I rolled over to check my phone, it read 4:46 am. The overhead lights in the completely full 8-bed dorm room were shining brightly and from the vantage point of my top bunk, I could see the woman a few beds over (who’d gone to bed and turned off the lights at 7:00 pm the night prior) packing her bag. Recognizing she was clearly unaware of the unwritten hostel rules, I rolled over with a loud, passive-aggressive sigh, pulled the covers over my face, and closed my eyes in an attempt to show her my annoyance and go back to sleep.
Zip, unzip. Plastic bag rustles. Pills clink together in bottles as they get shoved into a bag. Zip. Walking in hard sole shoes across the cement floor. A loud drop of something. Wheels of a suitcase roll across the floor, the door opens and slams shut. Lights are still on. The door opens and slams shut again, another roll of a suitcase across the floor. The door opens, lights flick off, and the door slams shut. I check my phone again. It’s now 5:06 am.
A similar scene plays out in many hostel dorm rooms across the world and I’ve encountered a wide range of people that make me cock my head to the side and think “they can’t be serious”. But they are serious and completely oblivious to the fact that a hostel dorm room is a shared space.
There are a few unwritten rules of hostel life that many people seem to be ignorant of or simply forget. I mean, it’s all pretty much common sense and being a decent human being. But when that goes out the window, or if it will be your first time booking a hostel, these hostel rules will help you not be the asshole in the room!
10 Unwritten Hostel Rules
Treat Quiet Hours as Lights Out Hours
While there are no true lights out rule in hostels, there are usually posted quiet hour signs. Quiet hours are typically from 10:00 pm – 8:00 am each night. These quiet hours allow those who want a good night of sleep (a rarity in hostels) to attempt to get it without major noise disturbances from neighbors.
I think it’s perfectly acceptable to have lights out occur during the quiet hours time frame. Now, if it’s 10:00 pm and you’re the only one in the room and want the lights on – that’s cool. And if everyone is awake and getting ready before 8:00 am then flip those lights on so you can make sure you put your shirt on correctly.
But anything outside of those hours feels a bit ridiculous. It’s far too early to have lights out in a shared dorm room at 7:00 pm. If you want it to be dark so you can catch some z’s make sure that your hostel packing list includes an eye mask. The flip side is the same, if you have an early flight, use your flashlight to pack your last minute items and sneak out of the door. Use the light in the bathroom to get yourself dressed. But flipping on a light before 8:00 am is just plain rude.
Pack Your Bag at a Reasonable Hour
I’m not sure why, but this rule seems to get broken all of the time! I am constantly woken up by people full-on packing a bag – not just adding last minute items. If you are leaving during the quiet hours mentioned above, be sure to pack your bag the night prior. Set the clothes out that you plan to wear the next day and what you’ll need to get ready in the morning. Then get ready in the bathroom. When you’re all set to go, put your stuff in your bag and quietly walk out. Don’t wait until 3:00 am to go about zipping and unzipping your packing cubes and then your suitcase and huffing and puffing because you can’t fit it all in. Do all of this the night before and let your hostel roomies sleep.
Keep Sexy Time Private
The best way to get caught having sex with your travel romance is to do it in a small dorm room, while people are waking up for the day or while people are returning from a day out and getting ready to go out at night. And let’s be honest – just because you hang a sheet around your bottom bunk doesn’t mean that it won’t be obvious to the person on the top bunk as it begins to move. I would also strongly caution against bringing a guy back to an all-female dorm room. The ladies booked that room so they wouldn’t have to share it with a guy – don’t make them even more uncomfortable.
That’s not to say it’s impossible to have sex in a hostel. You could get away with doin’ it by heading to the bathroom and locking the door behind you. No one is going to accidentally walk in on you there! Or, if there is a rooftop, wait until it’s late enough at night and have a romantic night under the stars.
But the best way to have sex in a hostel is to just get a private room for the night. It might sound expensive, but if you split it between you and your partner, then it’s not too bad. This way you save your roomies from having to hear you grunt and don’t have to worry about being caught (unless that’s part of the thrill for you and your partner).
Just think outside the box a little and you can easily get away with having a good time in a hostel.
Also – side note – did you know Buenos Aires has hotels called telos – book by the hour hotels. They are basically 5-star hotels but you can book them by the hour to have a little rendezvous – could be fun.
If There Isn’t a Kitchen – Don’t Cook in the Room
Ok, so I was staying in a 10-bed dorm room in Ljubljana, Slovenia. This hostel was in a great location, had super comfortable beds, and great showers, but no kitchen. I knew this prior to booking because I always check hostel reviews. I decided that the location outweighed access to a kitchen. Thankfully, food in Ljubljana is delicious and reasonably priced. However, after a day of exploring Ljubljana, I returned to my comfy hostel bed and was greeted by six new roomies who apparently believed that eating out in Ljubljana was too expensive. They used camping equipment to cook a full blown meal in the dorm room.
The ventilation in the room was poor and I eventually fell asleep to the smell of food that lingered the next day (after they left). Plus – they didn’t even offer me any of their food! Not cool guys. Not cool.
Keep Your Stuff Contained
I was in Boston last week for a travel blogging conference. It had rained earlier in the day and I returned well past quiet hours. The room was dark, I couldn’t find my cell phone flashlight, and my eyes were hardly adjusted to the darkness. As I gingerly made my way towards my top bed at the back of the room, I tripped over an umbrella that was left open in the middle of the room. As I stumbled, I kicked my foot on a suitcase left wide open right next to it.
You guys, keep your shit contained! I don’t care if you have it spread out all over your bed, but don’t leave it in the middle of the floor! And don’t leave it directly in front of the ladder for the top bunk. It’s not fun having to navigate an obstacle course or step over someone else’s dirty underwear.
Don’t Wake Up Your Roomies with Loud Conversation
Need to Skype with your Mom and Dad back home? Go for it! Need a catch-up call with your bestie over Facetime? Say hi for me! But please, only do this in the room when everyone is awake! The other morning in the hostel I was awakened by a girl Facetiming her friend at 5:30 in the morning. Now, I would say it’s one thing if she had headphones on so I would only hear one side of the conversation. But no, she wasn’t using headphones and her friend was even louder than her.
I understand that with time differences sometimes the only time it’s possible to check in back home is super early or super late. If that’s the case, then take your conversation to the common area.
Set Yourself Up for a Quick Return to Bed
If you’re planning on enjoying the city’s nightlife then by all means – go for it, but before you have a few drinks and forget where you put your toothbrush, set yourself up for a quick return to bed. Many hostel beds have a little cubby or shelf that you can set items on. If it doesn’t then just leave what you’ll need under your pillow. I leave out my toothbrush, toothpaste, contact lenses and glasses. Oh – and my reusable water bottle filled with ice cold water so I don’t wake up too hungover. I’ll also leave my PJs on the bed so that way when I return, I can just get what I need and get into bed quickly – being only a slight disturbance to my hostel roomies.
Don’t Snooze Your Alarm
When I’m at home, I am the queen of snoozing my alarm. In fact, when I set my alarm, I set it in such a way that will allow me to snooze without waking up too late. But, when I’m sharing space in a hostel dorm room – then I set my alarm with the intention of getting up on the first ring. Just because I want to get up at 5:00 am to watch the sunrise, doesn’t mean my roomies do!
We are all human and we all make mistakes. Sharing a space with complete strangers is difficult. At the end of the day, breaking any of these hostel rules can be forgiven by making friends with your hostel roomies. You don’t need to become best friends with the people in the room – but even just saying hi when you walk in and engaging in polite conversation will get you far. You can understand their journey a bit better and how your paths have crossed.
This understanding of different perspectives is why we travel. Maybe it’s normal in their culture to cook wherever they see fit. Or maybe they have a good trick to doin’ the nasty without getting caught. Learn from your hostel roomies, treat them with respect, and let them sleep without flipping on the damn lights!
It’s almost a guarantee that these rules will be broken on a consistent basis. And while we can’t control the actions of other people – we can control our own. So it’s best to prepare for the worst hostel roomies while hoping for new besties! Make sure you bring an eye mask to sleep with, just in case someone decides to flip the lights on in the middle of the night. Ear plugs can be your best friend to ward off the noise of the early morning packer. And even headphones to listen to white noise or music to help you sleep and drown out the noise of your frisky neighbors.
Be sure to check out the hostel reviews before booking as there might be some hints as to the overall noise and attitude of the hostel staff and guests that can clue you in to whether you should stay there or not.
And always do your best to be respectful of the needs of your hostel roomies and not be that girl in the room.
I am sure that there are plenty of other unwritten hostel rules to add to this list, and as I encounter new experiences in hostels, I will definitely keep it up to date! What unwritten hostel rules do you wish everyone would adhere to?