If you ever have a friend living abroad or meet someone traveling who extends you an invitation to come to their city, take advantage of the opportunity and go visit. Seeing the city with the help and knowledge of a local or native is invaluable, especially if they know you and your point of view, plus it can save you money in travel expenses (see more reasons to visit a friend from Mike Barish, who was an excellent guest last year).After a year in Istanbul, I’ve hosted a dozen or so guests and seen all the big tourist sites more times than I needed, but also had a great time showing friends and new acquaintances around my new city.
No matter how well you know your host, you still should aim to be a good house guest (you want to get invited back, right?). After you book your tickets, here are some more pre-travel plans to make before visiting a friend abroad.
- Do your research before you go – When your host asks, “What do you want to do while you’re in town?” you might think that saying “Oh, whatever, I’m here to see YOU!” shows how flexible and low-key you are. What it really does is put pressure on your friend to come up with a plan to entertain you and show you the best side of the city. You may not want to present them with a checklist either, but knowing what sights are important for you to see and what interests you can help your host figure out where to take you. You might learn what’s overrated or stumble upon something no tourists know about.
- Bring gifts from home – I’ve asked for a lot of oddly specific items in the last year from visitors from the US – Ziploc bags, Easter candy, and the ever-popular expat-in-a-Muslim-country request: pork. But some of my favorite gifts have been unsolicited: two friends brought me things from their home cities, including wild rice from Minnesota and Ghirardelli chocolate from San Francisco. Imagine what you’d like if you were away from home for an extended period of time: gossip magazines? Beef jerky? Some New York bagels? Just because it seems common to you doesn’t mean your friend (expat or foreign) won’t be delighted.
- Give your hosts some space – Whether your friend has a night or a week to spend with you, respect their time and space, especially when they are spending it playing tour guide with you. While I’m lucky to work from home, I still need time every day to answer emails and write fine blog content like this, and appreciate friends who have found other ways to entertain themselves for a few hours. Take the time to do a super-touristy activity your friend wouldn’t be caught dead doing, catch up on the local history, or just go hang out at a cafe on your own. I spent a great afternoon last summer with a visiting friend sitting by the Bosphorus, drinking beer and reading books – no itinerary required.
- Share your “fresh eye” with your host – No matter how long your friend has lived in town, they probably don’t know EVERY restaurant or piece of local trivia. If you read about a cool new restaurant, make reservations and treat your host to dinner. Taking a walking tour one afternoon? Maybe your friend would like to learn more about the area too. This makes your pre-trip research all the more valuable and take the pressure off your host to come up with fun new things all the time.
- Stay in one night – While it’s a lot of fun to eat out when traveling, it can get old fast, not to mention expensive. If you are in town more than a few days, offer to make dinner or order take-out for your host. Just going to the supermarket in a foreign country or discovering what Chinese food is like in Turkey can be a memorable travel experience. A night staying with your friends, sharing some good duty-free wine (another thing to add to your host gift!), can be a perfect way to end your visit.
Any other tips you’d share with house guests (or hosts)? Leave them in the comments below.