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Hostel Communal Areas - Do's & Don'ts

The cheapest accommodation for backpackers and those on a budget is almost without exception a hostel. And opting to stay in a hostel is not just about making the travel budget stretch. Hostels are super social places and the easiest way to meet other travellers but whether you opt for a shared room or a private room hostels are all about shared spaces which means every guest has a part to play to make it work.

The cheapest accommodation for backpackers and those on a budget is almost without exception a hostel and as New Zealand is packed with this type of traveller it has responded by offering plenty of hostel choice. And opting to stay in a hostel is not just about making the travel budget stretch. Hostels are super social places and the easiest way to meet other travellers: in fact it is quite hard not to get to know someone when they are sleeping in a bunk below you. Although dorms – which range in bed number from 3 (rare) to lots (common) are the cheapest choice most hostels typically offer private rooms too.

Whether you opt for a shared room or a private room hostels are all about shared spaces which means every guest has a part to play to make it work. Our guide below covers off these communal areas - but if you want to get a general sense of what living in a Hostel is like then read our guide: BBNZ's Guide to Hostel Living

Dorm etiquette

  • Don't be the dorm slob – Spacious dorms are a treat but most will have limited space and at the bottom end of the scale are those which can only be described as cramped. Keep a check on how far your personal belongings are strewn to avoid encroaching on what is really someone else's space. Your wont' be popular either if the scattered contents of your backpack form a hazardous obstacle course for those attempting to return late at night without turning on lights.
  • Democracy rules – Majority rule is a basic hostel principle. Anything you do in the dorm which affects others in any way should only be done with a consensus of opinion. So, if for example you would prefer to close that window because you think its freezing but everyone else wants it open you are just going to have to suck it up. If you don't want to play by the democracy rules get yourself a private room so nobody's opinion but yours needs consulting.
  • Blissful slumber - You may be a night owl or the type who retires to bed early with a book. In either case it is almost certain that everyone else in your dorm is not going to keep the same hours as you. You can also factor in that trains, boats and planes don't always arrive at sociable hours which means people also check-in to hostels at unsociable hours. However, a little respect means those sharing dorms are not going to be constantly woken by others. Basically, if dorm mates are sleeping don't turn on lights, close the doors of rooms, bathrooms and lockers gently and if you want a chat with someone take it outside to a common area. Get into the habit of making anything you might need for unsociable hour arrivals easily accessible from your backpack (rustling plastic bags are definitely out) or for early hours departures have everything ready to just grab and go. Head-torches are a great piece of kit to have to make after-dark dorm activity much easier. One last point on the subject of noise at night – put your phone on silent.
  • One bed, one person – no exceptions – Beds in dorms all around the world – with a few very rare exceptions – are single beds and in the majority of cases bunk-beds. A combination of letting your hair down in a fun foreign country, alcohol and all kinds of interesting new people to meet can inevitably lead at times to sexual encounters. However, if this particular need strikes the dorm is not the place to get snuggly. Nothing will earn you major anti-social points quicker than this – no-one wants to listen to this kind of thing and the person in the bunk above or below you is going to be seriously unhappy. If you simply can't resist get a private room.  
  • Sharing is caring -While some hostels provide every bed with its own charging sockets it is far more common to have to share. In some cases there is a really poor ratio of dorm beds to sockets and as it is rare to find a traveller without at least one gadget which needs charging you might be in for a long wait. The basic rules here are share nicely and never ever unplug someone else's charging device to plug yours in. Some backpackers travel with a multi-way plug or power bar to avoid the recharging dilemma.
  • Birthday suits are not appropriate dress – While there may be dorm mates who appreciate the sight of a naked you there are others who will be embarrassed or even offended by this. Remember hostel guests are made up of people from every corner of the world and of every religion and while some nations have certain free approaches to states of undress and nudity others don't. Dorms can be single-sex or male/female mixed and while no-one expects you to have every spare inch of flesh covered do use a little discretion.
  • Dirty laundry and personal hygiene – While no-one but you can decide how often doing your laundry is acceptable you do need to be aware that the smell of musty, unwashed clothes (and people) can be a real irritation to dorm-mates. If you only possess 3 t-shirts which you wear in a repetitive never-ending cycle before washing them you may well find yourself to be the hostel's least-favourite resident. If you have a heap of laundry piling up and it is starting to take on a ripe aroma try and seal it in a bag which contains the worst of the smell.
  • The snoring issue – While there are few who don't understand that snoring is not purposely done to annoy it can be very hard to remember this at 3 am when you have lain awake for the last 2 hours listening to it. Snoring is problematic enough to be the cause of marriage break-ups and even the most mild-mannered dorm-mate can start to get a little ragged round the edges after a few nights of being kept awake by a snorer. If you are a snorer and you want to keep on good terms with your fellow hostellers taking a private room is the most considerate thing you can do.

Bathroom etiquette

  • Clean up after yourself – Nobody expects you to get scrubbing on your hands and knees after you have used any shared bathroom facilities but try and leave them as clean as you can for the next guest. Many hostels provide a mop so floors can be kept mostly water free and clean from dirty footprints and if there is a toilet brush and you have left any evidence of your bodily functions then use it.
  • Hair dryers and beard trimmers – If you intend to use either of these do so in the bathroom to avoid disturbing your dorm-mates. It is rare to find a hostel bathroom without a plug socket and several even provide hair dryers.
  • Keep it short – If you happen to have rocked up to a hostel which has a choice of bathrooms more than adequate to serve all its guests then you can maybe take long indulgent showers. Otherwise, be aware there may be other guests lining up to use the facilities in which case keep showers respectively short.

Kitchen Etiquette

  • Do your dishes – If you have been used to staying in hotels where someone else is paid to clean up any mess you might make you'll need to alter your way of thinking a little to stay in a hostel. Without exception you are responsible for cleaning up every trace of having used a communal kitchen which means everything you have used to cook or eat from and any mess you have made on stove tops, surfaces or tables in the process of meal preparation. Nobody wants to prepare food in a grimy kitchen and the utensils, crockery and cutlery in some kitchens is limited. If you don't clean them the next person who needs them will have to and doing someone else's dishes ranks about as high as you can go on the not-fun scale.
  • Label your food – So that everyone knows what is and isn't theirs and help hostel staff to maintain good kitchen hygiene by discarding food left behind by departed guests you will need to label your food with your name, bed or dorm number and departure date. Pens and labels are typically provided by the hostel along with fridges, cupboards and shelves for storage of your food stuff. Any food not labelled is considered available for anyone who wants it or might be thrown away.
  • Hand's off other people's food – Helping yourself to other people's food stored in the communal fridge or kitchen cupboards is about as big a crime as you can commit according to hostel etiquette. We understand it can be tempting when you find you have run out of milk when desperate for that morning coffee or stumbling back to the hostel late at night with a serious case of the munchies but simply put it is stealing and never acceptable. Sometimes hostels have a 'free food' shelf, box or part of the fridge which is normally made up of things people departing have donated. In this case you can, with a clear conscience, help yourself.
  • On departure – Although very few people actually remember to follow this rule it is both kind and helpful to both hostel staff and other guests to either throw away or label as free any unwanted food you won't be taking with you.

Laundry Room Etiquette

  • Taking turns – Most hostels have fairly limited laundry facilities and there is often something of a queue to use what is maybe just one washing machines and one dryer. If you have more than one load and others are waiting it is generally considered polite to let someone else take their turn before you chuck in your second batch.
  • Buy your own powder – Don't pinch someone else's washing powder that they happen to have left in the laundry room. Buy your own.
  • Unloading someone else's laundry – If you arrive to use a washing machine or dryer and someone else's things are sitting inside and the owner has not returned to claim them yet it is considered acceptable to take them out and put your own in. However, be respectful. Don't dump them on a dirty surface or the floor or leave a trail of socks and underwear in your wake as you move the washed but wet bundle.
  • Drying clothes – If you're too tight to spend money on the tumble dryer or there isn't one hanging a quantity of wet clothes around the hostel or dorm (unless it is a clothes line intended for that purpose) is generally considered bad form. Hostels will often have specific rules about this even if your dorm-mates don't object.
  • Hand-washing – Some hostels provide hand-washing facilities and some only have these. Whether or not somewhere specific is provided washing your clothes in the bathroom sink is typically frowned upon. In hostels without laundry facilities you will have to find a laundry although if the underwear situation is getting desperate you can always wash out a pair or two when you shower.
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