Essential Dos and Don'ts of Hostel Etiquette!
If you’re going travelling it’s highly likely that you’ll stay in hostels along the way. They’re cheap, fun and sociable places to spend the night, which make them a traveller’s best friend. However, there’s a certain ‘hostel etiquette’ that’s useful to know before you go! Read on for my guide on the unwritten rules of hostel stays.
I’ve always enjoyed staying in hostels while travelling.
They’re just cool places, packed full of fun loving people, most of whom are doing the same thing as you: exploring a new country and looking to have an adventure.
People come from all walks of life and are thrown together into this great mixing pot of excitement and activity, all in the shared pursuit of travel. It creates a unique atmosphere that you just don’t find in other forms of accommodation.
Staying in a hostel can be a daunting prospect though. Just the thought of meeting and staying with a huge number of new people can be scary.
But it’s also an unusual environment to experience. I mean, it isn’t very often that you’ll meet and share your living space with a bunch of complete strangers; cooking, eating, sleeping and partying together.
It is exactly this setup that generally creates the incredible atmosphere, but it can also pose particular ‘challenges’.
So, to help navigate this novel setting, there are certain unwritten rules that are useful to abide by!
A First Time Traveller’s Guide to Hostel Etiquette
The Dos of Hostel Life
1. Respect your fellow hostel goers
This is pretty much cardinal rule number one, which, if followed, negates many of the ones to come.
Essentially, if you and all around you try to be good humans, making an effort to be thoughtful, respectful and considerate of the people around you, then everything in the hostel will be far more enjoyable for all involved!
2. Make sure you label your food
There’s nothing like living in a hostel to turn you into a thief! The general rule in hostels seems to be this: if there’s no label on it, it’s fair game.
So, if you’re keeping food in communal fridges or cupboards, be sure to slap your name on it somewhere!
3. Clean up after yourself (but prepare for things to be dirty)
Hostels have a reputation for being messy and dirty, especially in communal areas like kitchens and bathrooms.
And there’s nothing worse than not having the right cooking equipment because someone’s used it and not washed up; or having to unclog the shower from dirty, gloopy old hair to prevent flooding etc etc.
If you make a mess, make the effort to clean up after yourself!
4. Say hello to people!
One of the lovely elements of hostel life is the sheer number of new faces there are to meet.
It can be daunting, but make the effort to introduce yourself to a stranger. 9 times out of 10 they’ll be happy to say hello and have a chat.
You’ll end up having the same conversation time and time again, but it’s necessary! The people you meet while travelling often have the greatest impact on your trip.
And it all starts by saying hello.
5. Do things as a group
Once you’ve introduced yourself, why not push the boat out and do something fun together?
Cook a meal, do some exercise, play a game; whatever it is, doing stuff as a group is a great way to get to know people and alleviate some of the loneliness that can accompany (especially solo) travel.
There are almost always opportunities to do this in hostels, which often provide games, swimming pools, pool or table tennis tables, TV rooms etc etc for your to enjoy.
Depending on where you’re staying (some backpackers hostels are more known for this than others), hostels and night life tend to go hand in hand.
It’s a great way to let off some steam, have a good time and get to know the people you meet in the hostel.
7. Gun for the bottom bunk!
Remember when you were a kid and everyone always wanted the top bunk of the bunk bed? Well, in a hostel the opposite is true! Everyone goes for the bottom one.
And you should too! The residual childhood excitement of the top bunk might make this seem wrong, but honestly, when it comes to hostels, bottom is best.
Climbing up the rungs in the pitch black, half cut after a night out, is never easy; being on the bottom bunk means you’re right next to all of your bags and valuables; being on the top means you have to go back down the ladder if you need the loo...and so on.
Everything is easier on the bottom!
8. Pack up your stuff the night before
If you know you’re leaving the hostel the next day, it is best to pack your things the night before.
Not only does this mean you can just get up and go, but it also saves you waking up your dorm room neighbours in the early hours and making mortal enemies in the process.
9. Pack a small flashlight
Having a mini flashlight/torch when you travel is always a good idea, but in a hostel it can come in especially helpful.
These days the one on your phone will probably be all you need.
However, having at least something to shed some light in the darkness means you don’t have to switch the main dorm light on when you get back in the early hours, waking up your dorm neighbours in the process.
10. Enquire about work for accommodation opportunities
If you like the hostel and the part of the country you’re in, check with the owner whether there is any opportunity to work for accommodation.
This simply means that you swap a couple of hour’s work each day (usually changing bed sheets and cleaning) for free accommodation.
11. Check out the notice boards for cool opportunities
Every hostel I’ve ever been in has at least one notice board on the wall with all manner of cool stuff pinned to it.
Whether it is people selling their stuff for bargain prices, or local opportunities for fun activities, it is always worth keeping an eye out.
12. Ask for clean bedding
Some hostels are cleaner than others. That’s just a fact!
In a hostel where I worked in the past, though bed sheets were changed whenever a bed became free, the duvet cover might stay on for weeks on end, steadily accruing more sweat and germs over time as new unfortunate people slept there!
If it was obviously dirty we’d be told to change it, but otherwise it remained in place...
So, if you have any doubts at all about your bed linen, ask for a clean set!
13. Use the book exchange!
This is one of my favourite things about hostels. In many places you’ll find a bookshelf with all manner of books, from all over the world, which may have been there for years.
More often than not you’re able to swap the book you’ve just finished for a new one from the shelf. This is a cool way to ensure you aren’t carrying multiple books unnecessarily, while always having something to read on the road.
For a relate piece, here's some info on how and what to pack.
14. Make use of the free stuff!
Nearly every hostel has a place where travellers leave behind the things they no longer need. Sometimes, you can bag a real find!
In kitchens you’ll always have a free food section, which can provide some much needed herbs or seasoning, as well as more substantial food stuffs.
However, you can also find clothes and other such items that can be useful additions to your backpack. Just don’t over indulge- there’s no need to take more than you need.
The Do Nots of Hostel Life
1. Steal other people’s food
...but prepare for your food to be stolen.
Like I mentioned in the ‘label your food’ rule, hostels are rife with food thieves. We’ve all been there and done it, but if at all possible, try not to...or at least don’t get caught...
2. Turn the lights on when you come into the dorm room
...but prepare to be woken up by someone turning the lights on when they come into the room.
A sure fire way to annoy every other person in your dorm room is to turn on the lights at 2 in the morning when you get in from a night out.
Don’t do it! Be thoughtful and respectful of the people you’re sharing with. Pack a torch, or allow your eyes to adjust to the dark.
3. Don't snore. Everyone will hate you.
So, I know this one isn’t usually a choice, but if you know you’re a snorer, if at all possible, make the effort to reduce the noise. Lie on your side or your front; bring one of those sleeping devices that goes over your nose...anything!
I was once in a hostel with a heavy snorer (there’s always one) and woke up to see another of my dorm mates angrily jump out of bed in the early hours to hold said snorer’s nose, just to wake them up out of spite for keeping them awake.
4. Leave your alarm on when you’re not in the room
Setting an alarm is fine, but setting it and forgetting it, only to be elsewhere at the time it goes off? Not cool.
Likewise, don’t have it stuffed at the bottom of a bag requiring half an hour of rummaging in the early hours of the morning to turn it off...
5. Drink in the dorm room...unless everyone else is drinking in the dorm room
Out of respect for the other people who are sharing the space, don’t party in the dorm room unless everyone is up for it!
If it’s a party hostel then maybe this rule is slightly different (if you don’t want to party, maybe this one wasn’t the best place to stay...).
But generally speaking, pay heed to the lie of the land before starting a party in the dorm. There is usually plenty of space to party elsewhere.
6. Have sex in the dorm room...unless no one else is around
I hope my mum’s not reading this one.
But, yep, no adult cuddles in the dorm beds please!
It’s just awkward for everyone involved- especially the other 10 people in the room having to listen and pretend nothing’s happening. You might think you’re being as discrete as discrete can be, but you know, it’s a bunk bed...there’s no hiding on a bunk bed.
Check out my post on sex and relationships while travelling!
7. Put loud music on without asking
A bit like the whole no drinking rule, only whack the speakers on if everyone else is keen, otherwise use your headphones.
I actually love having music on in the dorm room (as long as it isn’t at 3 in the morning), but it’s always worth asking around before putting it on, just to make sure people are okay with it.
8. Hog the hostel computers
Lots of hostels provide access to computers with internet. It’s a great way to reconnect with family back home and get up to speed with events around the world and so on.
However, there is always someone who hogs it. Please don’t be that person. No-one likes them.
9. Abuse the free food box or free meals
The free food box is generally fair game, but again, hostels work best when people are considerate about everyone else.
Sharing is caring. So, if there’s a particular treasure in the free food box, take your lot and pop it back for others to enjoy.
Likewise, hostels sometimes provide free meals as an incentive to stay there. If this is the case, respect your fellow hostel goers and don’t take more than your fair share. It’s tempting, but it’ll only put you in people’s bad books!
10. Expect other people to abide by these ‘rules’!
The final rule is not to expect these rules to be followed.
There are literally always going to be people who, for whatever reason, live by a different set of guidelines. They’ll be noisy, dirty, steal your food and be generally inconsiderate of others.
But it’s all good.
After all, the beauty of travel is that you are in full control. Not getting on with the hostel you’re in? Head somewhere else until you find a hostel in which you feel at home.
And that’s about it: the hostel etiquette to stand you in good stead for your future hostel stays. Don’t be put off by any of the above. Honestly, hostel living is first and foremost great fun.
With an open mind, a sense of humour and a little respect for the other people around, you’ll be sure to love it.
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