A Newbie's Guide to Hostel Etiquette

If we were meant to stay in one place, we’d have roots instead of feed.
— Rachel Wolchin

I experienced my first hostel a year ago in Cartagena and became instantly hooked.  Even though I would sometimes crave a luxury hotel during my travels, I was ultimately pleased with the amount of money I would save and the magnificent people I have met.  I would not call myself a hostel expert yet, as I am more of an enthusiast, but I have gained enough knowledge after backpacking through Europe this summer to have some concrete findings.

In my latest post, we talked about selecting a great hostel.  But what do you do when you arrive to ensure you're not the bunkee that others are rolling their eyes out? 

Let's talk about hostel etiquette because common sense isn't so common.


1. Don't be a slob.

Yes, you are on vacation and don't have time to do hospital corners on the beds.  We get that.  However, when you are in a living space with multiple people, nobody feels like stepping over your crap and seeing your unmentionables that you be discreetly placed into a suitcase.  I distinctly remember a young lady sharing an area with me in London and it was almost as if a line divided her side from mine due to all of her belongings on the floor. 

2. Keep the bathroom clean.

This is in continuation of rule number 1, but it deserves to stand out.  I previously mentioned that I have a few non-negotiables when it comes to hostels.  Part of that includes the rating for cleanliness and the bathroom arrangement.  Nothing kills me more than a dirty bathroom.  I feel like I will die.  Imagine my happiness when I wake up and see leftover toothpaste in the sink left by the lovely French teenagers on their first hostel experience.  We. Are. Not. Your. Maids. Wipe that up and keep it moving. 

3. Mind your drunk.

Of course, I've had some nights when I felt like I might have been better off crawling than walking into my bed.  Of course on those nights I would have a top bunk as opposed to a bottom bunk (major key, always go for the bottom), but thankfully there were only a few of those.  Even in times like those, I was still able to control my bodily functions and sleep it off hangover free (winning).  If you are at the point where you're puking loudly and the neighbors in the next room hear it (true story) or you stand up in the room and start urinating (sigh, unfortunately true as well), a line has been crossed.  Save yourself the awkward turtle moments in the morning. 

4. Don't take anything that isn't yours. 

What do I mean?  I am speaking specifically about food and drinks.   I love staying in hostels with kitchens because I can go grocery shopping and cut down on the costs of day-to-day life abroad.  But every now and then I'll hear some conversations about food items or even cell phone chargers going missing.  I remember these delicious chocolate chip cookies I purchased in Paris and had someone taken them for their own, I very well could have been  deported.

5. Hush!!

Again, this is when we get into the "common sense" ain't so common piece.  I try my best to stay away from my cell phone during dinner occasions with friends, yet some folks have no problem minding their phone the entire time.  Same thing comes into play when people have their ringers on the highest decibel and are in an active group text message.  Stop the madness. Hostels typically have quiet hours in the bedrooms as well and it would be great if everyone abided by those guidelines.  There are plenty of social spaces in hostels, but the bedroom at midnight should not be one of them.  And for the record, if you are the jerk that constantly hits snooze on your BLARING alarm at 7am every 15 minutes, we have a special place for you in the world. 

6. If you're leaving early, pack the night before.

There are many a mornings when I have been grateful for my eye mask and headphones because of my lovely roomies packing at 5am.  It's understandable that you have to leave and do not want to miss your mode of transportation, but if you are fooling with zippers and plastic bags that early and knew you'd be leaving, you are part of the problem.  It is unrealistic to expect a departure to be 100% silent, but noise can be severely reduced. Have your clothes readily accessible, your toiletries out, and only use the lights when it is really necessary. 

7. Kiss your modesty goodbye, but be respectful. 

Let's face it.  You will be sleeping in a room with strangers.  You will be changing, showering, and baring your 100% makeup free natural selves to them.  Want to know why I loved sleeping in all-female dorms? Because I was carefree about sleeping in my "booty shorts" (although halfway into my trip I legitimately stopped caring) even though other females were comfortable in their boy-short underwear.  You're not home but it gets annoying having to run to the bathroom every time you want to change your shirt.  If there are privacy curtains in your dorm, use them. However, if worse came to worse, I wouldn't mind turning around so that I could change my shirt in my bed, but I wouldn't have been standing in an open space flashing the public either.  It's about balance. You will see shirtless men in towels once they get out of a shower. It's life.  We are grown.  You will live.  Just thank the good Lord they keep the towel on. 

8. Know your habits.

Light sleeper? Eye masks and ear plugs are a wonderful thing.  I religiously sleep to white noise at night and for when I know I will not be sleeping in my own bed, I take my eye mask with me.  This is a new habit that I only began in March but I'm so glad I hopped up on the trend.  I hardly have issues sleeping because I have prepared myself for distractions. Knowing your triggers can help you figure out your non-negotiables and you'll be a much more pleasant bunkee to deal with. 

9. Be friendly!

You don't have to be best friends, but if someone enters the room, speak up and say hello.  Thankfully, I have the privilege (and it is a privilege) of speaking English, so most folks will understand "hello" accompanied by a wave and a smile.  It cuts the tension / awkwardness upon initial encounterings.  There's nothing worse than a hostel with no soul because people don't interact.  If I wanted that, I would be staying in a hotel. ;-)

10. Be Open

This is a big one and an extension of number 9.  After you have smiled and waved, try your best to understand that sometimes people are simply ignorant of their shortcomings (me having to politely remind a male to flush the toilet).  As a black woman, I am very aware that for some people, I am a representation of the entire black race.  Do I want that badge? Absolutely not, but I can't help what is being assigned to me.  Sometimes you might have an item to check off your itinerary, but if your roomies invite you to dinner, sometimes it is a beautiful thing to just say "YES" and be spontaneous.  You might foster lifelong travel friendships. 


I hope that I haven't scared you off! I love hostels and would not have been able to afford my Eurotrip without staying in them, but as they are shared living spaces, rules come into play.  This is the same when it comes to having a roommate versus living alone.  It's about compromise.  

A Newbie's Guide to Hostel Etiquette

What are some etiquette rules you follow when staying in hostels? What do you think about mine? Sound off in the comments!