As I cowered and cringed in the corner of my shower stall, aiming my shower sprayer and as much hot water as that little spout could muster towards the encroaching morning pee of the socially maladjusted cretin in the neighboring stall, the rules of hostel survival and etiquette suddenly became very clear to me. I thought I would share some of the pet peeves we’ve developed and ins-n-outs of communal living that we’ve picked up along the way…
Rule No. 1 – ALWAYS wear your flip flops in the shower.
On this particularly traumatic morning, I chose to mind my dorm manners and not go rummaging and rifling through my backpack for my buried flops at the early hour that it was.
Rule No. 2 – If you are sleeping in a dorm and must get up at an early hour, prepare your things the night before. Turning the light on and off, searching for your passport and toothbrush, rummaging through and zipping and unzipping your backpack repeatedly at 5AM is no way to make friends.
In choosing to forego my footwear in favor of rule number two, I slighted rule number one and ended up being reduced to a shuddering pile of heebie-jeebies by the person in the next stall who was obliterating rule number three.
Rule No. 3 – Do NOT pee in a shared shower. Gross, gross, and ew! If you do it at home, that is your business. At home, no one else needs to stand in your business. It’s bad enough that the shower drains in the hostels are often slow leaving you to wade in your own soap scummy water while you try to convince yourself that you were the first in after housekeeping. Who needs the added ‘ish’ factor of knowing that their suds are mixing around with your morning coffee? “But I got in there and the water came on and I just had to,” you’ll say. Ever heard of going pee before you get in the shower? Try it. And please try to remember: especially do not pee in the shower if the partition between stalls does not go all the way to the floor AND even more especially if there is someone in the next stall!
There are buckets of others things you can do to be a better communal dweller. Try practicing the following courtesies to improve your popularity and to survive the hostel trail.
Rule No. 4 – If you’re arriving late have your jammies ready in your pack. Or, get your things situated in the hall or bathroom before going into the dorm. In line with Rule No. 2, a well-rested bunkmate is a less hostile bunkmate.
Rule No. 5 – Don’t press snooze! For crying outside, grow up and get out of bed when the alarm goes off. Everybody woke up with you the first time it went off and empathized with your unfortunate early wake-up call. Our understanding wears thin with the sound of duck quacks or robot beeps repeating themselves every nine minutes, though.
Rule No. 6 – Respect others right to party. There are plenty of karma points to be scored by being stealth while your fellow travelers catch their Z’s but the light sleepers need to respect the night owls, too. If you prefer a quiet night, bring ear plugs along and avoid booking a dorm at a hostel known for its daily drinking games and reverse happy hour specials. If you are kept up late or woken up, don’t come unglued. Try to meditate your way through it, take some time to catch up on your blog, or try the tried and true method of ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.’ If all else fails, ask politely for the merry-revelers to keep it down.
Rule No. 7 – STOP eating other people’s food! I can’t believe I had to type that but it happens all. the. time. In which boorish society were you raised to think that you can go into a refrigerator and remove food that you clearly did not purchase or prepare? You are the same jerk who eats someone else’s lunch at the office, aren’t you? You probably pee in the shower, too.
Rule No. 8 – If you’re sick, spend a little extra money for a private room. It’s better for your rest and better for the health of everyone else. You’ll be over the sore throat and sniffles much faster if you are well-rested and you don’t really want to share your soup-poop woes with an entire dorm, anyway, do you? Nobody else wants you to, either.
Rule No. 9 – Go easy on the plastic bags. People seem to really enjoy packing their things into multitudes of obnoxious, crinkly, crackly plastic bags and there seems to be a direct correlation between night owls and those @&!* bags. Your rummaging through them at 2AM has to be one of the most annoying sounds on the planet. That and your robot beep alarm clock. Maybe use bags made of softer materials and less plastic? Besides, by using less plastic the environment will thank you.
Rule No. 10 – Be kind to the housekeeping staff. These guys deal with icky stuff all day so make their lives easier. Take your food out of the community fridge when you leave; ironically, the only food that people won’t steal is the perfectly good food you don’t want so it will remain there until it dies a pungent death. Wash your dishes. Get your gross wad of hair out of the drain. Don’t leave dish towels
Rule No. 11 – Turn down the volume. So, you think you’re doing all of us a favor by listening to your favorite tunes through your headphones when you go to sleep. Because it’s late, and because you’re a Nickelback fan, it’s true – you are doing us a HUGE favor. However, we know that you love the manufactured, pop-rock styling of the throaty and shameless Chad Kroeger because you have the volume turned up to a sonic level. Truly the only thing that can possibly make Nickelback more awful is hearing the mono leftovers that escape your ear buds. So, make your mom proud and, “Turn down that awful noise!” and sponges in sopping wet piles. You know; all the stuff your mom tried to train you to do.
Rule No. 12 – Don’t bring an infant. OK, so this only happened once but like the person who made it necessary for blow dryer manufactures to remind us all not to style our coiffures while simultaneously shampooing them, it only took one new mother to make this rule necessary. If you have a newborn, a toddler, or a small child of any sort, a dorm room is not the place for you. A private room, perhaps, or a hotel, or your house, or grandma’s house might be a better option. Sharing the lower bunk with your baby or leaving him to sleep while you watch TV in the common room so that others can tend to him when he wakes crying does not demonstrate good parenting skills. A safer and more hygienic option for the both of you, if you do not have a home, is a shelter. However, kudos to the kind hostel owner who gave this wayward pair a place to sleep.
Rule No. 13 – Remember that nylon isn’t soundproof. This is for both the campers and non-campers. Just because you are in your tent with it zipped-up tight doesn’t mean we can’t hear the fight you’re having with your girlfriend, your Nickelback collection, the stuttering movie you are streaming on a crowded network, your make-out session with the boy you met in the bar, or the Skype session you’re having with your mother some six time zones away. For those on the other side of the canvas, respect your impoverished neighbors who are sleeping on the ground to save some cash. Don’t hold a drunken political debate next to the tent sites, don’t stomp back and forth right alongside the tents if avoidable, and don’t think that just because we are camping we want to hear your harmonica skills at 3AM.
Rule No. 14 – Give fellow campers some space. In a wide open campsite, there is no reason why you need to place your tent immediately next to another tent. You wouldn’t push your bed up to a stranger’s bed in the dorm – unless you really wanted to creep someone out – so, why would you do it with your tent?
Rule No. 15 – Pick up after yourself. Leaving your shoes in the middle of a dark room where people are coming and going is, well, dumb. Leaving food wrappers and dirty Q-tips lying around is, well, gross. So, well, stop being a slob.
Dems da rules. How about some tips to make your stay a pleasant one?
Survival Tip No. 1 – ALWAYS wear your flip flops in the shower. It just bears repeating.
Survival Tip No. 2 – Get the hot shower. Wake up early to beat the morning rush or shower before the dinner hour to beat the evening rush. I like to set my alarm at odd times for the morning shower – when everyone else will be getting up at common times such as 6:30 or 7:00, I beat them to the bathroom by getting up at 6:22 or some other goofy time.
Survival Tip No. 3 – Catch your flight. In case you do run into a line for the bathroom, save yourself from missing your flight, bus, or tour by allowing yourself some extra time. Don’t get up with just enough time to get out of the hostel.
Survival Tip No. 4 – Keep your food in one of those annoying plastic bags. - If you need to store your food in the community fridge, tying it up in a shopping bag will help to thwart off the thieves. Or use a canvas bag if you hate plastic ones as much as we do.
Survival Tip No. 5 – Pack a sleep sack. Some hostels are pretty jenky. Sometimes the key to a goodnight’s sleep is not lying awake thinking about what might be burrowing out of the pillow and into your ear. A silk barrier goes a long way towards peace of mind.
Survival Tip No. 6 – Keep the home cooking simple. We love to cook as much as the next guy who loves to cook. In a hostel, though, we are often restricted to pots with no lids or handles, ovens with no gas, and knives so dull they could put you to sleep. Planning an elaborate meal, in a full hostel, in a shared kitchen will do nothing more than stress you out. Stick to spaghetti.
Survival Tip No. 7 – Be social. Your trip will be so much better if you talk to people. You’ll get ideas on where to go, suggestions on how to get there, and you might even get invited to some stuff you never would have known about otherwise. You may even end up saving some cash by sharing on group tour rates and transport. Spending your day with your nose buried in your electronics talking to people you already know (as I have done today) is not really traveling.
We hope these suggestions help make the uncomfortable parts of your trip a bit more bearable and we’d love to hear what advice you have for us (like: stop making obnoxious lists about how others should behave), and the funny horror stories that you’ve encountered that make these communal moments unforgettable.