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Dear friend and guest: I love you, but I want my couch back

Kyle Dixon, who lives in Las Vegas, can’t get through a week without a call from a friend asking for advice on which club, casino or bar to go to.

Summer Pettus, a recent transplant to San Francisco, has been inundated with visitors since moving there nine months ago. The frequent dinners and drinks with out-of-town friends and weekend visits leave her exhausted and cash-poor.

New York City resident Brandon Rose now hosts three visitors every two months. But when he first moved to Manhattan, five years ago, it was often three weekends in a row. That made it nearly impossible for him to juggle two part-time jobs, six master’s-level film courses at Columbia University and homework.

There’s a downside to living in a popular place: too many visitors. It’s not uncommon for a constant host or hostess in top-ranked tourist cities to feel stressed and overwhelmed by the pressure of planning itineraries and the extra expense of drinks, lunches, dinners and shows. When does the host do such everyday things as laundry and errands?

“It would get to a point where I got really nervous and anxious before they came to visit and I just wanted to push a fast-forward button to have it all be over,” says Rose, 28, an administrative assistant at New York University’s College of Arts and Science. “I know it’s wrong, I know they are my friends, but under the circumstances, I just felt too run-down.”

Experts say having houseguests is a life disturbance that can trigger stress. One way to manage is to let your visitors know what the limits are. “Let your guests know you are not the hostess with the mostest,” says Carol Scott, a stress-relief coach and physician in Baltimore. “Make sure you maintain your routine of self-care. If you go to the gym every morning, offer them a guest pass for $10 so they can come with you.”

It also creates a host of etiquette issues. “Having a guest, no matter how much you love them, is an imposition on people,” says Naomi Poulson, founder of the Etiquette School of Dana Point in Dana Point, Calif. As a host, you should always set out the house rules “so there are no hard feelings and miscommunications before and after,” Poulson says.

Hosting can also be a budget buster. Isabelle Vassilakis, 27, says she usually spends about $40 more a night when visitors come to her home in Brooklyn, N.Y. “You want to show them a good time, and they usually want to go to a show or go into Manhattan, so you end up spending more money than usual.”

According to Zagat, the average cost of a meal in New York City is $40.78, $6.69 above the national average. Add up dinners, cab rides, theater tickets and drinks and a weekend visit could cost a host $400 or more.

“What’s important is to plan in advance so you and your guest can set aside a budget for the visit,” says Scott, who has been a stress-relief coach for six years. “Remember, it’s a lot of money, effort and time to have a guest, so you have to establish the expectations.”

Then there is the problem of visiting the same tourist attractions—over and over again.

“I can’t stand Times Square, but my friends always want to see it because it’s like MTV told them to,” Rose says. He prefers visits from what he calls repeat offenders—friends who come to see him more than once. “Then we can go to Woodside, Queens, for some amazing ethnic food or a cool part of Brooklyn,” Rose says. “It opens things up so I can do more of what I actually enjoy and less of the touristy things.”

Although she hates Fisherman’s Wharf, Pettus, 24, will take her visitors to Golden Gate Park, which she finds peaceful and relaxing. She gets dinner or drinks with out-of-town friends at least once a month in San Francisco, which was voted the No. 1 U.S. city in Condé Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Awards in 2008.

“When you have visitors, your priority sometimes becomes them, and it definitely gets in the way of my job,” says Pettus, a catering director at the St. Francis Yacht Club. “I have a lot of moments where I am stressed because I am trying to give directions or figuring out what my friends are doing while going in and out of meetings at work.”

Pettus says she has had to put off everyday chores because so many of her friends come in to visit her midweek. “I end up having to do laundry at 11 at night just so I can have clean clothes to wear the next day.”

Dixon, a 24-year-old skydiving instructor, bartender, waiter and student at the College of Southern Nevada, says it’s hard to have any personal time when his guest room is occupied at least three out of four weekends each month.

“Vegas is a place that never shuts down, and people who come are in party mood. But it gets out of control sometimes,” Dixon says. “What they don’t understand is this is my real life. To me, it’s just another Friday night, and I have work and school the next day.” After two years of living in Sin City, Dixon is considering moving out of town.

Of course, not everyone has to fend off frequent visitors. Tim George, 25, an associate at a transportation- and engineering-consulting firm, lives in Lebanon, N.H. (population 12,568, according to the 2000 census). He has not had houseguests in almost two years.

“My folks have been here one or two times, but other than that, nothing,” George says. “People visit so infrequently that when it happens, I actually enjoy it.”

E-mail: cyc2119@columbia.edu