The basic rule is: whenever possible, stay with friends while traveling abroad. There’s a reason for this, and it was taught to me all over again while we were in Scotland this fall…

There’s a lot of hoopla nowadays about ‘traveling like a local’ and having a niche, unique traveling experience. That’s fine. If you aren’t wandering the world for business, but for pleasure, there’s nothing wrong with sauntering off the beaten path, but if you do… stay with friends. I have five good reasons.

  1. It’s good to see friends. Keep it up! People are amazing, wonderful, and just plain neat. Build those bridges, because sometimes they lead to the most interesting places.
  2. They’ll teach you big things. You see, locals who like and trust you will tell you all manner of amazing things about where you’ve been and where you’re going. Suddenly, you’ll find yourself knee deep in a historical conversation about the Jacobite Rising of ’45 and they’ll point out the window and say, “My friend’s Grandda still remembers when they were clearing out the farms around them.” And you realize it isn’t just history. It’s personal.
  3. They’ll teach you small things. Sure, you’ve been going to museums and monuments, but no one’s shown you around a working highland farm yet, and there is nothing cooler than watching a crusty old Scotsman cooing over his favorite tractors.
  4. They’ll take care of you way better than any hotel. If you recall from my last post, this visit with friends came during my recovery from food poisoning. Yes, they’d cooked specially for us, but they had plain rice that I could eat – and my gratitude could not be measured.
  5. Safety. Friends are known entities, and it can be really nice to get away from having to lock your hotel door every night and just kick back around the fireplace.

Comfortable beds, good whiskey, good food, and better conversation. Seriously, stay with friends. That being said, here are six basic rules to follow to keep you on your host’s good side:

  1. Keep it short. Don’t stay longer than three days, and preferably only one or two. A houseguest who doesn’t linger is often the best kind of houseguest. There are occasional exceptions to this rule, but they are FEW and FAR BETWEEN.
  2. Bring something to the table. Maybe not actually food, as that is probably impractical. But bring a hostess/host gift for the family members (or at least the head of the household/his wife) as a unique display that you are grateful for their hospitality, something small and high-quality. They are, after all, letting you stay for free.
  3. Offer to help. Not only is it entirely possible that you’ll learn something, but this is another way of paying back for a free visit. More often than not, they’ll want to be supreme hosts and tell you to just kick back with a cup of tea anyhow.
  4. Be interested and be interesting. Ask questions that they’re uniquely qualified (as locals) to answer. Ask questions of the entire group of friends if you can, so no one feels left out. Ask interesting questions, and be open to them asking you questions in return.
  5. Make sure they feel welcome to come visit your house if they’re ever traveling that way.
  6. Hit the road after you’ve said ‘thank you’ 50 times. But, do, please, hit the road. See the first rule in this list and repeat it to yourself as you drive away.