Matt’s Note: This post was updated in 2016 to reflect recent changes in the travel industry, new experience, advice, and insight!
I’ve encountered a number of backpackers who believe that a ten-bed dorm means they’re the only one sleeping there. Or that their mom will clean up their mess in the hostel’s kitchen. It used to amaze me that so many people would be rude and inconsiderate to others in the hostel — leaving dirty dishes, having sex in dorm rooms, or being loaded, drunk, and uncaring then turning around and being angry if someone didn’t let them catch a moment of sleep.
Sometimes I think that before everyone goes away, there should be a class on how to properly behave in a hostel. That way you are remembered for being the totally awesome person you are instead of the jerk that woke everybody up at 3am. After years on the road and thousands of hostel stays, here are hostel etiquette tips to inspire love, not hatred, from your fellow travelers:
Be quiet – No one expects you to tip-toe around the room during the day, even if someone is taking a nap. There’s an unwritten understanding that during the day, the dorm room is fair game. However, after about 10 or 11pm, keep the noise down. People are trying to sleep! You love sleep, right? So does everyone else. Remember that. Dorm rooms are where the sleeping happens, not the party! It’s not cool being woken up in the middle of the night by drunks or chatty people. If you are going to talk, leave the room and do so outside.
In a large dorm, it’s hard to have perfect silence — people get that. That’s why we all carry earplugs. But if you are in a smaller dorm, your noise is going to be heard much more easily, and earplugs won’t always work.
And please, don’t shit in the room either!
Keep the lights off – Expanding on this theme, if it’s past 11 or before sunrise, keep the lights off. No one wants to be woken up by the light. Use a flashlight or the glow from your iPod to find what you are looking for. There are people in the room who might not be able to sleep with the lights on. Please don’t disturb.
Keep the kitchen clean – Your mother is not here, and no one wants some crazy foodborne illness. I bet you don’t either. Wash your dishes when you are done with them, and by “wash,” I mean with soap, not just running your dishes under lukewarm water. If there is a still a film on the pan when you are done, it’s not clean.
And if you use the last pot, clean it, so the person behind you can start cooking their dinner without scrubbing your dishes. Don’t just leave it.
Keep the bathrooms clean – I bet you don’t keep the bathroom filthy in your own house, so why do it in the hostel? How many times have you walked into a hostel bathroom and nearly vomited in disgust? Lots. I know I have. That is how everyone feels when they use the bathroom after you’ve left it a cesspool and I need a biohazard suit to walk through it. Hell, I can’t for the life of me figure out how people get places so damn dirty. Throw your trash, toilet paper, etc., in the bin, don’t pee on the floor, and, if you have to throw up, do it in the toilet, not the sink or shower.
Pack up early – It’s hard to sleep in at hostels. Everyone is packing their bags and moving out. New people are coming in. The guy above you is snoring like a freight train. Anything that can help us sleep later is always appreciated. So travelers love it when people pack their bags the night before so as to minimize noise in the morning. Bags rustling and zipping can get annoying. I know you can’t fully get rid of the noise, but doing something to try to keep it down is goodwill that is greatly appreciated by others.
Avoid plastic bags! – Even worse than listening to people pack their bag is listening to people rustle with the plastic bags they carry around. They make a lot of noise. A LOT OF NOISE! This is my biggest pet peeve. If the noise goes on for a while, I’ll even say something. So just like packing your bag, pack your plastic bags the night before. Because there’s simply no way to muffle that sound.
Keep it private – Don’t have sex in the dorm rooms. I mean it, seriously. No one wants to hear you faking it. There’s a right way to have sex in a hostel and a wrong way — and in the dorm room is the wrong way.
Turn off the dance party – As awesome as rocking out to Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” is, some people can’t fall asleep to music. While it is great that you can, and it certainly helps block out other noises, keeping it too loud disturbs others. I don’t want to fall asleep to the soundtrack to your life. Plus, why work on going deaf while you sleep? That’s more of a daytime activity. Keep the volume down.
None of this is difficult. You don’t have to stop being you, but remember what your kindergarten teacher told you all those years ago: play nice with others. Be respectful of people’s space just as you want people to be respectful of yours. Remember you aren’t the only one in the hostel. You are surrounded by people who have different needs. Be conscious of that.
All I remember about the people who woke me up or left the place dirty were that they were rude and not people I wanted to hang out with again. If I ran into them again, I would walk the other way. Don’t let that person be you.
Let people walk away with good memories of you by being an awesome and respectful traveler!
P.S. – I actually opened a hostel! Located in Austin, Texas, HK Austin has all the things that make a hostel extraordinary: brand new comfy mattresses that I’d sleep on in my own home, amazing showers, a large indoor common space, free Wi-Fi, free laundry facilities, a modern kitchen, free on-site secured parking, and events for guests. The next time you visit Austin, come stay at HK Austin! It will be one of the best hostels you’ve ever stayed in!