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by Stephanie Thomas

Your in-laws just rang–they’re coming for a visit. Your best friend from college is schlepping across the country with her kids and the main gal she wants to see is you. Your brother’s bringing his new girlfriend to town. No matter your company, you a can be set to impress, and it doesn’t have to cost much at all. 

Read on for eight overnight hosting essentials that cost almost nothing. These nearly-free upgrades are small changes that equal big comfort for guests.

A recent copy of a local magazine

The best part of travel is learning something new about the place you’re visiting. Help your guests on this mission with some light reading material about your hometown.

Pick up the latest issue of your favorite local magazine and leave it on a bedside table or chair. Stash a bookmark, leave a sticky note, or dog ear a story that stands out to you. Let your guests choose to read or not to read at their whim. A casual, relaxed environment is the perfect place for discovery.

Q-Tips in a cup

The next time you’re super bored, grab a box of q-tips and check out all the uses they list: makeup application, crafts, cleaning, personal care, dog and baby care. These suggestions are reason enough to ensure your guests never go without access to q-tips again. For less than $3.00, you can buy enough to last all year. To really show how much you care, fill a cute cup with a handful of q-tips and put them in plain sight–on the bathroom counter or with other toiletries.

An extra pillow, travel sized

The standard bed/pillow setup usually includes two pillows for sleep and two or three more for looks. Not all guest rooms are outfitted with pillows tailored to how each guest likes to sleep. You can ensure a comfy stay for guests with one–or a couple–travel-sized pillows purchased on the cheap and stashed in the closet. Let guests know where they can find the extras if they need them.

Dinner decisions made ahead of time

When it comes to you and your guests who knows your town best? You. Who knows your kitchen best? You.

There’s no need to burden your company with a long list of dinner choices. Instead, ask a couple of questions before they arrive: Is there any type of food that you don’t enjoy? Would you like to eat out for dinner or do you prefer to eat at home?

You now posses all the knowledge you need to make your fantastic plans. You can even give a heads up through text or email: “Can’t wait to see you guys! We made dinner reservations at City House for 5:30. You’re going to love it! Drive safe.” Etc. 

Wanderlusty photos

The guest bedroom is no place for Grandma–not her picture anyway. Take down the prints your other rooms rejected and focus on making the space an oasis of sorts.

You can keep things personal and affordable by printing pictures from your own trips. Think landscape and building shots. Even the iPhone is your friend here! Scroll through your camera roll for photos that set the right mood. Print small pictures at your local drugstore for less than a dollar each or visit an office supply to store to blow up larger sizes. Buy frames at your local thrift store. Make a collage on the wall, decorate the dresser next to your empty tray, or add a single frame to the bedside table.

A laundry basket with a note

Call us crazy, but returning home from a trip with a suitcase full of clean clothes is a dreamy experience. You mean I can just empty my luggage directly into my closet and dresser? No washing required? Why, thank you!

This is about as close as laundry can get to life-changing. Leave an extra basket or two in the bedroom. Include a note with instructions on how to operate your washer and dryer or–if you’re feeling extra generous–the time you’ll stop by to pick up any dirty clothes for the wash.

A fully lined bathroom trash can

There’s nothing worse than staring at a bag-free trash can during an interesting time of the month. This is second only to midnight diaper changes away from home with no place to safely store the evidence.

You can make your guests feel more at ease with reality by adding a liner to the thrash can. Better still, leave a spare one folded neatly underneath the current liner at the bottom of the trashcan, just in case. This way, your guests can easily transport trash from the bathroom to the outdoor garbage privately. 

A small tray for traveling odds and ends

Give your guests’ keys, chapstick, wallets, glasses and phones a home away from home by placing a small tray or basket on the dresser.

Stand back and look at the tray. It will be empty. This is okay. Resist the urge to decorate the tray. We promise, your guests will put it to good use and junk it up for you. If you absolutely must add something to the tray, go for a bar of chocolate with a note and be done with it.