Hostels are the one of the most amazing parts of travel for me for many reasons. You get to meet a million people, there are often social activities to let you get to know people better, they know the way you like to travel, they understand you are on a budget, they have all the insider knowledge and they are cheap. Being cheap is probably the main reason. However, it’s not uncommon for travellers to associate cheap accommodation with throwaway behaviour. I write this post in the hope that we can create a travel community that learns to take on hostel culture in a very positive way to make it better for everyone. Here are 40 ways you can make your hostel experience better for you and for everyone around you.
1 – Welcome everyone
This is a shared accommodation experience and although you might be the biggest extrovert to grace the face of the planet there are the shy ones who need a little bit of work to come out of their shell. Maybe it is their first time travelling and they don’t really know how to strike up a conversation or indeed what to say. If someone tries to come over and say hello, drop your book/phone/laptop/penis and say hello for gods sake. Don’t judge them by how they look, when people travel the mask is full off. Learn something and make a new buddy.
2 – Getting laid
For many people this is often the highlight of a trip and when travelling with all your worries left back home, you have time to pursue the opposite or same sex, whatever you’re into. This is perfectly, fine and it’s only natural. However, just make sure you don’t make anyone else’s stay a complete nightmare by keeping them up all night or making a mess. Be discreet. Read my guide here on how to have sex in a hostel.
3 – Bring ear plugs
If you are like me and a light sleeper, hostels can be a nightmare to get a good rest. There is a simple solution however and that’s to pick up some earplugs in the airport. Some long haul flights will give them to you for free and if you ask nicely at reception, they may even have a few lying around for you that they have for such situations. People will snore and that’s just how it is. The most you can do is prepare for it.
4 – Getting an early night
Just because you are getting up early tomorrow doesn’t mean everyone else is. People will come in and out of the room, making noise and switching the light off/on to get something from their bag or drop something off. If you grab an eye mask and slip that baby on, you shouldn’t have any issues at all. Like earplugs, they can be cheap to pick up and free on some flights. Pick one up and keep it in your bag at all times.
5 – Don’t steal shit
Goes without saying I know but it’s still done. So far on my trip, I’ve had a GoPro with lots of diving footage, my only smart YSL shirt, €400 in cash and a few other small things taken from me on different occasions. It hurts like hell as I can’t afford to lose money and definitely can’t splurge out on some new tech gadgets. It’s mean as hell. This also goes for books, toiletries, earphones and loose change. No matter how big the temptation, don’t steal, borrow or use anything without their permission. It could ruin their entire trip.
6 – Sharing is caring
If you have a little to spare, share it. This can be snacks, a crate of beers, your left overs and more. It shows that you are a nice approachable person, can be a great way to start a conversation and it’s an all round great way to travel. I shared something as small as my nail clippers with someone which at first I thought was disgusting but did it anyway. However, later that day when signing up for a tour, I had no cash on me. The same dude then offered to pay for me until I could get to an ATM. You never know when you are going to need a mate.
7 – Remember peoples name
This is a hard one and I’ll admit I’m not great at it. No one will be offended all that much if you don’t remember their name, that’s not what this is about. Remembering someones name helps you make a meaningful connection and shows you are making more of an effort. It allows you to introduce this person to someone else and everyone appreciates that stuff.
8 – Bring a small lock
Most hostels have lockers or at least the good ones do anyway. It’s essential for keeping all your gadgets, documents and other valuables safe while you wander the city or get smashed at a bar downstairs. However a lot of hostels don’t supply lockers and this means you you have to have your own. Reception may well charge you for using one!
9 – Approach loners
As I mentioned before, some people are just shy and dying for someone to come over to say hello or invite them to join the group. If you see someone on their own, looking bored or killing time, say hi. Now I have to say it doesn’t always work, some people want to be left alone. Maybe they have been travelling a long time or some serious stuff is going down back at home. I invited a couple who were in complete silence to come join our group for dinner before and the dude nearly ate my head off. I was left stood there embarrassed and stunned. Soon learnt they were having an argument and didn’t want to be talked to. So use your intuition and don’t be put off by someone saying no or being a dick.
10 – Be nice to the staff
These are the guys who know where everything is and can make you stay a little more comfortable if you treat them well. Most hostel staff area amazing and working there as they love to travel too and meet new people. Some might even be fellow travellers volunteering to pay for a bed so be nice. I got an extra night free because ATM’s weren’t working nearby and she just waved the fee because we got on so well. Another hostel owner in China gave me his ointment for a leg that was ravaged by bites. Another hostel owner in the Philippines gave me half her bottle of brandy and offered me a job! You never know…
11 – Keep the wash rooms clean
Most countries you visit will ask you to put tissue into the bin instead of the toilet. They are doing this for a reason. A blocked toilet is fun for no-one. Other times, avoid leaving toothpaste everywhere, shaved hair all over the sink and pissing on the toilet seat. You wouldn’t do it in your own house and even if you do, don’t do it here.
12 – Dorm room door have locks for a reason
Hostels generally have tonnes of people coming through the door every day. This means the the people on reception find it pretty hard to keep track of who is staying there and who isn’t. This means anyone can wander in and around the hostel and if you dorm room door is open..well then you may as well leave your stuff out in the street. Keep the door closed and ask others to do so too. This keeps your stuff safe and if anything goes missing, you have a better idea of who to the culprit might be.
13 – Sit on your own bed
You don’t get much privacy in a hostel and about the only place you will get it is in your own dorm bed. If you are talking to someone and they are showing you pictures of otherwise, don’t assume you can hop onto their bed. Personal space is personal space. If you have a top bunk it’s tricky to have anywhere to sit but that doesn’t mean you can use the bed beneath you either. If it’s not occupied by all means. All this implies is that when checking in, ask for a bottom bunk where possible. Less hassle getting in and out of bed but also allows you to have a place to sit and sort your stuff out.
14 – Don’t smoke in the room
This is really obvious in most cases but in some countries where smoking everywhere is just fine, you will see it. In Xi’an in China, my dorm room was full of smokers who were confused when I asked them to smoke outside and thus explaining via Google translate that the rest of the world works differently became a very difficult conversation. Even sneaking one out the window is bad form, some people are allergic to smoke or get rather ill at the smell. Just go outside and the chances are you’ll meet other smokers where you can be your loveable, chatty self.
15 – Don’t skip the queue
Whether it is for breakfast or the shower. Everyone’s on an agenda and it’s only polite to wait your turn. Having all your stuff ready to get in the shower to look up and realise someone stole in ahead of you and left you standing in the hall half naked is pretty sad if I’m honest
16 – Wear flip flops in the shower
If you have a fungal infection and you go bathing in the shower, there is a good chance you’ll spread that or something else. Showers are breeding grounds for bad bacteria and the ones that will make your trip a bit of a nightmare so play it safe and wear flip flops in the shower. Some hostels even provide them just for this very reasons. Well the nice ones do anyway. I had a bad experience in Gili T, Indonesia that left my feet with flesh falling off from all sides. This my friends, was the most disgusting looking thing and had been in low spirits.
17 – Cook your own food
A lot of hostels come with a kitchen or at least they will have a microwave for you to use. Simply pop to a local market or supermarket and grab all you need to make a meal. If you are really savvy, whip up a large dish and divide it up over 2-3 days. Label it in the fridge and keep it safe. Clean up after you too as no one else will do it for you and after a long day at the sights, having to clean everything before starting to cook is a nightmare. Cooking in the kitchen is a great way to meet people and you can also get other people to pitch in for dinner and save on your ingredients.
18 – Pack the night before
This has many merits. Not only will you avoid fumbling around in the dark in the morning when your eyes are half sealed shut but the mean reason is respect to everyone else really. If you are packing your bag in the morning, the noise it makes is the most annoying thing. Ruffling in plastic bags will wake someone up and chances are if someones a light sleeper, then they won’t be getting back to sleep. Give yourself a few extra minutes in bed and be ready to run out the door.
19 – Put your phone on do not disturb
A real no brainer but it means that your phone won’t wake you or anyone else around you at night time. Even better, put it on airplane mode and your phone will charge even faster. Even when you are asleep, it’s proven that the sound of our phones going off or vibrating us take up out of deep sleep. Our brain is conditioned to react to the sounds by answering to notifications all day so you’ll get an even deeper sleep then normal.
20 – Help someone in need
Travel isn’t always smiles and beers. It can be and believe me, it’s a huge part of why most of us do it in the first place. But sometimes, things go wrong! There’s nothing we can do, we’re stuck and we’re left in a rut. Moments like these, we may depend on the kindness of other travellers. I’ve gotten help with loans, advice, directions, toiletries, laundry, medication and a million other little troubles while on the road. In return, I’ve always helped those who need it. No need to break your back helping someone. Sometimes even being there for someone to vent at is enough.
21 – Wear flip-flops in the shower
If you are an Aussie you’ll call ’em thongs but that’s besides the point. The showers in hostels are breeding grounds for some really nasty pieces of bacteria that you really don’t want to get involved with. The last thing you need is athletes foot, skin peeling off everywhere and spending you nights rubbing fungal cream between your toes. Good look chatting up that hottie… It’s also a real pain in the ass and completely avoidable when you just wear flip flops. Some hostels have extremely poor levels of hygiene.
22 – Keep dirt outside of the dorm
This is actually common place in a lot of asian countries, especially Japan where taking off your shoes is a must. It really made me think about why we walk from the street into our living space at all. However, here I’m actually referring to general filth like mud, rubbish, tags, wrappers, left overs and anything else. If you wouldn’t do it at home, don’t do it there. Really simple and people will respect that.
23 – Take the bottom bunk
The novelty of sleeping on bunk beds wears off pretty quick and when given the option, it’s an easy one. Take the bottom bunk. Most dorms have very little room to sit down and so when you are getting ready, working on your laptop or otherwise, you at least have your bed to do that. Couple that with the fact you can hang sheets over the side for some badly needed privacy or a lesser challenge getting into bed after a night out and it becomes an obvious choice.
24 – Get all your info on WiFi before heading out
Getting a sim in the airport or a pocket wifi device is convenient but also avoidable. If you can download your maps offline, save your locations and send yourself an email with all your travel tips/itineraries for the day, then you leave very little need for data on the go. Just don’t get trapped spending too much time on your phone in the hostel. If anything it allows you to free your mind and be more present when moving about. Strike up a conversation on the bus and get off social media.
25 – Don’t leave food in your bag
A handy way to save money is to bring lunches or snacks from the supermarket but most hostels have a fridge for you to store this in. Leaving it in your bag will leech the smell into everything you have and even if you seal it up well, pesky rodents have a sharp sense and will find it. They won’t think twice about putting a hole in your bag to get fed! Most places you go to will be rodent free but I’ve had rats eat my bag thoroughly for some biscuits and meant I had to deploy some very creative sewing skills.
26 – Pick a bed near a plug socket
Good hostels will have a power point for each bunk but that isn’t always the case and you’ll find people fighting over one or two. This has led to some annoying moments where people are plugging my device out to put theirs in. Grab a bed with one near it so you can get charged up. If possible get an adapter with some usb sockets so you can charge your: GoPro, Kindle or battery pack at the same time.
27 – Inspect your bed
It’s great to save money by staying in hostels and sometimes hostels like to save money too. This means cheaping out on cleaning every day or even at all in some cases. Take a few moments when you land in to check for spills, damp, fresh stains, smell and most importantly, pests. Check out the seems with a small torch for fleas and bed bugs. These can put a real downer on your experience. A bed I stayed in north Thailand had termites that you could hear chewing up the bamboo around my bunk all night. Ewww
28 – If a hostel doesn’t feel right… move on
Just because you booked a place doesn’t mean you have to stay there. Book another place and move on. Most hostels have a sign up in the lobby for wifi, just use it to log on and find another place. If you are paying to stay somewhere, make sure you are happy to be staying there. Simple!
29 – If someone asks you to join them, just say YES.
The best parts about travelling come from doing the unexpected. Unless you have a solid plan of something you are really determined to do, it is always best to go along with a buddy. You’ll make friends and have less planning to do. You don’t have to stay if you get bored or the group isn’t to your liking, just say you want to check out something else and leave. Saying YES has brought me to some very interesting places.
30 – Listen to travellers
When I first left to travel, I found that sitting around a hostel bar consisted of people trading travel stories and more often than not, people were just waiting their turn to show off their experience. How it was more extreme, more off the beaten track or how they had found the best place to eat. Take most of it with a pinch of salt but you will learn of new places to go and instead of getting advice from an anonymous user online, you can see what this person is like and get some really genuine advice. As the buddhist saying goes, “When you talk you say something you already know. When you listen, you learn something new”. I’ve met some people who have changed my entire way of thinking by simply listening. Give it a go! This is actually more of a rule for life.
31 – Chat to the staff
These guys know a lot about the area. Chances are they live locally and know the best places for food, viewing points, hidden treasures and in general, things you won’t find on the tourist trail. They may even be a backpacker working for bed and board who could help you out with doing the same. The insider scoop is always worth more than any blog you’ll read online. This is how you’ll unlock discounts, tip offs about local events/festivals and if you need something a little extra, you might just get it as the traveller who’s making a bit more of an effort.
32 – Bring Bug Spray/Germ Killer for your bed
As I mentioned before, your bed could be harnessing some seriously annoying pests and dodgy bacteria. You can pick up these sprays in a convenience store pretty much anywhere. Spray your bed down an hour before sleep and enjoy a worry free snooze.
33 – Bring a quick dry towel
Most towels when wet will weigh down your bag and take forever to dry. Before you travel, pick up a micro fibre towel. They are light and dry in no time at all. It also saves you money on renting a towel everywhere you go. Pinch those pennies!
34 – Always have cash to pay for your room
The advent of pretty much most places in the world accepting Visa and Mastercard is great but you can’t depend on you hostel accepting plastic. For this reason, having some local currency to pay for your room is well advised. If you turn up with only card and no ATM’s nearby, you could be in trouble.
35 – Bring a sleep sheet
This is for the overly cautious of you. I have to admit I’ve only used one once and found it annoying but when sleeping on a dodgy bed or anywhere you feel is a little unsanitary, it is best that you grab one of these. It’s essentially a sleeping bag with no padding that gives a layer of protection between you and whatever it is you are sleeping on.
36 – Some hostels are very DIY
You can land into some places and they literally hand you the sheets and pillow case to fix up yourself. This might seem like a pain but at least you know your linens will be fresh when you get in. Just be nice enough to take them off and give them back before you leave.
37 – Respect personal space
The fact that you are sharing a room with anywhere between 4 and 30 people at times means that space in there can be at a premium. Simply put, don’t leave your stuff everywhere for people to walk over. Also great for keeping your belongings safe but what I’m getting at here are things like leaving your towel to dry on the end of someone else’s bed or leaving your bag unpacked all over the floor.
38 – Keep your smells to yourself
Some people might find your farts hilarious, you probably do at least. However, smelling up a room full of people trying to sleep doesn’t usually go down well. That also means eating your kebab before coming into the dorm on a night out. Sure it smells great but noone wants to sleep with it
39 – Leave the lights off
If you’re sleeping and someone comes in and turns the lights on, there’s every chance you might wake up. Not so much fun if you’re travelling early the next morning or had a late one the night before. So ideally, when others are sleeping, keep the lights off.
40 – Drinking in the dorms
Not so bad for a casual beer or two during the day but when people are sleeping or it’s approaching the evening time, it might be a good idea to head towards to lobby or bar. If you need to save money, hit a convenience store and smuggle it in via a soda bottle.