Hostel Etiquette: What to Do and Not to Do in a Hostel

A person sitting on a bunk bed in a hostel holding a map of Bangkok, with their backpack on the ground nearby
Last Updated: 1/25/24 | January 25th, 2024

One of the best things about staying in hostels is that they attract a wide variety of people. You never know who you’re going to meet.

Sometimes, however, that’s not always a good thing.

I’ve encountered all kinds of backpackers who believed 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.

I’m still shocked by the behaviors I see in hostels — 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 stays in a hostel, there should be a class on how to properly behave in one. 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:


 

1. 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 10pm or 11pm, keep the noise down. People are trying to sleep! You love to sleep, right? So does everyone else. Dorm rooms are where the sleeping happens, not the partying! 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!
 

2. Keep the lights off

Expanding on this theme, if it’s past 11pm or before sunrise, keep the lights off. Use a flashlight, small headlamp, or the glow from your phone 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.
 

3. 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 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.

(And, personally, since I don’t trust people to follow this rule, I always clean my dishes BEFORE using them. You can never be too careful when it comes to germs.)
 

4. 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.
 

5. Pack up beforehand

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 the noise in the morning. If you have to wake up at 4am to catch your early flight, pack the night before and get your outfit ready so you don’t unzip everything or crinkle every bag you have. 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 a kindness greatly appreciated by others.
 

6. 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.
 

7. Keep it private

Don’t have sex in the dorm rooms. I mean it, seriously. No one wants to hear you — or accidentally walk in on you. There’s a right way to have sex in a hostel and a wrong way — and in the dorm room is the wrong way.
 

8. Turn off the dance party

As awesome as rocking out to Taylor Swift is (and I honestly mean that), 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.
 

9. Use headphones

If you’re making a call, chatting on Skype, or watching a movie use headphones. The rest of the dorm doesn’t want to hear what you’re up to. If you need to make a call and don’t have headphones, go to the common room. You can make a call in the hallway during the day but don’t sit in the hallway chatting away at night.

Why? Because we can all still hear you. Be respectful of everyone else. Use headphones.

Also, turn your phone notifications off at night too. It’s great that you’re chatting to people before bed but we don’t need to hear every ding, whizz, or funny tone you’ve programmed for your apps. Some people forget and all of a sudden the whole room is blasted with your ringtone song at 3am.
 

10. Don’t hog the bathroom

Most hostels have limited bathroom and shower space. Don’t spend 40 minutes in the shower and use up all the hot water. Be quick so that everyone has time to shower and get ready. It’s a shared space, remember!
 

11. Share the outlets

While most hostels these days have plenty of electrical outlets, some don’t. Don’t take up more than 1 plug so that everyone can use the outlet. Everyone needs their phone or computer to plan and communicate — just like you. Plugging in all of your devices at once so no one else can charge theirs is a jerk move. Don’t be a jerk!
 

12. Be considerate when washing clothes

If you wash your clothes and there is no dryer available, make sure that when you hang your clothes to dry you hang them on your portion of the bunk — not all over the room. Sometimes, other people want to wash something and if your underwear is hanging everywhere that’s not that considerate. We all have to wash stuff sometimes but it’s a bit annoying when one person has their stuff hanging off every bunk all over the room.
 

13. Don’t eat people’s food or drink other people’s beer

It’s shocking how many people open a fridge and act like they’re in their own house and just pinch a beer. Sure, we should watch our things and label them at hostels but the rule is simple: if you wouldn’t want someone else eating your food or taking your drinks, don’t do it to others. Many hostels have a shared cupboard with things people leave or for simple spices or condiments. It’s totally ok to borrow things from there. But, unless someone offers, don’t eat food or drink drinks that aren’t yours.
 

14. Don’t bring food into the dorm

There are some foods that might be delicious but unfortunately, they seriously stink up the room. They can attract bugs too. Hostels have eating areas and common rooms for a reason. Stick to them.

***

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. You aren’t the only one in the hostel. You’re 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 was that they were rude and not people I wanted to hang out with. 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!

Want my favorite hostel suggestions? Here’s a list of all of my favorite hostels in the world!

 

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