Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Guide to Hostel Etiquette from Expatkerri

Having slept in over 100 hostels in cities all over Asia, Europe, and Central and South America, I feel I've experienced all sides of hostels. I've slept in the comfy 4-bed female dorm all the way up to the 36-bed mixed dorm, and I hereby offer my 10 simple rules for hostel dorm etiquette. Obey these recommendations, and you'll be the change I want to see in the hostelling community.

Creative mural in Kokopelli Hostel in Cusco, Peru

1. Remember that bunkbeds are for two people.

When I am sleeping above or below you, if you shuffle and re-make your bed at 2am, I shuffle just as much. If you are on the top bunk, try to prioritize and organize your necessary items so that you climb down and up as little as possible. If you're on the bottom bunk, please don't lean your bag on the ladder or else I will fall on it when I try to step down in the dark.

2. No sex, end of story.

Don't do it. When you come home drunk, and it seems like you and your new dude are the only two souls in the universe, take your love somewhere else. None of us need to hear or see your drunken lovemaking, nor do we want to be woken up by the creaking of the bunkbed. Get a room, or at the very least go to the bathroom.

3. Don't slam the door.

Be aware of your surroundings, and the space you share with others. When you slam the door, and we are still sleeping, it wakes us and scares us, and you give us the impression that we made you angry. Consider the people around you, and take an extra second to close the door quietly.

4. Prepare for bedtime in advance.

If you know you're going out, and will likely come back after others are sleeping, prepare the things you need for bed before you leave. Get out your pyjamas, toothbrush, towel, alarm, water, and anything else that you might need. Bonus points for those who bring a torch with them and use it instead of turning on the lights at 3am.

5. Take your bag outside if you need to shuffle.

When leaving for an early morning bus or flight, there's no question that you'll be up before others. The most courteous way to deal with an early morning pack up is to quietly take your whole bag out of the room, and to re-pack it, zip it, and shuffle all your belongings once you're in the common area. This way the room remains quiet, and you spare the sanity of the people still sleeping.

6. Quick bathroom use.

Many hostels offer only one bathroom for 6-10 people. The bathroom takes on inexplicable importance to the people in the room, and the time you use it should be respected. When you take a shower, be quick, especially in the morning. Leave the bathroom right after your shower in case someone has been waiting to use it. Try to make use of mirrors in the room and other nearby facilities (if there are any) so that others may use the bathroom in the room freely. By all means, do not spend 20 minutes in the shower at 8:00 am and another 20 minutes with the water off locked in the bathroom (unless you like being glared at).

7. Throw away your plastic bags.

The rustling, shuffling, and crinkling of plastic bags is the traveler's enemy. I realize the usefulness of such bags, and use several of them in my backpack, but they are not holding my clothes nor my toiletries. Instead of plastic bags, choose mesh bags for toiletries and cotton sacks for your clothes. These bags are much quieter, and no one will wake up when you scramble looking through the bag to find your other sock. If you find yourself needing to crinkle and shuffle a plastic bag, refer to tip number 5.

8. Turn off your snooze.

I am a fan of the snooze button, and use it every morning when I get ready for work. However, when I travel, I am sharing my room with other people who might not want to hear my Marimba ringtone every 5 minutes for the 30 minutes it takes me to get out of bed. Set your alarm to ring once, and don't hit snooze.

9. Mind your voice.

I have been travelling with my best friend in many countries around the world, and we've shared many a hostel room together. It's tempting to engage in conversation when we catch each others' eyes while others are sleeping, but instead of whispering, we motion to go outside and have our conversations there. First of all, when you whisper in a room, if your friend can hear you, so can other people. Secondly, everyone doesn't need to hear about what happened last night or why you lost the bus tickets. Take your friend outside to the common room and talk there.

10. Be courteous.

When you enter a hostel, you are entering a shared space with other travellers. When swapping stories of where you've been or where you're going, don't assume since you've been travelling longer or in more exotic locations that you are the better traveller. A traveller on a trip for a week is the same as a traveller on a trip for a month or for a year. We are all travelling, and we all deserve to enjoy our time in the hostels that we choose. Be grateful that you've crossed paths with other travellers, and give them the same respect you would expect them to give you.

What crazy hostel moments have you had? Leave a comment sharing your stories, and write your other tips for hostel etiquette!


  1. These are brilliant tips.

    I think I'd also add: "If you get up to go to the bathroom at 3am and accidentally lock the dorm door behind you and forget your key, go to the 24 hour reception for help. Don't pound and shout on the door waking all seven of your dorm mates up with your obnoxiousness or they all might be *so* pissed off that they're half tempted to leave you out there and pretend to still be asleep."

  2. I could never in a million years stay in a hostel. Do people really have sex with other people in the room???

  3. When we went to Seoul and were about to check in, there was a couple who wasted our time by asking the front desk guy questions like which places would be nice to visit, how to get to places, what some words meant etc while we were waiting to check-in, and we arrived earlier than them but decided to eat because the hostel frontdesk was still closed when we arrived. They should learn to plan their travel and create an itinerary of their activities -- they can save their time and others' time too :)

  4. The worst is when people start packing at 4am because they're catching an early flight...why, oh why? If I'm leaving that early I always have my bag packed and ready to roll.

    I once stayed at a hostel where I wasn't able to get any sleep because the guy running the front desk decided he'd invite some friends over for a little party and things quickly escalated out of control. Haha, he then tried to bribe me for a positive review...

  5. @Ceri - haha! i can picture it perfectly, and i too am very good at the old pretend to sleep move! an art of regular hostellers!

    @Andi - yes, yes they do. and sometimes it's right above you (sadly this happened to me in Colombia!)

    @Brenna - thanks!!

    @myckle - i agree! i've stood behind the same people, and it just comes down to courtesy.. and thinking of the people around you!

    @Audrey - ouch, the bribe is just the icing on the cake...

  6. Love your article! And everything is spot on!

    I only stayed in a hostel when I went to Europe for the first time and I don't think I can ever do it again.

    I had encountered the worst in Amsterdam when I had to share a room with 6 to 7 Swiss guys and they were so noisy at 3am. It was really bad!

  7. Rad Tips on Hostel Etiquette. I haven't slept in one yet. But of course cheap one star hotels are not much better when you can hear everything through the paper thin walls. Mostly slept in hotels, friends from around the worlds homes or homeless for a while. The perks of travel

  8. Great rules. I would like to add my own rule, or tip to the good list you have here.

    Do not get up at three in the morning, turn on your light in order to get ready, and spray perfume all over yourself. If the light doesn't get everyone, the perfume will likely affect the people who have sinus or asthma problems plus everyone else.

    How can people wake up at that time and spray perfume in a closed environment? The things you have described are basic care for other people.

  9. I once stayed in a co-ed room at a hostel where Allison and I went to bed around 1 am. The room was dark, and there were maybe two other girls sleeping in there. Around 3 am, three of the dudes staying in the room burst in, turned the lights on, and started videotaping us and asking us if we liked buttsex.

    That probably takes the cake for worst/most crazy hostel story ever on my end. Ha ha ha.

    1. How horrifying!! That qualifies as a top-ten worst hostel story for sure!!!

  10. I definitely agree with your point about preparing for bed in advance. It certainly helps one to be more quiet. It is like packing before. It is just better.

    1. Hey Andy,

      I totally agree! Nothing worse than shuffling around in the dark... and the zippers....


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