Your complete guide for surviving your stay in hostel style dorm rooms and 6 great tips for enjoying hostel life.
I awake, middle of the night, yet still half asleep to a repeated tapping on my left shoulder. Confused, dazed and unaware if I’m dreaming or not, or if I have pins and needles in my shoulder, I drift back into my unconscious state. Time passes… I’ve managed to roll over and my arm is outstretched to my side. I come to yet again. This time, startled but sure that I’m having physical contact with another human being, I fiercely take off my eye patch, flinch my hand that now feels increasingly warm and come to in the faint dim light that’s shining in from the street. A sudden realisation that the beast sleeping on the bottom bunk next to mine is in fact the loudest snoring human I have ever encountered. Still with my ear-plugs in, the tapping, warm, repeated feeling continues in my hand. I flicker my eyes downward, struggling to make out my wrist. The dreadlocked human next to me also had his arm outstretched and his hand inside of mine. His finger tips beating rapidly, alternating, one after the other, against my sweaty warm palm. He is tapping the inside of my hand whilst he’s dead to the world.
I’m in Amsterdam, one of my favourite European cities. This self-proclaimed hippie has been stalking coffee shops, eating truffles and getting baked like no one I’ve seen before. He’s been sleeping the days and nights away, hours on end, totally oblivious to the seven other travellers sharing this small cramped dorm room space, and now, his hand is immersed in mine.
I struggle to fall back asleep. Facing away from him now, on the very opposite side of my mattress, I could still hear his snoring through my trusty earplugs and his breathing becoming increasingly annoying. Surrendered in the darkness, I think to myself, “That’s it, I can’t sleep. I’m changing hostels first thing in the morning.’
* * *
Looking back on this creepy moment, this is without doubt, my most horrid dorm experience yet. This even triumphs over the time my suitcase got broken into in Berlin, or the horrific 10 dorm ‘vomitron’ of Munich. But it is from experiences like these that I have grown to enjoy staying in dorms. Yes, you read correctly, I enjoy staying in dorm rooms, even when travelling with my boyfriend. Below are a variety of tips and tricks I came to learn from my five months of sleeping in dorm style hostel rooms:
Do Your Research
Reviews, reviews, reviews. Don’t just scroll through a hostel site(s) without reading reviews. Reviews are a hostels best-kept secret. People are honest, although some can complain about things like the free breakfast muffins being a little too dry – they are free!! Do not complain about free things when you are travelling people! But most reviews will give you a great indication if a place is definitely worth staying, or not. Like whether it is clean, if the Wi-Fi is satisfactory, if it is accessible from your room, if there is a user friendly kitchen or if there is an outbreak of bedbugs. Do your research and you are less likely to have dorm room dramas.
Booking ahead of time is actually essential:
1. To ensure you actually secure a bed. Obvious but true.
2. So you aren’t hostel hopping from night to night and spending more time unpacking and repacking your suitcase than you are sight seeing in a new city.
3. So you’re not put together in the very last available room at a dodgy hostel with a bunch of other unorganised, messy travellers.
4. So you don’t end up in an animal pound like arrangement of a sixty bed dorm room, where everyone is confined to their own teeny space. Trust me, these exist.
5. So you secure a room at a reasonable price with fewer travellers e.g. a 4 bed dorm instead of a 12 bed. Even more important if you are a female traveller and wish to stay in a female only dorm, free from the male species.
6. So you can share with mates, if there’s a group of you sight seeing together.
Must Take Essentials
• Eye masks – the lights will be flicked on and off numerous times at 4 am in the morning when partiers arrive home.
• Ear plugs – so you’re totally oblivious to the drunken laughter and slamming of doors at ungodly hours of the night.
• A quick dry, light microfiber towel. This can save you money of hiring a towel at each hostel, for each day of your stay. Try hanging it from the bunk above you like a privacy shield.
• Silk/cotton sleeping bag sheathe – available from all good camping shops. Some hostels don’t provide sheets or they are an additional cost per day. You will be thankful of this later, trust me.
• A bike style anti-slash lock- to chain your suitcase / backpack to your bed. (will explain more on this one later).
Chat to Dorm Buddies
Chances are when you arrive excitedly into your dorm room at your next travel destination, there will be travellers in your room who have been there a number of nights before you. Talk to them, ask them questions, find out their best picks of things to do, places to eat and clubs to go to. They will have sussed it out by now. Learn from them. Who knows, you could end up making a life friend, learn something about a country that wasn’t on your travel radar, go for a meal/drink/night out with them, or at worst, make the hostel room a little more friendly. They will be likely to be more respectful of your belongings then too.
Lock Your Stuff
If you have a locker in your room (highly recommended) use it and lock it. If you have a backpack / suitcase, lock it. Keep your passport either on you or locked away somewhere secure in your belongings. I say lock everything, not because I’m an untrusting, safeguarding-control freak or because I don’t trust the others of a dorm room. Even if you’re sharing with friends. Lock everything. It’s not necessarily the people in your room you need to be concerned about. People, or lowlifes, actually make a living by breaking into hostel rooms daily. Sad but true.
I once had my suitcase locked with a padlock and bike chained to my bed and a thief somehow managed to break through the zipper of my suitcase, unfold my case out onto the ground, still attached to the bike lock might I add, and rummage through my belongings. It happens. Shit happens. Even lockers get broken into. You don’t want to waste a travel day sitting in your room waiting for the local police to arrive, just to give you an incident report form so you can make a claim upon returning home to travel insurance. Or waste a day shopping for the right ‘new’ suitcase. It pays to never be too careful. Totally cliché but totally true.
Say Yes to Hostel Activities
Your hostel might have scheduled nights where fun activities or entertainment is organised, designed especially for you to meet other travellers. Whether it’s pizza night, karaoke night, movie night, a pub crawl or a walking tour, say yes. Meet new friends. Especially if travelling solo.
So enjoy dorm life. It is here that you will meet life long friends. It is here that you will meet future travel buddies. It is here that you will discover new travel destinations you were yet to know. Dorms are where you truly learn, laugh and live the travelling life.