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Hostel Etiquette That Seasoned Travelers Wish Everyone Knew

For those of us who have frequented hostels while traveling, we’ve picked up quite a number of tricks to make our (and our fellow roommates’) experience easier.  However, if you’ve never explored hostel life before, it might feel a bit daunting, confusing, and—let’s face it—kind of awkward.

Don’t let any horror stories keep you away from hostels, though. Hostels are an excellent way to save money on accommodations and meet new people you may otherwise never have met on your journey. It’s also a great resource for gaining travel tips, local knowledge, transportation advice, and much more.

Make sure you’re prepared by checking out our tips and tricks to help ensure your hostel experience is the best it can be.

Do Not Create Unnecessary Noise.

Black and white image with two old fashioned gentlemen with fingers over their lips - the sign for quiet.
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Perhaps the cardinal rule of hostel life is to be quiet. However, unavoidable noise is usually okay. If you arrive late, need to use the bathroom or shower, or prepare to go to bed after everyone else, simply try to be as silent as possible. Your roommates will appreciate your sincere effort—plus, everyone who stays in a hostel knows noise is an inevitable factor. Just be considerate, and you’re golden.

Do Your Bag Rummaging and Bedtime Prep in the Common Area.

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As a follow-up to the previous tip, you should opt to go through your bags before you enter the room, especially if you have loud zippers, plastic bags, or other noisy belongings. Most hostels have a communal space outside of the bedrooms where you can take care of those more ear-splitting tasks. Take advantage of this area as needed to limit the chance of disturbing your roommates.

Don’t Turn on the Light if You Arrive Back at the Hostel When Everyone Else Is Asleep.

Hostel room with purple walls and bunk beds.
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Another absolute must-know for hostel stays: No turning on overhead lights when everyone is already sleeping. Generally, the rule of thumb is to limit disturbances after 11 PM.

One of the best ways you can navigate around this issue if you really need to use light is to use your cell phone flashlight on its lowest setting. Going a step further, you can also invest in a handheld flashlight or headlamp with a red- or orange-toned bulb. These warm-hued lights are the least likely to wake someone from slumber and keep the room feeling ambient.

Bring an External Battery in Case Outlets Are Scarce.

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It’s a well-known fact that hostels often lack enough outlet space to go around, so you can easily mitigate this problem by bringing one (or a few) external batteries with you to charge your electronics overnight. You may also be able to use the communal area to charge your backup battery while you use one in bed overnight. That way, in the morning, you aren’t left without backup power throughout the day.

You may also want to consider using outlets at an airport, bus or train station, or restaurant or cafe before you head to your hostel for the night.

Keep Your Items Needed for Sleep in One Tote or Packing Cube.

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Another trick to keep your noise and mess level down is to pack your bedtime items or immediate necessities in a single bag. This allows you to easily pull it out of your other luggage without the need for incessant searching and digging around. Depending on what you want or need for sleep, it’s wise to keep a range of helpful essentials in one handy bag, located in an easy-to-find section of your luggage for quick grab-and-go.

Packing cubes, hanging bags, or small totes are great for this.

Pack Extra Comfort Items for a Good Night’s Sleep.

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To expand on the last tip, there are a plethora of items that may assist in making your sleep routine effortless and more comfortable. Once you join the veteran crew of people staying in hostels, you'll definitely create your own list of things you’ll never want to forget again.

A few recommended items to pack are: a good sleeping mask, quality noise-canceling earplugs or earbuds, a washable pillow cover (or bedsheets), extra medications, a universal power adapter, a water bottle or thermos, a mini first aid kit, a few padlocks, a quick-dry towel (many hostels do not offer towels), shower shoes/house slippers, to name a few.

If You Have an Early Departure, Be Sure to Pack Your Things the Night Before.

two couples at hostel unpacked luggage sitting on beds.
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What’s more annoying to your roommates than coming in late and noisily rummaging in your bags? Loudly re-packing your belongings in the early morning hours before your early departure.

Just as you would keep the sound down when you enter the hostel, you need to likewise keep it down when leaving as well. If you need to depart before 7 or 8 AM, do the courteous thing and pack up everything but the dire essentials before you go to sleep the night before. When your morning alarm goes off, you'll be able to get up, dress quickly, and carry everything out the door without making a racket.

Keep Food and Drinks Outside of the Shared Dorm Room.

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You will be fine if you want to keep your water bottle next to your bed or munch on a simple, quick snack (such as a banana or pack of nuts) in the dorm room. However, any other excessively messy food or drink items should be consumed and properly disposed of in the kitchen or communal area, away from beds and personal belongings.

You wouldn’t do this in your own home (well, we hope not)—so don’t have the indecency to do it in a hostel, either. Messy food and drinks can attract unwanted pests and ruin bed sheets, carpets, and more.

Avoid Keeping Your Belongings Unorganized or Infringing on Other Guests’ Space.

Beds in Hostel with clothes and blankets all over.
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It’s no surprise that most hostels are fairly small. The rooms can often feel like a cramped student dorm, and you may have a decent amount of people sharing that space with you for a few days to weeks. This means that it’s both polite and important to keep your items organized.

You don’t want your belongings to overtake other people's personal space, and you also won’t want to risk losing your items in disheveled clutter. Be respectful of the shared space by keeping the disarray to a minimum.

Remember to Switch Your Cell Phone to Silent Mode and Take Calls Away From the Dorm Room.

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We know it’s easy to forget to turn your ringer off in the chaos of traveling, so here’s your friendly reminder. No one wants to be abruptly awoken mid-slumber to your electronic cacophony—including, most likely, you too.

This is just a basic common courtesy. The same goes for any calls you may need to make or receive. Take your conversation to the outside communal area for any conversations you need to have without disturbing your roommates. Plus, it’s likely no one wants to hear your private 1:1 during the day, either.

Clean Up After Yourself in the Bathroom and Kitchen Areas.

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This is probably common sense, but it is worth noting that when you stay in a hostel, it is beneficial for all guests to keep shared areas tidy.

This means when you use the bathroom, you should always hang your towels up to dry (even better if you can hang them near your bed), mop up excess water, and wipe down the sink of hair or toothpaste. In the kitchen, scrub up any mess you make while cooking and attend to any spills. And, of course, dispose of old food and garbage accordingly.

Do Not Attempt Romantic Encounters in the Shared Dorm Rooms.

Do no disturb sign on a door.
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This should go without mentioning, but undoubtedly, some people still need to hear it. Perhaps one of the most disrespectful things you can do while sharing a dorm room in a hostel is to do the hanky-panky in front of myriad strangers in a small, cramped room while everyone tries to rest.

Not only is it rude and annoying, but it’s unsanitary as well. If you want to get it on with someone, pay extra for a private room—then you can enjoy whatever activities you like in the confines of your own space. 

Refrain From Helping Yourself to Other People’s Items or Food.

Small Room in Hostel girls smiling sit on bunk bed holding bottles.
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Theft doesn’t become anyone, so the golden rule here is definitely to treat others as you would like to be treated—and that goes for belongings, too. While you most likely do have good intentions, some people are still inclined to take a bite of someone’s lunch or maybe borrow a towel. This is a huge no-no.

If you’d like to ask someone to share some coffee or tea, then come out and ask. You may be surprised to find that people who stay in hostels are actually quite giving.

Be Vigilant and Always Play It Safe.

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While hostels are not widely known for stirring up violence, assault, or other crimes, it’s still wise to always be aware of yourself and your surroundings, which includes the people you room with. You never know what can happen while you’re traveling, so taking the extra precaution to watch your back is not a bad idea. If you ever feel unsafe, contact the receptionist or owner of the hostel you’re boarding at.

If there is an emergency, do not hesitate to call the local emergency number. Your safety is the priority. That being said, most hostels are quite safe, and the people who stay in them are respectful and kind to other guests.

Be Ready to Adapt to the Various Aspects of Staying in a Communal Space.

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Visiting and staying in a hostel comes with an abundance of new rules, changes, and adjustments you might not be familiar with if you’ve only stayed in hotels or bed & breakfasts. We’ve covered many tips in this article, but sometimes it's good to remember that things can still be unpredictable. Be prepared for interruptions, possible sleep deprivation, crowded living quarters, a slight invasion of privacy, unexpected drama, and so much more.

Don’t let it deter you, though—hostel life can be a lot of fun.

Stay Open-Minded and Be Receptive to Meeting New Friends.

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The final tip we will impart: hostels are a wonderful place to be more social outside of your comfort zone. The array of incredible people who choose to stay in hostels opens a whole new world for every traveler to make new friends, or at the very least, exchange interesting stories and offer helpful advice. Be open to meeting the rainbow of different people you may share the hostel with, and, who knows, you might meet your next best friend, travel partner, or even life partner. 

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Ready to set out on your next adventure? Try one of these wonderful locations!

Author: Jorie Logan

Title: Writer

Expertise: Travel, Wellness