Let me guess, the first you said as you read the title was “hold up it’s a hostel what the hell is backpacker hostel etiquette?”
Well that’s the thing, so many first-time backpackers have no idea of those unwritten hostel rules, hostel life, and definitely don’t have a clue about backpacker hostel etiquette. They end up annoying other guests at best and at worse have a torrid experience because they just didn’t know.
Nobody wants to be that one person who nobody likes in a backpacker hostel. So, in this post we cover what backpacker hostel etiquette actually is. And look into the common unwritten rules so you don’t end up being the douchebag backpacker who pisses other guests off.
Backpacker hostels have pretty much been my choice of accommodation since I first started traveling way back in 2010. I’ve stayed in all types of backpacker hostels all over the world and for long periods at a time. Sometimes they’ve become my home for months on end. When It comes to backpacker hostels, I may as well be a hostel connoisseur.
Why are backpacker hostels my preferred choice of accommodation? Because hostels can be much more than just a place to sleep. They have been essential to my traveling life; they have been hubs for me. They’ve provided me with much needed comfort and sense of home at times and of course there’s the social side.
If you didn’t know, backpacker hostels are great places to make friends and meet other backpackers. They can be social hubs, providing events, parties, tours, and even work when you need it. But above all they can just be a fun place to relax, let your hair down and forget about everything for a while. But you do have to be aware of Backpacker Hostel Etiquette.
Did you even know there is backpacker hostel etiquette?
Ok, let’s dive right in. Through this post we’re going to cover the different hostel etiquette you should be aware of, things you need to know, and ways to behave around a backpacker hostels
- Anything and everything can happen in a hostel
- Hostel etiquette in the dorm room
- Hostel etiquette in the bathroom
- Hostel etiquette in kitchens
- Hostel etiquette in common areas
- Hostel etiquette with other guests and staff
- Ways to prevent yourself from becoming the hostel douchebag
Anything and everything can happen in a backpacker hostel
Before we get into the hostel etiquette, It’s important to remember there are different types of hostels for travelers. There are quiet ones, small ones, ones that are like homes and crazy party hostels. So with there being different types of hostels there are going to be different hostel etiquette too depending on what hostel you’re staying in. The same rules do not apply for all.
Most hostels will have the official rules plastered on walls, doors, and dorms – they vary for the type of hostel it is. The unwritten rules will change depending on the crowd but there are some hostel etiquette that will be universal. I know that sounds like I’ve just contradicted myself from the previous paragraph but you will see what I mean by the end of this post.
Within the walls of a hostel
Hostels are usually very sociable places and you should know, no matter what type of hostel it is, things happen. Well, anything can happen so first of all you need to have an open mind. You do not have to participate if you’re not comfortable, that’s your prerogative. But if you see something you do not agree with, you don’t have the right to judge others.
Of course if something is happening where It’s encroaching on your personal space or tampering with your personal belongings then you have every right to react.
Hostel etiquette starts in the Dorm room
It all starts in the dorm room, your hostel experience starts there in many cases before you venture out into the rest of the hostel. However there is something that people do not get the grasp of before they stay in one. You are staying in shared accommodation. You have paid for the bed/bunk you’re sleeping in, the communal spaces and facilities – You have not paying for the actual room. Your bed, the locker you are provided and the immediate space around the bed is for you; not the whole room.
With that being said –
Hostel etiquette number 1: Don’t leave your things in the middle of the room
The bed, the lockers, space under the bunk, on top of it, in and around your bunk/bed is yours to leave your things. However do not dump and leave your bags, shoes, other belongings around the middle of the room. It’s not your bedroom!
If you do, and things get moved that’s your fault. You can’t blame others for it.
Hostel etiquette no 2 in the dorms: Power sockets
This is becoming less of a problem now that more and more hostels are fitting beds with their own individua sockets, USB’s and plugs. However if you find you need to share a central socket:
- Wait your turn
- Do not unplug other peoples
- Do not charge all your appliances all at once
- Remove and put away your chargers after you’re done. Leave it lying around without anything being charged and risk it being used by others, moved, or even taken
Be respectful of others – Lights out
Nobody is telling you what time to go to sleep with this hostel etiquette, when you sleep is up to you. However there is a general rule of thumb of turning lights off around 10.30pm.
You might not want to sleep but there are others who do. Arguments have erupted before because people wander in switch the light on and leave without switching it off. If you walk into the dorm and the lights are off – It’s simple, use the torch on your phone to see where you need to go.
The same goes for talking. If people are sleeping, no matter what time then don’t have a full blown conversation in the room, take it outside into a common area or whisper. Don’t be so rude to not consider other guests in the dorm.
Don’t start packing in the middle of the night
A sure fire way to piss people off in your dorm is to start packing in the middle of the night or in the dead of the morning. If you’re leaving in the early then all you have to do is:
- Pack before others go to sleep
- Quietly take your things outside and pack away from the dorms
A little tip – Rustling plastic bags around in the middle of the night is the scourge of ruining a backpackers sleep.
Can’t have complete silence though
While It’s good hostel etiquette to be as quiet as possible in the dorms when lights are off and people are sleeping, there is not going to be complete silence.
While you might be the one trying to sleep remember there will be some noise.
- People are going to walk in and out
- There can be noise from outside
- People do snore
- Bunks or beds to creak
- You may hear people kissing or even more
- If there is an ensuite you’re going to hear pipes, taps, showers, toilets being flushed
- Walls might be thin, and you hear noise from other rooms or people walking around
- If you are a light sleeper or get cranky, It’s your job to get yourself some ear plugs or eye masks for the light.
It’s good hostel etiquette to be polite to newcomers to the room
If you end up staying in the hostel for a while, there is a tendency to start ignoring newcomers to the room. There are different reasons you do that:
- Just having a down day and don’t want to talk to anyone
- Have no interest in speaking to new people
- Already have your own friends in the hostel and don’t want anymore
- Think the new person isn’t going to stay long so no point talking to them
- Prejudge the person and think you will not get along with them
- You’re miserable and don’t speak to new people
You can have your own reason but think of it from the new persons viewpoint. Think back to when you were new and how it felt walking into a dorm for the first time. You might be the person who influences the new persons experience of the hostel
You don’t have to have a full blown conversation, but good hostel etiquette is to be polite. A simple smile can go a long way.
Getting drunk/ high
It happens, more so in party and more sociable hostels and less so in quiet or homey ones but it does happen.
More than likely if you’ve booked yourself into a party hostel, you’re going to be involved with what’s going on. Hostel dorm parties can get a little out of hand at times but you signed up for it.
However if there are people trying to sleep while you and your friends are drinking the hostel etiquette is to simple move to another dorm, or to the common area or outdoor area. It’s as simple as that.
Sex in dorms
Again it happens – I’m not saying there are rampant orgies going on all over the place like some misconceptions may have you believe but people do have sex and it can happen in dorms.
When it comes to the hostel etiquette of sex in dorms it depends on if you are participating or not. If you find yourself in a situation where you are; and yes this is easier said than done but try to be mindful of others. Of course you can get caught up in the moment, even forget others can walk in and out but there are things you can do:
- Put a blanket up to shield others from seeing and give you privacy
- Try and be quiet
- Have some sort of warning system on the door to let other know not to walk in
- Find a different place other than the dorm (showers, private areas, laundries etc)
- Don’t leave used condoms lying around
- Clean up after yourselves, air the room out
On the other side of the fence if you are not participating and happen to be the person who is already in the room or walks in there is hostel etiquette for you too:
- If you’re already in the room ask them politely to find another place
- If you walk in on people having sex, don’t cause a scene – just leave for a while
- Don’t be such a prude
- Have a quiet word with the guilty party afterwards
If the ones having sex do leave a mess then by all means, It’s your right to have a go at them
Smelling and bad body odour
Again there are two sides of the fence to this; on one side is the ones that have to smell it and other other side the ones that do smell.
Now, let me just say, for the most part not all hostel dorms smell. Most people are hygienic however there will be that odd instance.
If you are one that smells then go have a shower – It’s not hard.
However generally the smells will come from your belongings and if so then do something about it.
- If It’s your clothes wash them
- If it’s your backpack air it out
- If it’s your shoes or socks put them outside or wash them
If you’re the person who walks into a room and it smells there is no need to cause a scene or try to humiliate the person. Have a quiet word (probably from a distance) and encourage the person to shower or get rid of whatever smells.
Hostel etiquette in the bathroom
A backpacker shared bathroom, the sight of horror movies, disgusting, rancid places with all kinds of bodily fluids all over the place; is that what you’re thinking? Well let me shock you, no they’re not. Hostel bathrooms are actually well kept and clean. Ok, most of them are. I’ll admit, over the years I’ve seen the best and worst of them.
Good bathroom hostel etiquette is to:
- Clean after yourself if you make a mess
- Take your personal items with you, don’t leave them lying around the bathroom
- If you’re shaving don’t leave your hair everywhere – clean it up
- Be considerate if there is a limit of how much hot water you can use for showers
- Same with makeup and other beauty products
- Remember It’s not your bathroom you are sharing with others (unless you’re in a private room with a private bathroom)
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Hostel etiquette in the Kitchen
The kitchen is more likely to be the sight of horror movies than a bathroom. There are people who have never had to fend for themselves and in kitchens all common sense can go out the window. And arguments can erupt from a lack of hostel etiquette.
Most hostel kitchens are covered in signs like “Your mum isn’t here to clean up after you”, Or “Respect other guests keep the kitchen clean.”
These signs are there for obvious reasons. If you cook something, if you use a any utensils, if you spill something or make any type of mess:
- Just clean up after yourself
- Don’t leave your pots and pans lying around for somebody else to wash up
- Whatever you use, just put it back where it came from
- Of It’s not yours, don’t touch it – Don’t steal other people’s food and drink
- If you want to use something just ask
Most hostels provide some kind of common areas, they can be a:
- TV room
- Games room
- Just some open space
- Lounge areas
- Some open space
- Dining area
- A reading area
- A courtyard, a terrace, or some sort of outdoor area
- A café
- A bar
These places are great to meet others, to relax and recharge but remember you do not own the place. You have to share space and respect others around you.
If people are watching a movie of TV don’t demand to change the channel, don’t disturb them. If you’re having a conversation on the phone don’t have it where people are trying to relax and be quiet find another space.
It’s also very rude to just barge in on other peoples conversation, to interrupt others or to take from others.
If people are drinking and there is a lot of alcohol lying around don’t just take for yourself especially if you don’t know them.
In common areas the common courtesy is to respect the space and people around you.
Hostel etiquette with other guests and staff
Respect – Is the biggest hostel etiquette to have with other guests. Don’t be rude to people you don’t know, try making friends and be friendly. Don’t bitch about other guests, if you have an issue talk to that person directly.
A sure fire way to alienate yourself from others in hostels is by being fake. Or being a thief or a liar. You will get found out, you will lose any respect, potentially friends, more than likely will have a miserable time in the hostel. Just be yourself and you will be fine.
Never think that you are better than other guests, don’t be pretentious, or obnoxious no matter what your background, education or experience status is. Be friendly, be approachable, keep an open mind and use your common sense.
Also have good etiquette with staff. In most cases they are travelers themselves, they are not your slave nor are they there to wait on you hand and foot. If there is an issue in the hostel they’re not going to be the ones that can fix it.
Don’t be the hostel snob!
Hostel snobbery comes in more shapes than one. I’ve been guilty of it myself at times. Backpacker hostel snobbery can be anything to forgetting you’re in a hostel and not a hotel to complaining about the stupidest things. Bear this in mind, it is a hostel, there are all types of people staying there, young or old and shit happens. You can’t expect hotel quality from a hostel, things will go wrong, things won’t work all the time, the internet and power may go down, you just have to suck it up for a while.
If you see or hear things you’re not comfortable with or you disagree with, then simply just remove yourself from the situation. Find another area where you are more comfortable. Nobody is forcing you to do anything you don’t want to, and judge others for whatever they’re doing.
If it’s that bad, check out and find another place. You are free to do so. Those things that you’re uncomfortable with happened in that hostel before you chose to stay there and will happen long after you’re gone.
Follow your hostel etiquette & don’t be the hostel douchebag!
And there you have. A few simple hostel etiquettes to get to know to make your hostel stay a lot smoother for you.
The most important thing to keep in mind is to use your common sense, be friendly and keep an open mind and you will be fine. Who knows you may just slip into hostel life like a glove.
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