How to cope with long-stay visitors

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Are you now a holiday destination for friends and family?

International living.  It’s exciting. It’s exotic. It’s different. Perhaps even glamorous if you’re lucky. You get to live, breathe and embrace a new culture. You get the chance to break the tired, old stale routine from your native country and soak in all that is great and glorious about your new country.

And it’s not just you who is excited. From the outside looking in, a whole of people are lusting after your sexy sounding life right now!

And what that means for you is visitors… and lots of them.

So far this summer, my husband and I have had seven separate sets of visitors. And between you and me, whilst I had an amazing time with them all, I’d be exhausted if I didn’t follow some of the tips below.

With living internationally comes international friends. It doesn’t even matter where they come from – because they come anyway. Maybe they are friends from where you lived previously, or friends you’ve picked up along the way or even friends or relatives of friends! Regardless of your connection, international living doesn’t just mean an overnight or a weekend stay. Friend’s visits often last at least week and sometimes longer.

And for long-stay visitors it requires a whole different skill set for being a hostess for that length of stay – which is why I thought I’d talk about that here:

Four tips for being the perfect host or hostess

Tip 1: Space

We all need space; especially in someone else’s domain and more so if they have come a long way. If you’ve ever stayed with anyone for a length of time then you’ll know that after a while, you want your own space. You need it. Perhaps you’re not 100% comfortable if it’s not your own home.

Having some space to retreat to which is ‘yours’ gives you a sense of control. So it’s a good idea to create a sanctuary/retreat for your guests so they have their own space. Giving physical space also gives you, the hostess some breathing space. You don’t want to feel you have to entertain or look after your guest(s) the entire visit.

One house we had was quite small so we had a chalet built at the end of the garden and there were lots of jokes about putting the mother in law in the ‘shed’ when she came to stay. Obviously it wasn’t a shed at all – it was heated, it had its own bathroom plus I gave her tea and coffee making facilities and she loved it! When she was tired she’d go out there and read her book and it worked really well for us all.

It’s not just about physical space; it’s about mental space for you both. It’s about having them around so you can enjoy their company – whilst frantically trying not to host for them all of the time and running yourself ragged in the process. Exhausting yourself and feeling fried after day three is not going to create a great visit for any of you.

Having friends and relatives visit you when you are living abroad is a special time, so ensure you create the appropriate set-up so you all get the most from the occasion.

Creating physical space is especially true if your visitor is not someone particularly close to you. A few times in America we had French and German teenagers coming to stay with us to practise their English. They were sons and daughters of friends in those countries so it was even more appropriate to provide them with their own bedrooms and private space.

With teenagers coming to stay obviously means a higher level of responsibility so make sure you have the time to commit to this and be honest if you cannot.

Tip 2: Part of the family

Get your visitors to help. Some people might be too shy to ask how to help or just not know what to do. So you need to be proactive with this. I don’t mean be pushy or get them to do all the menial tasks, but be upfront and ask them if they mind doing this or that.

It could be helping to cut up the veg for supper, doing the washing up or carrying the bags out to the car or even helping out in the garden. It’s funny but people are often more comfortable mucking in than doing nothing. It’s all part of feeling useful.

So don’t be afraid to ask – it’s a way to make them feel more included in your family and it enables them to get the max from their taster of international living.

Tip 3: Manage their expectations and yours!

Be clear on what your visitors are hoping for from the trip. That way you are in a great position to enable them to achieve what they want.

Don’t be afraid to set your own expectations too.

It might be a holiday for them but living abroad doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a holiday for you! And whilst it’s nice to do all the sight-seeing things a few times, it might get tiring on the sixth or seventh time…

That means being clear on how much time you want to/are able to spend with them so that way you can help them achieve what they want to achieve – with or without you. Maybe you do some things together and some things they do by themselves.

How much time you spend with them varies from guest to guest but it’s important to be totally honest around this. Don’t feel guilty to say if you have other things to do – in fact it’s a good idea to set this up before they arrive so they know there will be a level of independence within their stay with you.

Be clear on what else you have to do so you don’t sacrifice everything just to be with them and then start resenting them for being there – which if they’re great friends of yours is not a good thing! A visit from a close friend can be an amazing experience especially if you have clear expectations around it from both of you.

Tip 4: When they leave

If you’ve ever had people stay with you for any length of time then you’ll be aware of the empty nest feeling that occurs when they go. This is especially true if you’ve had a family come to visit. One minute the house is full of noise and activity and the next it’s got a gaping big hole in the centre.

Living abroad might mean you have lots of visitors coming and going. This is bound to create a seesaw of emotion – the excitement of their arrival and then the sadness at their departure, especially if they live a long way away. This can make life feel a bit disjointed but it’s part and parcel of international living.

So be aware of the hole when your visitors do leave, know that it’s a temporary emotion and completely natural and then go find something to fill it so life doesn’t feel too empty.

Living abroad can mean lots of international visitors who are excited to fly out and visit you and at the same time, take the opportunity to sight-see and experience a brand new country. These visits can create amazing memories between you and your friends/family and can help bring you even closer. If it’s a particularly good visit, you’ll probably be talking about it for years to come!

So that’s why it’s important to manage the expectations around it, create some space for you both and get the most from the experience as you can without running yourself ragged!

By Jane Bennett

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  1. My husband has two brothers, each with children and wives who come overseas to visit us on alternate Christmases, and believe me, it is no holiday for us. For the three weeks they are here, he makes an itinerary, and they are happy to have him do all the planning. Their first question everyday is “What are WE doing today?” He is mentally exhausted from driving them around, talking all day then having dinner at night. Our flat is small with no garden or backyard, so it became a claustrophobic nightmare when they stayed with us. Now, we ask that they book a serviced apt. Gradually he has stopped being their tour guide and he is trying to take some days off so we can get stuff done around the house and see friends and do our work. He is learning to put boundaries around his time and I think they are getting the message that we have a life outside them while they are here. It is nonsense to spend every waking hour with them! I am as attentive as I can be within limits, but have learned that stifling long dinners every night or sitting with them watching mindless TV was not my idea of entertainment, so I took the brave step and now see them every third day of a month-long visit. We are all much happier. No more visits for the next few years: we have gone AWOL.

  2. Very useful, thanks. I have a prob w mother in law, she arrived two weeks ago, when asked when is she going back, she said she’s staying for three months!! She is a great help, a domestic goddess, I work and have toddler twins at nursery but she overtakes the whole running of the house and I feel a stranger and definitely can’t cope for two more months of this. Any good tips please? can’t leave kids with her in sole charge or overnight. Was even thinking of booking a family holiday but it’s not us who would need to go?! Prob is hubby is an only child. Talked to him and he can’t see/doesn’t want to see the problem, thinks she’s great help to me etc. Help….. xx

    1. Hi and thank you for reaching out.
      Did you really not know she was coming for such a long time? Perhaps there is a communication breakdown somewhere. You need to have another adult conversation with your husband. She’s his mother, so it should be down to him. If he can’t deal with it, I suggest you have a husband problem as well as a mother-in-law problem.
      Pop over to my Facebook Group and see if the many wise people there have other suggestions

  3. I am struggling to get people to lift a finger when they stay for a week or a few days. My own able father when asked if he could do the washing up said no as he is on holiday! Sometimes it feels like we run an all inclusive holiday home for free. Very few family and friends have bought any food when staying with us. I am already letting people know we aren’t available for visits next year, I am knackered! I have never not helped out when staying with friends and family I find it bizarre that people think it is appropriate to not lift a finger or buy some shopping. PS I am not a millionaire.

  4. Helpful advice… even just for family is visiting just from another province. We’ll see what it’s like when they (if they) visit us overseas!

  5. Some really good tips here. I love having family come to visit – most of them are confident enough to use us as a base and take care of themselves (and muck in when at home). It can be a bit tiring to be on duty 24/7.

    1. Ah. You are lucky! My mother has just arrived… and because of her disabilities and due to where we live, she cannot get out and about on her own at all. Mind you, this would be the same for any visitor here – unless you have your own car, you can’t get around without us.

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