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Photo by Orin Optiglot

Staying with a host family can be such a great experience, it’s hard to know how to thank your hosts properly.

THE BEST MEMORIES of my recent trip to Ecuador come from the family in Quito that graciously opened their home to me.

After nearly two months of traveling, home-cooked meals and real beds with clean sheets were just what I needed. Plus, my host-family had lived in Quito for decades and were eager to share their city with me.

I had a deeper travel experience from watching how they lived, and I learned a lot about the city that you won’t find in guidebooks.

Staying with a host family can be such a great experience, it’s hard to know how to thank your hosts properly.

When you thank someone for letting you stay with them, make it more than a gesture. Staying in someone’s home while traveling can give you an intimate glimpse into how others live. Let them know how much it meant to you.

1. Earn Your Keep

Doing a few chores around the house or offering to do some of the cooking will always be appreciated.

Play to your strengths. If you’re a bit of a handyman, offer to fix their leaking faucet. If you’re tech-savvy, have a look at their aging computer.

Don’t make it too obvious, or your host will probably feel bad that their guest is doing housework. Be casual about it, don’t let them think of it as payment – and don’t break anything!

2. Quid Pro Quo

Even if they never do make it to your neck of the woods, they will probably enjoy exchanging an occasional email.

Return the favor by inviting your hosts to stay with you the next time they visit your part of the world. Make sure you leave them contact information that will still be good in a few years.

Then, if they do show up on your doorstep, do everything you can to make them feel as welcome as possible. Even if they never do make it to your neck of the woods, they will probably enjoy exchanging an occasional email.

If you enjoy playing the host, and want to make it into a regular thing, visit CouchSurfing. Sign up and start building your own network of international friends.

3. Share Your Memories

Most traveler’s carry a camera. Take a few group pictures with your hosts. When you develop those photos back home, make sure you send a few copies to your host family.

With most of us using digital cameras, the easiest (and cheapest) way to share photos is by e-mailing the files. However, mailing prints will probably be more appreciated.

Either print and mail them yourself, or upload the files to a website that will send the prints. I have used Winkflash, but there are many others.

4. Bring A Gift From Home

Gifts from your own hometown always go over well. Pack some small, nonbreakable gifts before leaving home. Find something that they are not likely to have where they live. On your last day with your host, give them something to remember you by.

Little flag pins or key-chains will work, but the best choice is something more personal. If you have a creative hobby, then give them a sample. Woodworkers, crafters, and other artists have many options.

5. Do Some Research

If you’re going to buy a gift locally, find out what items are considered appropriate in the culture you’re visiting. A certain color of flower may look great to you, but giving it out of the proper cultural context can be an insult to locals.

If you are going to buy a gift locally, find out what items are considered appropriate in the culture you’re visiting.

Some seemingly harmless gift items may be associated with funerals and death. Often guidebooks can give you advice on local taboos. Better yet, ask around the neighborhood market for ideas.

There might be other local customs regarding gifts. Make the effort to know these ahead of time. For example, if you know that in some cultures it’s polite to initially refuse a gift, you won’t be worried when your host turns down your gift the customary number of times.

Research helps here, but don’t worry so much about offending someone that you freeze up and become overly formal. As a foreign guest, you won’t be expected to know every little detail about local etiquette.

6. Treat Your Hosts

Take the family to a movie. Take them to a museum. Ask them which local restaurant is their favorite, and then make reservations.

Even though they may have constant access to the sights in their city, they probably don’t take advantage of them as often as they would like.

Something as simple as going to the bar where your host is a regular gives them a chance to show you off a little to their friends. Remember, you are just as exotic to the local as they are to you.

7. Don’t Overdo It

Expensive gifts and shameless gushing will only make your host uncomfortable. They are not expecting money or jewelry, and will turn them down.

Friendship, interesting conversation and the satisfaction of being a good host are what they really want, so keep smiling and always say thank you!

What are some ideas you’ve used to say thanks? Share in the comments!

 

 

About The Author

Theodore Scott

Theodore Scott is an engineer who lives in Boise, Idaho. He recently quit his job to travel around South America with his fiancee. Theodore tried, unsuccessfully, to marry her in every country they visited. His website is at www.theodorescott.com.

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  • Daniel Harbecke

    A considerate, nicely-written article. Not too many people take the time you have to pay such close attention to the needs and feelings of their hosts. I really respect that. It’s a country’s people that make it what it is, and expressing gratitude through simple courtesies makes the encounter that much more meaningful. Great job, Theodore! Sounds like your fiancee’s a lucky (though perhaps timid) lady.

  • http://www.collazoprojects.com Julie

    Hi, Theodore-

    What a great article! I wish I’d thought of this topic myself. I recently loaned my apartment to someone and came home to a table full of gifts from the guest– all foods and wine from her region. It was an amazingly thoughtful gesture, and a really nice way to come home. Thanks for this article.

  • http://www.nerdseyeview.com pam

    Lately, I’ve been sending off little photo books of pics I took while I was staying with my marvelous hosts. Or, I send them little photo books of my home, if they haven’t seen it. It’s so easy to get them made now, and they’re a nice thank you card, and what travel friendly person doesn’t like photos? I’ve used Mpix with great results.

    In other words, what you said!

    We’ve had loads of guests and I always love it when they bring edibles from their homeland.

  • http://www.rucksackwanderer.com/ Tim Patterson

    Very nice article – I’d just like to echo the praise for couchsurfing.com – one of my favorite travel resources on the web.

    http://couchsurfing.com

  • http://www.matadortravel.com/travel-community/deva Eva

    Great post! Tons of great ideas here.

    I’m always a big fan of cooking dinner for my hosts. It makes them less uncomfortable than a proposal to do the dishes or clean something, and I can usually arrange to buy the groceries and leave some leftovers behind as well, so I feel like I’m making some concrete contribution in exchange for my keep.

    As a couchsurfing host, I’ve been just as thrilled by the surfer who brought me home a Cadbury creme egg on Easter weekend than by the ones who sneakily left a couple of bottles of wine in my fridge – every gesture of thanks, whatever the size, feels great!

  • http://www.parkrideflyusa.com/blog/2008/03/04/italian-blog-scene-rubber-slippers-bleeding-espresso/ Samantha

    I always subscribe to the Quid Pro Quo ethic, it’s the least messy option in my opinion :) It also helps if your friends actually like to visit too and aren’t “eternal hosts”!

  • Karen

    Buy them some toilet paper. It’s a total basic need thing, but never goes unappreciated… and lets the host know you understand the little extra strain you’re putting on the house’s resources.

  • http://www.bebo.com/thegapyear Dave

    a great idea is to bring something from your country which you can share with your hosts such as postcards of big ben and the royal family, or maybe sing a song or bring some food they may not have to try like marmite or tetley tea bags, a gift doesnt have to be costly just something thats had a lot of thought behind it :D

    and couchsurfing is an amazing website! the best out there !

  • http://nobudgettravel.wordpress.com poetloverrebelspy

    I recently posted on this topic myself.

    The Art of Being a Gracious Houseguest

    I write about asking the question “Am I honoring my host?” to steer behavior down the right path.

    Pam, I love your idea of having one of those photo books made for your hosts! I’m totally going to do that as a gift for my old host families. It’s a great excuse to try something I’ve long wanted to. Thanks!

  • http://livesofwander.com Theresa

    I think the Quid Pro Quo idea is so important, but more broadly than just in relation to opening your home specifically to someone who let you stay in theirs. Though my husband and I live in a very small one bedroom apartment, we’ve never turned down a friend, family member, or friend of a friend of a friend looking for a place to stay. If they’re willing to take the couch, the air mattress, or the camping pad, we’re happy to have them. We’ve hosted people the very day after my husband returned from 6 weeks abroad, for an entire 8 week summer internship, and when they’ve shown up practically unannounced. We may never have a need for some of these people to return the favor, but we think of it as good traveler’s karma—one day we’ll be in need of that place to crash and someone will open their home to us.

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  • http://www.walesnotwhales.blogspot.com Reagan

    Theodore… seriously this is a great article for people to read, especially if they have not done much traveling and staying with people. Staying with local people beats staying in a comfortbale hotel or scary hostel anyday!! I love CouchSurfing and used it over my four week Easter Break, in Italy, Ireland, and France. I am also using it for a two-week trip to Greece! Host gifts are hard sometimes. In Florence, my friends and I talked with our host for about two days, then were out shopping and picked him up a small soccer(football) and we all signed it and put what state we were from in the U.S. We also made recipe cards with foods from American and laminated them. All of the hosts loved the gifts!!

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  • http://intensedebate.com/people/cgarlington cgarlington

    I am in love with your blog! What excellent advice! What a great idea! And I really love that in one of your posts about how to travel the world, you listed "serendipity". Ah, Serendipity. It involves all the great things that are wonderful about people: trust, friendship, magic, respect, and wit.

    I especially love the idea of carrying small goods with you to give. I think a signature gift is a good idea too, a singular token of appreciation that only the families you've stayed with have.

    And people are deeply affected by their culture, no matter that they might be emo teens or curmudgeonly oldsters, their place is part of them. They unconsciously assume the same about you so gifts that speak of your place, your home, are especially treasured.

  • Jagmohan Meena

    Hey, I already did all of the things you mentioned !! It gave me pleasure that I was perfect guest thr !

  • nathaniel canuel

    I draw and paint and I always try to do a nice rendering of the peoples house or whatever it is they are living in as a gift.

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  • Alec

    great advice.  Thanks Theodore!

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