Hostel Etiquette: Don’t Be The Traveller Everybody Hates

I have written about my love of hostels before, and for solo travellers (especially those with budgets), I truly do believe that hostel hopping is the best way to see the world. However, it is true that regardless of how brilliant a hostel may be, sometimes you can encounter other hostel-goers that just are inconsiderate or just downright rude, and unfortunately there isn’t a whole lot you can do about it.

Alternatively, there are also some (often newbie) hostellers that are not be well versed in good hostel etiquette and may not actually be aware of how their actions affect other travellers.

Here is a quick rundown of basic hostel etiquette that every traveller should try their hardest to follow. After all, you really don’t want to be that person that everybody thinks is a dick!

Lights Out

Once I was staying in a fully occupied 12-bed dorm in Paris, and for three nights in a row, a group of five female travellers would arrive back at the dorm between 1am and 3am, proceed to turn on every single light in the dorm, unpack and repack their suitcases, talk as loudly as they wanted, clip their toenails and just generally do everything they could to make me borderline homicidal.

I can handle a bit of noise – earplugs are a travellers best friend – but having every light turned on, that I just cannot handle. I put up with this incredibly rude behaviour for two nights, but on the third night I went absolutely bonkers. I got out of my bunk, confronted them and told them in no nice way that they were the most incredibly selfish and stupid people I had ever had the displeasure of sharing a dorm with – with more expletives thrown in than I care to admit. Now, this was far from a good way of handling the situation, but having night after night of disrupted sleep, a girl can become more than just a little bit cranky.

This particular situation is extreme, but unfortunately, the action of switching on lights at night is not all that uncommon. Believe me, we all understand that arriving in the middle of the night sucks, but instead of being an asshat and turning on all the lights, use a torch or the flashlight on your smartphone. Even if you do still inadvertently wake people up, the fact that you tried to be inconspicuous means that nobody will be tempted to slap you when daylight comes around.

Captured by Ellen Burne with an iPhone 4s at the Jewish Museum in Berlin, Germany

Phone Calls

This should go without saying, if you want to call or Skype people, go ahead, but if anyone else in your dorm is obviously trying to sleep, be considerate and wander out to the common areas. People often take themselves just outside into the hallways, but most hostels have paper thin walls, so while the effort is there, the end result is that your dorm (and possibly other dorms) will still be able to hear you loud and clear.

So if it’s after dark, be kind, ditch your dorm and head to the hostels lounge or kitchen and Skype/call to your hearts content.

Audible Music

Once when I stayed in a 20-bed dorm in the Philippines at like 10pm at night, someone thought it would be a great idea to start playing Zombie by The Cranberries on his phone, but minus the headphones. While I too dig the Cranberries, it definitely wasn’t the time or place. Just put in your headphones!


If you find yourself drinking with new friends from your hostel (whether you are at the hostel bar or at any other watering hole) do not be the guy who happily drinks whenever anyone else buys a round and then magically disappears when it is his/her turn to do the buying. This is just not cool!

Now, if you aren’t into doing rounds, no dramas – you don’t have to participate, but make sure you let the people you are drinking with aware of this so that they don’t end up all paying for you to have a good time on the cheap.

Lebowski Bar, Reykjavik

Ins & Outs

Another way to be a frustratingly annoying dorm-mate at night? Constantly going in and out of the dorm! If you have forgotten something and have to go back in once, that’s no big deal. But opening and closing the dorm door (which will let light in and most likely ‘bang’ when it closes) every five minutes for over an hour – that is just inexcusable.

Top Bunk

To me, getting allocated the top bunk is like drawing the short straw. It’s hotter in the top bunk, getting out of bed to pee is a total chore and often you find yourself with far less space than your bottom bunk counterparts. So, if you have been lucky enough to score the bottom bunk, be courteous and leave some room underneath your bed for the top bunker to put their stuff, and don’t hang your clothes and towels on the stairs – it makes the top bunker feel awkward when they inevitably have to move your stuff.

Locking Up

It is fine to want to lock your bag to something like the bunk itself, but be mindful of where you are doing the locking. I have had people lock their bags in a way that meant I was completely unable to open up my locker, resulting in their locks getting cut by hostel staff.

Sure, I was able to get the other persons locks cut, but I felt bad in doing so, and the delay meant I missed an important train. I am certain the person didn’t lock their bag in this way to be purposefully rude, they more than likely just didn’t think about what they were doing.

Out Of Hours Arrival

We have already established that arriving to a hostel in the middle of the night sucks, especially if you have to be up early in the morning to continue your onwards journey. So if when you arrive you need to do things like shower, repack your bag or get out your outfit for the morning – try to do these things outside of the dorm itself, so that when you do enter, you can just put your stuff next to your bed and go straight to sleep. Better for you and better for those around you – everybody wins!

Photo courtesy of Jay Hammond
Photo courtesy of Jay Hammond


Whenever a new person enters your dorm – make an effort to say ‘hi’. Even if you aren’t in the mood to socialise, that is no excuse not to be polite.

Been There, Done That

One of the best parts about hostels is learning about the travels of so many different people! You can learn tips, tricks and learn about so many new places to visit and explore.

However, there is a big different between being a helpful fellow traveller talking about their travels and being that person who is constantly trying to one-up everyone. While you may think that travelling to 120 countries makes you the messiah of travel, when you are constantly telling people that the travel they have done isn’t good enough, or isn’t dangerous enough, or that you have done so much more; those people who have to listen are going to resent you, and probably call you a wanker in their heads. Don’t be a know-it-all. You won’t win any prizes or friends for being the most well-travelled person in your hostel.

Power Points

Don’t be a power point hog, especially if the dorm has few of them. If you truly do have a tonne of devices to charge, take a power board with you so that you only ever need to use the one power point.


Try to limit your bathroom time to 10-15 minutes at the absolute most. If you need to put on make-up, try to find a mirror outside the bathroom.


Hearing other peoples 2.30am alarms is just another fact of life when you stay in hostels. Honestly, it doesn’t bother people too much, after all, we have all been in the situation where we need to be up at an ungodly hour in order to catch a flight, bus or train. However, if you set six alarms in a row (which I do too, because snoozing my alarm in my sleep is something I have legitimately done) make sure you remember to turn the rest of them off when you are up and moving. Having someone go to shower and having their alarm persistently go off is pretty annoying. It means someone else that should be sleeping will have to get up to turn it off – and if this happens a bunch of times – it just ain’t cool.


This should go without saying, but do not go using other peoples food! Sure, that cup of noodles may look fricking delish, but for all you know – that could be what another person is relying on for dinner. Just keep your hands to yourself and your nose away from anything that doesn’t belong to you.

Photo courtesy of Sanna Kristina
Photo courtesy of Sanna Kristina

Photo Sharing

If you have been hanging out with people from your hostel for more than five minutes, chances are that you will end up with pictures of your new friends on your camera or phone. This is totally fine, just make sure that you remember to send them to those people! Some of my favourite travel pictures have been taken by other people, and the thought of never seeing them is a sad one. For easy photo transfers, download the Dropbox app on your phone.

Pronunciation Nazi

Once I met a guy in a hostel that liked to insult people whenever they didn’t correctly pronounce a foreign word. He would laugh and then tell people that they were an embarrassment. He definitely was putting other people down to make himself feel superior – douche canoe behaviour.

Sure, people may completely butcher foreign words (I do it all the time, especially German words) but unless you can correct them in a polite way, it might be better to just not say anything.

Racism/Sexism/Homophobia/Islamophobia etc

If you have something to say that is racist, misogynistic, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic or puts down an entire group of marginalised people – count to ten and then just don’t say it. Hostels are full of people from all over the world and from all walks of life – majority of whom will be liberal, open-minded and accepting people. Displaying such bigoted behaviour is completely unacceptable and will be a fast way for you to become a total pariah.

Personal Space

Please, don’t put your junk on my bunk.

Captured by Ellen Burne with Olympus OMD E-M1 somwhere along the Reykjanes Peninsula, Iceland
Captured by Ellen Burne with Olympus OMD E-M1 somwhere along the Reykjanes Peninsula, Iceland

Thank you for reading my lovely travel enthusiasts!

If there is anything you think I have missed, please drop me a line in the comments section; and as always, if you have enjoyed reading this post, please share it via Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest  <3

Posted by

20-something year old Australian backpacker writing her way around the world.

65 thoughts on “Hostel Etiquette: Don’t Be The Traveller Everybody Hates

  1. Great Post! Many years I stayed in hostels… I recognize a lot… . I can share two small stories: In Bitola(macedonia), I shared a room with a german girl… in the common room we were chatting… then she told me… ok I am tired, going to sleep. When My roommate is going to sleep,always go to the dorm or bathroom and take my lenses out of my eyes. And I returned to the common room. She gave me a nice compliment: after many years of travelling, you are the first one who have the respect and try to avoid enter the dorm. Why should I take out my lenses, switch on lights… open door… and risk to wake up your roommate when u can do it before they sleep? Another story, same trip… in Ohrid: spend two days with a mixed kiwi/irish couple, great couple… went together for day trips, shared taxis… Last trip I payed the taxi… irish guy told me… I return the money tonight amigo when we go to party(was about 25 euro, 2 hours taxi ride)…. . Ok, no problem. When we got back… went to my dorm, shower…, came back and they disappeared. On the desk, they told me: it was planned they should leave after this trip. Return the money, when go into the centre… big lie. Now…. pay in advance for sb else… try to avoid.

      1. Oh, I see. I myself, love travelling with Airbnb and Couchsurfing.I love the tips I get from the locals and how they share secret spots from that place.

  2. Great article. My personal pet peeve in a hostel is plastic ziplock baggies. They may keep everything organized and dry, but they have got to be one of the most annoying sounds in the world when you’re trying to sleep – and I can usually sleep through anything. My other is guys who hang out on their bunks naked in a mixed dorm. Yes, this has happened. More than once. Do not be the creepy naked guy.

    1. Oh man the creepy naked guys!! It’s like, what are you thinking? Put some damn pants on. Nobody is interested, just uncomfortable.

  3. Agree with all of this! Had so many experiences of rude people rustling in their bags at stupid o’clock not to mention the lack of whispering whilst doing so. Also had to listen to many a hallway phone call through the thin walls. On the flip side though, I had to leave my hostel in Reykjavik early for a flight, was all packed to just grab my stuff and leave but hadn’t secured my laptop properly meaning it fell out making a loud bang (& broke 😕) and my involuntary curse came out my mouth rather loud too. I won’t have been my roommates’ favourite person that day!

    1. But at least you would have been trying to be quiet! That wouldn’t bother me – it would only bother me if you decided you would wait to the early hours of the morning to pack up all your stuff!

  4. Nice post. I’ve only stayed in one hostel, in NYC. You are right about paper thin walls. A group of us from Library grad school were there to work at libraries in NYC for our spring break. So we had to be up and out and to work each day. Our room was right behind the front desk, which apparently was party central. Ended up with very little sleep which made the days of work harder. The last night one of us, opened our door and yelled at whoever was out there. Didn’t help but we felt better.

  5. Wonderful tips that people really should follow . I personally hate staying in dorms as I can never get any good sleep . I am very light sleeper , and can’t stand when people think it’s ok to make noise , switch lights on etc

  6. Definitely a good list of behaviours to avoid. I would also include “The Regulator”, who keeps track of, and remarks on, everyone’s infractions-no matter how slight. We had such a person at a hostel in Sitka.

  7. I usually don’t run into any issues in hostels and have a great time. I think this is similar to “The Regulator”, but at a hostel in the UK I said hello to my new roommate when she came in only to have her grumble and instruct me not to turn on the lights when I returned that night (I was in town for a wedding) and to be quiet…I was glad she only stayed one night!

  8. In my only hostel experience, I was in sauna when American girl came and sat next to me. The guys in the sauna were fully clothed, and were offering to buy her. We spent some time together and she set us up with bicycles for the next day. When I got back to my room–my roommates were the guys from the sauna. I apologized if I had offended them, or wasn’t aware of their culture, but spent a night with an eye open just in case there were hard feelings.

  9. I was once staying at a YHA in Airlie Beach in your homeland when I awoke in the dead of night to be greeted by the sight of a naked man and woman wandering around quietly. My Britishness made me close me eyes immediately. It is fair to say that engaging in sexual relations in a public dorm (especially a male one) should be a no-no. 🙄

  10. I have stayed in hostels countless times especially during my travels in Southeast Asia and I am glad I have never encountered such douchebag behaviour 😀

    I just got married last year and my wife has now joined the travel bandwagon. We are going to Europe for the first time next February and will be staying in hostels in Europe for the first time (for me) and a first time staying in hostels for her.

    Hopefully everything will be fine and she will have good experience staying in hostels 🙂

  11. Thank you so much for writing this!! Sometimes people just don’t think about their actions. Proper hygiene is another important hostel etiquette. I once stayed in a 4 bunk ladies hostel room in Wellington, NZ and one of the girls there had the worst BO. It was so bad that one of the girls got up in the middle of the night to open the window, which the other girl immediately closed because she said she was too cold. The other three of us then had to have the awkward “please use this stick of deodorant then” conversation at 2 in the morning. We felt bad but it had to be done. We could barely breathe!

      1. She actually checked out the next day so we all felt really bad. However we all got a good night’s sleep after that so maybe it was for the best. Personal hygiene is kind of a necessity when you’re bunking with others.

  12. I think there should also be a tip about not drinking to extreme excess when sharing a room with strangers! My absolute worst hostel experience involved a guy who got so drunk that he got up in the middle of the night and started puking up spaghetti in the middle of the floor, then, if that wasn’t bad enough, he pulled down his pants and planted a fresh turd right on the edge of some other guy’s bed (the poor guy somehow slept through it, and when we woke him up and alerted him to the poop (after locking the pooper out of the room) he screamed and threw the duvet across the room. I don’t blame him)! I don’t think I’ve ever had a more horrible night!

      1. It was a nightmare, though I do rather enjoy telling the story now! There’s more to it…when the pooper eventually ran out of the room to use an actual toilet, and we locked him out, he then came back and banged on the door for two hours solid until someone gave up and let him back in. And there was poop smeared all over the doors and lockers when we went in the hall. I was talking to the guy who got pooped on in the morning, and he said, “I thought it was just a bad dream…but the poop, it was real!”

  13. Wow! I’ve not stayed in a hostel for quite some time but believe you in all of these respectful gestures while in communal areas. Nice post 😀

  14. As an ex backpacker who now owns a hostel I find it sad that people who go travelling do not already come equipped with consideration and manners…I feel like it’s getting worse too! (Or maybe I’m just getting old and cranky!) Great post!

  15. This resonates so well with me. I genuinely think peoples common sense goes out the window when they arrive at a hostel. I always take out my outfit and toiletries etc ready for the next day and pack away my stuff in my locker the night before so as to cause as little noise in the morning! Great list though!

  16. Wow, who is that handsome man in the photo under the ‘food’ heading? He surely looks like he knows how to eat a sandwich. He probably has some interesting stories too.

    Good on you for the blog.

Leave a Reply