Why I like staying with people, and how not to be a jerk about it
I began writing this months ago, when I felt downright sheepish in suggesting people consider traveling somewhere to stay with friends and family, like I was some kind of cheapskate who can’t afford a hotel room. What a difference five months makes, and oh, how a global pandemic can change one’s perspective! Now, staying at a familiar home sounds delightful, especially when it has been months since you’ve seen anyone in real life who isn’t in your quarantine bubble.
But first, let’s take it back, way back. My first experiences in travel outside of the eastern seaboard of the U.S. were in college. I loved college, in large part because I was part of a service organization that connected me with amazing people all around the state of Florida, the U.S. and beyond. I had a giant squad of like-minded do-gooder friends everywhere. The organization, Circle K International (CKI), is a college campus-based club affiliated with the Kiwanis family of service organizations. As a state and international officer for CKI, I had opportunities to travel to events, see friends, and visit clubs on other college campuses throughout the state of Florida, around the U.S. and even in Jamaica.
My only trip to Jamaica was to Kingston in college for a CKI conference. During that trip, my friends took me to several places around Kingston, including a national church service and a reggae dance club. I stayed at an unairconditioned teacher’s college and at a friend’s apartment. We ate jerk chicken at a shack on the side of the road late at night. Every American should be so lucky to have their first trip out of the U.S. be that authentic and fun of a travel experience.
Among the many benefits of knowing people all over the state and country, while simultaneously being a “poor college student,” is that you have reasons to travel and have absolutely zero shame about doing it on a dime – ’cause you have no money, honey! It’s no coincidence, in my unscientific opinion, that those who have either been forced to travel on the cheap or are open to doing so get out more because they don’t have preconceived notions of what it means to travel or how one is expected to do so.
I’ve also been fortunate to live in three parts of Florida that are very different types of tourist destinations – the Nature Coast, Orlando and for the past 17 years, Fort Lauderdale. I’ve always lived somewhere that people like to visit. I reached peak tourist host status while in college at the University of Central Florida. I knew fellow students from all over who loved to travel, while I was living in the theme-park capital of the world. It. Was. Awesome. I had no shortage of friends visiting me and places to visit. My college years also intersected with the rise of booking travel online versus through travel agents. The ease of booking increased, and airfare prices dropped. People stayed with me, I stayed with them – it was fun and no stress.
Fast forward to today, and pre-pandemic Maggie might have been a little shy to confess that I still enjoy staying with people, but in this brave new world, there’s something comforting about being with close friends or family in their own spaces and seeing their communities through their eyes. I stayed at a close friend’s parents’ home at our recent high school reunion this past fall. We spent half of our childhood at that house, so why not spend some quality time together now that we’ve moved away and are “adults?” It was great to be with my friend and her whole family, and be treated to a delicious breakfast. They didn’t judge me for being dropped off well after midnight of the reunion party – they might as well be my own family.
This past Memorial Day Weekend, I ventured out on my first trip since the world stopped back in mid-March. For context, I went on one road trip and four plane trips between the beginning of February through the beginning of March this year, and I was griping about balancing work with so much travel in such a short time period – ha! Those were the days! So, where did I go for MDW? To Naples, where I stayed with one of those fellow travel-obsessed, do-gooder friends and former roommates from college. She and her family were staying at the vacation home of a family friend. They live outside of Nashville, one of my favorite cities, and are used to me crashing with them.
Now I’m updating this article and sharing it with you from their home in Tennessee. I was planning to be in New Jersey this (Fourth of July) week with family whom I haven’t seen in months, but the Governors of New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut issued a mandatory fourteen-day quarantine for visitors from Florida the middle of last week. This was due to Florida’s COVID numbers spiking, thanks to geniuses who think wearing a mask is a violation of their personal rights.
I normally would have stayed home and conserved my vacation days for later, but I haven’t taken a day off since February. I cancelled the New Jersey flights, rebooked to Tennessee and have been relaxing with my friends and my niece, who also lives here. While I am upset about not seeing my New Jersey family, sometimes you have to be flexible, roll with the punches and direct your anger toward people who can’t be bothered to by a minor inconvenience to curb the spread of a global pandemic.
All of this is to say, with travel being quite different for the time being, don’t write off the idea of staying with friends and family, but do so responsibly, i.e., do not be an inconsiderate jerk. Here’s how:
- First, ensure your potential hosts are okay with having you. Maybe they don’t really want guests. Maybe they have a weird roommate they don’t want to subject you to. Maybe now is just not a good time, for whatever reason. We all have different levels of comfort with exposure to other people during this pandemic, and have to be respectful of one another.
- Find out what they might need, whether it’s dessert, a pool float, a board game, or an industrial-sized vat of sanitizer, and offer to bring it.
- Pick up a tab or tabs for a meal or groceries. Send a gift after you leave, spring for some flowers. You can afford to go all out – you didn’t pay for a hotel!
- Clean up after yourself.
- Help them with something they may need or have questions about, or something else that you have expertise in – if they want the help. For example, as a licensed Realtor, I can help friends find real estate in Florida or put my writing skills to work helping with a resume or cover letter.
- Don’t overstay your welcome. Leave before you become annoying.
- Offer to reciprocate, if you can.
How do you feel about staying with friends and family? What about having guests? Share your thoughts in the comments, and see you soon, at a socially distant friend or relative’s house near you!