Dos and Don’ts of Dorm Rooms

Living a nomadic life can mean many things, one of which is never staying in the one place for longer than a few days, weeks or months tops. To the average backpacker if you’re not camping or sleeping on a friends couch, this means many nights spent in various dorm rooms across countries and continents. I’ve had my fair share of interesting moments in hostel dorm rooms that range from 4 to 30 beds and met many different personalities in each room I have slept in. Of the many things that I have taken away from this, the main are making friends for life and bags upon bags (designer of course) under my eyes from sleepless nights. This could be self inflicted from partying too hard, but more often than not was due to various instances of a lapse in etiquette from my fellow bunk mates.

I’ve decided to write up a helpful list of dos and don’ts in dorm rooms as certain practices aren’t always upheld the world over and there are some things that might be acceptable in your country, but not in another. I’ve also had to learn to change some of my personal habits, so don’t think this is a list just to berate everyone. So, if you’re new to the life of extended travel or have never stayed in a hostel before, hopefully this will be a good tool to use when dealing with new people in a new country. Let’s try and show some consideration whilst travelling to make it not just an enjoyable experience for you, but those you’re sharing the same space with.

Here it goes!

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Do strike up a conversation with your bunk buddies:

Start with a simple “Hey, where are you from?” and go from there! I have made some fantastic friends around the world by piping up first to ask questions about why they are in town and what they are looking forward to doing and/or seeing. Sure, there have been plenty of people I know straight up that I won’t mesh well with, but you can often find a real gem to spend time with for the few days you have in town and some great laughs to reflect on fondly for years to come.

Don’t get completely naked while getting dressed in a mixed sex room:

I am all for being comfortable in your own body. I can also say that I’ve been a culprit of walking around a dorm room in my underwear to save time getting ready if the bathroom was in use as getting dressed is always the last thing I do before stepping out the door, but this isn’t common for everyone else. What we need to realise is that this practice can make others uncomfortable and that can be both in a mixed room or an all girl or boy dorm! For some cultures it can be against their religious beliefs or even the countries laws to expose yourself to certain extents and you don’t want to end up in an altercation, or worse, jail for not keeping yourself covered in the room around the opposite sex. I realised pretty early on that it made some people uncomfortable for me to get ready in a bra and undies. Do your research before you head anywhere to know what levels of nudity are ok. In France it’s totally normal for people to get fully naked, in Turkey, it’s not appropriate at all.

I obviously can only talk about this from a female perspective as it is more accepted for a guy to walk around topless (we still have a fair way to go with progression – #freethenipple), but as a woman I’ve seen my openness to the human body isn’t as accepted or appreciated amongst others and I can’t walk around as if it’s my bedroom at home, so you shouldn’t either. Unless it’s agreed by the rest of your dorm mates that it’s ok, keep yourself covered up, meaning fully clothed or at least with a towel.

Do keep your designated area relatively clean:

Some people prefer neat and orderly travel, others prefer their belongings to look as if a 2 year old threw their clothes in the bag and called it a day. It’s understandable that your backpack/suitcase won’t stay contained. I personally am VERY neatly packed, but when in one place for a long time I don’t care if my clothes get a bit mixed up. This is where lockers come in handy because then we can hide it all safely inside a locked box. If there is a locker, use it. Better to keep your things safe and hidden. A big problem though is those being so lazy as to leave their rubbish strewn around such as paper, snack packets and bottles when there are designated bins. Doing this just makes the place dirty, smelly, often sticky and can invite creepy crawlers into the room, especially in summer. Pick up after yourself and others will too.

Don’t leave the door wide open to your dorm:

This one is clearly just a safety reason. If the doors have locks, then lock it after you leave, or at least close it over. I once stayed in a mixed dorm where 8 girls all checked out of the 12 bed dorm at different times of the morning and EACH person left the door wide open after them, while myself and the remaining guys were trying to sleep. I didn’t understand the logic as the room was opposite the showers, so not the most quiet location to leave a door open multiple times. You also don’t want your stuff stolen and neither do I, nor do you want to be woken up before you’re meant to be up, so close the door!

Do sleep at the opposite end of the bed to your phone charger:

I’m not a tosser and turner, but God damn it I don’t want to admit the amount of times I’ve accidentally rolled over in my sleep onto my charger cord, only for the plug to fall out of the wall and hit me square in the face. Not a fun wakeup call and too many painful bumps on the head to count! Maybe you don’t roll over in your bed, but plugs can be located in odd spots to accommodate for so many beds, and are usually up high on the wall so they can fall out easily if its not a fitted socket. By sleeping at the opposite end to your charging phone, you’ll avoid extra bruises and also won’t be tempted to check it during the night. If it’s your alarm it’ll force you to sit up to turn it off, meaning you’ll get your day started, rather than falling back asleep. Which leads me to my next point…

Don’t set 10 alarms and snooze each and every one of them:

I know getting up in the morning is hard. I am the worst morning person you will ever meet. I don’t want anyone to talk to me until 12pm, but when backpacking I force myself to wake up when my singular alarm goes off and put on a smile. No one wants to hear a siren sounding alarm going off, especially 10 times from 6am. If you’re travelling with a friend/s and not great at waking yourself up, ask someone in your group to wake you up when their alarm goes off. Setting one alarm between a group compared to multiple individual alarms with multiple presses of the snooze button will be far more practical. Then you won’t have to deal with wants-to-punch-you-in-the-face Leah and will instead meet hates-mornings-but-will-still-smile-at-you Leah. I also don’t want to sound like a repetitive wanker, but other travellers in your room might actually want to sleep later than you, be considerate.

Do pack your bag the night before:

It’s not fair on your bunk mates if you are packing clothes, opening lockers, rustling plastic bags and zipping up suitcases for 2 hours because you chose not to make your life easy by packing your bag the night before. By ensuring everything is ready the night before so you only have to get up, get changed and hit the road, you’ll get extra sleep and so will everyone else in your room. Can you tell by now that I love my sleep??

Don’t have sex in a full dorm room:

We all get it, you want to have a big night and maybe want to involve someone else in your fun, but no one wants to view and especially hear you getting down and dirty with a guy/girl you’ve just met. Most hostels offer private rooms, so book one that you can then split the cost of as it’s normally the price of 2 bunks in a dorm. If you’re a couple, not just a hook up, it is often easier to book private rooms in advance for your whole travel journey especially if you prefer your privacy. If nothing can stop you from getting your rocks off with the hottie in your hostel then it’s possibly better to maybe do it in the middle of the day as it’s likely most people will be out exploring the city giving you some time alone. However, I know when alcohol is involved it doesn’t always equal great judgement, so if you must bang bodies in the middle of the night, how about heading for the bathroom with the door locked of course. At least then you’ll have items close to hand for the clean up?

Do ask for help:

If you’re not sure where things are located in the hostel or haven’t researched much for the city you have just arrived to, how will you find an answer if you don’t ask? They say that no question is a dumb question, well some are, but ask anyway! Who cares if it’s going to give you some peace of mind or solves a problem. If your locker gets jammed, ask for help. If the wifi password isn’t working, ask for help. If you want to buy some groceries, but don’t know where the nearest store is located, ask for help. It’ll make your stay less complicated if you just, you got it… ASK FOR HELP!

Don’t spread your flu germs around:

Pretty simple basic rules of hygiene, right? Apparently not. I’ve found not many know this, but if you’re sick with some variation of the flu, please at least try and contain your germs by washing your hands and covering your mouth when you’re coughing up a lung. I know everyone feels like death when travelling with an illness, but it’s the little things that make people in your room less repulsed by you. It’s inevitable in a small space that others will catch what you have. I’ve been sick 3 times in the past 7 months from catching something from someone in my dorm room. People just feel slightly better of their chances of escaping the dreaded flu if you at least cover your mouth when you cough and blow your nose into a tissue, rather than having to listen to endless sniffles and watching you wipe your snot on the bed sheets. Yes, I’ve seen that happen before…

Do go on the pub crawl:

If you’re travelling extensively, obviously you don’t have to do this in every city as it would get pretty exhausting, unless you’re on a booze trip, then definitely go right ahead! If you’re sitting around with a bunch of your fellow bunk buddies and the option comes up, either with a local company or just as a rowdy bunch of guests from your hostel, they are always helpful to get you to loosen up in a new location and meet some pretty fun people. Even if you’re not big on drinking, it’s just a nice way to meet cool people from all around the world while having some terrible tasting free shots. It’s how I’ve made friends being a solo traveller as it forces communication, even if it’s slurred!

Don’t turn all the lights on in the room when everyone else is sleeping:

Have you ever been on the top bunk and woken up at 3am because someone either drunk or departing the hostel has turned on all the lights in the room? I have and it’s shit. I have learned from this and always sleep with an eye mask, but there is only so much it can block out when you’re on the top bunk with a huge fluorescent light inches from your face. Don’t do things to other people you wouldn’t want done to you. Pretty simple, right?

Do check all the nooks and crannies of the hostel:

When you first arrive take 15 minutes to walk around and explore everything that your hostel has to offer. Find out where the bathrooms are if not in your room and if the power points are near to your bed. Rather than holing yourself up in your bunk whenever you’re on the premises you might discover that the hostel has a great common room with a TV, a rooftop bar where you can grab drinks with fellow travellers, or a free food spot in the kitchen you can grab leftover packets of pasta or rice from. As an example, one hostel I stayed at, each floor was split either side of the staircase. Everyone in the two rooms on my side of the first floor thought there was only one toilet, which was located in the bathroom with the only shower. I chose to explore and found another door with a single toilet and sink, along with a second shower and toilet room. This meant there were actually 3 toilets and two showers on our floor and everyone had been complaining how there was only the one toilet that they couldn’t use if someone was in the shower. Moral of the story, if one door is closed, open all the other ones so you don’t pee your pants.

Don’t listen to a movie/music/video without earphones:

I love watching my netflix and listening to my iTunes in my down time, but I do this with my earphones in because I know not everyone will appreciate my fantastic, yet personal taste in music. Unless you’ve asked your roomies prior and it’s been agreed for you to play your tunes on speaker, then keep the noise down. It just doesn’t gel very well in a dorm if 3 people are playing music at once and another person is watching a movie. Plug in your headphones and enjoy as an audience of one.

Do smile and say hello to all the hostel staff, including the cleaners:

It doesn’t hurt to be friendly and your face won’t melt off from a simple smile. These guys are looking after you, they clean up after the endless mess of backpackers (which you should be partly doing yourself anyways from my previous point!), offer lots of information on the city and often provide free breakfast. The staff get paid a shitty wage and work all hours, but deserve your respect whether they are the cleaners, receptionist or owner of the business. Which leads me again to my next point…

Do try to make friends with the staff:

If you can get in good with the staff, they are the ones that know the best/secret/hidden gems of the city. If you’re on a tight budget they can also get you some freebies, like free club entrance, or discounts on restaurants that aren’t affiliated with the hostel. Basically, staff that work in hostels are generally really cool and down to earth people to hang out with. I don’t condone making friends for selfish reasons such as only taking from the generous nature of the staff. I genuinely love all the close friendships I’ve made with staff at the hostels I’ve stayed at and I have found it far more fun hanging out with locals. It also helps to be with someone that speaks the local language!

Don’t talk on the phone in the room after lights out:

Again, this is just being considerate to others that are sleeping. Most hostels have a no noise policy after 10pm/11pm at night, so I personally believe that means in dorms too. Some of the guests are up early for tours, or just don’t want to hear your conversation with your Mum no matter if they understand the language you’re speaking or not. If you need to make a call take it to the common room in the hostel or into the reception area.

Do email your hostel if your arrival time changes:

I have stayed in hostels that aren’t 24hrs or don’t even offer reception between 8am-10pm, this type of owner only arrives to let you in for the time you have stated on your booking. They don’t have the time to wait around for someone who decided to get a later bus/train etc to the location, or if your flight has been delayed. Try and find some wifi to contact the hostel if you are delayed so you aren’t greeted with an angry owner. Also, read the fine print of the hostels T&Cs as they may have the right to reallocate your bed if you don’t arrive within an hour of your specified time. You don’t want to end up without a place to stay because you didn’t update the owner with a simple email of your delayed status!

Do tell your bunk buddies if you are a snorer or sleep talker:

With dorm rooms comes the inevitable consequence of people that snore. It sucks to be kept awake by 3 different frequencies of chainsaw, ahem, I mean snoring and personally I am quite a light sleeper (even wearing earplugs), so always get woken up in dorm rooms, but snoring just comes with the territory of sleeping in hostels. If people want a night of uninterrupted sleep they can obviously book a hotel for that luxury, but it always seems to make people less hostile and less likely to shake you awake in the middle of the night if they are pre-warned to the possibility of experiencing the human version of a lawn mower. Not to put it all on the snorers as I can be a culprit for sleep talking, so I always apologise in advance that they may be talking to me in the night, but I might not actually be awake for it. Then I always get a laugh in the morning about any of the crazy conversations I might of had with someone in my room while I was sleeping.

Do bring snacks from your home country:

 When travelling foreign food can make you feel so far away from home and I know many travellers that like to bring along their favourite treats to give them a small piece of home. Why not bring shareable treats so you can offer some to your bunk buddies and make friends through your generous offer. Being Australian my favourite to take is fantails as they have fun movie trivia on the wrapping that internationals LOVE reading and having a laugh about. Sharing is caring!

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Now after all of these dos and don’ts maybe you have a better perspective of how to navigate the crazy world of international dorm rooms and also hopefully no one has been offended if you do any of the things off this list. We have all grown up with different ideals, but following a few of these simple suggestions will make for a more cohesive experience in shared accommodation for everyone.

♥ Love from Leah