accommodation, journey, Travel

The fun of the unwritten hostel etiquette

To date, I have seen 23 hostels and including my volunteering, I have enjoyed 121 bed nights in 27 shared rooms with anywhere from 1 to 9 room companions; all of those roomies have very different ideas of how we should interact and share space.

I’m ‘relatively’ chilled about it, I certainly have pet hates that invariably feature on my Facebook feed to air my grievance. I appreciate it’s not forever, roommates change all the time and whilst you may have concerns, don’t worry there is a code.

I have shared rooms whilst travelling since joining Scouts aged 15 in 1992. Tent, hostel dormitory, university digs, hotel room – it’s all the same. Are you a person who keeps themselves and their stuff relatively compact or are you a loud, messy cuckoo “your space is my space”.

From the tone of that sentence, you can guess, I’m the former.

I can write this blog in jest and be chilled because my saviour is the earbud! A soft gentle earplug that will dull sound even if the battery on my mobile phone or laptop is dead and gone. The ideal distraction is music or podcast.

Torture would have been losing my mind listening to the rustling and faffing of people, or the munching of food, and the shuffle of flat-footed adults that cannot walk in slippers…. the list goes on. Don’t heed all my of grumbles, I have an inability to block out certain sounds. I am unphased in the cacophony of coffee shop peak hour but sit next to me in the same cafe and repeatedly sniff, I will want to punch you in your drippy nose.

What surprised me was the varying ages of the inconsiderate [oOoo I sound stroppy] and that culture and nationality could be a potential factor. Consider too, I am a Brit expecting my version of hostel etiquette in a European hostel with international travellers.

Here are a few examples of the actions of others; acceptable or bad form? A heads up really, if you do any of the above then it’s likely you are getting evil looks.

  • Alarm on loud and early – Should the whole room wake up because ‘someone’ has a check-out at 5am?
  • Packing and repacking of bags uber late or early – is that the time to be jangling padlocks, rustling bags and zips, opening and closing locker doors or drawers?
  • Turning the room main lights on after 10pm – someone could be sleeping here!
  • Slippers – love or hate, they definitely don’t belong in the access and egress routes to the toilet in the middle of the night
  • Using all the plug/power sockets with multiple devices for one person – now don’t be a hog
  • Leaving the room door open early in the morning or late at night – the lock on a door usually means it wants to be closed
  • Stage whisperers – you’ve been out all day with your companion/s, what’s so important to say now?
  • Noisy neighbours – No one wants to hear TV shows and 3 genres of music all at the same time.  Nor Aunt Flossie on Skype or your tales of last nights exploits whilst you’re on the phone.

I had a maniacal situation in my 20s where I’ve wanted to throw daggers at a young girl obsessively packing and repacking her plastic bags before 7am.  To then find out on my check-out that this was a ‘thing’ that some Eastern Asian guests like to do. As your atypical Brit abroad, I was nursing a hangover and the last thing I could handle was the rustling of plastic for hours.

Fast forward 20 years and the plastic bag rustling continues! Many more backpackers, no matter the nationality, separate their belongings in plastic bags or the ziplock bag that also crinkles and crackles. I need to invent a backpack or suitcase insert that’s made from fabric with no zip or velcro or anything that makes noise…. hmmm, I caveat that with a copyright, trademark, inventors registration…what ever the word, that’s MY IDEA!

I have been the cause of a loud stage “sshhhhhhhhhhuush” mid-guffaw, the person stumbling from a top bunk ladder trying to get to find the toilet in the darkness and the post-alcohol snorer! How can such a short person produce the decibels whilst asleep? It’s both a blessing and a curse.

I have heard excessively weird noises from beds; I shudder at the thought. Even the rhythmic bang, bang, bang of an old bunk bed knocking against a tall metal locker whilst my roommate decided to bring a bloke back home. To the room, she shared with 3 other people.  What!?!?!? My poor friend had to leave her rocking top bunk and find alternative sleeping arrangements. Even then I was prepared for noise, just not that particular noise! A portable tape Walkman and a beloved Crowded House cassette on maximum volume. Those traditional foam earphone pads were not as successful blocking out peripheral sound but at least I could get back to sleep. Don’t worry this WAS NOT a hostel but the ‘fun’ of shared accommodation whilst working abroad when I was 19.

I’ll stop putting you off by regaling the worst of incidents that honestly don’t happen often.

Hostel etiquette 101, that makes hostels fun for everyone

  • Hours of activity, chatter, noise, and light is usually 8am to 10pm
  • Bedrooms at night are, surprise, surprise, for sleeping
  • In the day, imagine the bedroom is the quiet carriage of a train i.e. no phones calls
  • Earphones are mandatory for music and TV
  • Don’t walk around in shorts and a t-shirt then complain it’s cold [and vice versa]
  • Exhibitionists take note; some don’t want to see your bra and thong, or six-pack/beer-gut and package
  • Think before you hit the light switch
  • Take a moment to inhale your odour
  • Don’t be a slob
  • Leave the romance outside
  • Acknowledge your roomies, a nod or a smile will do

Hostels vary as much as hotels. Amenities such as kitchens, bar service, cafe or lounge seating, TV, programme of activities or only a breakfast room that closes after 11am.  The choice is wide and another nod to Tim Berners-Lee for the wonder-web; you can use aggregate websites such as Hostelling International, Hostel World,, Hostel Bookers or Each has a search engine for your location, price range, facilities, size of bedroom, same-sex bedrooms, customer ratings etc.

The future is here. The Japanese thought of the capsule bedroom hotel and this has now been tweaked to hugely improve the hostel dormitory experience. I am typing this cocooned in a lower bunk bed; the days of the exposed unsteady squeaky metal bunk bed is widely disappearing. All sides of my capsule are fixed wood panels except one, the side I access the bed has a curtain to pull across when I’m all tucked in. I have my dedicated lamp on, 2 plug sockets for my devices, shelf for bits and bobs plus a long mattress that even a 6 footer would be comfortable in.


I have stayed in 6 hostels with their version of a capsule/cubicle bed and even with the worst [the pink one], it felt more private and that makes such a difference.

My absolute favourite is the capsule bed at the ’boutique hostel’. It sounds a little pretentious but I recognise the name is PR, a need to differentiate from the party-hard hostel or the family-friendly hostel.  The Katowice Pinball Hostel was the best mattress and most uniquely themed, shame they only check in till 8pm!  The Old Kings Fussen Design Hostel is an easy recommendation.

The upcoming breed of uniquely themed and stylish hostels is growing. I appreciate the interior decoration in a hostel as much as I do a hotel, maybe more.  The Art Hotel and Hostel in Passau and The Secret Garden Hostel and Apartments in Krakow are 2 locations I stayed where they invested in their own styling as well as maximising the bed space and offering shared bathroom facilities.

The Benefits

  • Cost savings
  • Make friends with other travellers
  • The average guest age is older than you’d think
  • Cooking and kitchen facilities
  • Location, location, location
  • Social communal areas, possible bar and/or cafe discounts to residents
  • Hints and tips of sights and sounds, what’s ‘worth it’ at your destination
  • Free WIFI
  • Lockable storage lockers
  • Inclusive breakfast at many
  • Cheap services and facilities such as on-site laundry, towel hire, board games & pool tables, even swimming pools!

I have stayed in one hotel throughout my near 6 months of travel. Just 2 nights in the equivalent of a 4* hotel with en-suite bath and shower, full continental breakfast buffet including an omelette station, swimming pool, jacuzzi and a petite room balcony overlooking the Austrian village and stunning mountain sunset views. It was a well-deserved treat after my alpine volunteering albeit Innsbruck’s lack of hostels did almost insist that I do it BUT it was different. It felt a little detached. It’s not to say I couldn’t have but I wouldn’t naturally start talking to the guests about their trip and travel experiences. Unlikely to have bonded over red wine and cigarettes. Lastly, I used to work in hotels similar to this setup and it felt like a busman’s holiday.

Hostels do have other options to the dormitory.  Rooms can be single occupancy plus double beds, twins, triple and even quad options. Some have en-suite toilets and showers. I have a feeling this decision would be based on whether you like to spend hours in the shower, like to take your time in front of the mirror and important to us all – the want to poo in peace. You won’t be the first or the last.

My primary expectation is a shared bedroom and a shared bathroom in exchange for the clear financial saving. My average cost per paid hostel bed is £18.50 per night. If budget and price is the driving decision factor for you, the trick is to use these search engines to source your top 3 and then double check against the property website as you may get the bed even cheaper.

You may also be interested to hear when I include my free shared accommodation during volunteering projects this massively diluted my cost of sleeping to a pleasingly low £10.04 per night. I have been impressed with over 2 thirds of my hostels for varying reasons and that’s a fantastic ratio.

Whether you’re 18 or 38 or 58, hostels can offer you more than you expect at a fraction of the price of a hotel.  With my continued travels, I want to stay at Generator Hostels.  This brand looks like the one to watch!


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