7 Tips For Staying in Hostels
Did I tell you about the time that I lived in a youth hostel in London for three nights a week for over half a year? For work? No!? Sounds crazy, I know. Especially as it was for a pretty professional job. I didn’t want to commit to regular accommodation in the capital. Instead, I wanted to be back home in Cornwall. I based myself at home and commuted up each week on the sleeper train to the youth hostel for work. The heady details of that are another story. For now, I want to share with you my top seven tips for staying in hostels. These are things I’ve picked up over the years and will continue to keep in mind on my travels.
Staying in a youth hostel can be awesome at any age. However, it can all too often be turned into a crappy experience through other people’s thoughtlessness. I’ve definitely been that person myself, especially when I was younger. It’s hard to think about those around you when you’re excited about a new place. I’ve come in late and been noisy, accidentally woken other people up and even pinched some milk that wasn’t mine. Not cool on my part! But I listened and learned.
Whether it’s about how you behave in your dorm or in communal areas, a little bit of care can all add up. It can create a better experience and happier roommates. Here are my seven top tips for staying in hostels that make everyone’s experience better.
We all love catching up with our family and friends on Whatsapp or FaceTime. But some people don’t love turning their volume down or making the call private. I don’t know why there is a new trend of having a phone conversation on speakerphone. It drives everyone nuts. It’s annoying and no one else wants to hear the details of the call. No one wants to sit and hear both sides of your loud FaceTime with your family and friends.
When I lived in Hong Kong, people there were so discreet with their calls. They spoke so quietly into their mic that you didn’t even notice there was a call happening. This was WONDERFUL. However, I understand it’s unrealistic here. The least you can do is pop those headphones in and talk into your mic. I would often sit in the bar of the YHA and hear some fella on the other side of the room yelling over speakerphone to his mate back home. Everyone else’s eyeballs were rolling but to no avail. Sometimes people are trying to chat together with a drink, read a newspaper or book, study plans for the next day of sightseeing or just chill in relative peace. So, numero uno on my list of tips for staying in hostels is put your headphones in and take that puppy off speaker.
Plan Your Shiz
Next on my list is plan ahead. If you’re getting ready to go out for the evening, it’s likely you know if you’ll be back late. What might you need when you get back and other people are sleeping? I found over time that I hadn’t thought about why others were in the hostel. Especially in a city. After speaking to people over the weeks and months I was there I met people who had travelled to London from mainland Europe for important job interviews (one for the Philharmonic Orchestra!), for funerals, for work, for important study courses leading to certification. Not just for a good time and bars.
I started remembering that some folks needed to be up at 7 a.m. and, therefore, that I could be better at coming in late. My suggestions would be to put your toiletries on your bed before you go to have everything you need ready for when you get back later that night. If you don’t, then you’ll be zipping and unzipping, padlocking wrestling and velcro-ripping when everyone else has gone to sleep. You’ll wake them all up and they’ll all quietly hate you.
The same goes for if you go to bed knowing you have an early morning. This is me. I prep my morning before I go to bed; I pack my day bag, set out my gym kit, toiletries and shoes. When I wake at 5:45 a.m., I can grab my shit, head to the bathroom, wash, change and split. I don’t do the suitcase and locker dance described above and wake everyone up. Try it. Be a better hosteller and help everyone sleep. This also massively applies if you’re packing to go catch your plane early. Don’t leave that crazy packing fandango until morning. Pack before bed and ghost out.
Crikey, don’t turn the overhead lights on in a dorm after 10 p.m.! Unless you know the people in there and that they will be out, I would bet that someone will be asleep and get woken up. It’s a bit rude. Instead, use the screen light of your phone to lead you to your bed and turn on your own little bed light. That’s decent of you and is one of the greatest tips for staying in hostels.
Yes, I said your phone screen light, not your torch. This is advice stage two for ‘Lights’. People think they’re being helpful with that phone torch but they’re not. If you turn your turbo-interrogation phone torch on and swing that fecker around like Fraggle Rock lighthouse, then it’s even more disturbing for sleepers than one main large light. Imagine a searing beam across your eyelids in the dark, swung randomly as someone tries to fumble with their phone, find their stuff, do the zip-unzip fandango (no one who uses a phone torch knows about the packing prep) and wake everyone up dropping stuff, swearing and strobe-beaming people. Just… don’t.
Do not let the little buggers slam behind you at night. I mean, come on. Just gently let them click into place with your hand on them. Lovely.
Respect peoples’ space. Try not to spread your shit out willy-nilly across the room. Whether you’re in a 4, 6 or 8-bed dorm (I’m usually in a 4 or 6) you have to respect that to survive well in this shared environment, everyone just pulls their horns in and makes an invisible bubble around themselves. Visualise six people having their own ‘mini-rooms’ in one big room. If you drape your wet bra on someone else’s bed, that’s not cool. You’re probably overstepping boundaries. And if you stuff your jacket and trousers through the rungs of the ladder leading to someone’s top bunk just because you’re in the bottom and it ‘feels like your ladder’, then you’re not being very thoughtful. Oh, and don’t forget shoes! If you have stinky shoes, don’t put them in a communal room. Instead, put them in a bag and tie them to keep the little honkers contained.
I’m pretty flexible with temperature generally, but when you have 6 or 8 people sleeping in a room together it can get a little stuffy. Especially when you’re all strangers with differing hygiene habits. One girl I met had a cold, so she brought up a portable heater and plugged it in by her bed as well as closing all the windows and turning the thermostat up. Everyone else in the room woke up at around 1 a.m. dyyyyyying from the heat, but she was adamant she needed it hot because she wasn’t well. Every time someone cracked a window, she lost her shit and slammed it shut – allll niiiiggght loooonnng.
Tricky one. If it’s stuffy, let someone open a window and put a sweater on in your bunk if you’re cold. It’s hard for someone to cool themselves down when they’re overheating in a room if they can’t open a window, but it’s pretty easy to heat yourself up if you feel like the room is too cold. This topic is one of the hardest to regulate in a shared room if people are going to be difficult about it!
Treat the staff Well
To finish the tips for staying in hostels is all about those who run the place. The staff are the ones who make it work and ensure you’ve had a great time. Sure, some can be rude but it’s likely they’re exhausted and have had people be difficult if they’ve just pulled the night shift.
I stayed in YHA London Central on consecutive days for a long time, so I was able to get to know them pretty well. Most nights I was up late and was having early mornings, and got to see them wrangling drunks, kindly letting homeless people take a covert shower, calming abusive strangers who had wandered in off the streets and breaking up fights or placating shouty guests. I guess we just all need to remember that the best way to make things good and convivial is to be a kind and considerate guest wherever you stay. The reason we love staying in hostels isn’t only because it’s cheap, but because those who run it and those who visit are usually people who enjoy meeting others, sharing tales and giving encouragement and tips. Like the taverns of old for travellers on their way through, we should hold our hostels in high regard, and make sure we all enjoy being there.
Gail Muller was told she’d be wheelchair bound by the age of forty. At forty-one, she embarked on one of the world’s toughest treks – The Appalachian Trail.