10 Commandmants of Staying in a Hostel

Hostels offer an opportunity to meet people and save money. I’ve been able to stow bags, sleep-in and even use showers before and after the official checkout time. But some people don’t know how to survive in a hostel – and there are some written and unwritten rules for staying in a hostel. Here are a few tips to use on your budget travels.

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I. Thou Shall be Sociable.

Even in the most spacious hostel, an 8-bed dorm is going to be cramped. Make the best of it by spending less time in your room and more time in the larger spaces. Sit on an open couch in the lounge, or ask strangers if you can sit at their table – the answer is always yes. You don’t have to go far to meet people in hostels from around the world. Visiting one in Vancouver or San Diego still opens you up to people from Australia, France, Japan, and all around the world. These travelers are almost always open-minded, friendly and eager to share and listen, otherwise they wouldn’t be sleeping in a hostel next to you.

II. Thou Shall Find the Bar.

The best hostels I’ve ever stayed in had bars – HI Toronto and Samesun in Vancouver. Now, I prefer beer, but there’s a reason they give out wine at church. So, have a drink and don’t get belligerent. And if you’re staying in Vancouver check out the area’s gay bars.

III. Honor thy Carbohydrates.

If you’re like me, food is a second thought on vacation. I’m always liable to come back a few pounds lighter after a week or two abroad. So whenever possible, stay in a hostel that offers a free breakfast. Snagging a bagel or two for the road is a great way of saving money. Thankfully, the traditional breakfast is a shit ton of carbs. Eat as much bread, yogurt, muffins, and milk as you can. Generally speaking, that’s also how I eat when I’m not on vacation too.

IV. Thou Shall Not Assume Origin, Nationality, Politics, or Identity.

These topics are all worthy of discussion. But, guessing accents, blaming others for what their political leaders do, and generally assuming anything is in bad taste. A hostel is probably the closest you or I will ever get to the United Nations. I encourage you to be open, engage, ask questions about their culture and respect the answers. And remember: you represent everyone traveling from your country.

V. Thou Shall Not Ask German People About Hitler.

Germans are common hostel guests. Never bring up Hitler. I’m guilty of this and I understand the temptation. We’re all searching for easy connections while abroad, and this is the first for many people. But instead of discussing an mass-murderer from 80 years ago, try talking about beer. Or anything else. Germans won’t hit you for talking about Hitler, they probably won’t say anything. They’ll just be annoyed.

On that topic, here are three things I wish the world knew about people from the United States.

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VI. Thou Shall Retain Thine Shirt and Shoes.

This is for all genders and identities. Please, unless your going to or from the shower, keep your shirt on and feet covered. People don’t want to see your toe junk.

VII. Thou Shall Plan Ahead.

Everything takes longer in a hostel: getting dressed, showering, eating, cleaning up, packing up. Be considerate of others. People sleep at all hours, so close doors quietly and try to have your stuff laid out and ready to go. I know it’s hard, but finding an outlet for your phone in the daylight hours will make it easier when you get home from the hostel bar at 4 a.m. Also, add a sleeping mask and a bunch of ear plugs to your packing list – the essential things needed for hostel life.

Of course, you can always book one of those private rooms, but what’s the fun in that?

VIII. Thou Shall Protect Thy Possessions. 

The social-vibe of a hostel – especially a party hostel – can put you at ease. But it’s still important to lock your things up. So don’t take a chance on your passport, documents, and expensive goods. Put them in the lockers or take them with you whenever you leave the room. Even at night, security tends to be decent, but not something I’d consider “tight”.

Anything bigger than a gym-sized lock is too big. You want something universal that can fit in small spaces. I suggest this one, which I’ve used in a dozen hostels.

IX. Thou Shall Honor Hygiene.

We all smell. Keep your dirty laundry in a bag and stowed away. Air your shoes out by the door, window, or on top of a locker. Those 12-bed dorm rooms can get real smelly real fast. Shower once a day – or twice a day if you’re getting sweaty. It’s a small thing, but some hostels do not have towels. So pack a compact, fast drying travel towel like this. And watch for bed bugs.

X. Treat Others as They Would Like to be Treated 

For the first time ever, I’m gonna one-up Jesus. Don’t just treat others as you want to be treated. Treat them as they want to be treated. Hostel guests come from all kinds of backgrounds. They have different customs, manners, and backstories. You have the incredible chance to make friends from all around the world when you visit a hostel.

Now get out there and nail your next stay in a hostel. You’re gonna do great.