Hostel Etiquette: Observing the Unwritten Rules

Fred Perrotta


My eyes snapped open.


My mind hazy, I looked for a clock, while trying to remember where I was.


The red digits showed 5:13 AM. Wonderful. A fire alarm was waking me up in the middle of the night in…..New Zealand! That’s right. I’m in Queenstown for a long weekend.


Now I was about to be standing outside in the freezing cold of a South Island winter because some joker pulled the fire alarm. NOT sweet as.

As expected, the awful beeping was a false alarm and, after a few minutes spent huddled in the convenience store next door for warmth, we filed back into the hostel, Nomads Queenstown, for what was left of the night.

Obviously, pulling the fire alarm, especially in the middle of the night, is a dick move. After that, the rules of hostel etiquette are a bit more nuanced. Here is our handy guide to winning friends and avoiding being that guy/girl while hosteling.

Dorm Room Etiquette

The first rule of thumb in your dorm room (and the rest of the hostel) is to clean up after yourself. If you’re able to travel the world, you should be able to keep your limited possessions in order. Hostel dorms are cramped enough without your stuff spread around the room like shrapnel from a luggage bomb.

If you want to be messy and have a maid clean up after you, stay in a hotel. Those are the types of amenities that make hotels more expensive than hostels.

Since you’re sharing a bedroom with other people, be mindful of their schedules. If you come in late and the light is off, don’t turn it on and wake everyone up. Alternatively, if you’re an early riser, don’t make a bunch of noise and disturb your dorm mates.

Kitchen Etiquette

Again, clean up after yourself. If you dirty a dish, clean it after you’ve finished eating. No one should have to clean up after you or wait for you to get around to cleaning up after yourself. Do the dishes and do them promptly.

If you buy food that you don’t want anyone else to use, write your name and the date that you will be leaving on it. Marking your food items means no one else will take them and that the food will be thrown away after you’re gone (if you neglect to dispose of it yourself).

Similarly, if someone’s name is on something in the kitchen, don’t eat it. It’s off limits. If you’re tempted, ask to use some or where they got it, so you can buy your own.

Due to the communal nature of hostels, some people will share their food and some hostels will provide basic staples for free. Be grateful but don’t abuse the privilege. Only take your fair share and, if it’s running low or you use the last bit, buy a new one. If you don’t have the money to replace it, don’t use it.

Social Etiquette

In addition to being inexpensive, hostels provide a communal atmosphere filled with friendly travelers. Be polite and take advantage of this. If you’re new to the city, ask questions about where to go and what to do. If you’re the grizzled veteran, help out the noobies by sharing your experiences.

For bonus points, take initiative. Organize group nights out or sightseeing trips during the day. You’ll be the toast of the hostel. Of course, if you’re really friendly, you may need to consider…

Sex Etiquette

Sure, in the moment you’re not thinking about anyone else. In the moment, you’re not worried about disturbing the rest of your dorm with loud sex or the angry glares and cold shoulders you’ll get the next day. You’re just trying to get it on. However, if you put in a little thought beforehand, you can get busy as much as you want, without incurring the wrath of your dorm mates.

If you’re hooking up with someone from your hostel, observing proper hostel sex etiquette is easy. Just hang back when everyone else heads out for the night. Then you’ll have the place all (or mostly) to yourselves and can be as loud as you want without disturbing anyone in your room. Sorry, exhibitionists, you are the unfortunate victims of this scenario.

If the hookup is unplanned, congratulations. I mean, if the hookup is unplanned, consider alternate locations. The shower (with the water running to cover any suspicious noises) may offer more privacy or you could try a linen closet that no one will be using.

If you’re okay with being really selfish, or don’t plan on seeing your new friend again, do it at his/her hostel. Then, all of the blame falls on him/her and you can slip back to your hostel where everyone still loves you. This option is not the classiest move but is sometimes necessary.

Lastly, you could try the most obvious, albeit slightly more expensive, solution: get a private room.

The Golden Rule

When in doubt, remember that staying at a hostel is like having a bunch of roommates. Be a good roommate, and you won’t have any problems. Be considerate of others and treat them as you would like to be treated.


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