Be a hospitable host and gracious guest
1 Extend a welcome
Put guests at ease even before they arrive. Calling ahead shows you're looking forward to their visit. • Confirm arrival details and length of stay. • Share special plans you've made -- should they pack hiking shoes, an evening dress? • What do they need or not need? Are raincoats in order because of the forecast? Can they leave the hair dryer at home? • Ask about allergies (to foods or down-filled bedding, for instance).
2 Create a haven
Provide a comfortable personal space. • Supply travel-size toiletries they may have forgotten, like toothpaste, shampoo and sunblock, plus luxuries like specialty soaps and bath oils. • On the nightstand, stack magazines and books they'll enjoy, and set out a bouquet of flowers and a water glass and carafe. • If you just have a sofa in the family room, add a folding screen for privacy if there's no door. • Place a small take-home gift on their pillow – gourmet chocolates for the friend with the sweet tooth, monogrammed note cards for the aunt from overseas, a photo album for your shutterbug sister.
3 Give a guided tour
Show guests around to encourage them to help themselves. • Where can they find coffee in the morning? • Where are the extra blankets, sun hats and first aid kit kept? • Demonstrate how to use the TV, as well as the computer if they want to check e-mails.
4 Encourage independence
Visits are great, but you need some time for yourself. • Plan a few outings involving everyone and leave the rest up to them. • Research local activities and tourist sites, then provide maps and brochures so they can head out on their own to local golf courses or museums, or take the kids to the park or ice cream parlour.
5 Take it easy
If you're not enjoying yourself, your guests won't either. Don't fuss and hover. • Resist the temptation to schedule every minute. Leave free time for them to venture out on their own or to enjoy spur-of-the-moment adventures together. • Go for simple meals – prepare dishes ahead, like soup, for quick lunches. • Involve them in dinner prep – it's a chance to chat and chop together, sharing techniques.
How to be a gracious guest
1 Tell hosts what's up
Communicate your plans and needs so your hosts aren't caught off guard. • What time of day will you be arriving and leaving? If you'll be eating before your arrival, let them know so they don't go to the trouble of cooking a five-course meal. • Make them aware of any allergies you have. • Offer to bring something – a particularly helpful gesture if you're heading up to a remote cottage community where they just can't get good coffee beans.
2 Bring supplies
Show your gratitude by bringing a cornucopia of goodies. • To ease the financial burden of feeding more mouths, you can provide provisions – a basket of fresh bread and fruit, some sweets and a bottle of wine or two. • A thank-you gift is in order, too. It doesn't have to be big, but it should be thoughtful – perhaps a cat figurine to add to your friend's menagerie, Montreal bagels for her husband, who misses them, and blowing bubbles for their five-year-old.
3 Be sure to help out
Their home is not a hotel. There's no maid to pick up your wet towels. • Pitch in and clean up after yourself – place dishes in the dishwasher, reshelve books and corral children's toys when play is over. • Offer to lend a hand with dinner – chop veggies, wash lettuce or set the table. Better yet, cook for them one night.
4 Do your own thing
Give hosts some breathing room. Spending 24/7 with anyone, no matter how much you care for them, can be tiring. You'll both need a break. • Retreat to your room for an afternoon of reading. • Arm yourself with a local map and hit the town to visit the used-books store your host has no interest in or the zoo she's seen too often.
5 Say thank you
Once you're back home, be sure to let your host know how much you enjoyed your stay. • Send a handwritten thank-you note by mail. • If your visit was particularly enjoyable or long, consider sending an additional gift, like a framed photograph of your shared excursion to the local antiques show. • And be sure to reciprocate by inviting your weekend host to be your guest sometime soon.