My Seven Suggestions For Being a Great Hostel Guest.
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, but I didn’t want to commit to regular accommodation in the Capital because what I really wanted was to be back home in Cornwall. So instead, I based myself at home and commuted up each week on the sleeper train to the youth hostel for my 4 day work week as my seaside hack. The heady details of that are another story, but for now I want to share with you my 7 key things I learned from staying in a central London hostel every week, amidst the most diverse and high traffic guest flow you can imagine.
Staying in a youth hostel can be awesome at any age, but 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, or just straight up having a ball. I have come in late and been noisy, accidentally woken other people up and also pinched some milk for my tea from the fridge that wasn’t mine. Not cool on my part! However, I listened and learned. So whether it’s about how you behave in your dorm space or how you hang out in communal areas and use the shared facilities, a little bit of care can all add up to a better experience and happier lovely roommates . Here are my seven top tips for being a good hosteller; making everyones experience better, including your own.
We all love catching up with our family and friends on a Whatsapp call or FaceTime, and showing the things we’re seeing by flipping that all camera around. Of course! However things seem a bit different these days when we all have phones with video apps but some people don’t love turning their volume down or making the call private. I don’t know what the new trend is to have phone conversations on speakerphone with no headphones, but it drives everyone else nuts. I promise; we all think you’re annoying and sadly don’t need or want to hear the details of your call. We probably don’t want to sit in the communal cafe or kitchen space (or even worse, the dorm) and hear both sides of your loud FaceTime with your kids, boyfriend or whoever.
When I lived in Hong Kong, people there were so discreet speaking into the mic of their headphones 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 though, is to pop those lovely 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 about, I don’t know: warm beer? 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’s sightseeing or just chill in relative peace. So, numero uno on my list is – put your headphones in and take that puppy off speaker.
2. PLAN YOUR SHIZ.
If you’re staying in a shared dorm and you’re getting ready to go out for the evening, it’s likely you know if you’ll be back late (e.g. 11pm or later), so it’s a really good idea to plan ahead. 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 etc. Not just for a good time and bars. So, I started remembering that some folks needed to be up at 7am 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; setting out what you need when you get in. If you don’t, then you’ll be zipping and unzipping, padlocking wrestling and velco-ripping when everyone else has gone to sleep. You’ll wake them all up and they’ll all quietly freaking hate you.
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 and toiletries and shoes so that when I wake at 05:45, I 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 10pm! 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. I reckon that’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.
Yes, I said your phone screen light – not your torch. This is advice stage 2 for ‘Lights’ and it’s because 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 wakes 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 people’s 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. So visualise six people having their own ‘mini-rooms’ in one big room. Therefore if you drape your wet bra on someone else’s bed end, that’s not cool because you’re probably overstepping their boundary. 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 then don’t put them in a communal room, and if you absolutely need to, maybe put them in a bag and tie them, to keep the little honkers contained.
I am pretty flex 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 relative 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 1am 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!
7. STAFF, AND HOW YOU TREAT THEM.
The staff who run hostels 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 pretty difficult if they’ve just pulled the night shift. I stayed in the London Central YHA on consecutive days for a long time, so I was able to get to know them pretty well. I was up late at night and early in the 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 also 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.