The Definitive Guide to Hostel Etiquette

I’ve been inspired by last week’s list to make another list. Normally, I’m not a list guy. I just don’t do it. I can barely get it together to make a grocery list (e.g. yesterday I forgot mayo and contact lens solution), much less an authoritative, trustworthy list for public consumption. It wasn’t immediately apparent to me why this was, so I decided to give it some thought and make a list of why I don’t usually make lists:

1. Too much organization and work

That was it. Is it technically a ‘list’ if there’s just one item or do I have to downgrade it down to an ‘excuse’?

I came to realize that compiling and arranging a comprehensive list is too close to research and, sweet Jesus, do I ever hate research. The only reason I had the strength to do the Tuscany list was because I’d just finished a month on the road and it was all pretty much in my head, or at least somewhere in the 90 pages of notes that were at my immediate disposal, so research was minimal.

Equally, I’ve spent a lot of time in hostels recently, mentally compiling an exhaustive list of hostel pet peeves. So, I thought I’d take a shot at putting together a list of hostel etiquette.

I’m aware that similar lists/discussions have been launched a hundred times on a hundred travel discussion groups, so I hesitated to broach such a stale subject, but you know what? Every day thousands of knobs barge into hostels around the world and commit gross, common sense, hostel etiquette infractions, so clearly a hundred discussions in a hundred discussion groups hasn’t made any difference whatsoever. Someone has to make this information public and hammer the issues home in a no-nonsense, articulate way, both for each new generation of hostel residents and the slow people who year after year fail to learn by the excellent example I set.

My dream would be that hostels around the world would print this list out and make each arriving resident read it, be made to recite it aloud in front of a group of witnesses (right hand raised, left hand on the regional Lonely Planet) and then sign it in blood just for good measure before they’re even allowed to put down their backpacks. If this practice takes off, the days of me being annoyed will become a thing of the past – at least in hostel situations, train stations are another story…

So, here it is, my comprehensive, research-free list of hostel etiquette to live by or else:

1. If your train leaves at 6.30am, pack your shit the night before, not at 5.30am, jackhole.
2. If you come in late and the light is off, do not turn it on. If you can’t see where you’re going, T.S. You should have packed a keychain light instead of your curling iron.
3. If 10 people are sharing one bathroom, do not take a 45 minute shower at 8am. If it really takes 45 minutes to wash your nasty self, do it in the middle of the afternoon when everyone is out.
4. If you snore, alert your roommates and tell them the best way to get you to stop (in my case, get me to roll to my side). If you’re an incurable snorer, go to a hotel.
5. Do not have loud sex in the room while everyone is asleep and if you do, don’t get mad and demand “privacy” when the rest of us sit up and bemusedly watch.
6. Just because you’re merrily drunk doesn’t mean I’m merrily drunk. This goes double for any time after midnight, because unless I’ve recently told you otherwise, I like sleep more than I like you.
7. Is it really necessary to pack all your stuff in 43 individual, crinkly plastic bags? One bag for socks, another bag for underwear, another bag for q-tips, another bag for your swimsuit, another bag for dirty socks, another bag for dirty underwear… If so, you need to pay particular attention to #1.
8. Don’t hit the snooze button on your alarm three times.
9. In fact, get a vibrating alarm or use your phone or something. The rest of us didn’t come all the way to Nice to be woken up by someone else’s alarm clock at 7am.
10. You are not the center of the universe, I don’t care how long you studied in Paris.
11. Do not clean the dried mud out of the soles of your sandals by whacking them on the floor at 6am.
12. When you come in from partying at 3am and wake everyone up while you clumsily get ready for bed and then people are too loud for your liking at 9am, keep your effing mouth shut.
13. If you walk into the TV room and six people are sitting there intently watching the news, do not change the channel to your favorite Indian soap opera.
14. Ditto if, in the example above, the words ‘news’ and ‘Indian soap opera’ are swapped with ‘Spiderman II’ and ‘cricket’.
15. Having a half-whisper conversation with your friend all the way across the dorm room at 6am is still disruptive and rude, so don’t try to pretend it isn’t.
16. Believe it or not, when you thrash around or heavily drop stuff onto your part of the bunk bed, it disturbs the person sleeping on the other bunk.
17. Just because you’ve been there a couple of nights doesn’t mean you can take over the whole room by spreading your shit everywhere.
18. Spontaneous farting is only funny under very precise circumstances. It requires exquisite comic timing that most of you don’t have, so better to just save yourself the embarrassment and do the slow release or, better yet, leave the room.
19. The dorm is for sleeping and activities that immediately precede or follow sleeping. That’s it. The dorm is not for eating, getting drunk, playing “dorm sports”, doing your laundry, drying your laundry, blasting your mini-stereo (that you brought along because why?), smoking (leaning out the window a little does not count as going outside) or recovering from the flu. If you aren’t sleeping or about to sleep or just waking up, go to the hostel’s common rooms. If there are no common rooms, leave.
20. Oh yeah, guitar guys… So, you play the guitar. That’s great. And you’re so devoted to your music (dude) that you couldn’t live without your guitar for a couple months of backpacking and therefore had no choice but to bring it along. Whatever. Two things: Don’t play it in the dorm room and don’t complain how you have to pay extra to bring it onto certain airplanes. And if I may offer this… I’ve been a juggler since I was 12 years old. Juggling is an ingrained part of me. I love it. Yet somehow I’ve gotten through several cumulative years of travel without bringing along my prop bag and practicing in the middle of the hostel. Equally, piano and tuba players seem to survive a few months without their showing-off-in-front-of-girls apparatuses – I mean “music, dude”. I’m just saying…
21. If, for whatever reason, you have to completely unpack your bag, my bunk is not among the acceptable places to put your stuff, particularly your moldy flip-flops and your balled-up, dirty clothes.
22. Shower every day. You can only skip a day if you didn’t break a sweat or if you’ve been in transit or you’re in the jungles of New Guinea.
23. Also, do laundry every couple of weeks. You can get away with washing once a month only if you are not offensive smelling and you packed 15 t-shirts and 23 pair of underwear.
24. Unlimited internet access at the hostel is a great thing, isn’t it? That said, if four people are waiting to use it, it’s not OK to linger reading “Joke of the Day”, checking the weather back home or reading agonizingly long blog entries by a hilarious travel writer whose name rhymes with “Knife Lettersen”.
25. Just because we left the hostel together in a group and went to the same bar doesn’t mean I’m your babysitter, particularly if you’re a sloppy, dickhead, combative drunk. Furthermore, if we call a taxi, which you know damn well will arrive in two minutes, and you decide to go back into the bar for one last-ditch effort at hooking up with the Essex girl, don’t get pissy if we leave without you. You’re an adult. If you can’t take care of yourself, you shouldn’t be traveling without your mommy.
26. Pick up after yourself. Yes, the hostel has a cleaning staff that comes around once a day (if that), but you’re not at home and your long-suffering mother is not around, so don’t leave banana peels and half-empty cans of Coke on the floor and then act surprised when they’re still there a few hours later.
27. Finally, and most importantly, before you do anything, ask yourself this question: “Would I mind if someone else did this?” Incidentally, if your answer is “it depends”, that means don’t do it.