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Lizzie Post, the great-great granddaughter of Emily Post, author, and co-host of The Awesome Etiquette Podcast, has agreed to weigh in on a few travel etiquette questions from a politesse perspective. She's covered good airplane behavior, how to tip at hotels (or Airbnbs!), and even whether you need to hang out with your short-term rental host. Now, Post turns her attention to best practice for when you get a free home for a trip.

May 12, 2016

Having a free place to stay is the ultimate money-saving dream scenario for travelers, whether it’s a pied-à-terre in Paris, a house in the Hamptons, or a tiny flat in Tokyo. How do you handle yourself in the wonderful scenarios when no money changes hands? Here are Post’s tips: 

What should the houseguest keep in mind above all other things?  

“The guest definitely needs to keep in mind that you want to leave the house in as good or better condition than you found it. You don’t snoop, you don’t disturb rooms you don’t need to disturb—which is also going to make life easier when you leave: ‘What can I close off and not worry about and leave completely untouched?’ You want to know any phone numbers, any contacts, so if anything does go wrong you can get in touch with the right person. Ask about things like internet and streaming and anything that’s off-limits. Ask if there’s a cleaning lady or anybody that comes by. The working of the house is good to ask about—‘Is there anything you prefer we don’t use?’”

Should you eat their food and drink their booze, if it’s offered?

“For a weekend visit I would probably be looking to not eat food out of their house, even if they invited me to. Their milk is going to be be theirs Monday morning and they probably don’t want to go shopping Sunday night. I try to be sure I cover my own food. I’m not eating or finishing their stuff—and if I do, I’m going to replace it. 

What sort of “thank you” gestures are appropriate?

“I think a written note is really lovely, if you can purchase something while you’re there and leave it for them. Maybe vases with flowers, or a plant for the garden, kitchenware items, or little decorative bowls. If you know them better, get them a really good book. [As for the] note, something like, ‘Thank you so much; this was so amazing; we particularly enjoyed the bladiblah. We would love to return the favor in some way some day.’”

What about food and drink gifts, or restaurant gift certificates? 

“Booze [is fine] if you know their taste, or a gift certificate to a restaurant … as long as it’s a sufficient amount so that they could order an entrée or two entrées. Those are great gifts, and great things to leave behind. You could take them out to dinner while you’re there, but if you buy them a gift certificate and don’t want them to use it on you, give it to them on the last day. It keeps them from overthinking it. You don’t want them to awkwardly invite you because you’re there for another three days.”

How much should you spend on a thank you?

“You don’t have to spend $100. I could afford a really pretty vase with flowers or a fabulous cookbook—I can find things in my budget—but I don’t really want to give them a $25 restaurant gift certificate. So keep that in mind.” 

Alex Van Buren is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @alexvanburen.

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