Hostel Room Etiquette 101
I’ve stayed in nearly 50 different hostels to date. The vast majority of my experiences have been positive, but there are some do’s and don’ts of which to be aware. Some of these tips are what most would consider to be common sense/courtesy. Others are things you may not think of until you’ve experienced them. All of the poor behaviors you want to avoid can be summed up with the mentality of “don’t be THAT JERK.” Don’t be the roommate whom everyone wants to smother with a pillow while you sleep…
Introduce yourself to your roommates.
You’re going to be sharing living space with complete strangers…Introduce yourself, ask them for their names and do your best to remember them. Not only is it a courtesy, but it can sometimes be an extra safety precaution, from multiple angles. The reality is that people are more likely to look out for each other if you’ve made a good impression. This can also come in handy if you’re in one of the common areas or hostel bar and look uncomfortable. The person may come over to check on you or invite you to join their group. On the extremely slim chance that one of your roommates has less than honorable intentions, he or she is less likely to steal any of your stuff if he/she likes you.
If lockers are assigned to each individual person, use the one assigned to you.
As soon as one person disrupts this system, it screws everyone else over. It’s very difficult to then determine if the stuff actually belongs to a current roommate or if that person checked out and just left a bunch of junk. It can lead to an awkward conversation between roommates when you ask them to remove their stuff. If the roommates aren’t there for you to speak with them, you can leave a written request or mention it to the hostel staff. The staff may either leave a note that the locker needs to be emptied by a certain time or they may just outright remove the lock and take the items down to the front desk to be claimed. (If there isn’t a lock on it, you have every right to remove the items and bring them down to the hostel desk. If the person returns and asks where their stuff is, just say that you assumed that it was left by someone who had already checked out and apologize.) Bottom line is that it probably gets a little awkward, regardless. Just brush it off and realize that the person/s using the wrong locker/s are the ones at fault for the situation.
If bunks are not assigned, stake your claim to one ASAP.
I usually make my bed first thing and then lay a towel, toiletry kit or some other random junk on top of it as a redundancy. As my friend, Matt, will attest, this still might not be enough to deter the most uncouth hostellers. His bed was completely stripped and belongings removed by a roommate on one occasion. (Shout out to Matt for reminding me of this fundamental tip, allowing me to steal your “stake your claim” line and for sharing your story!) On that note, if there are already belongings on a bed, do not move them. Think The Walking Dead… “Claimed.” Word to the wise that top bunks become less fun, the older you get. Trust me. Bottom bunks go fast.
Keep all of your stuff reasonably contained.
Again, you’re sharing living space. If it looks like a grenade went off in your bag (aka a “bagsplosion,”) you need to get your stuff together, literally. Don’t take up half the floor space by throwing your clothes/shoes/gear/etc. everywhere. Don’t leave your bag in the middle of the room. Try to fit it under a bunk or up against a wall. There will probably come a day when you do have to unpack and reorganize your bag, but do it all in one sitting instead of leaving things out for the entirety of your stay. If you hang up some of your laundry to dry, don’t hang your clothes on every available surface or run a clothesline Entrapment laser scene style across the room. If your stuff is adding an unusual odor fog to the room, have some respect for your roommates and get it into the washer ASAP.
Set out any pajamas and toiletries prior to leaving if you’re going out for the night.
Be respectful when you do get back. Use the screen light from your phone or a flashlight app instead of turning on the room overhead light. Point the light at the ground instead of using it as a searchlight around the room. Grab the stuff you set out and either quietly change in your room or head to the bathroom and do it there.
If you have to leave for a tour or check out early in the morning, have everything packed the night before and ready to grab and go.
Keep the clothes you’ll be changing into for the day and any toiletries at the top of your bag or laid out and go get ready in the bathroom. Don’t get up at 4AM, turn on the room light and loudly start cramming all of your junk in your pack.
Try to avoid plastic grocery bags whenever possible.
Ask for paper bags, bring a reusable fabric/cloth bag or one of those drawstring gym bags. If you absolutely cannot avoid plastic sacks, take everything out of it during the day and get rid of the plastic sack. It’s incredibly annoying to wake up to the sound of someone rustling to get something out of one or when he or she is trying to stuff a bunch of them in their pack while you’re trying to sleep.
Observe quiet hours, as appropriate.
Some hostels do actually set quiet hours. Other times, use common sense. If someone’s napping during the day or sleeping at night, don’t come in and start talking at full volume for the next hour. If you have to talk or ask a quick question, whisper as quietly as possible and keep it brief.
Bring earplugs and an eye mask.
In relation to the last four tips, even if you adhere to common courtesy, it doesn’t mean that your roommates will. Your bunk could be right by the window on a noisy street, mattress springs squeak, someone could snore like a banshee, etc. If you don’t go to sleep with earplugs/headphones in and an eye mask on, sleep with them within reach on the floor or tuck them into your pillowcase for quick access.
Spring for a private room or hotel for the night or use discretion if you’re going to have sexy time.
I have somehow never walked into the room or, to my knowledge, been in the room while any of my roommates have been having sex, but it does happen. The ol’ gym sock on the doorknob trick isn’t universal for “sex in progress” anymore. The most courteous thing to do is to shell out for a private room at the hostel or an actual hotel room. Realistically, backpackers tend to be too frugal to do this, so it doesn’t happen very often. If you’re going to be those people who go for it, hang your bed sheet and/or towels around your bunk so the whole room doesn’t see the show. Try to find a time when the room is empty. If you don’t wait for an empty room, keep the noise to a minimum. Bear in mind that not only are hostel bunks and beds generally not the sturdiest, but they tend to squeak A LOT.
What other suggestions or hostel room pet peeves do you have? Share them in the comments!