The Unwritten Rules Of Hostel Etiquette.

Staying in a hostel on your gap year

There are many unwritten rules about staying in hostels on your gap year, and these are rules that every backpacker staying in a hostel should learn and live by if they don’t want to become that guest that everyone hates.

Staying in a hostel is an almost quintessential part of backpacking around the world, and most backpackers do at some point spend at least part of their gap year sharing their temporary living space with anything up to a dozen strangers. This really isn’t as daunting as it sounds, in fact it can be a hell of a lot of fun and can even lead to some lasting friendships, or some explosively fun temporary ones! I’m not going to judge!

But in any hostel the shared space means that you will meet a wide variety of people from all over the world, and unfortunately this doesn’t always lead to some hippy commune ideal of peace and understanding where everyone gets along. The vast majority of people you met will be amazing, decent and respectful, but there is always the occasional muppet who thinks that they own the dorm and are above taking anyone else into consideration.

Don’t be that person.

In any hostel dorm there are some basic unspoken golden rules that you should follow if you want to get the most out of the experience, and if you want to avoid being that guy everyone hates and being lynched by your fellow backpackers at three in the morning.

Be Respectful. (Or Don’t Be A Dick!)

This is basic rule number one. It is common sense really. It’s what most people learned in our formative years in pre school when we had to learn to share our toys and not throw a strop when someone else wants to play in the sand pit. We even had those same lessons drilled into us sharing a flat or student halls at uni after we had hopefully grown up a little! The same rules still apply here and all they really boil down to is treat others with respect. Be nice. These are the little things like keeping the noise down if its late or cleaning up after yourself, even though there are a few people never seemed to bother learning them at all. In practice this just means remembering you aren’t the only one in the dorm and other people have needs too. Basically, don’t be a dick.

Be Quiet!

This is a pretty important one. We get you’re excited, we get you’re in a new place and you really want to get to know everyone, and yes we know you like playing your music, but seriously, some of us like to sleep too so just shut the hell up!

If you are out partying that’s fine, just don’t bring the damn party back with you at two in the morning and start crashing about or singing drinking songs! If the dorm is pretty social then that’s good too, just knock it off if others are trying to sleep.

Just use your common sense here, no one expects a dorm room to be quiet all of the time, we know people want to enjoy themselves, most of us can live with a snorer – within reason of course – and we understand it’s not your fault (that’s why we have earplugs), it is even fair to talk or move about or whatever during the day or most of the evening, but once it gets past 2300, just be considerate of people who may have to be up for an early flight or may simply just be tired from a long day and keep it down. And no, chatting to your mum, brother, boyfriend, girlfriend or second damn cousin twice removed on Skype or Zoom until the early hours isn’t cool either. Not unless you want your fancy new laptop to fly ungraciously out of the third floor window.

Be Prepared.

This is a more difficult one to get used to as you may not be used to thinking ahead in this way, but little things such as packing up the night before you leave so you aren’t making all sorts of noise packing and repacking when people are trying to sleep in the early hours, or taking the bottom bunk if you know you are going to be out late so you don’t disturb the person in the bunk underneath you as you clamber into bed, these and many more examples aren’t exactly compulsory, but they will be appreciated by your fellow travellers.

Watch The Lights.

Get a torch or use the ambient light on your damn phone. You are hereby warned. Turning the lights on at three in the morning is perfectly acceptable grounds for violence used against you.

Respect Other Peoples Space.

This is an important one, as space is often pretty sacred in a cramped dorm room. You wouldn’t like someone’s wet towel draped over your ladder or someone else’s stuff spread out all over your bed, so don’t do it to them either! It’s basic common courtesy. Just keep your clutter to a minimum and use the lockers provided. This isn’t just courtesy however, it will also help to stop anyone tripping over your pack or standing on your chargers plug when they get up for a pee in the middle of the night!

Keep It Clean!

C’mon people, I know backpackers have a reputation as stinky hobos but that doesn’t mean we actually have to live like one!

Just leave the place as you found it, or would like to find it, and that includes the communal kitchen and bathroom! It doesn’t take two minutes to clean up after yourself and no one likes to head to a communal kitchen with a sink full of dirty pots no one has bothered to clean or find all sorts of hair and other unmentionables in the shower! Just don’t be a filthy animal, is it that hard?

Dorm Rooms Are Not Porn Sets!

A lot of people hook up on the backpacker trail, it’s just a fact. New exciting places, exotic locales and plenty of hot people of both genders are a heady mix. When those people often have a lot in common, a shared passion for adventure and new experiences, raging hormones and quite often a fair amount of alcohol too, it is unavoidable.

Some people meet the love of their lives, others may have passionate short lived flings, for others still it may just be a simple one night stand, but people will have sex on their travels.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with that of course, in fact having a tale or two of overseas romance can be one of the highlights of any trip. That does not mean however I want to wake up and see your pasty pale arse bouncing up and down in the bunk next to mine!

If you want to have sex with someone you meet on the backpacker trail, then fine, just don’t do it on a bunk bed in a dorm room full of people! Get a private room for a night or find somewhere a little more discreet. And for crying out loud be safe!

Keep The Smells To Yourself!

Apart from the obvious rules on basic hygiene, (remember no one wants to share a dorm with the guy who thinks backpacking means he never has to wash – you know who you are!) If you have a penchant for smelly foods or are a world class farter, then do everyone a favour and think about other accommodation options.

Don’t Hog The Bathroom!

This one is self explanatory really. The more people there are in the dorm, the more people will need that bathroom, so if you want a place all to yourself to have that extra long steam shower, you may need to rethink that stay in a hostel dorm and spring for a private room instead. It’s just common courtesy really!

If It Isn’t Yours, Leave It Alone!

I can’t believe I have to say this at all, but it happens. This applies predominantly to that bottle of milk or bar of chocolate with someone’s name label on it in the fridge, but it also means any item. You wouldn’t like anyone touching your stuff without permission, so don’t touch theirs. It really is that simple.


These aren’t difficult rules to follow, or even understand. Most people should already instinctively know these really, I mean it is just basic decency, right?

It is all about showing some common courtesy and respect to your fellow travellers in the same way you would expect them to treat you. Manners cost nothing at the end of the day, after all.

It is fortunate that the people in hostels who do display this behaviour are in the absolute minority, the majority of people you met in the dorm are friendly and really respectful, so don’t worry. Just follow these simple unwritten rules the next time you rock up to a hostel and make sure you aren’t part of that minority the rest of the dorm can’t wait to get rid of.

Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.

A Beginners Guide To Hostel Rules And Etiquette On Your Gap Year.

Avoid Backpacker Burnout And Enjoy Your Inner Flashpacker.

Backpacker Accomodation Alternatives: Beyond The Hostel.

How To Find And Choose The Perfect Hostel On Your Gap Year.

Is Airbnb Unethical And Irresponsible?

Top Tips On Choosing A Good Backpacker Hostel On Your Gap Year.

Michael Huxley is a published author, professional adventurer and founder of the travel website, Bemused Backpacker. He has spent the last twenty years travelling to over 100 countries on almost every continent, slowly building Bemused Backpacker into a successful business after leaving a former career in emergency nursing and travel medicine, and continues to travel the world on numerous adventures every year.

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29 comments on “The Unwritten Rules Of Hostel Etiquette.
  1. globalmouse says:

    I stayed in a hostel with my friend once and we forgot to turn off her talking alarm clock. I will never forget the very loud “Cock-a-doodle-doo it is five am, Cock-a-doodle-doo it is five am” ringing out and some very angry and quite threatening room mates as a consequence. So accidents do happen! That said if someone else’s alarm woke me up I wouldn’t be very happy!

    Great list of tips!

    • Oops!! Haha! Bet you were really popular at breakfast! Don’t worry I’m sure most people saw it as the accident it was. It’s when people do stuff like that on purpose the mob can turn! Thank you for commenting!

  2. love this. I haven’t stayed in a hostel before, so this gives a really good all round description of what to expect, and better yet how I should approach them in future! Thanks 🙂

    • You’re welcome, and thank you for taking the time to comment. Don’t worry the majority of the people you will meet in hostels are actually pretty cool, it is only the minority who may act like that, so don’t let this put you off!

  3. Susan says:

    Good job, Bemused Backpacker! All I can add is what Globalmouse said about the alarm clock. In my experience the owner normally forgets about setting it and goes to the toilet or shower and it is normally locked in their bag! So it goes and goes and goes at 6am.

  4. Pretraveller says:

    Nice! Having spent a lot of time in hostels I totally agree with all of your points! I once shared a dorm with a guy who snored like a chainsaw… I did not get much sleep that night. So while a certain level of tolerance is there for the average snorer if you know you have a bad case please get your own private room…

  5. Jo says:

    I was in a hostel in Dublin just last week when the guy in the bunk opposite me bought back his new ‘friend’. While they were busy getting…busy, the bunk above me started to shake. At first I lay there in disbelief – was the guy above me getting off on the people opposite me? Too much! Then I realised he was laughing, a lot. When he couldn’t contain his laughter any more, I joined in, laughing loudly. Minutes later, the girl slunk out of the room, problem solved 🙂

  6. Neil Barnes says:

    ‘Dorm rooms are not porn sets’ – amen! Great list, its all about respect as you say. Sometimes mess or the odd late night cant be helped, but in that case a quick ‘sorry’ to your dorm mates will nearly always right your wrong.

    Good read buddy!

    • Exactly! It may not sound like it from this list but backpackers are generally an easy going bunch and a sincere sorry will go a very long way for the occasional protocol lapse. It’s when those lapses are done without consideration or respect that we tend to get cranky! Thank you so much for the compliment and for commenting.

  7. Stef says:

    Great rules, they should be signed by everyone staying in a hostel haha I love the hostel in the beginning. The one where every bed comes with a board and a light – why can’t every hostel be like this? It would probably stop people from switching on the “big” light in the room at 3 am 😉 Where is this hostel? 😉
    Have a great week!

  8. Black Frog Publishing says:

    Love this post. Just what every new traveller needs to know and what a few experienced ones should be reminded of. And just for the record, hanging a sarong from the top bunk does not conceal the fact that you are ‘bunking up’ with someone. Love your work Bemused Backpacker.

  9. The best alternative to dorm sex? The rooftop of the hostel 🙂

  10. Michela says:

    Having travelled around Australia for a long time I have experienced all of the above. I feel hostels’ management plays an important role in educating their guests to hostel life as well as the personal ability to become aware of your surrounding and adjust to situations. Great list of educating tips!

    • Absolutely agree Michela, some of the best hostels I have been in is where the management and staff take an active interest in the hostel experience. It’s not about being dictatorial with rules, but about creating an atmosphere of respect. Thanks so much for stopping by. 🙂

  11. Syd says:

    lol the fact that most people seem incapable of following these rules is why I hate hostels. Give me a tent any day.

    • Haha I love camping too! Hostels aren’t that bad, I have to say these people are generally not the majority. Most people I meet in hostels are pretty considerate for the most part.

  12. Deepika says:

    Haven’t really ever stayed in a hostel. I am now thinking of doing it!!

  13. Betty vega says:

    What about people that weak up late 9:30-10!! Ehat about all other that are weaking up like 8-9… At what time is a good time to turn the light on in the morinig???

  14. Rob says:

    Keeping quiet and keeping the light off are a big one.
    I was in a dorm in Reykjavik recently and was fast asleep (as were two others in the room) when a couple of Irish girls came back around midnight, switched their (very bright) bedside lamp on and started whispering about their for a good 15mins, then stopped, starting talking again, stopped then started again before I snapped and forcefully told them to shut up. Their response ‘it’s a dorm room what do you expect?’
    If only she’d read this first..

    • I feel your pain! I would have replied with how about some basic common courtesy and consideration? Just because they were in a dorm it doesn’t mean those things no longer exist! Thanks so much for the comment. 🙂

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Hi, I'm Michael! I'm a former nurse turned published author and world travelling professional adventurer! I have spent over twenty years travelling over 100 countries and I want to inspire you to do the same! Want to know more about me? Just click here!

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