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Hostel Etiquette: 19 things you need to know before you go

There are lots of reasons why so many travellers choose to stay in hostels. They’re generally cheaper, you meet loads of interesting people and sometimes you get a free breakfast. However, not every hostel stay is going to be a great experience. The more you travel the more likely it is that, sooner or later, you’ll stumble across something that’s memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Your impression of a place, both good and bad, will be impacted most by the people you meet, and the same is true of your effect on them. Things you think are perfectly acceptable can be really annoying to other travellers. That’s why it’s important to follow the unwritten rules of hostel etiquette and make sure you’re not part of the problem – for your benefit and your fellow travellers’. A sort of ‘Hostel Rules and Regulations’ if you will. You probably have your own ideas about what you expect to happen in a hostel so here are mine. A guide to hostel etiquette and what you should (and shouldn’t) do when staying in a hostel.

Say hello

Staying in a hostel gives you a chance to meet people from literally everywhere! All with their own stories and reasons for being there. So you might as well at least say hello. Find a common language and ask them about their lives, why they’re there, where they’ve been, etc. It’s also a good way to get some ideas for things to do in the area.

Talking in a hostel dorm room
It’s good to introduce yourself to the other people in your dorm. Just try to be a little less creepy than this guy

It can be difficult to meet people while travelling alone, especially if you’re a little bit introverted. But sometimes you’ve just got to go in there and say hi. Whether it’s your new roommates, people in the kitchen or someone at breakfast. Start a conversation and before you know it you’ve made a new friend. I’ve always been a very quiet person but travelling alone around the world has made me much (a little?) more confident. Just remember to smile!

Invite others to join you

Many people travelling with their friends tend to only stick to their little group and barely acknowledge anyone else. Why not go up to that lone traveller and ask if they’d like to join you for a drink or a tour of the city? I had a really fun night out with a group who did just that in Queenstown, whilst a group of German girls I met in Thailand on Christmas Eve were the exact opposite.

Respect people’s boundaries

Sharing a dorm is a great way to meet people on the road. Especially for solo travellers. Just be aware not everybody wants to be your friend. Some people just like their own company or maybe they don’t feel like being sociable at that moment. Sometimes they just need a quiet evening after a few nights out and a lot of travelling.

Group chatting in a hostel
You can meet lots of cool people while staying in a hostel. Just not the guy with the guitar.

Be adaptable

Even after reading all the online reviews you never know quite what you’re going to get in a hostel. You have to be ready for anything. Maybe there was a problem with your reservation and your room isn’t quite the same as you booked. Maybe you have a six-bed dorm to yourself (or the entire hostel as I experienced in Paraguay). And you never know who you’re going to meet. Will it be that one weirdo who looks a bit shifty? The guitar playing, attention seeking tool? (We get it. You can play an instrument.) The group of lads looking to hit every bar in town? Or the student on a journey of self-discovery?

Cooking up a feast (or just pasta. Again.)

Cooking for yourself is a great way to save money. Better yet, cook with a group. Not only can you split the tasks and cost of shopping between you, but you can also make new friends while you’re at it. The only thing to be aware of is to make sure you wash the pots and pans after you use them. Some hostels barely have enough equipment to cook with anyway, but there’s not much worse than wanting to cook and having to wash someone else’s pan before you can start.

Group chatting in a hostel kitchen
Sometimes hostel kitchens are actually this clean

Donating your unwanted things

No, I don’t mean your dirty underwear that’s been stinking up your bag for the last three weeks! (What’s wrong with you?!) If you have left over food or clothes you no longer need, give them to your fellow backpackers or a local charity. They’ll be more than grateful to have it (depending on the condition it’s in) and you can save some space in your bag. You’ll usually find a box with free food in the kitchen.

Don’t be a hog

When you stay in a hostel you’re sharing that space with lots of other people. So don’t treat it like your own private apartment. Everyone needs to use the bathroom (I hope!) so try not to take an hour preparing yourself before you go out. The same goes for hostel computers. Half an hour is long enough for you to sort out your travel plans and catch-up on emails before letting someone else have their turn. Sometimes there may be limited charging points in the dorm room. If that’s the case don’t charge your tablet, mobile, mp3 player and headphones all at the same time. The best hostels have individual charging points at each bed. However, I’ve also seen just four sockets in a 16-bed dorm.

Don't be a hog
It’s okay for this guy to be a hog. But you’re not this guy.

Disturbing the peace

When you’re sharing a room with five, nine or even fifteen other people, you have to think of them as well as yourself. This means keeping the noise to a minimum and not having wild dorm parties and playing loud music after 11pm or banging about before 9am. Unless everyone’s doing it of course. The same goes for talking on your phone. Not everyone needs to hear your conversation so find a quiet place outside the dorm to do it.

Keep your phone on silent

As great as it is to be able to catch up with friends and family back home, the continuous message tone can get annoying. Leaving your phone on silent ensures you’re not constantly irritating your roommates. And when you have to make that early morning flight or tour, don’t just ignore the alarm. Pressing the snooze button six times in a row isn’t going to win you any friends among your roommates.

Do not disturb door hanger
When you’re in the dorm try to keep it as quiet as possible, especially between 11pm and 9am

Don’t leave the light on for me

At some point you’re going to have to check out early to make that flight or catch a bus. And when you do, unless you’re the only one in there, don’t switch on the light! The same goes for when you return late after a night out. Check first to see if anyone is sleeping. You might be sharing that room for a few days or even weeks, so it’s probably best not to piss everyone off.

Be prepared

If you have to check-out before 9am don’t leave your packing until the last minute. Prepare as much as possible the night before. Plastic bags are not great for the environment or for trying to be quiet. No matter how slowly you move they will always make noise. I usually drag my things out into the hall or the bathroom and pack them there.

Photo by Marcus Loke on Unsplash
Hostels are generally well located and a great place to meet people when travelling alone

Getting a good night’s sleep

There are several ways you can make sure you get a better night’s sleep no matter who you’re sharing with or the condition of the beds. An eye mask (free on some long-haul flights), earplugs or even a pair of headphones can make all the difference.


Chances are you’ll be sharing with a snorer at some point in your hostel life. Most of them (okay, us) can’t help it and it’s generally not something that will disturb you too much. If you’re a light sleeper use earplugs. If you snore try to sleep on your side. And if you snore so loud it sounds like a bear and I can actually hear you through the wall, maybe a shared dorm isn’t the best place for you.

Stealing is wrong

One of the things I like about travelling is it’s kind of a little community. We’re all in it together so don’t go taking your fellow backpackers’ things. Whether it’s chargers, headphones, towels or even cheese. For some reason that always happens to a friend of mine. Tagging your food in the communal refrigerator is a good way to ensure it doesn’t get “accidentally” eaten by another backpacker or member of staff.

Lock it up

Image by Steph Riddell - pixabay
Make sure to keep your valuables locked away securely

To help prevent anyone from stealing your belongings make use the lockers provided. The majority of hostels will have somewhere to keep your valuables safe, ranging from something big enough to store a body to a tiny locker which just about holds your passport and mobile. As long as you have your own padlock (and if not most hostels will either rent or sell them at reception) you can make sure your things are locked up safely.

Hostel hookup

You meet a girl/guy and want to take them back to your room. Well the other people probably don’t want to share that experience anymore than you want to share their snoring or farts. If you want to have sex in a hostel there are plenty of ways to do it without an audience. If you really want to impress your new love interest then splash out for a private room.

Lazy Shag backpackers sign in New Zealand
I’m not sure if this is used for anything other than the name of a bird outside the UK, but something for you to look up

Keep it clean

No, not the same point again. This time it’s about the smell. Wash your clothes regularly and don’t leave your stinking hiking boots in the middle of the dorm. I’ve stayed in some dorms that smelled terrible! Showering is also highly recommended. Your roommates will definitely appreciate it.

Get it together

There’s nothing worse than one or two people acting like a 16-bed dorm is their own personal space. Dorms are generally fairly limited on space so making sure your belongings aren’t flung to all corners of the room stops it looking like some kind of explosion just went off. It also reduces the chance of any of your stuff going missing. I shared a six-bed dorm with three girls in Sydney and while they were getting ready for a night out there was not an inch of space on the floor.

Don’t expose yourself

You might be happy with your body but not everyone wants to see it. That means don’t sleep naked, don’t get changed in the middle of the dorm and remember to put a towel on after you get out of the shower. I’ve seen it happen. For whatever reason some people seem to forget they’re in a shared space and just act like they’re at home.

Small dorm room
Many dorm room aren’t exactly spacious, so keeping your things together helps everyone

Staying in hostels is a lot of fun. Just remember to think about your fellow travellers and the experience will be even greater for everyone. Have fun, make some new friends, don’t worry too much about the snoring and your only problem will be realising you have no idea what anyone’s name is.

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