I find that many people are intimidated by the idea of hosting overnight guests.
Maybe you feel called to be more hospitable, but don’t know where to begin.
Maybe you’ve started opening up your home for coffee or brunch or even potluck dinners, but you still can’t fathom the idea of someone spending the night.
Maybe you have a spare bedroom (or a futon or an air mattress) waiting to be used, but don’t know where to start.
This is for you!
We started hosting out of town guests almost by accident. We know many musicians through Audiofeed Music Festival that often tour through the Midwest. Josh and I thought it would be cool to “one day” open up our home to other bands in the Ryfo network. We even bought our current home with hosting in mind. (We wanted street parking, a long driveway, and room for a large table.) Our church conveniently offers lots of chances every year to host both students for lunch, and guests for conferences. We also occasionally host international college students over their breaks through ISI – in fact we currently have a student from Azerbaijan staying with us!
We don’t have to go very far out of our way to find people to host; we simply say yes to the opportunities that come our way. If you’re not connected with a church or online network, simply let your friends know about your open-door policy. Tell extended family they needn’t ever pay for a hotel when passing through your area. Eventually word will spread and you’ll have takers.
Even if someone insists they don’t need food, I always provide dinner and some sort of snack for guests. Traveling can be exhausting, and there’s not many healthy options out on the road. Don’t ask people if they want food – just put food in front of them and see what they do. It doesn’t have to be a fancy three-course meal. Just something with lots of veggies in the crock-pot. When guests are coming, I generally double whatever we’re eating for dinner the night they come and keep it hot in the crock-pot. I have a couple famous, easy recipes I rotate. You can make the same thing again and again if you want – different guests won’t know or care! My specialties are vegan chili, lentil soup, and Curried veggies with rice.
I also make a large batch of oatmeal cookies and put them out for munching throughout the stay. Sometimes dinner was long ago and travelers just need some herbal tea and a cookie before bed. They won’t ask for it, but they will gladly accept it if you put it out.
The guest room.
Anticipate as many needs as you can in the guest room so they don’t need to ask you. We have the wifi info posted in each guest room, as well as towels, washcloths, hangers, and earplugs for the taking. Before a guest comes, I put clean sheets on the bed and I vacuum. It’s simple and can be done at a moment’s notice for last-minute guests.
A trashcan and a mirror are helpful, and a place to plug in phones and laptops. We provide a fan in the summer and a space heater in the winter so guests can control the climate in the room. I also try to provide a variety of blankets so they have choices.
We have some good magazines and books for guests to read before bed. I love when someone borrows something off our bookshelf and likes it! We also have a guestbook for them to sign if they get a chance. Guests like to read it and see what everyone else had to say. Sometimes bands are friends with other bands who have stayed. It’s so fun to flip through the pages and look back on those experiences.
We only have one shower, so I make a point to shower before guests arrive so it’s all theirs during the stay. I keep a soap and shampoo in pain sight for anyone to use, and extra toilet paper in baskets so they don’t have to go looking for it.
Josh and I are usually up first because we’re early risers (our kids don’t give us much choice!) I usually set out a simple continental breakfast: fruit, cereal or bagels, and coffee fixings. I usually have eggs on hand, and if we don’t have plans, I make green pancakes. I’ll skip this if me or Josh has to go to work.
A simple breakfast is perfectly fine. I want to emphasize that even if you work, you can still host guests! Teach them how to lock your house up the night before, set out breakfast, and go about your day if you must. Traveling folks who stay in lots of houses will likely appreciate a quiet morning anyway. Visiting and being “on” non-stop can be exhausting. Sometimes I’ll even leave and run a few errands with the kids first thing so the guests can wake up and shower in their own time, and we chat later over coffee.
Know your city.
Part of being an exceptional host is being able to recommend fun things to do in your town. It helps to know your area! We have a fantastic free zoo here in St Louis that’s open year-round. I recommend it to everyone if they have a few hours to spare. I also make sure everyone knows about the City Museum downtown, which isn’t a “boring museum about the city” but a giant recycled playground for adults. These two places are way better in my opinion than the “touristy” ones: Union Station and the Gateway Arch. Steer your guests toward where the locals actually go, not the tourist attractions.
If there’s a place to run or hike nearby, show your guests and let them explore it on their own. Many people need to exert some energy after being in the car several hours a day. Don’t expect them to want to sit around first thing.
A good host is a relaxed host. Don’t fret or apologize repeatedly if things aren’t perfect. Just breathe. Say no to perfectionism. Try to focus on the people and not the performance. Things don’t have to be spotless. I think often of the story of Mary and Martha when Jesus came to visit (Luke 10:38-42). When I feel myself getting too “Martha-y” with the dishes and the food, I remind myself to breathe and be like Mary, engaged and listening.
This is the single biggest thing you can do for your guests: provide a place of rest. Ask how they’re doing and really listen. Be flexible. Don’t over-plan or “entertain” but let them guide things. If they want to talk, great. If they want to retreat to their space and have some quiet time, that’s great too.
We sometimes sacrifice sleep in the name of hosting and connecting with guests. Sometimes people really open up and want to tell you about their lives at 2am. Roll with it and just enjoy. This is the whole reason we do this. You can sleep later. Make people your priority and you’ll all be changed by it. I’m hardly ever worn out afterward. A good visit is rejuvenating for everyone involved!
I hope this provides the inspiration and resources for you to take your hospitality to the next level, whatever that looks like for you! Let me know if you have any other tips to share.