I used to think I knew how to be a good host, even though I hadn’t actually hosted anyone myself personally. Now, having experienced various forms of hospitality, I don’t think I would have been a great host.
Whenever my family hosted anyone, I would see a lot of pressure from my dad to do certain activities that he thought would be fun and interesting (like seeing an ABBA cover band show at an RSL club), and hearing our guests respond more to my dad’s enthusiasm than for the actual activity, always being polite and going along because my dad was so keen.
And I hated this. I hated that they had to spend their holiday doing things that he thought would be really fun instead of doing their own thing. I hated that they were too polite or felt too guilty to say no.
So I formed my own view on what being a good host was – all you need to do is give them a bed or couch to stay on, suggest a few things to do, tell them how to get around and let them do their own thing. And if this was what I got when I went and stayed with people, I would have been perfectly happy and grateful. But I have been treated much better this trip.
Granted, I had stayed with people before, but that had always been whilst travelling with my family, so any gesture from our host I read as a gesture towards my parents. But travelling alone has changed that. Travelling alone opened my eyes to how welcoming and generous friends and family have always been.
One friend I was staying with in San Francisco took me out to drinks and dinner one night, and later invited me out a few times to stuff with his old work friends. I managed to go once and eat at a “local” place and meet some new people, which for a lone traveler is always good. Another couple I stayed with in Seattle took me out to dinner and gelato and invited me to hang out with their friends when they had people over. And another family I was staying with in Vancouver – one of their daughters and her boyfriend invited me out to drinks and a club on a Friday night, and went out again with me on Sunday night for Pride, and then invited me to join them for a hike at Garibaldi Lake, then to Whistler just for me, then bubble tea with their friends and a final dessert with her sister and husband as well. I met so many great people through these activities, and got to know them better as well.
And I’m so grateful for these opportunities to do things I wouldn’t have done without these people’s generosity. And yes, I would definitely offer more of my time and knowledge to people I’m hosting, particularly if they’re lone travelers, without pressuring them into joining me for anything.
But probably the biggest gesture of good will I experienced? Well, I was coming back to San Francisco from Yosemite and I was crashing at a friend’s place for two nights before heading off to Portland. When I arrived, my friend heard my terrible cough and immediately got me water and gave me medicine that he trusted more than the stuff I got from the the pharmacy and insisted I bring it with me. And I was supposed to crash on the couch (which was totally fine), but again upon hearing my cough and knowing I just got back from a few days of hiking, he insisted that I sleep in his own bed, and he would crash in his flatmate’s bed. I declined many times. I told him he’s crazy. I told him it’s too much. But I did not win that battle. He is very generous, and very persistent.
And he did all this saying “I know you would do the same for me if you were hosting me.” To the whole sleep-in-my-bed thing? I actually told him “I dunno man, that’s pretty crazy.” But everything else? For sure. The very slight inconvenience to me could mean the world to the person I’m hosting.