The Honest Guide To Hostel Etiquette
Are you keen on the prospect of waking up every day beside 10 other people? You saucy thing you.
Okay, well would you mind being woken at 4am by the piercing brightness of a phone torch?
How would you like having to go the bathroom every time you wish to change your outfit?
And is it a dream of yours to listen to the snoring (and other ablutions) of not just one, but maybe 2, 3, 4 or 8 strangers?
Well then my friend, hostel dorm living is for you!
It's not all bad though....
Do you also like the prospect of having good, empathetic company, when you want it, and alone time when you need it?
Do you like sharing your stories and life experiences with like-minded individuals?
Well then, yet again, hostel living will bring something uniquely awesome to your travelling life.
For all the up's and downs, nuisances and annoyances that hostel life can bring, we have still contentedly lived in the same hostel for over a month now, and it truly has become home.
Some people hate every moment of not having their own space or being surrounded by people coming and going at all hours, but after 4 months in a somewhat lonely house-share in Noosa, we are firmly not in the hostel hate camp.
We have a unique situation here in Cairns in that we work for our accommodation; we get free access to everything in our well-equipped hostel in return for 4 hours work every other day. We might currently sleep in separate bunks, an interesting scenario for a couple...but we still feel like we are getting extremely good value for our small contribution of time.
Beyond the financial aspect of getting free or cheaper accommodation, and the logistics of having everything we would have in a house-share (and then some) its also just pretty darn cool.
You meet so many people who you bond with, or can just share a chat with when you want to. There are nights out that you don't feel obligated to go along on, but you'll be welcomed openly if you do.
There's a social atmosphere but no associated pressure or judgement; you truly can be yourself, do your own thing but also stave off homesickness or loneliness if you need to.
On the flip-side of all this, you certainly have to practise tolerance for the different levels of inconsiderate behaviour you will undoubtedly encounter.
When you put 50+ people in a smallish space you are going to get irritated by the differing habits of others, but in trying to be a bit more understanding of my fellow travellers, I have a few tips for how to counter the moments where you want to commit a sass attack on someone who's doing an iphone light-show in your pitch-black dorm at 4.25 am (yep, it's happened, more than once).
If you have never ever stayed in a hostel before, most of them are very similar in culture but often different in vibe.
The main two types you will come across are the party hostel, and the non-party smaller and cosier hostel that is still cultivating of a social atmosphere, and this type is our favourite.
To name just one like this in Australia, there's the Flying Fox in the Blue Mountains, which had pasta nights and a cosy sitting room with a 3 hour internet ban each evening to encourage social interaction which led to some hilarious conversation and games.
Our current hostel, Globetrotters in Cairns, doesn't go so far as to cut the internet cord but still cultivates a warm and homely atmosphere that makes people not want to leave.
Its TV/gaming area, sofas, pool garden, hammocks, quiz night and free BBQ/daily breakfast are all part of its appeal; its attention to these details of comfort are the secret to its success above the more party-oriented hostels in the clubbing mecca of Cairns.
Somewhere along the way you will find hostels with very little personality, well-run but often too big or tightly managed to feel like a home.
You will also find the hostels where cleanliness hasn't been made top priority and you feel dirtier after you shower than when you went in...
When you check into a hostel you may need to hand over a deposit for your room key and also for basic utensils to cook with, and then in others you will find a fully-stocked kitchen heavily reliant on a guest trust system.
Many hostels have a free-for-all on fridge space and you find yourself squeezing your overflowing food bag into any free gap only for it to be moved by someone.
Our current hostel has a pretty cool system of having fridge lockers which mean your food is far more secure and yet easier to access when you need to.
Quite often hostel receptions have specific check-out and check-in hours and many do not have 24-hour receptions meaning its wise to research these things ahead of rocking up to a hostel door at 6am or trying to check out at a similarly early hour.
It's always wise to make use of hostel lockers, so be sure to bring along a couple of your own locks, but if your hostel doesn't have these, then make sure you put your valuables out of sight, possibly locked away in your backpack under your bed.
If things are out of sight then of course you will detract the opportunist thief but it will give you piece of mind when you leave your room to go out for the day.
When it comes to food, the same idea applies, in that if you don't want a human or ant or cockroach to feast on your banana, keep it bagged up and out of reach. Often though, especially in fridges in kitchens far away from your dorm room, you might be the target of a thief, and they might just go for your new fresh nob of butter (not that I'm holding a grudge or anything...).
Short of putting locks even on your fridge bag, the best thing is to label all your food items clearly and then tie them up in a labelled bag. If your food has your name on it in big black marker pen it's going to dissuade the cheeky ones who will openly use stolen goods in the kitchen.
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Some hostels have a strict policy against all noise/ in-hostel drinking at night and the threat of being ejected for being too rowdy is always there.
Our current hostel has a night manager throughout the evening so things are kept a close eye on, but some hostels we've stayed at before have let people run riot in the corridors and keep everyone awake all night; that's a frustrating and expensive night of absolutely zero sleep we've had the privilege to experience more than a few times.
Pro tip, eye masks and ear-plugs, but also be sure to read hostel reviews before you visit them as commenters will remark on if that hostel is a good one for sleeping or for partying.
So as I mentioned earlier, many hostels require a deposit for utensils and others rely on a trust system of you using their stuff, cleaning it and not pilfering the silver-wear...
When we cook we always keep our stuff together and try not to sprawl out on the kitchen-side and put off anyone else wanting to cook; this isn't your own home, even if it sometimes feels like it, so don't act as if there's no-one else also paying for use the facilities.
Take your food scraps out of the sink after you wash-up, wipe the side down and don't let your milk leak in the fridge!
You might argue that hardly anyone else abides by these courtesies but in hostels you can very much lead by example; the dirtiest kitchens we saw were down to one person after another not doing even a cursory post-cooking clean and so nobody else wanted to either.
At home you might have favoured 10 minutes standing under the shower before you even began to wash your hair but if you do that in a busy hostel, you are gonna annoy people.
Many hostels suggest you stick to 5 minute showers which aren't always realistic but we try and aim to be done quick some days and then maybe have a longer shower another day, which is especially important in a dorm where 10 people are sharing one shower.
Don't leave behind your shower gels and shampoos for the next person to trip over (or nick) and grab those dirty undies too!
Some travellers are content with one big backpack and a smaller bag which they can neatly squirrel under their bed, and then other travellers prefer 4-5 bags, and it's all good, we are all entitled to do our thing!
However, a dorm is not a walk in wardrobe as many think it is...it is a shared space where people don't want to have to side-step your case in the middle of the walk-way.
Its cool if you have a ton of stuff, just try to keep it to one zone and respect the personal space of others.
The best part about hostel life is of course the people you meet. There's an automatic common ground among the different nationalities and personalities in the melting pot of a hostel which makes it easy to talk and have fun.
There's definitely the feeling of all being in the same boat, doing similar trips and excursions and often living off noodles when your out of work, spending hours attached to a laptop trying to change that situation, and then of course the nights out where the drinks help bond you even further.
The only difficult aspect of this is that people constantly move on and leave, sometimes before you can get to know each other, and sometimes just as you've truly forged a relationship.
Thanks to Facebook and Instagram, its not like all contact will be lost, and you can still observe each others travels and lives from afar, but it still feels sad at the time.
Eventually you do get more used to the goodbyes which come as often as the hello's, and over time I think it makes you a more open, friendly and compassionate individual, which almost makes the wrench of constant change a worthwhile part of hostel life.
All of the above advice boils down to: don't be a rude idiot with no self-awareness...
I get that many people travelling for the first time don't set out to be the annoying or ignorant hostel guest; for some its a hard balance of being comfortable and yourself in a hostel space, whilst also remembering that you aren't in your own home or bedroom where your own rules apply.
We have found over time that you definitely don't have to live in a state of unease amidst concerns over all the above hostel issues, and eventually you will learn how to happily cohabit with a building full of different people to the point that you feel no desire to leave.
Thanks for reading!
Hannah and Taran here. We hail from Southern England, where we met online and are now realizing our mutual passion for travel here at Nomad'erHowFar. We discuss Nomadic Living, Simplifying your Life and Long-term Travel, to empower, motivate and inspire our readers. Get to know us here!
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