I’m a cheap traveler — a backpacker. If an item can’t fit into my one bag, it’s not going with me on the trip. When I’m traveling on my own, a majority of my meals end up being small (breakfast = a granola bar, lunch = pastry + a coffee from a nearby shop, etc.). I like to spend my money on experiences instead of things, so when I do splurge, it’s on something like a bus tour, instead of a huge meal or a solo room at a hotel.
This all means that I am a major advocate for hostels — the budget-oriented version of a B&B. With a hostel, you usually pay to rent a bunk bed in a dormitory-style living space. Rooms can either be same-sex or mixed, and you typically share a bathroom (and sometimes a kitchen and/or a lounge space, as well). The number of people in the room depends on the hostel — I stayed in a room built for two in Venice, while my nights in Dublin were spent in a 14-bed dorm.
Because of the dormitory aspect, hostel beds are cheaper than hotel beds, and offer more social opportunities than an Airbnb because, if you don’t opt for the rare single room, you’re practically forced to interact with fellow travelers. (Don’t get me wrong, I love Airbnb, but for vastly different reasons.) I’ve gotten to meet so many fascinating folks because of hostel accommodations.
I’ve also learned a lot of hostel etiquette on the fly. When a variety of different people are crammed together into a brand-new, cramped environment, problems can develop.
But for every problem, there is a solution. Behold my solutions below:
1. Be kind to hostel staff members
My traveling companion completely lost her cool when interacting with a London hostel manager, and I got to be the horrified, embarrassed bystander who kept thinking, “Jesus Christ, this is why people hate Americans.” It ended up being the most exhausting 2 am conversation I’ve ever been involved in.
Then, as if the universe needed to remind me of my own hypocritical nature, I lost my own cool while talking to a desk worker in Glasgow, speaking in a terse tone and getting indignant when things weren’t happening at a quick enough pace.
Meanwhile, our mutual experience in Dublin was nothing but pleasant, because we treated the hostel workers like people. When my towel went missing in the dorm, I went down to the desk and was immediately given a fresh one. When the internet went out, the desk worker was able to explain why the problem was occurring, because I KEPT. MY. COOL.
Traveling is always stressful, but hostel workers are there to help, and sometimes shit just happens that’s outside of their control. Always KEEP. YOUR. COOL. It works out better for everyone.
2. Meet your hostel mates
I’ve traveled with people on both sides of this spectrum: those that want to meet EVERYONE in the hostel and those who barely want to talk to their bed neighbors, let alone people in the common room. All I can say is that my best hostel experiences (a drinking game in Florence, a night spent laughing while wandering London’s streets, a pub crawl in Edinburgh), occurred because I stepped outside of my comfort zone and interacted with my hostel mates. It can be as simple as saying “hi” when a new person claims the bunk next to yours.
Plus, when you talk to your hostel mates, you can learn a lot of interesting stuff. I’ve gotten to ask travelers about their lives in Australia, Chile, South Korea. I spent a morning talking to a Frenchman about why Americans don’t roll their cigarettes (I have no idea, as it turns out — any thoughts, American smokers?) There was that Australian in Florence, who played clarinet. In Dublin, I watched a traveling partner bond with a hostel worker over Game of Thrones spoilers. TALKING IS FUN, Y’ALL.
3. Lights out
I had arrived in Dublin past midnight, and didn’t get to the hostel until half-past 1 a.m. So when I entered my hostel room, I opened the door quickly and then made sure it didn’t slam as I closed it. I didn’t turn on a light; I used my phone to find my bed number and then promptly turned it off. I slept in my clothes, curled around my backpack, to avoid having to rummage around for a bed locker.
I did all of this because I was in a 14-bed room, and everyone else was asleep…almost everyone, anyway. There was this group of girls — nice girls, I’m sure, but good GOD. So much door-opening and whispering, and cell phone lights flickering everywhere as they dug through their bags, dumping clothes on the floor…
Don’t be those girls. Unless you like death-glares directed your way the following morning, I guess.
4. Don’t hog the shower
Much like in a college dorm situation, people hate you when you use up all of the water, and when you take forever in the shower. Hostels have a limited number of bathrooms, and everyone is trying to maintain a semblance of cleanliness as they travel. Avoid being a bathroom hog.
I try to shower very early in the morning or at a weird time in the evening, when most of my fellow travelers are sleeping in or preparing to go clubbin’ late at night.
5. Don’t throw your stuff everywhere
Most hostels have lockers for a reason. A hostel room is not your bedroom at home, and boy oh boy, tripping over another person’s clothes/backpack/shoes/suitcase is unpleasant. Especially when the lights are off.
This also doubles as a safety tip, because leaving your stuff everywhere encourages thievery (see: my towel in Dublin). Or it at least makes it easier for you to forget your own things when it’s time to leave (a friend of mine discovered a Game of Thrones book in our Edinburgh hostel locker — I, the English major, was understandably distressed.)
6. Bring earplugs and shower shoes
Huge shout out to London Generator and Castle Rock Hostel for both having showers clean enough that I didn’t get a foot disease in the process (I had lost my shoes in Dublin’s airport, on the way to London — whoops). But that kind of luck doesn’t always happen. Bring flipflops!
And bring earplugs, because no matter what, there will ALWAYS be that one person who snores loudly. Always. You’ll thank me later.
7. Triple check your bed number
At that Dublin hostel, I came back one day to find my bed sheets disturbed, and a shit-ton of someone else’s crap on my bed. And, of course, not knowing which bed THEY were supposed to be sleeping in, I had to go down to the front desk and get the hostel workers involved in what should have been a simple matter.
Check your bed number to make sure you have the right bed!
8. Be wary of your alarm
Once in college, I had a roommate who would set an alarm on the weekends. Problem was, she wasn’t always THERE at the apartment on the weekends, so the alarm would start making noise early Saturday morning, with no one around to stop it. I’d have to get up, go to her room, and remove the batteries, each and every time. And I’m not a morning person by any means, so this was thoroughly unpleasant for everyone.
After about the fourth weekend in a row, I calmly got up, went to her room, removed the batteries, threw them across the room, made a noose out of the alarm clock’s cord, and then hung the clock’s gutted remains from her bedpost.
I wasn’t disturbed by that alarm clock again.
Unfortunately (or perhaps, quite fortunately), that kind of vague, passive-aggressive threat is looked down upon in a hostel environment, so when an alarm clock goes off, everyone has to suffer. Put the phone on vibrate and then sleep with it under your pillow.
With these tips in mind, go forth, my friends, and give hostels a try. Maybe we’ll encounter each other at the next hostel I visit? I’d be delighted to swap stories. Stranger things have happened.
Thanks for reading,