Hostel etiquette: Rules for hostel living so your dorm-mates don’t hate you
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Now, it’s been a long time since anyone has been able to travel properly, and people are only just starting to ease themselves back into dorms, but it seems that by 2021 a few of the unwritten rules for hostel life may have been lost during our lengthy isolation periods in the comfort of our own homes.
Fear not, when you hit the holy trinity combination of a cared-for hostel property, brilliant location and great people, hostel living is an absolute banger. Reviews can tell you all about the state of the place and where it’s situated, but I’ve pulled together some of the rules for hostel etiquette that can help you contribute to the third requirement for an incredible stay. Hostels have a terrible reputation amongst those who have never used them, but I assure you that with careful selection and a fun yet considerate group of guests, they really are bloody fantastic.
So perhaps I’m petty, but after years of moving from dorm to dorm across thousands of miles, I have very little patience for people who stay in shared accommodation with no consideration of the other people in the room. These rules for hostel stays seem pretty obvious to me, but you’d be shocked to find out how many people really just don’t give a flying monkey – and those are the people I actively avoid when socialising at the hostel. So, to avoid your hostel-mates hating your guts, here are my simple rules for hostel etiquette.
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Dorms are a place to sleep; any good hostel will have social areas for everything else. That means that whatever your natural sleep cycle may be, there should be darkness and quiet in there from around 11pm to 9am. Some people leave early to go on excursions, others return late after parties, either way you need to keep in mind that there will probably be at least one person trying to exercise their Dios-given right to rest their eyes so do your best not to create unnecessary noise or light in the case that the room isn’t empty. I can’t believe I’m having to say this, but here are a few things that might constitute ‘unnecessary noise or light’:
Turning on the whole entire big light instead of just using your phone flashlight
Drying your hair with a hairdryer
Packing a day bag, or even packing your rucksack to check out (like, seriously?)
Having a casual chat at normal volume
Playing music or phone games with the audio on
Listening to and replying to Whatsapp voicenotes
Hosting pre-lash for a night out
Opening the goddamn curtains
Singing in the ensuite shower
Snoozing your alarm
Slamming doors or lockers
For those who are particularly light sleepers, some good quality ear plugs and an eye mask are a must in hostel dorms.
2. Keep your things to yourself
I have definitely had my fair share of bad moments with this one, but you should reaaaally try and keep your stuff tidy in dorms. Space is limited enough, and filling it with your dirty underwear isn’t crazy pleasant for everyone else. Using packing cubes helps with this hugely as you can take out certain types of clothing, find the one you want and then put the rest all back into your backpack at once. I’ve also see some pretty cool hanging roll-out bags that save a lot of space, both on the dorm floor and in your backpack.
3. Careful where you hang your towel
Your own bunk’s curtain rails – yes, bunk bed ladder rungs – no. Anything that someone else either has to step on or sleep next to is a no-no when it comes to hanging up your dirty towel to dry. In dorms that don’t have curtains, tucking the towel into the metal frame of your bottom bunk can provide a bit of privacy.
4. Say hi to everyone you see
You might not want to strike up a full conversation at that very moment, and perhaps you don’t even speak the same language, but when you’re about to sleep next to someone it’s polite to at least acknowledge their existence in the dorm. The only exception here is if someone is in bed and not making eye contact – that’s a clear signal for them wanting a bit of personal space.
5. Don’t have sex in dorms
So you’re single, you’re on your travels, you’ve connected with someone with whom you’ll only be able to share one night before flying to places new, you’re both feeling frisky and want to make the most of your time together. What do you do? YOU BOOK A PRIVATE ROOM. Lord almighty please do not put everyone else through your disappointing fumblings – lest not the poor soul in the bunk bed below you.
And should you not be able to resist the urge for sex in a shared space at 5am and are confronted about it by your dorm-mates, please at least have the respect not to take the party to the dorm’s shared ensuite shower and moan as loud as you can for the next hour (to the French couple on Ometepe Island, I highly doubt you’re reading this, but if you are, it’s a very large f.u.).
Really, bunk bed sex is never attractive, and much as I personally enjoy watching the odd bit of amateur porn, I’d literally rather watch someone with typhoid shit on my pillow all night. Plus you’ll have to face a lot of whispers at breakfast…
In dorms, having a personal bubble is an absolute luxury. We pay for the privilege of temporarily laying claim to very limited amounts of space, and so it feels like a bit of a violation to come in and find someone casually sitting on your bed. Kinda bizarre, actually. You’ve got your own bed to sit on.
7. Smelly clothes & shoes go outside
I’m begging you. Don’t gas out your dorm-mates, and if they’re that smelly, just trust that no one – no one – is going to steal them.
8. If you’re sick, avoid dorms
Post-pandemic, I’m hoping this will be obvious, but you never know. For one, having someone with a hacking cough or running to the loo every 15 minutes is a disturbance to sleep, but in addition you’re also potentially putting others in danger of catching the same illness if it’s communicable. Unsurprisingly, these things spread rather quickly along the Gringo Trail.
9. If you know you snore badly, pleeeeeease avoid dorms
Honestly, when you have a serious case of incessant snoring (or even untreated sleep apnea, like the wonderful guy next to me in my first ever dorm in Uruguay had) not a single one of the other 9 people in the dorm gives a shit that privates are more expensive than dorms for you. Please respect the fact that dorms are for sleeping en masse – people using them should be compromising on luxury and personal space, but they shouldn’t have to compromise on actual sleep. Sorry, bud.
10. Don’t leave food in your dorm
1. It smells, and 2. It attracts ants and other creepy crawlies that you don’t want to find curled up dead in your backpack a couple of weeks later. The vast majority of hostels will have some kind of fridge or cupboard to store your food in – just remember to write your name on it. And this brings me to….
11. Don’t steal supplies
This goes for food, shampoo, whatever – whether or not it’s been left alone and unmarked, if you didn’t buy it, don’t consume it. For the supplies that you actually purchased, it’s always good hostel etiquette to write not only your name but also your checkout date on it just in case you forget to clear out your stuff before you leave forever.
12. Clean your shit up
Cooked up a storm in the shared kitchen? Bravo. Had a bit of a mare in the loos? Woopdeedoo. Trimmed your chest hair in the communal showers? Fanfuckingtastic. Now be a doll and clean up after yourself, there’s no guarantee anyone else is going to do it for you… At $5-20 a night, you’re not exactly paid for a Hilton maid service at Latin American hostels; be niiiiice to staff and other guests by leaving hostel spaces just a little better than you found them.
13. Don’t hog the facilities
There are a lot of people to get through the shower each morning, and a lot of people to feed in the kitchen. Do your thang and get outta there as quick as you can to give everyone else a go.
14. Don’t get cliquey
One of the scariest things about travelling is the dread that you might not gel with anyone, and therefore spend all your time alone. Hostels are one of the main places to find friends, so although it might feel exciting that you’ve found a hostel-mate or two, don’t close off your borders too quickly and form a tight group. Keep looking outside your circle, and be the big person in inviting other people in. If you’re the one with friends then it’s best to see it as your responsibility to ask people to join you, not the person alone who isn’t sure if you’re friends from home or not. You get to know some amazing people this way, and the beauty of travel is that you can easily part ways from those you don’t really share interests with.
Well, fingers crossed this is a good start-point for you in knowing the unspoken rules for hostel living! Most travellers are very much in line with this etiquette, so just go out there and enjoy yourself knowing you’re part of the polite majority of backpackers who give a toss about others who share the same space. GO FORTH AND MAKE PEOPLE PLEASANTLY SURPRISED.
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