Basic Hostel Dorm Etiquette

Hostels are a fun and affordable form of accommodation. I have stayed and worked in enough hostels to be somewhat of a “hostel-pro”. If you’re new to hostel life, sharing a room with strangers can be a bit daunting. But in my experience, it’s usually a lot of fun!

However, I have heard and experienced many hostels “horror stories”. It’s a favorite backpacker pastime to exchange terrible hostel experiences. From disgusting bathrooms to crazy roommates, every seasoned backpacker has a few. Most of those are easy to avoid by picking a good hostel (carefully read descriptions and reviews). But sometimes you’re unlucky and get stuck with a bad roommate.

Since you’re sharing a space with complete strangers, there is a specific code of conduct for staying in hostels. Most of this I would consider common courtesy, but you’d be surprised what some people think is acceptable behavior. So for everyone who wants to stay in hostels, here is my basic hostel dorm etiquette guide:

Be friendly

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Being a good roommate in a hostel dorm starts with being a pleasant person. I always introduce myself to the other people in the room and have a chat with them. It’s the first opportunity you have to make new friends in the hostel, so take it! Some of my favorite travel buddies were dorm mates.

As at every other moment in life, it pays to be nice. All kinds of people come to stay at hostels, so be open-minded and tolerant of each others differences. A hostel should be a safe space for everyone. Even if other people break the written and unwritten hostel rules, stay polite. There is absolutely no need to fight with anyone. If someone is bothering you, tell them to stop and inform the hostel staff. It’s their job to make sure everyone has a pleasant stay and their responsibility to keep everyone safe.

Luckily, I’ve never had any bad experiences with rude, unfriendly or even aggressive roommates. Although I have had to throw people out of a hostel I was working at. And we will throw you out on the street if you’re a hazard to other guests, so don’t be a d*ck!

Respect other people’s property

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Respect other peoples property in a hostel dorm. It’s a given, but do not use, move or take someone else’s belongings without permission. This included sitting on or sleeping in a bed that isn’t yours. Not only is taking someone else’s bed very rude, you’re making the staff do extra work.

Stealing is bad enough, but stealing from a poor backpacker is especially mean. Most hostels provide lockers for your valuables, so use them. It’s a shame we need to, but I’ve heard plenty of stories about stolen phones, wallets and passports.

I am personally pretty callous and trusting when it comes to leaving my stuff out in hostels. I’ve never had anything stolen and generally don’t carry anything valuable. But since I travel with my laptop for work, I tend to lock that up just to be safe.

Don’t be a slob

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The lack of space in a hostel dorm means that you can’t throw your stuff around the room. Try to keep your belongings in one place (like your bag/suitcase), pick up after yourself and be clean. Throwing things on other people’s beds is a big no-no. Nobody wants your dirty socks or wet towel on their bed.

And you have to not only keep your stuff clean, but yourself as well. Crack a window and keep sweaty hiking boots outside. Body odor in a room with 10 other people is not pleasant. Seems like common sense, but I’ve shared rooms with some very smelly people. So please respect personal hygiene conventions and shower once in a while 😉

Be quiet

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Most hostels have quiet hours (often from 11 pm to 7 am), but that doesn’t mean you should be as loud as you want in between. There’s a good chance someone with a jet lag or hangover is trying to take a nap during the day. Or making a phone call, reading a book or whatever else. And they don’t need you blasting music or running around yelling. So, be considerate and keep noise to a minimum.

And quiet hours really mean quiet hours. If it’s nighttime, kindly shut up. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been woken up by drunk people having full volume conversations at 3 am. It’s rude and unnecessary. I totally get that you’re drunk, and you had a great time, and I’m happy for you. But it’s hard enough getting a good night sleep in a hostel dorm with strangers, so don’t make it harder than it needs to be.

The same goes for early risers. If you have to get up early, set an alarm, but for the love of god: do not snooze! There is a special place in hell for people who snooze in a shared room. Don’t be the person who sleeps through their alarm at 4 am while everyone else in the room is startled awake.

And pack your bags the night before your early morning flight, or do it in the hallway. There are few things more annoying than having to hear someone else’s loud packing. Lay out everything you need, because zippers are a lot louder than you think at 6 am.

Don’t have sex in the dorm

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So, I’ll be honest with you. I’m a little guilty of this hostel sin myself. We all get drunk and have a lapse in judgment sometimes. However, I still think that a hostel dorm is not the place for you to live out your exhibitionist fantasies. I promise you, other people do not want to watch or hear you have sex. And no matter how stealthy you think you are, we can all tell that you’re getting it on. You’re not fooling anyone with a towel for a curtain.

Dorm sex is particularly prevalent in party hostels, where people tend to get drunk and hook up. Which I am all for, but I don’t want to witness it. I have woken up to loud moans, my bunk bed shaking and full-frontal nudity. All of which I could have gladly done without. So if you meet the love of your life (or one night) in a hostel, don’t be cheap and shell out for a private room. Or go for the old hostel stand by: the shower.

And never bring strangers into the hostel, to hook up or otherwise. It is against hostel policy for non-guests to stay the night, as it compromises the safety of all the guests. Respect the rules and respect your fellow travelers and have your sleepovers somewhere else.

How do you feel about dorms and hostels? Any written or unwritten rules I’ve missed? Let’s exchange hostel horror stories in the comments!

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15 thoughts on “Basic Hostel Dorm Etiquette

  1. Loving your honesty in this! These are definitely so important to follow but sometimes it seems like they’re not super well known. As a side note, I have that Highland cow bag but in tote bag version. Absolutely love it!

  2. I never lived in hostel but definitely would live one day. Be friendly and be quiet is the great advice you had given and I would surely keep others in mind too.

  3. I have never stayed in a hostel dorm room before while traveling but the points you have mentioned above are totally true and relatable. I think with everything else, a little use of command sense is also required like no littering and all.

  4. Yes, yes, and yes. This should be required reading for anyone staying in a hostel. Generally people use common sense, but the full-volume conversations well past midnight are unfortunately common in my experience and the main reason I tend to try to find affordable Airbnbs instead of staying in hostels more often.

  5. I am guilty of hanging my towel off the end of the bed if I’m on top bunk. Although probably akin to water torture for the person below 😉☂️

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