Balance,  How to,  Living Abroad

How to: Host Long-term Visitors

Dear Shana,

Do you have friends or family coming to visit you for a more extended stay? If so, it’s important to consider how you will work their visit into your life. Can you accommodate them in your home while also maintaining your own routines and responsibilities, or do you need to have your space to yourself? Assuming you won’t be able to take time off of work for the full duration of their stay, how will you balance your time and energy?

Making sure everyone’s expectations and boundaries are clear by having a discussion about these decisions in advance will save you a world of headaches. But we know it can be difficult to even know what to bring up if this is the first time you will be receiving visitors for a longer stay.

Thanks to our many years living abroad, we’ve now dealt with many different situations like this and are happy to share with you our top tips for hosting long-term guests in a way that will allow you to enjoy their visit.


Get clear and honest with yourself about what you can offer

You are the only person who will know your daily routines and rhythms. The time and energy you can spend with your guests is something that will depend on your other commitments—to work, family, yourself, etc.—that you cannot or are not willing to give up while you have visitors.

While we love spending time with our guests, we also know that it does us no good to give them everything because that often leaves us with very little time and energy for ourselves. And, while this may be doable in a short time period, it seems simply unsustainable long-term.

However, your circumstances are your own and the only way you will know what you can offer your long-term visitors is by honestly reflecting. Trust us when we say it is better to be upfront and firm about what you can do. Otherwise, you might find yourself in a situation where you think you can do everything but find yourself burning out (although, we also understand that sometimes plans have to change along the way).


Reflect honestly about what you expect them to be looking for

Every visitor and each particular visit is different and sometimes the exact implications cannot be anticipated. However, you probably have a decent idea about your visitor’s personality, travel style, and comfort level with the local language.

Maybe Mom and Dad are pretty self-sufficient and happy to do their own thing without you, but your best friend will expect you to accompany them on all outings. Or maybe your sister is happy to spend her time relaxing on the beach, but your cousin will want to fill his days with museum visits and local attractions. You get the idea.

Of course, they may tell you something totally different but, based on what you already know about your visitors and what you know about your own life right now, how realistic is it for you to meet their expectations? If you’re in a busy season at work, going through something personal, or just otherwise know you will have limited time and energy, it’s best to acknowledge this from the start.


How to have an open and honest conversation(s) about expectations and boundaries

1. Put yourself first

We recommend having a good idea about your own expectations and boundaries before asking your visitor for theirs, especially if you have a tendency to accommodate others in spite of your own needs. Believe us, we understand the desire to “be a good host” and “make their trip amazing.” However, the truth is that your loved ones are (hopefully) coming to spend time with you and wouldn’t actually want you to run yourself into the ground in order to make their visit idyllic.


2. “Meet up” for a conversation

Once you have a good idea of what you feel capable of providing, ask your future guests to sit down (over video call is often best) to discuss plans. If terms like “expectations and boundaries” feel cumbersome or intimidating to you, simply say that you’d like to talk about plans to ensure you’re on the same page. It could be helpful to encourage your guest to think in advance about their top priorities while visiting you.

During this conversation, listen to what it is your guest is hoping to get out of their trip. More often than not, we find that their expectations are not nearly as high as we imagined. We might think that a visitor wants to see all of the most important attractions in our city when, in reality, they’re happy to take things slower. Sometimes, listening to our visitor’s expectations is enough to put us at ease and assure us we don’t actually have to set clear boundaries. Other times, their expectations don’t perfectly align with what we are able to offer.

In these cases, it’s important to remember that just because a visitor wants to do x, y, and z it doesn’t mean that you have to do those things with them! Find ways that you can assist them in meeting their expectations (such as directing them to the best websites or making reservations for them), without necessarily offering to take them everywhere.

If you feel guilty about not being able to spend as much time with your guests as you feel they would like, say it up front. There is no need to hide how much you have to work or that you want to have a self-care night once a week. Especially with a long-term visit, you have to remember that it shouldn’t be a sprint to get everything done but more of a marathon of enjoying each other’s company.


3. Decide on the best lodging option for your guests

Based on your conversation around expectations and boundaries, is it realistic for you to host your guest in your home or would it be best for them to have their own space? Even if you do decide to have visitors stay in your home, it can be helpful to give them a heads-up about what to expect from that experience such as sharing your work schedule and other routines. Some questions you might ask yourself are:

  • Do you wake up and go to bed early?
  • Do you need some quiet time to yourself in the morning, after work, etc?
  • Do you have a set eating schedule?
  • Do you have a specific exercise or social routine such as training or a team sport?

It can be especially difficult to establish a clear separation if you are working from home while living with others, as it can be easy for them to forget you are on the clock. When possible, designate a certain room as your work space and close the door to encourage privacy. If this is not possible, perhaps provide a schedule of your work calls / other times you really cannot be disturbed and ask your guests to be out of the house at those times.

We also want to say there is absolutely no shame in encouraging your guests to find a place to stay that isn’t at home with you. We have both ‘hosted’ visitors who have stayed in AirBNBs or hotels because that is what best fit the needs of both the hosts and the guests. Although you may feel rude suggesting this set-up, you might be surprised to find your guest would actually prefer it.

Separate lodging also allows your visitors their own space and flexibility if that is something they want too. For example, if you know that your best friend wants to go out partying a lot but your place is small and you don’t want to be woken up when they get home at 6 am, or if your parents have a special breakfast routine or dietary restrictions and want their own kitchen, this might be a better option. Sharing an apartment/home long-term is not a simple thing to do and there is nothing wrong with deciding more space is needed.


4. Set expectations for how much time you will spend together

We know that we have insisted you think about it but it is also important that you talk about how much time you are planning to spend with your guests. This is very much dependent on your own personal schedule and how much energy you believe you will have at the end of each day to be social. For example, you might say that you meet every day for dinner and hang out on the weekends. Or you might be more comfortable with the idea of only meeting up a couple times a week and making it a special day / night out.

Whatever you decide, know that you can change the amount of time you spend with your guests after they have already arrived. Still, setting a plan beforehand will help your visitors have a better understanding of what they can expect from you.

When it comes to long-term visits, it’s perfectly understandable that they are not your only priority, but it can be helpful to set expectations to that effect. We know you probably love them and want to spend a lot of time with them, but it is also important to keep in mind that you are living your day-to-day life while they are, potentially, on a more flexible schedule.


5. Establish a spending limit if you are on a budget

It’s important to keep in mind that your guests may be happy to splurge on luxuries while traveling whereas you are living your everyday life and may not be able or willing to do the same. Although we know that discussing finances can be difficult, you can absolutely set some boundaries in this area. When we travel, we tend to worry less about spending money on a day out or an adventure but having fun is not always directly correlated to how much money you spend.

Especially if you are in a tight financial situation, you should not feel pressured to spend more than you are comfortable and we don’t recommend breaking the bank to keep your guests happy. If you’re not comfortable directly stating that you will be sticking to a budget, you can use less direct strategies such as recommending making meals at home or choosing affordable restaurants when you eat out or telling them about certain days you receive resident discounts at local attractions. At the same time, if you know your guests are more financially secure than you and they offer to treat you to something, you can be appreciative without taking advantage.


Remember why you are doing this

At the end of the day, your guest’s visit is meant to be an enjoyable experience for all! Generally, the reason people come to visit for longer trips (and the reason why you look forward to seeing them) is because they care a lot about you.

Although it may feel like the steps above could add more stress / work to the planning process, we have found them to be very valuable in terms of avoiding misunderstandings. By thinking through these visits as outlined above, we only want to encourage everyone to align on expectations. In our experience, this allows both you and your visitors to make the most out of the time you have together.

Have you found anything else to be useful when prepared for long-term visitors? Be sure to share your tips down below!




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