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BBNZ's Guide to Hostel Living

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.

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. Additionally, there is quite a difference between moving on from hostel to hostel every few days to living in one for a few weeks or months. Read on to discover what those differences are and to get the heads up on what it takes to make a hostel stay the fun experience it is meant to be.

The Spaces You Will be Sharing

All hostels have shared spaces – it is a big part of their principle reason to be. At minimum this will usually be your bedroom (if you opt for a dorm bed), the kitchen, a lounge or common room and the toilet and shower rooms (although some private hostel rooms have their own facilities).

The dorms – Dorms vary considerably not just with regard to how many other people will be sleeping in the same room as you but also with regard to comfort and facilities. Although not common some dorm beds have privacy screens or curtains and the best places provide each bunk with its own charging points. Linen is normally thrown in as it would be in a hotel but sometimes you have to pay for it. Like many hostels around the world, in an attempt to keep bedbugs out of the equation, sleeping bags are often not allowed.

Bathrooms – If you are the kind of person who freaks out if you see a hair in the shower you might have to choose your hostel very wisely. As clean bathroom facilities are typically something which rank highly for the majority of people scouring through a few reviews will generally give you an idea of whether high standards of cleanliness is something a hostel is known for. However, be aware if you are staying in a large hostel with lots of guests there will be a constant train of people using the loos and showers throughout the day and short of cleaning them every 5 minutes no hostel can keep completely on top of this. Especially if your turn happens to come after someone who has made a particular mess. If clean bathrooms are an especially important point for you opt for somewhere which has good reviews AND has a good bathroom number to guest ratio.

Kitchens -  Kitchens and their facilities also come in different standards which range from hunt-the-spoon types or those with fixtures so ancient nothing works to those as well-equipped as a modern restaurant kitchen. Most hostels will provide cleaning staff which tackle the kitchen once a day but typically it is the user's responsibility to keep the kitchen clean and certainly to take care of washing up anything that has been used for cooking and eating.

Common rooms or lounges – Almost without exception hostels will provide at least one common room but just like dorms and kitchens these come in different guises. Some are simply somewhere to sit and four walls while others are so inviting they can feel like home. There may be comfy couches, bean bags, hammocks or a mix of all three with art work or funky decoration and no end of finishing touches to make it a warm, welcoming space. Common rooms also often come with books and/or book exchanges and sometimes games.

Laundry rooms - Not all hostels have laundry facilities although it is quite a common find. In most cases you will have to pay per wash load and per tumble dry load and usually provide your own washing powder although this can often be bought at the hostel reception.

Other common spaces – Quite what other shared spaces you might find is a list as long as your arm. TV rooms are quite a common inclusion - some with DVDs - as are gardens and patios while all kinds of lovely extras such as spa pools, hot tubs, saunas and swimming pools are all possible too. In-hostel bars are not uncommon especially if you opt for one of the well-known party hostel choices. Base Auckland for example – a hostel chain known for its party vibe - actually has three bars. Cafes and restaurants are also sometimes provided or attached to hostels.

Some Basic Hostel Etiquette

The living vibe in a hostel is typically a relaxed one but that doesn't generally mean you can do exactly what you like. The main reason for this being everyone staying wants to have as comfortable a time as possible and that means observing a few rules. Most hostels have their own rules which will be displayed clearly on walls, notice-boards or any point of relevance. There is a whole other set of rules though – the unwritten kind - which comprises basic hostel etiquette and known by heart to anyone who has spent any time in a hostel. This hostel etiquette could otherwise be entitled thoughtfulness, respect and common sense so, if you already consider you have those qualities or are a veteran of communal space living and what it involves to keep everyone happy, keeping to the unwritten rules won't take much effort.

We cover off general hostel etiquette below, but of course there is also lots of travel tips & unofficial rules around the communal areas such as kitchens, bathrooms & dorms which we have covered off in more detail in our Hostel Communal Areas - Do's & Don’ts article. 

General Hostel Etiquette

  • Hostel-specific rules – It is extremely rare to find a hostel which doesn't have at least a few of its own rules. Many are quite generic and of the kind you will encounter time and again from hostel to hostel such as check-out times and no food in the dorms. While rules are typically there to ensure a good stay for everyone there are a handful of hostels with seemingly endless rules some of which can appear to verge on the draconian. The consequences of flouting any hostel rules can range from a quiet word in your ear, through to having extras included on your bill and on to actually being asked to leave. If any sets of rules appear to you too constrictive don't break them, just find another hostel which suits you better.
  • Don't be a phone or music pest - Most of us who travel will spend some quality time chatting and video-calling with friends and family back home. If you insist on doing this from your dorm bunk rather than finding some private quiet corner then try and keep it down. Listening to someone else's very loud (and sometimes highly personal) phone call is not fun for most people especially if they are trying to chill themselves. While being subjected to someone else's personal conversations at high volume is annoying there is something which registers even worse on this scale - having to tolerate someone else's music played either constantly or at ear-splitting levels. Death metal or gangsta rap may rock your world but it might not have quite the same emotional reaction from someone more inclined to listen to Beyoncé for example. Apply the 'democracy rules' idea mentioned earlier whether you are in the dorm, the kitchen or some other shared space. Asking if others have any objections may mean you have to use your headphones or result in one of those wonderful times when everyone's musical taste coincides and the end result is a lively spontaneous party.
  • Quiet hours – While some party places may be an exception to the rule hostels will often have designated quiet hours. Typically running from about 10 or 11 at night until 7 or 8 in the morning, the enforcement of such rules can be anything from lax to implemented with an iron hand.
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