Hostel Etiquette

By Nomadic Matt | Published February 1st, 2010

hostel dorm roomLately, 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. 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 3 AM. So before you go hosteling around the world, here are some good 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 11 pm, keep the noise down. People are trying to sleep. In a large dorm, it’s hard to have perfect silence. People get that. That’s why we all carry ear plugs. If you are in a smaller dorm, your noise is going to be heard much easier and ear plugs don’t always work. It’s not cool being woken up in the middle of the night by drunks or chatty people. If you are going to talk, do it outside. Don’t make us remember you as that jerk who kept us up.

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. There are people in the room who might not be able to sleep with the lights on. Please don’t disturb.

Don’t Be Dirty! – Your mother is not here and no one wants some crazy food borne 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 mildly warm water. And remember, if there is a still a film on the pan when you are done, it’s not clean.

hostel dorm room messPack Up Early – It’s hard to sleep late in 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 we love it when people pack their bags the night before 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 seriously. No one wants to hear you faking it. There’s a right way to have sex in a hostel and a wrong way. 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 iPod on but turn the volume down just a bit.

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. However, it’s amazing how many people forget that rule. 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 was that they were rude. Don’t be that guy (or girl). Let people walk away with good memories of you.

comments 62 Comments

sarah

I wish my blackberry had a “print” function so I could leave this on the brazilian woman’s bed who spent 2 hours this morning testing her numerous zippers while everyone tried to sleep. Also, this is more of a girls-only problem but using copious amounts of hairspray in a tiny dorm is grounds for execution.

The bag rustling drives me nuts! And always at two in the morning!

NomadicMatt

It got done to me this morning too!

I agree with Sarah… this should be printed off and not only given to ‘zipper testers’, but hung in every hostel.

And I would like to see you rock out to lady gaga haha… seeing as how awesome it is.

We all know that whatever you need to find at a specific moment is at the bottom of the bag. The people who forget this always have a million plastic bags above that one thing they need.

I would rather listen to someone snore than the stupid plastic bag rustling.

NomadicMatt

Agreed!

albiceleste_10

http://mobilelawyer.blogspot.com/2010/02/hosteldorm-etiquette.html

Coincidence or plagiarism? Hodson’s post was first by five hours. Just enough time to cut, paste, and rewrite.

To your credit albiceleste_10, at least you posted a link so other readers could check it out, instead of making some vague unsubstantiated charge (see below). But, after reading the other post, yeah it does look like coincidence. They both have points on being quiet, keeping the lights off, and not having sex, which all sound like things that would make anyone’s top ten lists about staying in hostels. Many/most of the entries make completely different points and the two posts don’t seem to share any extended common language which would be a dead give away.

That’s how I see it anyways.

Franny

To the contrary albiceleste_10 – mobile lawyer admits that HE got the idea from Matt’s tweet – and stands by Matt’s rep. Plus why the heck would anyone plagiarize a list that’s as common-sensical as this?! Matt’s been putting out good, original content for 2 years, no need to stoop to that level at this stage in the game.

Of course there’s similar content out there, because these tips make complete and logical sense. They are universally understood. The more these tips get put out there the better for all of us. Thanks for the great content!

These are all great suggestions Matt. The other thing that can be tough is when someone who is planning on being out late has a top bunk. When they come back, they make all sorts of noise trying to get up the ladder to bed. I think if you’re planning on making it a late, drunk night, try to get a lower bunk.

Ahh, this was great practical advice on how you can party that’s fine, but just plan ahead a little.

This is a great list – plus, you could also follow these same rules for any sort of communal living (dorms, camp, etc) as well as being an extended guest at someone’s home. It takes so little to show some manners. :) Thanks for reminding us of that!

Alana

Already read this off from somewhere. And almost exact content.

NomadicMatt

See comment from above.

Ha! Great list, a must read for all budget travelers. Some people need to learn that a dorm is for sleeping, not hanging out. Go out and find a bar or club if you want a place to party.

It’s pretty sad when people need to have common courtesy spelled out for them, but isn’t that the way it always is? Thanks for giving me a glimpse of hostel life, Matt. Since I doubt the people who most need to internalize these rules of etiquette ever will, I don’t think I’ll be staying in a hostel dorm any time soon. Private room, maybe. Dorm, no.

And don’t be the nudest guy/girl in the dorm. I can’t even begin to count the number of nudists I’ve encountered. Partial nudity while dressing is normal. Strutting around with your junk dangling in the wind? Just no.

NomadicMatt

That’s never happened to me. Thank god!

Quincy

i have encountered this problem and found it so wrong. if it were accidental then whatever but to have three guys standing around the room naked and talking about which girls they want to bang and get drunk is something i dont want to see or hear. still never understood that at all. WTF???

I smiled and nodded in agreement while reading your post. Excellent advice on hostel etiquette. Basically, if hostel travelers would try to be more kind and respectful, it would go a long way.

Fernanda

another thing to add to the list: Don’t bring smelly food to the room!! I remember being in a hostel in Kyoto and this woman would bring food to the room every single night…. you wouldn’t believe how awfully smelly it was :(.

NomadicMatt

Exactly. Plus on Jan 29th, I tweeted “Backpacker whose afraid of the dark has left my dorm. As has her chatty friend. I think there should be a class on backpacker dorm etiquette” I got my idea days ago. Why would I plagiarize someone? I gain nothing by it. Ridiculous claim.

It is surprising how many people are ignorant of these unwritten rules (in fact some hostels do write a few down).

The worst I came across was 2 guys who came in loud (drunk) at 11pm and 15 mins later one of them vomitted down the wall (he was in the top bunk).

The guests in hostels can make it a make or break experience.

Sofia

Eeeewww…. I hope you weren’t the ‘lucky lad’ sleeping in the bunk underneith… ?

Cheska

Nice article, you’re right, there are always going to be similar articles because backpacking is huge now, I wrote an article on the same topic a few months ago as well as a few on sex in a hostel. It’s to be expected though, these are the experiences backpackers have on a daily basis so it is only fitting to write about them.

You couldn’t be more spot on with the basics – if everyone followed these it would often make hosteling more enjoyable for the majority. :-)

It’s all common sense I don’t get how people can be so ignorant to the everyone around them. Perhaps we all just grew up with the right morals or they checked theirs at the airport and left them there.

Ian

Even though Im a bit of a neat freak at home, I always make my bunk LOOK as gross as possible. I always leave the bed unmade with wadded socks and a towel strewn all over it and….as a final touch, a pair of underwear draped over the pillow. Experience has taught me that these precautions insure that when I come back to my room in the evening no one will have “claimed” my bunk.

Quincy

oh yes! that is another point. i used to make my bed until i realized that invited everyone of my hostel roommates and their friends to have a full on chat on my bed. After awhile i started to place my towel over my somewhat made bed and didn’t have that problem so much anymore.

Ian

I don’t know why but it took me years to figure that one out ha ha!

Some people just go bonkers when they don’t feel responsible for themselves. The worst is people coming in late at night and just dumping their backpacks down in the loudest way possible.

good point Matt, but this is not about how to behave in a hostel, it´s about how we should behave in LIFE, in a hostel, in a friend´s house, a host family´s house, your own house… it´s about having manners, respect for others and being polite.

Reader

You could always stay in a private room….

NomadicMatt

Not everyone can afford a private room everyone.

It’s been a few years, but I spent three straight months in European hostels and found almost everyone to be courteous.

In Istanbul last summer i literally wanted to scream bloody murderous profanities at a kid who wrapped every item in his backpack in a plastic bag before pushing the air out of it and patting it a few more times for extra measure before stuffing it loudly into his backpack. Needless to say, he was wearing those plastic clog things that are so hideous and uncomfortable and make the whole hostel smell like feet. Let’s hope he is reading this blog post of yours and taking notes, cuz next time around I’ll do more than sigh loudly.

NomadicMatt

You should have yelled! I have no problem yelling!

Melvin

Hostels are not for everyone. Hostels are definitely not for me. Backpacking and couchsurfing are not my thing as well.

Oh my. This posting and thread on cement my conviction that if I don’t have enough dough to pay for my own room… I think I’d rather not go. I stayed in a dorm once and it was absolutely horrible… and I got robbed by a fellow traveler.

I stayed in a dorm hostel last August in Mexico because all the rooms were taken, but I was the only person in the dorm so it was cool. I had no idea people treat each other like this in the dorms on average. I figured my experience had not been the norm.

Guess I better save a bit longer so that I can keep up the private room I’ve become accustomed to. ;-)

Quincy

this needs to be posted in every hostel. especially the not having sex in the rooms part. i never understood how people think it is cool to have sex in a room. i particularly didn’t understand a girl who would willingly go back to an all guy’s dorm and try to have sex with the guy she just met while the room was full of guys sleeping. i was the only one who would say anything and had to yell at people who tried to do it. after the 2nd time i was known as the room yeller (but in a good way). the guys just knew i would take care of it and shut it down.

I think travelers aren’t at home, but away in a new place, so they ignore general rules of courtesy. Similar to why every stinking day nobody loads/unloads the dishwasher in my office. You would load it at home, so why not here?? So frustrating. Many hostelers think, “Oh, I’ll never see these people again, so who cares?” What they don’t get is it does matter, because your a-hole photo might end up on Facebook or on my site. If backpackers want to promote travel, poor etiquette is not going to convince newbies that hostels are legit.

hahaha! oh some of these are so funny!!!

Sex in a dorm. Why? I never got that one. That’s just gross and one of the reasons i am oh so happy to have my own little sleeping bag when I get back to the room.

But the bag rumpling is always out of control! WTF? I mean if you are going to be coming in late at night when everyone else is asleep then why don’t you get your pj’s and toothbrush out and ready before you leave right? Then you can come back, sneak off into the bathroom, get changed and jump right into your bed all nice and quiet instead of waking the whole room up while digging through your bag for your mini sized toothpaste. Drives me freaking nuts. And it’s so easy to avoid the whole bag crumpling situation but people just don’t care.

I don’t know how people don’t feel bad doing things like that and waking others up.

Another one of my personal favorites is the girl who is what i call the “hostel hottie”. You know the kind, wears the kinda slutty clothes and acts like she’s always new in town and needs help or constantly says that she just had some “crazy, awesome, life changing” experience with a local. God forbid you are stuck in the same room with this girl. Constant knocks on the door, random dudes floating in and out at all hours of the night or the best yet, is when they come around and she’s not there and then they ask you where she is. How the hell would I know? I just want to scream – “You are not getting laid tonight while I am in the room – go away!” When I see the hostel hottie I wave of paranoia goes through me, praying she is not in my room.

Ian

Crazy, awesome, life changing, and don’t forget how “beautiful” and “amazing” everything seems to be for her too!

Ian

At the risk of sounding a bit insensitive, Id have to say that deaf people are the absolute worst roomates. Since they can’t hear…they have no idea how much noise they’re making: noisy rustling around, loud yawning, lip smacking sounds, rifling through thier stuff loudly….Has anyone else experienced this??

Henry

True…I worked at a Deaf School. Noisiest place in the world, no one had a need to be quiet. In the dorm at a Deaf School privacy is non-existent since they have to see to communicate…no doors on stalls, so they could sign to each other while on the throne.

Oh the rustling of the plastic bags! I can’t stand them either! Great article and awesome site Matt! Consider yourself bookmarked :)

I hear you, being the devils advocate however…

I’d argue that if you are paying less than the price of a McDonald’s Combo for a room, you can’t expect anything. The dude sleeping on the street (only slightly cheaper) doesn’t make demands of traffic or those who pass by.

I think if you go in a hostel, expect to get woken up when people come hom drunk (they are allowed to have fun) and should expect a bunch of things that come with sleeping in a room with 10 strangers from around the world.

Just saying.. ;)

I did the mistake once to bring a folder for all my important tickets and so on, with velcro closing.
I think that’s more annoying than plastic bags. Open and close sounds awful.

But I had my own private room, still didn’t want to disturb my neighbours, walls were thin…
I throwed it away later and stick to zippers, I think they sound less.

Gabriele

To young women traveling don’t get super drunk and vomit all over the stairs, the shared bathroom, and the floor of the 6-bed shared dorm room at 3am and have others clean it up. It’s plain disrespectful.

Haha, all these comments made me laugh. most of it has happened to me too!
The worst was when a very drunk irish dude came back in at 4am and started singing very loudly. When I asked him to be a little more quiet, because he woke everyone up. He climbed into bed with me and started making small talk. He was big, and I couldn’t get him out of my bed. Finally, I got out, he passed out, and I spend the night sitting in reception drinking tea with the receptionist…
Good times :)

Liz

I was in a 10 bed dorm, with a bathroom attached. Everyone in the room was checking out- so we all had the same time line to be out by 10:30am… even though the buses were not until later.
One girl spent 45 min in the shower! Not ok! Then she wanted back in to use the mirror! When she left the room we all laughed. Didn’t matter that we weren’t all friends or from the same place. Any backpacker knows not to ever do that!

BackpackingBex

Great post! It’s very important that backpackers know the do’s and don’t about hostel living…

Erin

I work in a hostel in Canada and the stories I have would make many cringe. One guy came back so drunk to his dorm one night that he started peeing on another guest thinking he was in the bathroom. When the guest woke up and told him to go use the toilet and not his bed, the drunk guy was like “Move your bed out of the way then so I can get to the bathroom!” The bed was against a solid wall, and the bathroom door was behind the drunk guy lol.

Oh, and in addition to the no sex in the hostel – please guys, don’t masturbate in your bed either. Believe it or not, other people can hear you.

NomadicMatt

I have plenty of stories like that. I can only imagine what you have….what hostel do you work at?

Erin

I work at GO Backpacker’s Hostel in Edmonton (www.gohostels.ca). Not that Edmonton is huge on the Canadian tourist trail (most people use us as a transition to the Rockies), but there are still loads of stories from my job haha.

Thank you for that post, there is always a need for reminders of etiquette in hostels / dorm rooms. I’d add to that to also refrain from using the snooze button – of course you need an alarm clock to wake up, but don’t bother your fellow travellers with additional noise that is not necessary. I think being quiet and leaving your room/kitchen/bathroom clean are the biggest issues.

charlie

One gruesome night in a dark cramped hostel in Vienna I had the “pleasure” of experiencing one of the funniest moments Europe and also one of the most disturbing. This is a true story..

At approximately 3am in the morning I was woken by the feeling of my friend squeezing my foot from the bunk beside me.
“What’s up” I said.
“Can you hear that?” She said.
Whilst pitching myself up on my forearm, I hazily replied “what you on about?”

My ears slowly adjusted to being awake, but it was still pitch black in the dorm. From what appeared to be nowhere I slowly recognised the faint noises of two people having sex. Looking around the dorm in the darkness I pinpointed that it was emanating from the bathroom. Clearly a man or woman had for some unknown reason thought it would be plausible to commence sexual activities in a dormitory toilet constructed of walls that resembled something similar to that of papier mache.

As more individuals roused from their slumber the noise continued for what seemed like a life-time until finally, it stopped, just like that. No fierce eruption of noise, just point blank dead silence. What happened next could not be wrote.

The lock on the bathroom door snapped open, the handle door twisted open, and light started to fill the dorm. The sudden disparity in light wiped away my night vision, so that next image I saw haunts me to this day.

What can only be described as a Dutch-looking Piers Morgan holding a laptop was sporting a pair of speedos with a complimenting bulge for his recent antics. All less than a half a metre from my face. At first I didn’t know whether to be disgusted or laugh.

The man strolled over to his bed, tucked himself in gently, and what can only be described as pure comedy, then proceeded to watch a film, WITH HEADPHONES!

Tears me apart to this day.

This article is great! Luckily I haven’t had any bad hostel situations (touch wood). When I moved to Hamburg I had to live in a hostel for a week until I found a flat. Trying to get up at 7am and look decent to be an assistant teacher was quite hard. I never turned the lights on and tried to set out the stuff I needed in a pile so I could just grab it and feel my way to the bathroom. I’m always worried about getting my stuff stolen too because sometimes the lockers they have in the room aren’t big enough for suitcases, but they probably presume people are backpacking so there’s more than enough room in them.

Saw this is posted back in 2010, just wanted to confirm that not much has changed after all the years haha. If anything hostel life feels even more difficult than a few years ago. Or maybe I’m just getting older and a little more grumpy!

Shawn

I just recently stayed in a hostel in Miami, and while the hostel itself was pretty ok and most of the other residents were friendly and thoughtful, the experience was marred by one complete a-hole (as it often appears to go). This guy came into the 6-person room quite late, dropped off his stuff, and left. He came back in the middle of the night, apparently quite drunk, and went to sleep. Ok no problem there, that is pretty common in hostels and as long as you don’t make a ruckus etc that’s ok by me. The next morning my and my girlfriend left to go about town, and came back at around 11am to shower and change clothes. The guy was still sleeping his hangover off, and had clearly been to the bathroom because his creation was still in the bowl. Ok, that’s not the end of the world, either. However, we went around our business of showering, changing clothes, and discussing the next plans (it was 11am after all and we had stuff booked that we had to make arrangements for and we needed the wifi to check certain things). The guy eventually got up, said pretty much something along the lines of “shut up”, went into the shower, before which I told him that we’re sorry if he woke up because of us (again, at this time of day saying sorry wasn’t really necessary but I wanted to be friendly). We left to give him space to go about his business. When we came back some hours later, he had already checked out and left, but had left a note for us. In the somewhat psychotic-sounding note he proceeded to call us some of the ugliest names and even included a threat. From what I gathered, he had basically assumed that a 6-person hostel room should be absolutely quiet at 11am, and his tone was generally that the world revolved around him and his needs. I had hoped he had actually opened his mouth about this while he was still with us rather than leaving us a cowardly note, as I would have pointed out how other people in a hostel room are allowed to go by their normal business in the daytime (as long as they aren’t being exceptionally noisy) and that he should have at least used ear plugs if he wanted to sleep off his hangover in the room. Divas and hostels just don’t mix.

Some great pointers Matt.

Over the years, I’ve stayed in hostels from Amsterdam to Malaysia and so far have had only great experiences. I think part of that is because of two things. First, if possible, I only stay in mixed (coed) dorms with 6 (or preferably 4) beds. As a general (though not absolute) rule, I have found women travelers to be better housebroken than men.

The second thing is that I am a senior backpacker … 64 this year. I think I get a bit more respect because of this. It must be the grey hair. LOL

Oh, and I always travel with earplugs. :)

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