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Top 10 hostel rules: the don’ts of staying in a dorm room

Staying in a dorm room with strangers can be a whole lot of fun, although it does come with challenges – cacophonous snoring, intimate smooching and offensive odours. Here are some handy tips to make your hostelling experience all the better.

'Shall we flip a coin to decide who sleeps on these moss-covered rocks?' Compromise is key to getting along with your fellow hostellers. Image by Jupiterimages / Getty Images
'Shall we flip a coin to decide who sleeps on these moss-covered rocks?' Compromise is key to getting along with your fellow hostellers. Image by Jupiterimages / Getty Images

Don’t treat shared bathrooms like a spa

Picture the scene. After standing in the corridor for over 15 minutes waiting to use one of the hostel’s only two showers, another four people have joined the queue. The feisty hosteller in front of you is banging on the shower door. After what seems like an eternity, someone steps out of the cubicle amid billowing hot steam. But when you step in and switch the shower on, the water is barely a trickle. Somehow, gingerly splashing your nether regions with chilly water wasn’t the deep cleanse you were hoping for.

Pro tip: shower outside the rush hours of early mornings and late evenings to avoid queuing. If you’re guilty of long indulgent soaks, try to remember your equally sweaty and smelly bunkmates need a shower too.

Don’t be the late-night rustler

A rustling sound breaks the silence that has finally descended on your dorm room. Your bunkmate has leaped off the bed above you and is performing a series of packing rituals at the ungodly hour of 4am. One by one, he sorts his trainers, shoes and sandals into colour-coded plastic bags. Only when he finally leaves for his early-morning train does quiet return… that is, until a soundtrack of snoring erupts from the opposite side of the room.

Pro tip: when it comes to other people’s nocturnal noise, earplugs can be a great defence. If you’re noisy yourself, spare your roommates by packing the night before an early start, and use a backpack with a side-zip to access your stuff (it cuts down the rummaging). And if you’re known for breathing a tad heavily, try to doze off in your less snore-prone position.

Sure you can keep your rucksack and flammable clothing right next tothe lamp, it's not like there aren't clearly marked fire exits... oh. Image by Gabe Rogel / Aurora / Getty Images
Sure you can keep your rucksack and flammable clothing right next to the lamp, it's not like there aren't clearly marked fire exits... oh. Image by Gabe Rogel / Aurora / Getty Images

Think before you hit the light switch

You’re just about to drift off to sleep when the dorm room light comes on. With a single flick of a switch, your new hostel friends just became foes. Hostels are packed with jet lagged and exhausted travellers, so light switch wars are a common source of tension. If you find yourself in the crossfire,  try to win over your roommates by staying positive and friendly. If negotiation and common courtesy fail, try and see the humour in the situation – you’ll be telling the story of your jerk roommates for weeks after your trip.

Pro tip: need to navigate back to your bunk after lights-out? Use your phone as a torch, or download a torch app (just don’t flash it in your roommates’ faces). And if you’re the one blinded by the lights, consider packing a pair of eyeshades.

'Off': it's hostel speak for 'there's people sleeping in here, numb-nuts.' Image by Paul Cross / CC BY 2.0
'Off': it's hostel speak for 'there's people sleeping in here, numb-nuts'. Image by Paul Cross / CC BY 2.0

Leave romance at the dorm room door

An unfamiliar sound wakes you, followed by heavy panting – a couple in the bunk next to yours have had a caipirinha too many. They are shushing each other, she lets out a little giggle, and a full re-enactment of R Kelly’s Bump n’ Grind is unfolding. When travellers are on the road for a while, sparks inevitably fly. But there are better venues for romance (a capsule hotel or behind a sand dune?)

Pro tip: guilty of a little dorm room romance? No matter how quiet you think you are, you can bet your life your roommates are reaching for the popcorn. Keep it classy and find a different location. If it’s your bunkmates dancing the horizontal tango, see the next section for ways to decelerate their romance.

Lay off the beans

A powerful odour wafts through the dorm. A thunderous fart has awoken the entire room. While the other travellers shift uneasily under their sheets, you’re left wondering whether to stay put, leap for the door or start lighting matches. And you push from your mind the awful possibility that you might be the culprit...

Pro tip: we’re all human. But in close quarters an ‘excuse me’ goes a long way, as does quarantining yourself in a bathroom stall if you’ve had an especially heavy night on the refried beans. If you’re the victim, some passive-aggressive spraying of aerosol deodorant should make your point.

Delicious beans. But for some reason, eating them right before bed has a tendency to, ahem, backfire. Image by Jessica Rossi / CC BY-SA 2.0
Delicious beans. But for some reason, eating them right before bed has a tendency to, ahem, backfire. Image by Jessica Rossi / CC BY-SA 2.0

Keep your clothes on

You’re happily packing away when a furry shape pops into your field of vision: a stray wombat, or the elusive yeti? No, just your roommate strolling around butt naked. Seeing an exceptionally hirsute backside on the bunk below me first thing in the morning wasn’t the best way to start my day when I shared a room with a nudist in an Australian hostel, and some tact is often required to ask them not to leave it all hanging out.

Pro tip: wanting to ‘get back to nature’ doesn’t equate to nudity, whether you’re male or female, average-looking or a love-god. Be sensitive that your neighbours might have differing comfort levels when it comes to big ol’ naked you – and don’t be shy about offering your exhibitionist bunkmates a towel.

Don’t be the guy with the phone

A loud ringtone breaks the early evening chatter, sending a wave of eye-rolling around the room. Your roommate frantically rummages in his backpack. The ring tone reaches a crescendo of vibrations and tinny Nokia beeps. He eventually retrieves it and lies back on his bed, squealing down the phone in excitement to his family back home.

Pro tip: leave your phone on vibrate, especially in the evenings. And if you’re going to answer, take it outside. It may be important to you, but no one else wants their socialising (or sleep) interrupted by what uncle Max has to tell you from back home.

Your dorm room should not look like a Mumbai laundry. Image by Andreas Eldh / CC BY 2.0
Your dorm room should not look like a Mumbai laundry. Image by Andreas Eldh / CC BY 2.0

Don’t be the dorm room slob

Your roommate is munching on her fifth pack of crisps as she lies on her bed, headphones in ears, bathrobe loosely wrapped around her. A gentle snow of crumbs drifts downwards as she dusts off her hands, descends from the bunk, and nimbly leaps over the heap of towels, travel guides and headphone cables that she’s dumped on the floor. Those lessons about tidiness you ignored while growing up? They’re coming back to haunt you.

Pro tip: in-room lockers are a godsend when it comes to stashing your gear safely in one place – use them, and nudge any slovenly roommates in their direction. If that fails, commenting loudly on how you’ve always wanted a pair of those expensive headphones is a good way to get your roommates to stow their gear out of sight.

Don’t lounge with laundry

The crisp-muncher is back, and this time she’s got laundry. She hangs her just-washed trekking gear around the dorm room, looping bras around bedposts and stringing her socks over the windowsill. As if that musty smell wasn’t enough, a pair of damp knickers has just fallen onto your pillow. Perfect.

Pro tip: most hostels have drying rooms where guests are encouraged to hang their wet clothes. Don’t be shy to remind your roomies if their smalls are decorating your bunk. If the drying racks are full, it’s a nice gesture to fold other people’s clothes (instead of tossing them to the side) before hanging yours up.

Donning the shower cap too early: rookie mistake if you're a hosteller. Image by Michael Coghlan / CC BY-SA 2.0
Donning the shower cap too early: rookie mistake if you're a hosteller queuing for a shared bathroom. Image by Michael Coghlan / CC BY-SA 2.0

No pinching

You’ve just got back from a long trek in the Peruvian Andes and you’re itching (literally) for a shower. You grab your shampoo, reach for your towel – and your hand brushes thin air. Someone has taken your one and only towel. While borrowing someone’s belongings is fine if you have their consent, taking them altogether is quite another.

Pro tip: your moral compass knows the difference between using a squirt of someone’s shampoo in moments of desperate need, and taking an item that isn’t yours (side note: that towel has likely rubbed areas you would otherwise not go anywhere near). If you need to borrow, ask. And try to keep your own essentials out of sight.