Backpacking Travel Tips

Hostel Etiquette | 20 Unsaid Rules of Staying in Hostels

When staying in hostels, there are a few unwritten rules that everybody should follow. Most of these are common sense, or need the odd reminder, but they definitely aren’t to take away any of the fun! The unsaid rules of staying in hostels are to make it a more friendly, cohabitable space for all travellers. 

After staying in hostels for a short while you’ll start to pick up on the annoying/rude things that people do – be sure to send this list their way! Haha

In the Dorms

Something a lot of people mix up is that they forget a hostel is not a home. Some people treat it like their home and forget that it’s a shared space between very different kinds of people. Most people don’t appreciate loud, obnoxious behaviour at the best of times, so bringing that into their “space” is not the way to go. 

Just be considerate

I would always recommend to keep in mind that you need to remain considerate of the other people around you, and remember that just because you like it one way, doesn’t mean everyone else will. I think a good habit to get into is just communication – ask your roommates if they mind you turning the light off, ask if anyone needs anything from the bathroom before taking a long shower in the ensuite. The more you communicate, the less confusion (or annoyances), there will be. 

I took to Instagram to see what my followers thought were some unsaid dorm room rules, and these all fell under the same “be considerate” umbrella;

  • Don’t spray your deodorant/perfumes in the rooms – just go to the bathroom
  • Don’t jump down from the top bunk – it’s loud and disruptive 
  • If your key doesn’t work, just get a new one – no one wants a roommate who’s constantly knocking on the door or leaving the door open/unlocked
  • Please don’t stay in a shared room if you know you’re sick

Lights

If the light is off at night, leave it off – someone has turned it off because they are going to sleep. This is a pretty universal rule. Once the light is off it’s up to you to use your phone torch, or the individual lights that come in some bunk beds. If you think the room is empty, just have a little peek around first to make sure no one is sleeping before turning the light on. 

Staying out late

While some hostels are party hostels, not everyone stays in them for this. If you’re coming home from a late night out on the town, just try and be as quiet as possible when coming back into the room. I personally think it’s a good habit to always get your things ready for bed before you go out so that you don’t have to rummage through your things in the dark. It’s also just less noisy. Pop it all on your bed – toothbrush, PJs, chargers, whatever your night routine is. That way you can be quick and quiet while everyone else is sleeping. Most hostels have quiet times posted – usually at about 10pm. I generally stick to this time and just assume that after 10pm people might be sleeping and base my behaviour around that. 

We like away games

This one is a bit tricky. I personally don’t think bringing people home is something that should be going on in shared dorm rooms – not everyone wants to hear what’s going on. And let me tell you – EVERYONE can hear. Even if you think they can’t. They can. You aren’t that sly. Sometimes it can be passable – maybe the dorm is just filled with you and your friends so no one cares. Just be respectful about it or take it somewhere else! Book your room type based on what you’re after, or contact the night manager for an upgrade on the night. There’s plenty of options. 

As someone who’s now worked in hostels, I wouldn’t recommend this. While we can all get caught up in the moment – this is actually something you can get evicted over. The hostels I have worked in have usually been quite lenient with this and have just issued a warning and charged them for that person’s stay, but it really just depends on the management. Some hostels will take it much more seriously – if it’s an all girls dorm it can be taken more seriously because all of those guests paid to have their privacy and to be away from any guys. It’s all very relative. While a lot of the time people may not care or notice, all it takes is for one person to complain for you to possibly be evicted. 

Checking out early

This one should also be a given. If you know you’re checking out at the crack of dawn, pack your bags the night before. No one should have to be woken up at 6am by someone else re-packing their entire suitcase. Especially when this might mean constantly opening and closing lockers, unzipping and zipping things closed, VELCRO omg. You get what I mean. I usually just leave out whatever I’m going to need in the morning, and make sure to leave a space somewhere to pack whatever it is I took to bed with me. 

Keep your area clean

Honestly this isn’t 100% true. You can be as messy as you like, but only as long as it’s within your own space / on your bed. Make sure nothing is along the floor or mixed with other people’s stuff. 

Use headphones & don’t make calls on speakerphone 

Just remember that when staying in hostels you’re always in a shared space. Take your phone calls outside and don’t watch your netflix dramas on full blast. There’s nothing more awkward than listening to someone call their mum to chat about their roommates, while the roommates are there – EW. 

Be mindful of your alarms. 

Most people just use their phones or watches for this, which is fine – nobody expects you to work on your body clock. But, be sure to keep it somewhere easy to find, don’t stash it inside your bag, and if you’re leaving the room – make sure to turn the alarms off or take it with you. It’s sooo annoying when you’re roommate sets several alarms, then goes for a long shower and leaves it to go off on repeat in the room! Nobody wants to have to go through your things to turn off your alarm. 

Don’t hog the heaters & fans

The heater is a great place to dry your laundry but no one wants to check into a room covered in someone else’s clothes. Keep your things to your area, and share the warmth with everyone! Same for fans in those stuffy rooms, they’re there for everyone! 

Say hello! 

Sharing a space with strangers will always be difficult, making sure everyone feels welcome once they check-in is an easy way to start making friends and also just creates a more comfortable environment to live in! Introduce yourself, ask where they’re from or where they’ve just come from. It all sounds so easy, but I know I’ve been guilty of avoiding it when I feel antisocial.

In the Kitchen

Hostel kitchens are one of the communal spaces where you’ll probably meet a lot of people. Food – everyone loves it, so what better to bond over than each others cooking, right?! It’s an easy conversation starter and everyone’s usually in there at the same times. But that being said, there are some things to remember;

Clean as you go

This is rule number one. Leaving out your dirty dishes and rubbish isn’t going to make you any friends, and also, it’s just a bad look. It’s like meeting someone who’s rude to waiters, red flag. No one wants to be friends with the guy who’s giving other people more work. While yes there’s hostel staff to clean up, it’s actually not a part of their jobs to clean up your dishes for you, they’ll only do it because no one else will – so leaving it for them is actually really rude. Just wash up, dry, put things away – same as you would if it was your own home. 

It’s also worth considering the size of the kitchen. I say clean as you go, so that if there are other people waiting to use the same spaces as you you’re not leaving everything dirty until you finish eating for them to be able to start cooking. Just clean things as you go and make sure everything’s done before you sit back down. If it’s quiet, there’s nothing wrong with leaving your dishes by the sink until after you’ve eaten. Just so long as it’s done for the next person. 

Unlabelled food = fair game

You’ll probably see when entering the kitchen that there’s always bag labels or pens for guests to be able to label and date their foods. There’ll also be plenty of signage letting people know that if it’s got no name, it’s fair game. If someone else doesn’t take it, the staff might just throw it away. No name or date to them means it could be someone’s who’s already checked out. 

Free food boxes – check for the basics

Most hostels have a free food box where other travellers leave their leftover ingredients for someone else to use. These are usually things they couldn’t travel with or didn’t need anymore so take a look and maybe you’ll find some basics like pasta, or salt and pepper. 

While not all hostels will have these, a lot of hostels also have a space for the basics of cooking. Like oils, spices, seasonings. It’s good to check this before you go out and plan your meals so that you’re not buying anything you don’t need! 

In the Bathrooms

The bathrooms in hostels are usually win or lose. I personally prefer an ensuite, but they’re more expensive. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and they’ll be nice, modern, and clean bathrooms – but other times they just won’t be all that lovely. 

Stuff left in the showers = fair game

Again like in the kitchen, this is pretty much true in the bathrooms as well. While usually someone will leave something in there by mistake, if it’s there, it’s fair game. So make sure to always take your toiletries with you or you might end up without that body wash! 

Always wear shower shoes

I always always travel with some flip flops to use in communal bathrooms. Because so many different people are using these showers you never know what kinds of bacteria could be lurking on the floors. 

For ensuite rooms – don’t hog the bathrooms 

Sharing is caring after all. 

Don’t shower at peak times

Statistically most people shower in the mornings and evenings. Even whilst travelling, people still stick to these habits, so avoid wait times by showering at more obscure times. 

With the Staff 

Changing to a new room

Something I wish more people knew, is that if you are uncomfortable in your room, you can move. Something I never knew until I started working in hostels is that depending on how busy they are, if someone says they aren’t comfortable being roommates with someone, the staff will do whatever they can to get you out of there. Whilst this always depends on the situation, this is one of those things where “the customer is always right” kicks in. Say you’re a girl checked into a mixed dorm and there’s an older man making creepy jokes, none of the staff want that. They’ll do whatever they can to move you into a more suitable room. And of course if someone is being inappropriate in a shared environment, that person would be asked to leave. 

Check out on time

Have you ever sat with some friends while out for lunch and watched them thoughtlessly create more work for the waitstaff. It’s like a little sign in your head saying “they’ve clearly never worked in hospitality”. That’s what late-checkouts say to me – “you’ve never worked in accommodation okay”. I’ve always been someone who checks out on time – mostly because I hate confrontation and was always scared of getting in trouble. It wasn’t until I worked in a hostel that I found out how many people honestly could NOT give a shit about check out times.

Honestly the reasoning for check out times is simple. It’s based upon how long it will take them to clean all of the rooms by the next check-ins. So say, check out is 10am, and check in is 2pm – that’s 4hours (and probably a lunch break) to clean an entire building on likely limited staff. Something I struggled with while working in housekeeping is that I would wait for 10am to come, and would have my entire day of cleaning already mapped out and organised. I’d have all the sheets, amenities, and cleaning products ready to go. Then I’ll find that 4 rooms on 3 different floors still haven’t left – and instead of being able to do a sweep of one floor and then go up to the next, I have to start going up and down to different rooms to work around everyone who’s late. It’s just creating more work for people – and that’s a red flag for me. Covid times = more cleaning/sanitising and less staff. Maybe this isn’t for everyone, but it’s something to consider! Every hostel is different, and usually always offer late check outs anyway – so just ask ahead of time and then they can work with you rather than around you 🙂

Night staff

Every hostel works differently in regards to night staff. Some have sleep-in staff, and some have all-night staff who are working all hours of the night. I have worked as a sleep-in night staff for several months and this job basically entailed cleaning and closing the kitchen, locking the balconies after hours, and answering any calls that came through to the Night Manager phone. Now at my hostel, the Night Manager number was only there for emergencies, or late check-ins. Not for nuisance calls. Unfortunately this happens a lot; a 4am “my pillow is uncomfortable can I have a different one” – NO. This is not it. But getting locked out, broken keys, fights, inappropriate roommates, non-guests sneaking in, check-ins – YES. Something I never knew when I first started travelling was that these people existed. I thought once the desk was closed I was on my own. I think it’s worth letting people know that they are around so if at any point they are faced with an emergency or get locked out, they know they’re not alone. 

What unsaid rule do you wish was on this list?!

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