to then have to leave it better than you found it, then maybe the best course of action is not to use/move/do anything in the first place.

A Personal Account

Some family came to visit my home, which I share with my parents. Since the family visiting consisted of two parents and a toddler, I gave up my large bedroom for them because a) I felt it was the courteous thing to do and b) I figured they would appreciate the extra space. I wiped down everything, put unsafe things away from the child’s reach, switched out the bedding, put coasters on my desk, and placed runners on top of my dressers, desk and nightstand. All of this was in an effort to make things comfortable for them and so I wouldn’t have to say common sense things like, “Please don’t put drinks directly on my furniture… again.” These visual cues would surely do the talking for me, right?

One day they left to visit other family for a few hours. While they were gone, my father said I should open the door to their bedroom so more heat could flow into that room for their comfort.



I stood shocked upon opening the door. There were dirty diapers hanging out of the filled-to-capacity trash can. The runner I had purposefully covered the nightstand with was violently shoved back to the wall; in its stead were the wife’s used earplugs sitting flush on the bare nightstand. My dresser had been visibly moved away from the wall. A large mirror that normally leaned against the wall on top of my dresser had been moved across the room, and was now lying flat on my desk. And the pièce de résistance… a painting that has been mounted on my wall for at least 15 years had been taken down. It was replaced with a video camera to monitor the
baby. Because of the height of where the camera was, I knew this meant someone had to stand on the dresser in order to mount the camera. The wife had asked me if she could use the blow dryer that was clearly made available for any and all guests in the bathroom, but logic told her that climbing on furniture to remove a painting required no such similar permission.

When they left our home to return to their own home and I went to change my bedding, I was given the lingering gift of a used earplug. I swear I threw it out, but it somehow wound up in my washing machine.

Overflowing trash

Overflowing trash

In prior visits, these guests have left behind breast milk stains on my dressers, nightstand, and computer, as well as breast milk inside one of our daily use drinking glasses that was left sitting on my father’s desk in his office. They’ve spilled coffee on both the dining room carpet and my bedroom carpet years ago, both of which still shine bright today. Plates are left with food on them on the dining room table. When the air conditioning blew too cold near them in the summer, vents were closed, leaving my father to worry about a possible mechanical issue. And when the air temperature in their bedroom was too cold in the winter, the thermostat was jacked up to as high as 76 degrees in order to warm up one room in a large house, leaving my father to jump up out of his sleep in a sweat. And my favorite has to be the overflowing trash can in the bathroom, where our guests were clearly trying to make a basket from the other side of the house.

All that said…

leave it better than you found it

When you travel to stay at someone else’s home, your manners and etiquette do matter – they do affect people. They affect the people who have to clean up in your wake, it creates hostile feelings when a mess is left behind, it leaves behind a feeling of hurt that your hosts weren’t respected. And it forces a writer to write an entire story about it.

Most importantly, make sure that you feel proud of the positive impression you make on others while visiting their home. Make sure that you’re proud of yourself and that you respect yourself for the behavior you put forth towards anyone you encounter in this lifetime, but especially if you’re a guest in their home.

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Why Don’t New Yorkers Eat?

Forgive the sweeping generalization, New Yorkers, but why don’t you eat? Why are your refrigerators empty? I genuinely want to know.

Now, when I say “New Yorkers”, I’m referring to those of you in New York City. I’m also a New Yorker, but I live upstate. I love our great state of New York, and New York City is truly one of a kind.

Every time I think of visiting New York City, I immediately get very excited at the thought of the great city, its energy, and all of the magnificent things to do and see. Then the dread of visiting my friends and family living there sets in: I know I will starve in their apartments.

For years, each time I’ve gone to visit, no one I know has had any food in their refrigerators. There is no offer of food or drink, and there is no effort to buy food or drink for the special occasion of someone visiting their home.

So I wonder: are New Yorkers super humans who require less food than the rest of us, are they too broke to afford food, or is it just too hard to carry bags of food into walk-up apartments and even ones with elevators?

I recently decided to take a weekend trip to the city so I could see my nephew. I knew the risk of starvation, but I did it anyway. The day before my trip I baked a dozen apple cinnamon muffins that would both serve to feed me as well as provide a polite gift to share with my hosts upon arrival. My hosts would be presented with the muffins under the guise of “Look, I baked you some muffins because I thought you’d like them!”, but I knew I’d be shoving them down my throat in the bathroom.

I packed my small cooler bag with muffins, bananas, apples, and a container of nuts so I could sustain not only my health but also my energy until my hosts decided it was time for me to eat. And this leads me to a second point on New Yorkers not eating…

How can New Yorkers not have their first meal, let alone their first bite of food, until 1 or 2 in the afternoon? If you get up at noon, then yes, this makes sense. But if you are up at 7AM how can your body be fueled enough to even carry you in an upright position to a restaurant 6-7 hours later?

During my 2-day visit, I was offered exactly 2 times a piece of fruit and ice cream at random, odd, late hours, which I inhaled to try to show them that if a guest accepts the offering it’s because they probably really wanted it. But on both days, my hosts didn’t even attempt to bring up the first meal of the day until noon. No, we wouldn’t be eating upon the mention – it was actually more of a forewarning that we would really be leaving by 1 or 2 to get to said meal.

When my hosts went into the bathroom, or took a break to change their baby, I dove into my bag, and down went at least 2 muffins. By the time they got back, I was on to my piece of fruit. As I ate my own food, and they saw me eating my own food, I couldn’t help but wonder what they thought of me bringing my own food. Did they think I was weird for bringing my own food to their home, or for being so hungry like a non-New Yorker? And, more importantly, didn’t they stop to think that maybe they had failed as hosts on some level?

I’ve often wondered if it was “just me”, but, alas, I am not the only one to have experienced this food issue while in New York. One of my best friends has told me for years that whenever she and her husband visit their friends in New York City, they have learned to pack loads of food. She told me they scarf down their energy bars in the mornings on their air mattress or while in the bathroom as their hosts just sip on coffee until late afternoon. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard her exasperatedly say to me, “They just don’t eat!”

I realize that everyone has a different take on being a host and there is no formula for being a great one. But please, please, I beg you please, for those of you in the world who ever plan on having a guest in your home ever in your life, at the very least, please keep a loaf of bread in your freezer and some peanut butter and jelly in the cupboards just in case. You may keep a future guest from starving to death.

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Don’t Go on Vacation If You Can’t Afford It – Especially If It’s Free

(This post clearly doesn’t apply to backpackers since the whole point of your travel is to do it without money! 🙂 )

Don’t go on a free trip, you say? In what world does this make sense, you say?

I’ve heard many a cash-strapped friend tell me that they are going on a free trip to some tropical destination. Someone — maybe parents or friends — has offered up free lodging in order to get them to join in on the fun.

“How could I pass up a free trip?” I’ve heard them say.

“I’d actually be saving money on a hotel for that whole week. Do you know how much hotels cost?” they try to convince themselves.

If these are your worldly possessions... consider staying home

If these are your worldly possessions… consider staying home

As long as they can get themselves to the destination, they say, there’s a “free” trip on their hands. (Oh, and the flight. The cost of parking at the airport. And the gas and tolls to get to the airport. Uh…also a rental car will be needed for the trip too. And, gas for the rental car. Food… dining out for most meals, and maybe having some groceries in the room just in case. Maybe a new swimsuit. And entertainment and sightseeing. Oh, nuts – the dog needs to be put in a kennel.)

Suddenly, this “free” trip can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars for a trip that you never planned to take in the first place, and that you might not be able to afford at all. You’ve now put yourself in debt just to get a free room, when everything you need to pay for in order to participate in the trip probably adds up to way much more than the value of the room.

And this is just you. What if you have a spouse and/or children? Factor in all of those extra costs, and suddenly spending all of that money to save a few hundred bucks on a hotel seems kind of silly, doesn’t it? One step up, and two steps back.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Additionally, you never know what you’re going to encounter while you’re on vacation that might call for extra cash. If you have exactly $1000 to spend on a vacation, including all costs, and can’t go over that amount, you shouldn’t go on vacation. Inevitably, more costs always creep up. What if you get sick and need medicine? What if you need a cab because the designated driver got too drunk and you have no way home? Or, the hotel charges an additional daily fee to park your car? Things creep up, and you need to be prepared.

A Personal Account

Once I went to New York City with a friend. We were staying for one week — for free — with my brother. Did I mention it was New York City, one of the most expensive places on Earth to vacation? I was always very good with my money, and lived with my parents. So, a week in the big apple? No problem. My friend and I decided to stock up on some groceries to make our trip a little more affordable. How responsible of us. When the time came to fire up the stovetop to boil some pasta… nothing. The stovetop didn’t work. My brother never cooked, and therefore didn’t notice the problem. All of that money spent on expensive groceries for nothing. It was annoying, but I could afford to take that risk because I could afford the trip along with any nonsense, like the situation we faced, that might come up. We’d just take the food home with us, I said. My friend, however, was very upset. This was a big deal to her. Over a meal that we were then forced to eat out at a restaurant, she told me how she was on the verge of losing her house and her car. In my head I screamed, “WHY ARE YOU HERE? YOU CAN’T AFFORD THIS VACATION!” Her parents had actually told her to get away to clear her head over her troubles. Wrong advice. Wrong. Just wrong.

Another time, I stayed for “free” at my cousin’s summer house. She insisted on it. Cha-ching! While there, the refrigerator broke. In the shower was a small multi-paned glass window that could open and close to let the steam out. One day, I turned the handle to open it and one of the glass plates in it slid out and shattered on the floor. Dish soap, coffee, the washing machine – I used them regularly. It wasn’t right to just walk away with broken items, and used up household items. So, even though I hadn’t planned on doing so, a good amount of cash was left for her out of respect and for repairs.

Free things are very rarely truly free!

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Choosing the Wrong Travel Partner: A Firsthand Account

One day while at work, a coworker acquaintance was talking to me in my office, and mentioned she was going to Hawai‘i.

She said, “You should come.”

I liked to travel and was always looking for a travel partner.

I casually responded with, “Sure.”

I immediately felt an ominous whoosh sweep over me.

I knew this coworker in light, general ways. Over the many years I “knew” her at work, she would stop by my office to mull over generic topics like the weather, how slowly the trains were running that day, or how she wished to meet someone.

She had lived in Hawai‘i many years earlier and had visited regularly ever since. She knew a lot about the best airlines, places to stay, where to go, car rentals, etc. I truly appreciated all of this first-hand knowledge, and was even a bit relieved at having a kind of personal tour guide.

Some of my close friends did try to politely inquire as to why I was going with someone I didn’t really seem that excited to travel with, but it didn’t phase me at the time. Like any dysfunctional and unhealthy relationship, I chose to see only the good things and shove the dark spots deep down; in this case I was focused on the trip itself and not so much my travel partner.

Once we landed in Hawai’i, the rigidity I knew was lurking below in her sprung to life. At the car rental lot, she had made sure to reserve us the most practical, family-friendly, gas-efficient Mazda sedan two single gals in their 30’s could want. As she drove us to our rental house, her hands were firmly planted at the 10 and 2 positions, she literally told me she refused to drive over the designated speed limit, no radio was allowed, and every move was straight out of a 1970s instructional driving safety video.

OK, so being safe is a good thing, right? Right, I get it. But add it on to the rest of these and behold my tale…

Her Friend’s Going to Join Us … For the Entire Trip

Driving along in our sweet ride on our first adventure of the trip, my travel partner turned into an apartment complex. When I asked what was in there, she said her friend would be joining us. She didn’t ask if I minded, and clearly set the tone that she would be making the calls on this trip. Fortunately the friend was very nice. However … the friend wound up joining us almost every single day of our trip, not once chipping in for gas as we picked her up, dropped her off, made coffee runs for her, and escorted her all around the island.

Let us Pray

I think religion is fantastic. I believe in my own ways and do not force my thoughts on anyone, nor do I want them forced on me.

The 3 of us went out to a nice restaurant for dinner one night. Once our meals were set in front of us, each girl grabbed one of my hands (again without asking), they bowed their heads down, and began a prayer that went on for what seemed like eternity. I sat there stunned (and slightly embarrassed, I’ll admit, since I did not grow up this way), and just stared at them as they clutched my hands in a prayer that made me very uncomfortable.

Silence is Golden – But Not When You’re on a 4-Hour Car Ride

Both of my travel partners also had a tendency to clam up and not say anything. I find sitting in silence very strange when with people and, more importantly, why sit in silence when you can chat and have fun? You’d think that with 3 people in a small space, there would be nonstop chatter. Nope. I can’t tell you how many dead silences I endured with them while driving, eating, you name it.

At one point the silence was so painful I decided to… wait for it…turn on the radio. Of all the songs in all the world to be playing at that exact moment, Dishwalla’s “Counting Blue Cars” was on. These lyrics permeated our silent car with my 2 super religious pals listening on:

Tell me all your thoughts on God.
‘Cause I would really like to meet her.
And ask her why we’re who we are.
Tell me all your thoughts on God.
‘Cause I am on my way to see her.
So tell me am I very far, am I very far now?

My travel companion was NOT OK with these lyrics and very nervously said, “We need to change this.”

Again without asking, she abruptly turned it to a classical music station instead. I’m not going to lie – I kind of loved that she was so angered by the song and that I could not have planned it better had I tried.


My view of Waikiki as the sun set and enjoyable, laid back people all around me.

Just Like a Child, If You Tell Me Not to Do Something, I’ll Want to Do it Even More

My travel partner kept going on and on about the “real” Hawai‘i and how Waikiki was “fake”. She told me that I would hate it so we wouldn’t even bother going there. She clearly knew me better than I knew myself!

One night, while she was at church, I had the car all to myself. I sped off like I’d just been set free from prison and went … straight to Waikiki. I loved it. There were tons of people around, lots of performers, shops to browse for souvenirs, many eyesore skyscraper hotels, and lovely palm trees. An Asian man made me the absolute worst “authentic” Greek food this Greek girl has ever had, but I savored it and had a great time. All by myself. In Waikiki. And I relished telling her all about it the next day.

Ha ha ha!! That’s Not an Accent Mark! Ha ha ha!

In case you haven’t been to Hawai‘i, there is a whole distinct language there. Words like “‘A‘ala”, “Kalaeoka‘ō‘io” and “Līhu‘e” are everywhere. How would you pronounce them? A little challenging maybe?

As a fairly intelligent woman who’s studied French and Greek for years, when I see a mark like “ō” or “‘” within a word, I know it’s altering the word in some way. Maybe the sound of the letter changes, or maybe this is the part of the word that gets emphasized. These are my best educated guesses, for I am a college-educated woman who majored in Communications and minored in common sense and life awareness.

One day as I drove and, yet again tried to find a way to engage my 2 silent companions in conversation, I figured asking them about this language would be a great talking point since they sold themselves as such experts (putting my Communications degree to work!). I had just seen a street sign with a tough, long name on it. I inquired about what the “accent” mark I had seen meant – was it where the emphasis went, and, also how should I pronounce that word? Not only did I not get an answer, I was semi mocked and given a pseudo-intellectual speech about the fact that it wasn’t an “accent” mark (har har, it was THE funniest thing she’d heard all year!) and it was, in fact, a “diacritical mark”. Oh, how we all laughed at that one! Oh wait, no we didn’t.

Sunny, 80 Every Day, Warm Breeze Blowing, Beachfront Property. Perfect for Staying Inside on the Couch!

When traveling with someone I always like to travel with the caveat that “it’s OK if you want to do this, and I want to do that. I won’t be offended.” But, I must say… when you’re in one of the worlds most PERFECT weather environments and you’re vacationing from a place that NEVER has weather even remotely like this, wouldn’t you go outside for a bit?

Nope, not my travel partner.

When we weren’t out sightseeing, she stayed inside our rental house and read on the couch. We had lounge chairs, a driveway, and a private beach about 50 feet away. Bring the book outside? I would take off and go walk the beach, talk to the local neighbors and call my friends on the East Coast while she sat on the couch.

In Summary…

Were all of my stories “horror” stories that were too awful to be true? No, not at all. But I had a stressful time with this person. She was always talking down to me, the couple of days I got to be by myself were relished beyond belief, and I couldn’t wait for the trip to end. I spent thousands of dollars on a trip with a person who didn’t add to the joy of the trip. That’s no way to spend a trip in paradise or anywhere else.

The moral of the story is to choose your travel partners wisely. A lot of time, money, and anticipations go into vacations so plan the best you can with the right travel partner for you. If you’re “iffy” about your options and aren’t sure, I truly advise that you go on your own or look to travel with like-minded people through travel groups. Make sure your trip ends wishing you had more time there instead of wishing your trip away!

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Travel Companions

When traveling to a destination, be it a local day trip or a weeks-long overseas excursion, if you decide to travel with someone it is imperative that you choose this person wisely. I say this whether you are married or not, because your significant other may not always be the wisest travel companion for where you want to go.

Some things to think about:


How well do you know one another? And I mean really know one another? Are you longtime best friends, significant others, or coworker acquaintances?

Have you ever been with this person in a situation where you’ve had to compromise or make decisions together? If so, was it handled well/easily? Do you respectfully work things out or is it tense? Is there a natural flow in your relationship where you feel free to openly discussing things?

Are you both somewhat similar in terms of sleeping/waking hours, cleanliness, and trip expectations? Are you physically active expecting to mostly see things by foot but your companion assumes you’ll mostly go by some form of transportation?

Time Apart

Is your travel partner someone who will agree to, and also not be offended by, you exploring for a day or two by yourself? Maybe you want to go location X, but your companion wants to go to location Y. It’s important for both of you to get the most out of the trip, so being flexible and OK to travel separately at some points will be key. It’s important to agree to this beforehand and not spring solo travel on your companion during the trip.

Or, what if your companion gets a cold and is out of commission for a couple of days. Are you confident enough to still go out by yourself and explore or are you and your travel partner dependent on one another?

Splitting Bills

Finances lead to the demise of many types of relationships, so don’t let it ruin your travels. These obligations should be discussed before you go anywhere so there are no surprises or feelings of resentment while on the trip or after returning home.

If your travel destination requires things like hotel rooms, car rentals, groceries, etc., is your travel companion responsible and considerate with money? Or will you be footing the bill for everything, hoping to later recoup payment, if at all?

If one of you is booking the car and hotel, and the other is booking the flights, create a spreadsheet with line items for each expense and who paid. Then it will be very clear if expenses are evenly paid for or if one of you owes the other. Work out and pay for these pre-destination items before the trip so it’s not on your mind during the trip. Also, a breakdown of the costs may put your travel partner’s mind at ease knowing that you are a fair companion.

Once at your vacation destination, it may be a good idea for you both to agree to pay for your own items (food, passes, souvenirs, etc.) so as to keep finances cleanly divided. It may seem like a good idea for one person to get breakfast and the other to get dinner, but if your companion pays for a couple of morning bagels and coffee and you’re springing for a high-end dinner, you may wind up feeling resentful. Make it easy and agree to separate checks at meals.

Also, have plenty of cash on hand in most all levels of denominations so you’re prepared for situations (tipping, fees, etc.). If you are going somewhere that has a different currency, get different levels of dominations equivalent to at least 100 American dollars before you leave America. When you arrive at your destination you may need to take a cab or train or eat. Being prepared will make sure that you and your companion don’t have to borrow money right from the start, which may make things awkward.

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