Hostel Etiquette – Sleep In Your Own Damn Bed

Posted on / by Alex Berger
A Random Hostel Dorm Room

There is a pandemic raging through hostel culture…and no, it isn’t bed bugs.  In a sleepy dorm room somewhere nearby a tired individual has made the grand trek up four flights of stairs, down a long zig-zag hallway all while fighting the never ending battle that comes with magnetic keycards. You know the battle i’m talking about; the first attempt never works, then you try it again … slower … no luck.  Confused, you then rotate the card and try the other end … but, no, that’s not it … then on the fourth, fifth, sixth, or sixteenth try you get the timing and pressure just right and the door makes that loud grinding noise causing the hairs on your arm stand on end in a mixture of discomfort and relief.

With every bit of Elven deftness you ease into the room and carefully navigate to your bed praying you don’t trip over a backpack or pair of carelessly tossed shoes. You may be returning from a night out on the town or be freshly arrived.  Either way; eager to kick off your shoes, slide into bed, and rest…you notice a lump and mess of disheveled sheets in the bunk you’ve been assigned.  Careful not to bathe the whole room in light, you use your cell phone to check the bunk number and the number on your card. Then the annoyed conundrum strikes. You’ve been the victim of a bed thief. What to do? Do you dump your water bottle on the person? Storm to the door and turn the light on making a scene and waking up the rest of the room? Head back to reception?  Is there another bed available? Is it a bed you want?

Hello Malaga

Last night I had a late flight from Copenhagen to Malaga.  The plane landed at 23:45 which, as you can imagine, made for a rather late night arrival at the hostel.  By the time I’d navigated to the metro, hopped a train, and walked the 15 minutes to the hostel it was going on 1:30 in the morning. As a regular hostel-goer i’m also a bit of a stickler for hostel etiquette. So, it was with some dread that I checked in and prepared to head to my 8 person dorm room knowing full well that even at my quietest…there’s no soundless way to unpack, make your bed, find your bed, and get to sleep in a dark dorm room at well past 1AM.  But, to my relief one thing was set – or at least should have been. The beds were pre-made and bunks were pre-assigned.  While many hostels don’t assign beds, more and more have begun to. Why? Because a not insignificant number of fights break out over beds and it can be difficult to tell which beds are taken and which are vacant.

So, with considerable care I made my way into the room – shoes unlaced preemptively, phone flashlight turned on and partially obscured by my finger, all set and ready to get in and to sleep with the least amount of noise possible. Only, in the dorm room where 6 of 8 beds were taken, a 20-something year old genius had taken it on herself to toss a middle finger to the establishment and set up camp in my bed.  Lucky me.  After checking and then re-checking my room card I did my best to survey the other beds in the room without shining a spotlight on everyone’s face or looking like some random perv filming everyone in their sleep.

The pilfered bunk, of course, was on the bottom – something I could have fairly easily (and quietly) gotten into.  While the two remaining bunks – one of which was no doubt vacated by my new best friend – were both top bunks.  Leveraging every ounce of self control I could muster to avoid enforcing a bit of vigilante justice I ditched my backpack, tossed off the shoes, and scaled the predictably awkward hostel bunk bed ladder. All of which unavoidably sounded a bit like a bull trying to dance a cha cha cha in a china shop. Upon hoisting myself into the bunk, I set to shaking out the blanket and laying out the bed sheet – praying in the dark that the bed was pre-made with a fresh bottom sheet and that I wasn’t about to press face to filthy hostel mattress.  That’s when I realized that the pillow was missing. In retrospect, I suspect that the string of profanity that I muttered under my breath was NOT one of the quieter parts of my process.

So, with a sigh, I began the process – the wooden bunk bed creaking like the floor boards in an old house – of scaling/falling/jumping down the ladder before managing a solid 10 point landing. Then, navigating the room to the other bunk, I pilfered the room’s one remaining un-defiled pillow. Earning her an even more special place in my heart, I noted that not only had my unwelcome bed-companion pilfered my bed, Goldilocks had also apparently helped herself to a second pillow. Inflicting some small shred of karmic justice, my second ascent was even less graceful than my first. In addition to the creaking of the wood, my weight partially lifted the far side of the bed off the ground before thumping back down against the marble as I crested the guard rail in what, I have no doubt, was a less than enjoyable experience for my bunk mate.

Sadly, I wish this was the first time this had happened. I’m also sure it won’t be the last. Stories of tactless hostel goers usurping beds – at times even while the other person is still IN said bed – are all too common. What makes it so annoying is that there’s just flat out no reason for it. I don’t care if you’re drunk, lazy, stupid, or a colorful blend of all three it is a willful behavior which is what makes it so obnoxious.

Mountains Out of Mole Hills?

But, is it really worth getting annoyed? After all, at the end of the day a bed is a bed is a bed, right?  I’ll be the first to admit that I can be slightly officious when it comes to hostel protocol but I try and keep it to the basics – you know – those basic protocols which show a small shred of human empathy and awareness that you’re sharing a room with other living, breathing, humans.

So, does it really matter if you adhere to assigned bed numbers?

Yes. First, you’re an adult, not a bumbling illiterate baby still confined to diapers and crawling around on your belly. You can read and you can presumably count past 10. Second, those bed numbers? They exist for a reason and that reason isn’t just to make your life inconvenient.  They help housekeeping track which beds are vacated on which dates in turn keeping the room cleaner. They also help avoid accidental miscommunication over who is in what bed which, does wonders for avoiding 3AM screaming matches. Third, not everyone is you. Which is to say, that not everyone is staying for equal amounts of time.  So, when you push someone out of their bunk, you’re not only forcing them into someone else’s bunk – which makes THEM look like a jackass – you’re also completely mucking up the entire system. Four, there might just be a good reason that you weren’t assigned to that bed, such as, say – someone arriving late. Assigning said person a bottom bunk in turn will make their late arrival far less disruptive. Fifth, just because it’s 11PM and there’s an empty bunk doesn’t mean that bunk isn’t taken.  My story aside, even as I sit here writing this at 1AM a night later I’ve watched three different people check in.

Don’t like the bunk you’ve been assigned? Go request a different one. Want a top or bottom bunk?  Request it. It’s not complicated.

At the end of the day that’s the part that ticks me off the most about the whole issue – and it IS prolific. It is an issue that shouldn’t exist and is solely the result of absolute self absorption and complete apathy for the other guests.  The fact that because of our own empathy for the other people who are also stuck sharing a room with a selfish schmuck and the reality that you’ve already defiled the bed/sheets may keep us from waking you up, kicking you out of the bed, or emptying a water bottle on you – is not permission to keep doing it.

Alex Berger

I am a travel blogger and photographer. I also am involved in academic research into the study abroad and backpacker communities.


  • Robert
    January 16, 2015

    Great story Alex, I remember my days of hosteling around and running into inconsiderate individuals. My son just returned from 2 months treking around Peru, Chile and Bolivia and had a few similar stories to relate. Maybe this post might reach one of those you’re talking about! 🙂

    • Alex Berger
      January 17, 2015

      Sounds like he had a great trip! 95% of folks are amazing…those 5% though…oy!

  • Bren
    January 17, 2015

    Funny – this happened in my dorm (although not to me) recently in Quito. Two grown adults fighting over a bunk bed. I was lying in my bed reading the entire day and watched the whole thing play out. As in most cases, it was one guy taking the bed he preferred instead of the bed he was allocated. Funny how these dorm stories seem to happen the same way all over the world.

    • Alex Berger
      January 18, 2015

      Hi Bren – it really is isn’t it? Always the same. No matter where you are. Such a simple fix which makes it so annoying. Glad you got to sit this round out and just watch, lol.

  • Emily
    April 17, 2015

    The first time I went to a hostel I didn’t know we had assigned beds and slept in the wrong one. I was dead embarrassed when I found out the next day, they also couldn’t wake me up because I was conked out from travelling for so long. It’s not like I did it intentionally because I wanted the bed, some people make mistakes.

    • Alex Berger
      April 18, 2015

      Some do for sure! But it is pretty obvious when it’s a mistake or travel douchebaggery, especially when the hostel reception makes a note to tell you which bed is yours when you’re checking in 😉

  • John. B
    October 19, 2015

    Great story to share with travelers. It is always difficult for me to sleep in a young hostel because they are too noise. But right now I am getting well with that problem, just use some ear-plugs or listen to the instrument music and I even did not realize when I sleep.

  • Lilou
    November 3, 2015

    I just started working in a 300+ bed hostel, and I actually found this story while trying to figure out our bed assignments issues (knowing that we have up to 14 bed dorms…) I’ve had a good laugh in my tough research, so thank you very much for that!! 😀

    • Alex Berger
      November 3, 2015

      haha, excellent! Well – make the numbering simple, clear, and make sure they don’t wear off quickly. Then have staff make it explicit that beds are assigned. Good luck =)


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