So you just glanced at the calendar and realized that your sister or college roommate or sister’s college roommate’s plane is landing in a few days and, one evening last month after perhaps one too many glasses of chardonnay, you’d emailed back and said, “Book a hotel room? Don’t be silly—we’d love to have you stay with us while you’re in town!”

You look around your house or apartment and it’s not exactly, um, a 5-star resort.  How can you whip it into shape so that (a) your guest(s) feel comfy and welcomed, and (b) you retain both your sanity and your bank balance?

Here are a dozen tricks for turning your home into a temporary sanctuary for out-of-towners:

  • They’d love their own private space.  If you can put them up in their own bedroom—even your own, if you’re willing—that’s the best option.  (You might want to temporarily store your “Tattooed Hotties” calendar if Aunt Margie’s sensibilities are a concern.)  If your guest is sleeping in a common area—say, on the living room sofa—you can provide some temporary privacy by shifting some furniture or tacking up a spare curtain or bedspread; let them exhale in solitude for a bit after what likely was a tiring journey.  And provide them some room in a closet—shared or not—at least a foot or more of rod space, along with several empty hangers.
  • A bowl or basket of essential toiletries—soap, toothpaste, new toothbrush, razor, shampoo, etc.—might save them a trip to the store while revealing that you’ve given their visit some forethought.  And it’s a great use for those little toiletries we pilfer from hotel visits, by the way.
  • Likewise, a selection of snacks in a gift bag or basket on their bed or nightstand can be a simple way to say, “Mi casa es tu casa.” Nothing fancy: maybe an apple, banana, some trail mix… (If I’m staying with you and you leave me some of those little Snickers bars, I’ll put you in my will.)
  • Same with the potables: let them know there’s a selection of chilled drinks in the fridge. Try to discern in advance their preferences: Microbrews? Cola? Definitely a bottle or two of plain ol’ water—long-distance traveling is nothing if not dehydrating. Also, have some coffee and tea on hand, ready for brewing. Speaking as an unrepentant caffeine addict, nothing warms my travelin’ heart like the smell of coffee emanating from my host’s kitchen.
  • Got an iPod or other MP3 player, dock, and speakers? Oh boy, you can have lots of fun. Download some soundscapes like rainstorms or wind chimes, or maybe jazz ballads, or Chopin. Think “mellow.” Have it playing when they arrive. They can switch to Lady Gaga or Metallica once they’re settled in; in the meantime you’ve helped to sand off their transition’s rough edges.
  • Believe it or not, there are actually things you can read without needing an electronic device like a laptop or smartphone. Magazines! Newspapers! Industrial container catalogs! Leave a few on the nightstand. And books, even: if their schedule is somewhat open and they might like to meander a bit about your ‘hood and environs, try finding some information about local attractions: theaters, museums, parks. Yeah, they can Google this stuff—they probably already have—but unplugging with their shoes off and feet up and leafing through the local paper’s weekly entertainment section can massage the imagination in ways that a thousand screaming pixels can’t.
  • Speaking of treeware, how about a map? You can still find them around, despite the cursed ubiquity of GPS. Many old fogies [-cough-] and young visionaries like to get a bird’s-eye view of the entire situation, so to speak.  And again there’s that “imagination” thing: instead of some machine telling me where to go, I might just fall into some unforeseen serendipitous decision. “Hey, lookie here, over by the rendering plant. Let’s check out the ‘Museum of Poisonous Invisible Vapors’!”
  • Those other machines that have been telling us what to do for centuries—clocks—need to be discussed frankly.  Ask your guest when they need to be where, then talk about your own similar needs, then try to ID and head off any conflicts. If you’re at your kid’s soccer game when your guest was hoping for a ride to the job interview, talk it out well before it becomes an issue.
  • Yeah, you wanna make them feel like royalty, but not like visitors in a hotel. You want them to feel like members of your home. Don’t stress about hosting them in the most rigidly rational environment—they’ll appreciate a little chaos. Yes, the kids can leave their books sprawled on the dinner table…until dinner, that is. You may have pets—that’s allowed (although be sure your visitor knows about anything warmer than a goldfish at the time of your invitation, allergies being as annoying as they are). Your guest will feel right at home, which is the point.
  • And speaking of pets, dogs need walking, and a little walking is also often the best thing for folks who’ve just finished sitting in the same position barely moving for several hours. If your canine companion and your sofa squatter seem to take a shine to each other, suggest they take a stroll together. They should be able to circumnavigate your block without getting lost; besides, your Lab knows the drill—she’ll be back in time for supper if she has to drag your friend home. (Just tell her not to let your houseguest off-leash.)
  • While you’re waiting for your guest to arrive, try to think up one or two ways to make ‘em smile. A sticky note praising their (mostly) successful war against aging left on the bathroom mirror might do the trick, or a ball cap from their school’s chief rival—your alma mater—left on their pillow might ease the jet lag a bit.
  • And the most important trick: communicate.  Well in advance, make sure you have a pretty good idea of their schedules, needs, likes, dislikes, and so forth. Maybe that homemade Pad Thai in peanut sauce you’re planning isn’t such a great idea if peanuts send them into anaphylactic shock.

Follow the above tips, and you’ve gone a long way toward easing your guest’s journey. And who knows? Maybe one day you’ll need to stay with them, and they’ll return the favor.