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Hostel Etiquette: How To Make Friends And Not Be An Ass

Hosteling is an art. We'll help you hone your skills.

Hostels & Lodging

Originally posted October 1, 2011. Updated February 25, 2017

My Midwestern roots make me hypersensitive to being polite. It is a sickness. I’ve been known to take my backpack into the hallway when people are sleeping so I won’t disturb anyone.

There are many unwritten rules to hostel etiquette and after spending a few weeks in a hostel you’ll start to pick up on the little annoying/rude things people do. I think most “infractions” boil down to being inexperienced with hostel living, but there are a few cardinal rules that every hosteler should be aware of.

The Unwritten Rules Of Hostel Life

Here are The Savvy Backpacker’s unwritten rules to being a good hostel goer.

Clean Your Own Dishes

Hostels with kitchens are great, but many people just leave their dirty dishes in the sink. This isn’t cool. Even if you only use a cup – wash it. It only takes 2 minutes so there are no excuses.

Pack Your Crap Early

When I have to check-out of the hostel super early I always get everything ready and shower the night before.  I make sure everything is packed, and I set out my outfit for the next day. The next morning I get dressed, stash my sleeping clothes and I’m out of the room in 5 minutes. I do my best to keep as quiet as possible. This concept is lost on many people. There aren’t many things more annoying than someone spending 30 minutes loudly packing all of their belongings at 5 am.

The next morning I get dressed, stash my sleeping clothes and I’m out of the room in 5 minutes. I do my best to keep as quiet as possible. This concept is lost on many people. There aren’t many things more annoying than someone spending 30 minutes loudly packing all of their belongings at 5 am.

Keep The Lights Off When You’re Late

Every hostel has one jerk who barges into the room and flips the lights on at 3 am. Most rooms aren’t pitch black so just take 30 seconds to let your eyes to adjust to the light before finding your bed. Or use a key chain flashlight or the light from your phone.

No Parties In The Dorm Room

The dorm room isn’t for drinking games, it’s for sleeping. Almost every hostel has a room for parties. Keep it there.

All Is Fair After 8 am

Rule 37 of the Geneva Convention – Thou shall not get pissed at the people packing/getting ready for their day if the time is after 8 am.  In our humble opinion, after 8 am people are free to do whatever they please so don’t all get pissy because you’re hungover. There is no such thing as sleeping in when you’re at a hostel.

Plastic Bags Suck

For some reason, the sound of plastic bags is about 100x louder from about 1am-8am. Every crinkle goes straight to your brain. Unfortunately, a lot of people pack all their junk in various plastic bags.  Please keep your plastic bag usage time during the day.

Snoring

Sleep on your side if you snore. Tell your roommates that it’s cool if they hit you with a pillow if you start snoring. Get your own room is you’re a crazy loud snorer.

Don’t Hog The Heaters

The radiator is a great place to dry your towel/wet clothes, but try not to hog it all day. Conversely, don’t just throw people’s towels onto the floor when you want to use the heater – fold it neatly and place it somewhere.

Keep Night Whispers To A Minimum

Whispering late at night isn’t much better than normal talking. This isn’t the time to have a deep philosophical discussion.

Alarm Clocks

Most people use their phone as an alarm clock. This isn’t a problem. But please don’t stash your phone somewhere deep in your bag because scrambling through it for 5 minutes while the alarm goes off is pretty damn annoying. Make sure you put your phone in an accessible location. On a related note: the snooze is prohibited.

Loud Drunks

Getting drunk is fine, but leave the loud drunk-talk at the bar.

Don’t Hog The Bathroom

Get in, get out. Enough said.

Don’t Eat Other People’s Food

Just because something is in the refrigerator doesn’t mean anyone can eat it. Stealing someone’s alcohol is a big no-no.

Dirty Laundry

I really don’t have a problem with people drying their laundry in the room – but keep it confined to your bed. I really don’t want to deal with your dirty socks hung about the bathroom and across the sink.

Guitar Dude

Seriously? You’re so damn cool with your guitar. It really shows how you’re so unique. Please don’t play it in the room…. actually, don’t play it in the hostel.

Don’t Confine Yourself To Your Group

Traveling with friends can be great, but make an effort to talk to other people. Make solo-travelers feel welcome. Walking into a dorm room to find a bunch of buddies that completely ignore your presence is disheartening, I know from experience.

Don’t Abuse Free Internet

Just because the internet is free doesn’t mean you can spend all day using the hostel computer. You really shouldn’t need to spend more than 10 minutes on the computer. Check your email, book your next hostel, and leave.

How To Be A Hostel Hero

Alright, enough of the negative. Let’s talk about ways to make friends while staying in a hostel.

Talk to Solo Travelers

If you’re traveling in a group you should go out of your way to talk to solo travelers. As someone who has done a lot of solo travel, I always loved it when groups made an effort to include me because it can be intimidating to talk to a group of established friends.

Make An Effort To Intorduce Yourself

One of the best ways to meet people is to simply introduce yourself. I know it sounds simple but it’s something I know I’m guilty of doing.

Buy (Cheap) Beer

Everyone loves you if you give them free beer. That’s why I’ll buy a case of cheap beer and hand it out around dinner time. It’s the best €10 you can spend.

Organize a Group Meal

If your hostel has a kitchen, and you can cook, then you should try organizing a meal. Have everyone throw in a bit of money and make a big meal. Even something as simple as spaghetti is a great option.

Bring A Power Strip

Hostels never seem to have enough power outlets — especially that everyone travels with loads of electronics. Pack a travel power strip and you’ll be a hero. The power strips with USB ports are extra great.

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Hostels & Lodging

  • Jon H

    lol. this is so true. so many travelers break all these rules. people that don’t pack the night before might be the worst people alive.

  • Glenn

    I had to laugh at the plastic bag part. There is nothing more annoying than someone rummaging through what sounds like a collection of plastic bags to find whatever crap they want out of their bag. They only ever seem to do it at 5am, too.

  • Hilary

    The solo travelers using the hostel wifi for their Facebook accounts 24/7 really get to me. I understand travel fatigue, and I understand loneliness, but you’re in a foreign country! Being a bit vulnerable and getting out of your comfort zone is the best part of travel. I love it when strangers say, “Hey, can I join you for dinner? Where are you headed tonight?” It makes people far less approachable when they are are wired in constantly on Ipods and laptops and cellphones in the rooms.

    • Anonymous

      I totally agree. Technology is great but you can’t let it tie you down. Thanks for the comment.

  • Hilary

    The solo travelers using the hostel wifi for their Facebook accounts 24/7 really get to me. I understand travel fatigue, and I understand loneliness, but you’re in a foreign country! Being a bit vulnerable and getting out of your comfort zone is the best part of travel. I love it when strangers say, “Hey, can I join you for dinner? Where are you headed tonight?” It makes people far less approachable when they are are wired in constantly on Ipods and laptops and cellphones in the rooms.

    • savvybackpacker

      I totally agree. Technology is great but you can’t let it tie you down. Thanks for the comment.

  • S. Goyette

    I would also like to add “Don’t come home at 2am and masturbate in your dorm room with other people in the room.” This has happened twice to my guy friend — once in an all-male dorm and once when we (I’m female) were in a mixed dorm together! (Thankfully that time I was sound asleep and missed it.)

    • wearytraveler

      Oh gads- I was staying at the notorious Bob’s Youth Hostel in Amsterdam back in 1981. I was in the upper bunk. At about 1 AM the bunk starts rocking and I hear a rather loud “uh uh uh uh uh” coming from below. After a couple of minutes of this I stick my head over the side of the bed and the guy is stark naked on top of the sheets going at it. I said “Really?” only to get a “Mind your own f’ing business!” in a heavy Scottish accent….

  • S. Goyette

    I would also like to add “Don’t come home at 2am and masturbate in your dorm room with other people in the room.” This has happened twice to my guy friend — once in an all-male dorm and once when we (I’m female) were in a mixed dorm together! (Thankfully that time I was sound asleep and missed it.)

    • wearytraveler

      Oh gads- I was staying at the notorious Bob’s Youth Hostel in Amsterdam back in 1981. I was in the upper bunk. At about 1 AM the bunk starts rocking and I hear a rather loud “uh uh uh uh uh” coming from below. After a couple of minutes of this I stick my head over the side of the bed and the guy is stark naked on top of the sheets going at it. I said “Really?” only to get a “Mind your own f’ing business!” in a heavy Scottish accent….

  • Pat

    super informative, thanks

  • Lonnie

    As far as farting goes I think it’s safe to say that: silent ones are cool, smelly news are for the fool, wet ones get you a dirty look, and actual doody gets you an angry shout from the cook.

  • Lonnie

    As far as farting goes I think it’s safe to say that: silent ones are cool, smelly news are for the fool, wet ones get you a dirty look, and actual doody gets you an angry shout from the cook.

  • ad

    Guitar dude ….. the professional traveller AKA mobile tramp

  • ad

    Guitar dude ….. the professional traveller AKA mobile tramp

  • Jesse

    Regarding the snoring suggestion. If you are a heavy snorer, and don’t want to ruin everyone else’s night, consider purchasing an anti-snoring mouthpiece. There are a million options out there, but the ZQuiet mouthpiece has worked for me, and it’s comfortable to wear.

    In addition to saving my relationship, it also spares countless fellow travelers the pain of listening to my snoring. Cheers.

  • Jesse

    Regarding the snoring suggestion. If you are a heavy snorer, and don’t want to ruin everyone else’s night, consider purchasing an anti-snoring mouthpiece. There are a million options out there, but the ZQuiet mouthpiece has worked for me, and it’s comfortable to wear.

    In addition to saving my relationship, it also spares countless fellow travelers the pain of listening to my snoring. Cheers.

  • Clayton Knipe

    I love your whole site. It’s amazing. I’ve read almost all of it and learnt a TON! One thing though… You really don’t like guitar, do you? Also, no I’m serious, do a lot of travellers feel this way about guitar dude? Because, I want to bring it but I don’t want to be an outcast (I’ll be already enough as it is by being foreign).

    • savvybackpacker

      Haha, don’t worry about it. Bring it if you want. I’m just jealous that I can’t play. The girls usually love it and that’s always a good thing.

      • Clayton Knipe

        Hahaha! Well, that’s honest. Don’t worry, I’ll give you lessons if I run into you in ‘Pest or Zurich. No but I do know what you’re talking about-guitar players are notorious for being obnoxious and playing whenever and just trying to draw attention to themselves. I try to act more like a piano player as much as I can; soft, sweet, sensitive and always reluctant to show my amazing “how come this guy isn’t famous!” talent and then simply mumble, “oh, it’s nothing really. I’m no good.”-ness but the guitar just seems to bring an air of arrogance wherever it goes.

  • Clayton Knipe

    I love your whole site. It’s amazing. I’ve read almost all of it and learnt a TON! One thing though… You really don’t like guitar, do you? Also, no I’m serious, do a lot of travellers feel this way about guitar dude? Because, I want to bring it but I don’t want to be an outcast (I’ll be already enough as it is by being foreign).

    • savvybackpacker

      Haha, don’t worry about it. Bring it if you want. I’m just jealous that I can’t play. The girls usually love it and that’s always a good thing.

      • Clayton Knipe

        Hahaha! Well, that’s honest. Don’t worry, I’ll give you lessons if I run into you in ‘Pest or Zurich. No but I do know what you’re talking about-guitar players are notorious for being obnoxious and playing whenever and just trying to draw attention to themselves. I try to act more like a piano player as much as I can; soft, sweet, sensitive and always reluctant to show my amazing “how come this guy isn’t famous!” talent and then simply mumble, “oh, it’s nothing really. I’m no good.”-ness but the guitar just seems to bring an air of arrogance wherever it goes.

  • Brad

    What’s the problem with guitars? Being a professional musician I couldn’t imagine leaving my guitar for more than a couple of weeks, it’s a great way to get some people together, teach someone something new and if you’re short on cash put a hat out on the street. I honestly do not understand the hate for backpacking musicians, it’s something people dedicate their lives to, not a prop for hooking up.

    I really like this blog and I’m using to plan my trip, but that comment about musicians is pretty sour.

    • Johhny

      Agreed. There’s definitely a difference between the guitar douche and the traveling musician. But I think one thing you can learn from his comment is that people may mistake the traveling musician for the guitar douche. I think it’s something we all sort of have to accept, especially guitar players.

  • Brad

    What’s the problem with guitars? Being a professional musician I couldn’t imagine leaving my guitar for more than a couple of weeks, it’s a great way to get some people together, teach someone something new and if you’re short on cash put a hat out on the street. I honestly do not understand the hate for backpacking musicians, it’s something people dedicate their lives to, not a prop for hooking up.

    I really like this blog and I’m using to plan my trip, but that comment about musicians is pretty sour.

    • Johhny

      Agreed. There’s definitely a difference between the guitar douche and the traveling musician. But I think one thing you can learn from his comment is that people may mistake the traveling musician for the guitar douche. I think it’s something we all sort of have to accept, especially guitar players.

  • Josh Cook

    Hey guys, Im actually planning on a solo backpacking trip for July (yes i know its peak season but thats the only time i could get off! lol) Im starting in Rome and im heading North to Florence, now im heading toward Genoa/Cinque Terra area after Florence….what towns off the coast would you recommend for a solo backpacker? where would other solo backpackers typically be heading in this area?? Ill be meeting a friend in Milan shortly after…just trying to think of a good area where i can hostel for 2-3 days before i head up and meet him. Definitely going to be aiming for some trails/beaches/cafes/restaurants/nightlife.

    Thanks!

    Josh

  • Josh Cook

    Hey guys, Im actually planning on a solo backpacking trip for July (yes i know its peak season but thats the only time i could get off! lol) Im starting in Rome and im heading North to Florence, now im heading toward Genoa/Cinque Terra area after Florence….what towns off the coast would you recommend for a solo backpacker? where would other solo backpackers typically be heading in this area?? Ill be meeting a friend in Milan shortly after…just trying to think of a good area where i can hostel for 2-3 days before i head up and meet him. Definitely going to be aiming for some trails/beaches/cafes/restaurants/nightlife.

    Thanks!

    Josh

  • At first, living in a hostel looks horrible, but if you just let it happen and be patient, it makes you learn a lot. Your post is really helpful for those who are living in hostels are wanting to live in the future.

  • At first, living in a hostel looks horrible, but if you just let it happen and be patient, it makes you learn a lot. Your post is really helpful for those who are living in hostels are wanting to live in the future.

  • Andrew Cariboni

    Yes!!! So true. I’m a snorer and I had an elderly man start shaking me in a foreign language in the middle of the night. l was barely awake as he yelled at me haha. Pretty hilarious. Now I definitely sleep on my side.

    • mediabrainwash

      Well, book a private if you know you are. Lucky they did not punch you. As i type this, three snorers are keeping all awake and it is 5 am. snorers should book privates.

  • Blake Babbs

    Im a little kid and I shouldnt see these bad words

  • Valerie – Trusted Travel Girl

    This is a great article! When I was in Paris I stayed in a hostel and had really bad roommates so I understand this post! Wish I could share it with them now!

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