Dorm Life Etiquette:
These Should Be The Dormitory Rules

You thought living with one other partner can be hard? Try living with 6-8 other people in one room. Here are my unwritten and now-published rules for life in a backpackers dorm.

If you want to travel on a budget, you might end up staying at hostels. And hostels have dorms, where you share a room most times smaller than a car garage with about 6 to 8 other people. Imagine bunk beds too.

You would be sleeping underneath or above someone else in a most-times shaky bed construction. But hey, you are paying the least and you are traveling. Say that to those $89 a night hotel rooms!

These were the rules for a dorm room at a motel in Colombo, Sri Lanka:

With all my experience (and bottled up ranting) with hostel dormitories and the people that inhabit them, I had to write down my own little rules. But when I asked for more input on Facebook, one of my friends actually wrote the bitter truth:

“If you’re thinking about etiquette for dorms, you’re probably too old to sleep in one.”

And of course that hits the nail on the head 🙂
Anyway, here is my list.

It all starts with Hello

Let’s start with common decency: giving someone a (warm) welcome when they enter a dorm or if you enter one. Especially when that person has just arrived. You don’t even have to engage in conversation. However, saying hi and introducing yourself comes a whole way. And might come out handy if you have some kind of (small) problem with that person later on. You are going to sleep in the same room as that person…

If you know you are a notorious snorer, DO NOT STAY in dorms.

It’s okay. Everyone snores at some point. If you have trouble sleeping, buy earplugs. If somebody is notoriously snoring, either ask for another dorm or tell the snorer that he or she is making everybody unpleasantly uncomfortable (and sleepless). It’s okay, but at least share the experience with the cause.

Don’t explode your backpack all over the floor.

Some people use a dorm room as their own room. They spread all their (dirty) clothes all over the place. Dirty undies, ladies, yuck! The same goes for their wet trekking clothes or the wet clothes they just washed under the shower. The bunk bed has suddenly been turned into a washing line. Not cool.


A friend sent me this one. Are you serious? How long have these people lived here?

Use headphones. Type elsewhere.

Great! You travel as a flashpacker and have your tablet with you at all times so you won’t miss your favorite Netflix series with which you drain everybody’s WiFi in the evening hours? And you need to type a lot on your amazing MacBook to update your blog and send out your emails at night? Good on you, but you better not share that noise with everybody in the dorm.

No matter if it’s 10am of 9pm, there are some amazing noise canceling headphones around to listen to your own stuff. They even make you look cool. And then for those blog and book writers: head for the common areas. I do not want to hear you.

This dorm room in the Cheap Sleep hostel in Ella, Sri Lanka, cost me no more than $5 per night. It was basic with the pallet constructed beds, but a two-beds dorm is always a sort of luxury. And it came with breakfast! I typed away during the day time, though :-p

Get your shit together on time. Without plastic bags!

Seriously, those people who need to leave early in the morning and start packing their stuff at 4am right next to everybody else. Of course, packing everything in noisy plastic bags too, because you never cared about doing laundry in the last few weeks. What’s wrong with you folks? You could have done that last night before going to bed (and before all the alcohol) and just be out quickly, keeping others asleep.


My dorm room at the City Hostel in Kandy, Sri Lanka. Come in low season and you get the whole place for yourself. The windows had to stay closed or monkeys would walk in.

When you share something, you keep it clean.

This goes for the bathroom too. Most times there ain’t 6-8 bathrooms for 6-8 guests, so everybody either has to line up for the bathroom in the morning. That’s just dorm life. But leave that bathroom in proper conditions. Women might need longer bathroom times to wash their hair and perhaps do some long-leg shavings, but others don’t have to see your personal leftovers in the drain. Good morning to you.

Deodorizing spray?! No way!

There will always be that one person who comes back from the shower and decides to spray on his deodorant right in the room, not minding that now the entire dorm room smells like AXE Smell Like A 15-year-old Beastor Dark Vanilla. And not only under the arm pits; no, all over the body! Thanks. Awesome. Let’s open a window!

You need to have that phone call? Take a long walk.

“Oh, hi! How are you? I am great. You never guess where I am now. Let me tell you what happened in the last 3 months! Hold on, I am in a dorm.” And then the person with the phone leaves the dorm to continue the ‘I am soooo happy to here your voice’-conversation ON THE HALLWAY. For the entire hostel to enjoy. So yes, take a hike with that phone.

Sex in a dorm.

Go for it if it ends up that just you and your partner are the only ones in your dorm. Have a blast. Otherwise, don’t. Netflix and Chill can’t happen in a dorm, how quiet you can even be, unless there is construction noise going on next door, you’ll have everybody join in the experience. Beds shake too, you know. You want to have sex with your favorite new backpacker after having been without for soooo long, get yourselves a private room. Easy.

Oh and if you are having sex in a hostel in the room next to me, make it quick. Any more than five minutes makes me look bad.

You seriously can’t eat or drink in dorms.

And then some friends on Facebook wrote: what?! Nothing? This is sort of an extension of keeping your space clean. Because, with food and drinks, comes mess. And smells. And animals. Try to keep that pack of crackers for later today and just see how a pack of ants is going to have a party within half an hour. I am not even mentioning the turned over empty can of soda on the floor, which you conveniently left on the floor under your bed. Yet. Most dorms are located inside a hostel which has in most cases communal space.

Don’t touch or steal my stuff.

Despite all of the whinging above, I’m pretty sure I do annoying things in dorm rooms as well. My dorm bed might become my home for a while and it’s full of stuff, but at least it should never bother anybody and it should be in my zone. Don’t touch anything in my zone and I will never be in yours.

Which has worked well for me so far. I have even left my wallet, in the open, right on the lower bed of a bunk bed, with $100 in it. It was still there 6 hours later. Backpackers know that karma is a bitch. We help each other out on the road and never touch anything or steal anything. I have been surprisingly lucky though.

My little dorm life etiquette is set up to avoid any irritations. If people would all care about each other in a small space, this list wasn’t even necessary.

But hey, perhaps I am to old for dorms now I wrote down this list…

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