Guestproof Your Home For The Holidays

BOSTON (TheStreet) -- In little more than a week, holiday houseguests will turn millions of Americans into de facto innkeepers. It's time to guestproof the house.

Roughly 64% of Americans will be traveling to see family this holiday season, according to the American Express ( AXP) Spending and Saving Tracker, up from 52% last year. But the tracker also suggests 2% have been so traumatized by Christmases past that they're actually traveling to avoid family and friends this holiday season. There's just a point where the people you've invited to your home stop being family and start being tenants, and that threshold varies from house to chaotic, unclean, claustrophobic house.

Though 37% of Americans surveyed by vacation rental firm HomeAway say their visiting relatives are never a burden, a full 22% say they're ready to boot the freeloaders out after the first day -- with 11% of men ready to heave Uncle Henry's suitcases into the street the minute he arrives. Even the most welcoming hosts' patience can wear thin after a few days, when 29% say its time for their guests to leave the presents and take a hike. A week seems to be the most gracious hosts' absolute limit, as 12% resolve not to have their cousin's kids take up the living room into 2011.

So where does it all go wrong? It depends on the guests. Inconsiderate relations who leave their stuff all over the house are the most annoying in respondents' eyes, with 31% saying they'd wish someone would just hang their coat in the closet instead of over the couch. Guests who don't help with the cooking and cleaning draw 26% of their hosts' ire, while family members who feel they need to be entertained all the time will have 21% of their hosts considering psychiatric help in the New Year.

With 27% saying they'd throw out a sibling if they could find other arrangements for them -- compared with just 5% for dad and 11% for mom -- TheStreet, BedandBreakfast.com and the New England Inns and Resorts Association have devised two distinct approaches to guestproofing the house during the season. From making dad as comfortable as possible to showing your scrounging sibling somewhere else to stay, we're providing a room-by-room guide to making your house into a family-friendly or fight-free home for the holidays:

Guest room
Father: Tony Barthel, innkeeper at the Featherbed Railroad Bed and Breakfast in Nice, Calif., suggests a guided tour of your home to let dad know "in a kind fashion" which bathroom and storage spaces are his, when the rest of the house is up for breakfast and when it's most appropriate to be in the house's common areas. The innkeepers at the Brampton Inn in Chestertown, Md., suggest making a room more inviting by removing as many knick-knacks as possible and removing personal items from dresser drawers and closets. Russ Herschelmann, who owns and maintains the Old World Inn in California's Napa Valley, says his guests have always recommended going the extra mile for someone special: Print out a local events calendar and leave it in the guest room, check the 10-day weather forecast and tell them what items to bring and, if possible, let them set the guest room temperature either through the nearest thermostat or through windows, heaters or even fireplaces.

"Aside from a comfortable, well-made bed, the most important aspect in a guest room is good lighting and adequate space for the guest's personal items," says Sarah Lindblom, owner and innkeeper of the Captain Jefferds Inn in Kennebunkport, Maine. "Appreciated extras would include a duvet, extra pillows and towels, a robe and slippers and personal soap."

Freeloading sibling: If you really don't want someone staying with you, it's not only best to tell them right away, but to present them with options. Hotels are still an option, with FareCompare.com Chief Executive Rich Seaney recommending room-and-flight packages on such sites as Orbitz ( OWW) or Expedia ( EXPE). If your sibling still balks, Seaney recommends offering some of your own airline miles or hotel points to help pay their way. It may be tough giving up your Delta ( DAL) SkyMiles and Marriott ( MAR) points, but it beats having your brother or sister tell that story about that time you were nine and cried in the mall when you thought you were lost.

Bathroom
Father: The Old World Inn's Herschelmann and Featherbed Railroad's Barthel have one key bit of advice: Stock up. You can't possibly overestimate the number of towels your guests will go through, Barthel notes, so have plenty of spares ready and robes on hand for a practical and enjoyable touch. He also suggests that hosts in older homes make it clear which outlets should be used for hair dryers, electric razors and other high-demand items to prevent a holiday visit to the circuit breaker. Herschelmann, meanwhile, advises keeping three to four rolls of toilet paper in the guest bathroom at all times -- and making sure the guest knows where the extras are -- as well as a bar of soap, a bottle of liquid soap, several plastic tumblers and a box of tissues for the sink. If dad happens to have mom with him, Herschelmann says you may have to invest in cotton balls and black washcloths for removing make up, a small expense that can really save your towels.

"Tell your guests what your expectations are, have an open line of communication regarding the bathroom situation, and you should have no issues," says Carol L. Sullivan, of the White Mountain Hotel and Resort in North Conway, N.H.

Freeloading sibling: If you successfully shuffled your sibling off to a hotel, chances are he or she is going to complain about the subpar bathroom situation. Don't bend. Instead, direct this whiner you unfortunately share blood with to restroom supply provider Cintas' ( CTAS) website for a look at America's Best Restrooms. Even if you're nowhere near this year's winner -- the faux-marble-and-mirror excretion mecca at the Fountain on Locust vintage ice cream parlor in St. Louis, Mo. -- this year's finalists were geographically diverse enough to include the Bryant Park public restroom in New York, the Lawrence Dumont Stadium facilities in Wichita, Kan., and burger stand Joe's Farm Grill's toy-and-TV-entombed toilets in Gilbert, Ariz. It may take some driving, but it'll keep your siblings and their lingering scents out of your personal space.

Kitchen
Father: The Brampton Inn advises asking guests -- even those you've known your entire life -- if they have or have developed food allergies hindering them from helping out around the kitchen. If not, ask for help with food preparation and delegate such items as salad, soup, vegetables, starch and dessert that can be either made in advance or brought from home by car. For those efforts, Old World Inn's Herschelmann says let the man keep his own eating hours by keeping extra food in the fridge "for tummies from different time zones who crave an early morning or late-night snack."

Freeloading sibling: Vacation rental services such as HomeAway, TripAdvisor's FlipKey and last-minute site PackLate are loaded with properties that have kitchens. This option not only keeps your sibling out of your house and away from your fridge, but usually offers enough space to take the spouse and kids along without cramming your home to capacity. Sites such as Oyster can point you toward hotel rooms with efficiencies, but grocery delivery services including Peapod in the Northeast and Midwest, Homeland Delivery in the South and Wisconsin and Schwan's just about everywhere else (even via UPS ( UPS), if you order in advance), can keep your sibling stocked without ever having to run to the store.

Living room
Father: Featherbed Railroad's Barthel warns hosts to consider activities as a backup plan in case family spends more time your home than hoped. Games and other activities paint a much better holiday scene than everyone standing around looking bored. Barthel suggests holiday crafts to both bring everyone together and make the house seem more festive.

"Movies, books and puzzles are great, but any additional activities that are local tend to be really special," says Kate DeCosta, owner and keeper of OceanCliff Hotel in Newport, R.I. "Because I live in Newport, I always make sure all of my houseguests have an opportunity to get out on the water either sailing or for a harbor tour -- their choice." 

Freeloading sibling: Is your spurned sibling bored? Are the cable channels in the hotel room or DirecTV ( DTV) viewing package at the vacation rental not all they could be? There's always the movies. A $25 to $50 gift certificate to any of AMC Entertainment's 299 theaters in 30 states and Washington, D.C., or Regal Entertainment Group's ( RGC) 548 locations in 39 states should take him or her off your hands for a while -- especially now that the Golden Globe nominees have been announced. The Social Network eats up two hours on its own. If it's worth your money and your sanity to keep your sibling at bay, an early Christmas present such as a $400 Samsung portable Blu-ray player from Best Buy ( BBY), a Panasonic portable Blu-ray player for nearly half that price at Amazon ( AMZN) or even a $80 Philips portable DVD player from Target ( TGT) will keep him or her more preoccupied than a child on a 10-hour road trip.

Dining room
Father: Considering that meals prepared for the holidays linger in families' memories rather than on their palates, innkeepers Beverly and Doug Breitling of Arsenic and Old Lace Bed and Breakfast in Eureka Springs, Ark., recommend cooking and preparing as much as possible the night before Christmas dinner to keep from disappointing dad. For the rest of their guests' stay, Featherbed Railroad's Barthel advises hosts who don't mind cooking -- as long as there's help -- to keep fridge-to-oven meals such as casseroles and hams on hand so you're not spending too much time away from the crowd. The Brampton Inn recommends easy and freezable dishes such as coffee cake and quiches for breakfast, while third-generation innkeeper Sarah Diment from the Beachmere Inn in Ogunquit, Maine, recommends loading up the coffee pot the night before, varying breakfasts and assigning daily "helpers" throughout the week.

Freeloading sibling: Even for welcomed houseguests, rooms manager Crystal Jenney of Bannister's Wharf in Newport, R.I., recommends keeping brochures from local restaurants around and printing Web menus of places you'd recommend but haven't been to in a while. If you want to make it clear that Christmas dinner's the only meal your siblings will be squeezing out of you this season, there's one answer to give your hungry, unwanted guests: It's called the Web, look it up.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet.com. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, The Boston Phoenix, Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent.

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