Ben Grefsrud / msnbc.com
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By Travel writer
msnbc.com contributor
updated 11/15/2007 9:48:03 AM ET 2007-11-15T14:48:03

Q: [We’re] not sure how to handle ‘hurt and doe-eyed mother’ when we suggest staying in a hotel when we visit. Bed is old, noisy babies on the floor above, so between the traveling and the lack of sleep, we usually end up sick soon after a family trip. We are not alone, I am sure.
— Epiphania, Lindenhurst, N.Y.

No, Epiphania, you’re not alone. In fact, according to a recent online survey conducted by Harris Interactive for Expedia.com, 40 percent of U.S. adults say they’d also prefer to stay in a hotel when they head out of town to visit family for the holidays.

The other 60 percent? Maybe they’re too chicken to admit they’d also like to get a good night’s sleep. Or maybe they’ve forgotten just how lumpy the mattress is on the fold-out couch. Or how mom’s snoring shakes the house to its foundation. Or how grandpa insists on roaming around the house in his old underwear, regardless of whose boyfriend or girlfriend has come to meet the family for the first time.

More likely, they just haven’t figured out that it’s perfectly acceptable to trade in the cot in the den for a plush pillow-topped mattress at a local inn. And that, couched correctly, staying at a hotel during a family visit can end up being a gift for everyone.

Holiday gatherings often alternate between joyful and fun and overwhelming and stressful. Simply traveling out of town this time of year is apt to be expensive, irritating and exhausting. And you know what happens once everyone is there in the house: folks eat too much, drink too much, sit around watching TV too much and veer into minefield-filled conversations about politics, money and relationships.

It's not just you and your wacky family, either. Another Harris poll out for the holidays indicates 56 percent of adults say their dream holiday experience is spending time with the family, but 24 percent admit having to talk to family about the goings-on of their personal life is what they dread most.

So, Epiphania, there’s really no need to feel guilty around your “hurt and doe-eyed mother.” After all, you’re headed there for the holidays, not off to some tropical island with your sweetheart. But don’t say it like that: just say that you or your sweetie has recently taken to snoring or sleep walking and that spending the night at the inn is necessary so everyone can get a good night’s sleep.

You can’t stay in your room the whole time
Of course, the whole idea of being together at the holidays is, well, being together. So whether it’s hosting old friends or “just” gathering up the family for a few nights at the old homestead, it’s a good time to review some of these handy tips for being a great houseguest and a well-mannered host.

Be a holly, jolly host
1. Make room at the inn.
Whether it’s a guest room with a door or the fold-out couch in the TV room, set aside a space where your guests can unpack and unwind. Set out towels and toiletries, a bud vase with fresh flowers, some bottled water, a box of tissues, a reading lamp and an easy-to-set alarm clock.

2. Naughty or nice?Whether it’s family or out-of-town friends, be up front about the rules of the house on things such as smoking indoors, cussing in front of the kids, feeding scraps to the dog or, for beer swilling Uncle Joe, opening more than three cold ones in an evening.

3. Spread it around.Don’t do all the work. It’s your holiday too. Encourage everyone to make their own breakfast, to tidy up after using the bathroom and to help out with meal preparations and clean up. And be gracious and grateful when someone offers to cook a meal, mix a salad, clear the table, run to the store, do the dishes or pay for that crystal goblet they threw at Uncle Joe.

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4. What’s the plan, rubber band? You can only stretch yourself so far. Make sure you’re comfortable with how many friends and family members will be staying at your house or coming over for that big dinner. Don’t be shy about limiting the guest list, asking for helpers or insisting that everyone leave on time.

5. Hold your tongue. OK, so youdon’t like your daughter’s new boyfriend, your son’s new cigar-smoking habit or the fact that your grandchild has become a vegetarian. Don’t get snippy. They’ll all be leaving soon enough. Then you and your sweetheart can take off for that tropical island vacation.

Be a great guest
1. Be on time.
Let your host know when you plan to arrive and when you plan to leave. Travel delays are practically a given this time of year, so keep phone numbers and a cell phone handy. Stay in touch so no one calls the police if you end up having to sneak into the house late at night.

2. Arrive bearing gifts. Not just for the holiday exchange, but for your host and the house. Consider having flowers or a fruit basket delivered before you arrive or show up with wine and gourmet treats for everyone to share or with a new board game for everyone to play.

3. Be prepared. A good host will have a bed and clean towels set aside for you, but you should bring your own toiletries and some books and projects to keep yourself entertained during quiet down times. And don’t be the guy in the picture wearing cut-off shorts and a T-shirt when everyone else has on their holiday best. Pack appropriately for dress-up events and any family outings scheduled during your stay.

4. Make it a vacation for everyone. It may be a “show up, no excuses” family event, but it’s still a holiday. So don’t just sit around having that same old argument with your little brother.  Go for a hike. Or rent a car and head out on an adventure to a museum, a play, a concert or a new movie.  Pick a night for everyone to go out to eat together or order in pizzas and play low-stakes poker, Twister or Trivial Pursuit.

5. Hold your tongue:  OK, so youdon’t like mom’s new boyfriend, dad’s way-too-obvious combover or the way your sister keeps going on and on (and on) about her new high-paying job. Don’t get snippy. Sit back. Open another beer for poor old Uncle Joe, and visualize next year when you follow Epiphania’s lead and get that room at the inn or decide to skip the family entirely and head off to that tropical island.

Harriet Baskas, The Well-Mannered Traveler, also writes about airports and air travel for USATODAY.com and is the author of “Stuck at the Airport.”

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