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4 ways for a houseguest to say 'thank you'

A free guest room, sofa or bunk bed is worth a fortune to travelers, especially when accommodations include local tour tips, warm meals and Internet connections.

Travelers can fulfill their part of the contract by being respectful of the host family's schedules and supplies. Steer clear of host-guest stress with the following tips:

1. Be time-sensitive When you're on vacation and your host is not, avoid the morning rush hour by steering clear of bathroom and breakfast prep areas until those who are time-bound have left home. If your hosts work at home, be mindful of their time. Save questions and chatter for convenient times of day.

2. Offer gifts Thoughtful gifts create goodwill. Flowers, gourmet wines, restaurant certificates and even a sack of groceries demonstrate appreciation. Discover the names of favorite restaurants, sports teams or theaters, and sponsor a night out for the hosts. Learn how to prepare their favorite drinks, meals or desserts. Create a festive basket filled with supplies for a hobby or pastime.

3. Restock supplies If your family is large, or your visit is long, restock household products to avoid shortages that could create a logistical or financial crunch for your host. Offer to buy milk, shampoo and other basic items. A departing gift card to a local discount department store is a nice touch that delicately lets your hosts choose whether to splurge on a desired item or restock the toilet tissue.

4. Leave a light footprint Conserve the resources of time, water, fuel and electricity when you vacation in someone else's home. Share kitchen duties; fold your bathroom towels and keep your sleeping area tidy.

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