Are you dreading a holiday with your Aunt Dolores this year—because you’ll have to stay overnight?
With holiday travel picking up, many of us are bound for homes that aren’t our own. And let’s face it: Being a guest at someone else’s house can be fairly stressful.
From pets who nip at your heels to beds dressed with a single summer-weight blanket, the prospect of uncomfortable nights can bring out the Grinch in us all.
Fortunately, we have an early Christmas present for you: a survival guide to staying with friends or family during the holidays. Read on, and visit with pleasure.
Break up the stay
Can’t spend another night on the rock-hard twin bed in your father-in-law’s study? Of course, you can skip it altogether and book a hotel, says Katie McCann, the home-organizing genius at Haven.
“Just chalk it up to you and your partner being very particular and preferring to stay in a close Airbnb,” she says.
Or split the difference: Start your stay with your in-laws, and then end it at a comfier inn nearby. You’ll have joined the family but also given yourself a few blissful nights in a bed made for grown-up people.
Bring your own pillow
Do not suffer a flat pillow! Experts agree that bringing your own from home is the best way to enjoy a better night’s sleep. Alas, this works best if you’re driving and can just toss your fluffy favorite into the back seat.
And if you’re flying to Cousin Courtney’s and can’t spare the space for a pillow, simply ask your hostess if she can spare an extra. Layer the two for better support.
Offer a stellar gift
It’s not dated advice: A good guest never arrives empty-handed.
But in this instance, you’re not just toting a present to say “thanks for having me.” Instead, bring something that’ll also comfort and nourish you through what could be a rather trying—and hungry—stay.
Ideas abound, including an excellent bottle of Champagne, delicious breakfast pastry when you’re faced with dry cereal only, or strong coffee for those hosts who serve only decaf (shudder).
Another thing you can bring to the table?
“Good conversation,” says Bromberg.
Steer the talk away from politics and the hockey standings, and plan on a topic or funny story that shows “you’re interested in your hosts,” she adds.
Face pets with a wingman
This one’s a bit tougher, as many dogs and cats are like children in some families. Even so, you shouldn’t have to sacrifice your new leather gloves to your brother’s beagle.
You could feign an allergy, but another strategy is to enlist your partner or one of your kids to run interference when the pesky pet is present.
Whether it’s finding a volunteer to walk the pooch or asking someone to stand between you and Fido, you can and should get help when faced with an unruly pet.
Pack strategic layers
Sleeping in a drafty room is the pits.
Be a smart packer, and it will matter less if that guest room (or couch!) is light on bedding. Bring a bathrobe to wear in the morning but also to drape over yourself at night—ditto for a thin pair of long underwear, warm socks, and an oversized cardigan.
Don all these clothes at bedtime, so you don’t wake up blue in the morning.
Ask for help
Don’t let pride keep you from asking how to work the remote control or the keyless-entry locks.
And have you ever wasted a ton of precious hot water, frantically trying to figure out how a new shower works? Definitely don’t wait until you’re naked in the bathroom before you realize you don’t know how to adjust the water temperature or change the flow setting.
Just as you’d ask for the Wi-Fi password upon arrival, play a little dumb. Get a lesson on the inner workings of the guest bath.
Try to keep busy
This could mean something different for everyone. You may want to take a daily walk to clear your head, or offer to run errands for your hosts. Regardless of what you choose, just know that distracting yourself with a chore or other plan can make a world of difference.
And certainly pitch in around the house, as every proper guest should.
“You’d be surprised how many visitors don’t make their beds or keep the guest room tidy,” Bromberg notes.
And if your secret plan is to never be invited back? Well, in that case, trash your sleep space, skip the coasters for your cocktails, and leave those wet towels on the floor.
Next year, you’ll be solo!