This is part of a ‘travel etiquette’ series that deals with good manners while exploring. To learn more about good Game (wild animal) viewing etiquette, I detail my tips here.
I wrote, a couple of years back, a post on how I manage to travel without breaking the bank. One of my biggest money-savers is accommodation. I hardly ever pay for it and instead use couchsurfing.com, which allows you to stay in someone’s house absolutely free! Whether you’re staying at a friend’s or a stranger’s, it’s good to have knowledge of some unwritten rules. These are what I’ve picked up since my first house-guest experience 13 years ago in Virginia. Some are harder to fulfill than others, but they’re all worth the funds you’ll be saving.
1. Be clear about your arrival and departure dates so as to avoid clashing schedules.
2. Carry a unique gift from your country or town to give at the end of your stay. This is much better than buying a gift in your host’s country. My go-to gifts are art pieces unique to Kenya or uniquely branded clothing or jewellery. A gift upon arrival (say, a bottle of wine, is also encouraged).
3. Get into the host’s schedule. It’s a little awkward when everyone at the host’s house is up by 7:00am and you’re still in bed at 9:00am. If, for instance, they have breakfast communally at 8:00am, you may put them in a compromising situation as they decide whether to wake you up to eat or not. You don’t have to do everything together (you’re a tourist after all) but use the first day or two to quickly learn their morning/evening routines and try to be a part of them.
4. Take part in some house activities. I stayed with a host in Diani in 2016. I hurriedly left to explore every morning. The lady of the house would invite me for breakfast occasionally but I’d politely decline. One evening, when I returned, her husband mentioned that he had heard that I was not having my meals at their house. While he said it light-heartedly, I realised it may have been slightly offensive to them. This is cultural though, hosts in a different part of the world may look at the fact that they’re hosting you as sufficient investment.
5. Dress and speak appropriately. You may find it okay to walk around your house in hot-pants or use curse words. This is not the place to be liberal with inappropriate jokes- or too much skin. Observe the hosts to know what is acceptable in their house and what isn’t.
6. Conserve towels and linens. Remember this is not a hotel. While you may have lots of towels at your disposal, using one a week is the considerate thing to do.
7. Clean up after yourself. Leave your room neat at all times, regardless of the presence of workers or not. In households with no workers, lend your hand when necessary, e.g offer to do the dishes etc. The hosts might refuse but it makes a difference that you asked.
8. Don’t rely on your host for transportation or anything other than accommodation. Entertain yourself independently so they can also go on with their lives unperturbed.
9. Give the host personal space. It’s perfectly okay to invite your host to explore with you, and ask questions about where to go. While inviting them is acceptable, respect the fact that they are not tourists. They may not want to spend every minute of the day with you and that’s alright.
10. Do not invite friends over. I had a host bring this up in conversation and I was surprised. A previous guest had sneaked in a girl in the middle of the night! While I wouldn’t do this, if you must bring a guest over, ask first.
11. Replace everything that you lose/break or offer to pay.
12. Avoid spending too much time on your phone especially in the presence of your hosts. Be sociable.
13. Send a thank you note when you arrive at your next destination/home.
Next time: The world is a beautiful place. 10 personal travel experiences.