- Observe the rules of the home. Be aware of what others are doing, especially the first few times you encounter the family. Note manners, whether or not they allow you to get your own food, and bedtimes. Remember whether or not your host takes off his or her shoes when he enters the house.
- Be present. They invited you in for a reason (or at least, offered their home). Take time to hang out with the family, be a gracious guest, ask about their interests, daily lives, and share about your own. Most of the time, people who offer to host you like to learn about others’ lives. Anybody who couch-hops or offers their couch to random strangers knows the familiar time of day when you all sit around, swap stories, and share about far-off places you’ve visited or friends from far-off places.
- Don’t be shy. As an introvert, this is a mistake I’ve made many times. After a long day in a strange city, I just want to huddle in my bed and read a good book. But most families who have guests frequently are very good at making their guests feel at home. You’ll discover a second family if you take the time to hang out, even if you don’t feel like it. They like you, they’ve invited you to stay. And if you want to stay again, get to know them! It will be a lot of fun, I guarantee it.
- Don’t be a judgmental gossip. Someone who gossips or complains is a turn-off, because it means you’ll gossip about others, and it’s kind of a downer. So be nice, take an interest in others, and make some new friends! If you can do that, you’ll definitely be invited back.
- Clean up after yourself. In fact, observe all the manners your momma taught you. Don’t look in others’ drawers, pry into their desks, or look through their underwear. Clean up after yourself, do your own dishes (or put them in the dishwasher), and put the toilet seat down. Don’t leave a mess in the bathroom, make your bed, and keep yourself stink-free.
- Share. If you can, offer to share whatever food you want to. If you have expensive, special food, keep it in your room. But if you can, share your toast and potstickers. Wanderers like to share stories and food, and both end up being better for the sharing.
Remember: strangers are friends you haven’t met yet. It’s cheesy, but it’s true. Some people are psychopaths, but the majority of this earth is filled with people just like you.
Note: the photo below is me and a girl who became like a little sister to me. Because I had no one else, I stayed with her and her family on my first solo India trip, after meeting them only briefly years before. During my stay, she and I became very close and have remained friends even years later. Now, whenever I visit her city, I have to stay with her and her family.