Don’t Be an A**hole and Other Helpful Hostel Tips
Towns along these trails offer amenities and supplies to hoards of footsore and funky-smelling folk that wander through. Hostels are a key part of this infrastructure. For those unfamiliar, hostels are a communal, budget-friendly form of lodging popular with travelers worldwide. They usually feature bunkhouse-style accommodation, shared bathrooms, and common lounging areas.
Some may be turned off at first by the prospect of such crowded quarters, but hostels can be an amazing place to make new friends, forge new memories, and immerse yourself more deeply into hiking culture. While not every hostel stay is stellar, most unpleasant experiences can be avoided with common sense, communication, and good manners.
In 2021, I spent a month working at Above the Clouds Hostel on the Appalachian Trail during my thru-hike attempt and have spent countless nights at hostels all over the world. Here are some of my top tips to help you maximize the awesome and eliminate the suck.
Don’t be an A**hole
Think of this as the overarching principle of proper hostel etiquette. Most bad behaviors can be eliminated by simply following this rule.
I asked my friend Lucky, owner of Above the Clouds, what unwritten rules hostel guests should be aware of. His reply was “Pretend like you’re at a friend’s house and everything should be good.” It’s a slightly more family-friendly translation of my own motto.
This pithy statement pretty much covers everything you need to know about hostels, but you’re here for the extra secret sauce, so I’ll go into a little more detail.
This is less about courtesy and more about shielding you from disappointment. If you know the day you’ll be staying in town and are lucky enough to have cell service, calling a day or two before to hold a spot is never a bad idea. Even calling the morning of gives you a better chance at a bed than simply showing up unexpected.
Some hostels run their own shuttle service, and all of them will be familiar with the transport options to and from trail. They’ll usually be able to help you arrange a ride at a reasonable cost. Shuttle drivers ripping off their guests is bad for business, and word travels fast on the trail.
But Not Too Far Ahead
There is such thing as too much notice. Calling weeks ahead of time to reserve a spot often results in two outcomes: you hike faster/slower than you expected and have to change your reservation last minute or you have to alter your pace to arrive on the correct day. In the first case, you run the risk that the hostel is now full, in addition to complicating things for hostel owners. In the second case, you may end up pushing miles you shouldn’t to arrive on time.
My recommendation is to call no more than two days ahead, or three if severe weather may make lodgings hard to come by. This isn’t a hard and fast rule so use your best judgment.
Kick Off Your Shoes
The first potential pitfall comes up before you even have a chance to get inside. Take off your shoes.
It’s surprising how many hikers, overcome with eagerness to finally be indoors again, rush inside, leaving days of accumulated mud and dirt in their wake. Hikers are a dirty species, and hostel staff work tirelessly to keep spaces clean and cozy. Don’t make it harder on them. Leave your Lone Peaks on the mat.
This also applies to trekking poles and anything else you might have that is caked in mud. If that happens to be your entire body, your host will likely suggest the most direct route to a shower and the laundry facilities.
Some hostels have a designated area for gear storage, so it’s always good to ask when you arrive. If you’re coming in after a wet night or two, ask your host where you can hang your wet tent. This assures you won’t forget and helps minimize puddles inside.
Do Your Chores!
After a few days toiling away in the backcountry, the last thing any hiker wants to do is…well…anything. There are a few things you’ll want to do during your stay and taking care of them right away leaves you free to relax.
First on the list is to claim a bunk. You don’t want to give up that prime spot on the bottom bunk because you didn’t stake your claim right away. Go set a piece of gear on the bed to mark your territory and move on to the next task.
Most important on this list is a shower. Let’s face it, you stink after a few days on trail. Even if you could care less about feeling fresh and clean, your hosts and fellow hikers will thank you. Hostels often have limited shower facilities, so do yourself and everyone else a favor and hop in the shower as soon as possible.
Once you’re fresh and clean, it makes little sense to hop back into your filthy rags. Thankfully, hostels almost always have laundry service available for hikers, either included in the cost of stay or for a nominal fee. You and everyone else will likely be taking advantage of this opportunity. The sheer amount of laundry means getting it in early is not only a courtesy to the hard-working staff but a way of ensuring you clean, dry clothes the next day.
If you’re an ultralight backpacker and don’t carry any extra clothes, or your spares are also grimy, not to worry, most hostels provide loaner clothes for you to wear while yours are washed.
Once that’s over, you can head to the common area, put your feet up and relax. You’ve earned it.
Talk to the Staff
Hiker hostels are usually small operations with very dedicated owners and staff. They are almost always hiking enthusiasts. They’ve seen hundreds of hikers pass through. They’ll be able to tell you all about the next section of trail, give you helpful advice, and they have some of the most interesting stories of anyone you’ll meet on trail.
Manage Gear Explosions
Getting off trail for a night provides the perfect opportunity to do some regular cleaning and maintenance on your gear. It may also be the first time in days you’ve needed your wallet, the charger block for your electronics, or your earplugs (pack some, you won’t regret it).
While digging wildly through your pack, do your best to keep your mess contained. The floor of the bunkroom is one of the worst places to unpack as others will constantly be coming in and out, tripping over your stuff. I usually pull things out onto the bed. Better yet, find a less frequented room and go through your things there.
When you’re finished, put everything away immediately even if you suspect you’ll need to dig for something else later. This will minimize the chance of your gear getting lost, tripped over, or accidentally making it into someone else’s bag. This happens a lot with Injinji liners.
When The Clock Strikes Midnight
Lugging your pack up and down mountains all day is tiring work. Even if you’re a night owl in your day-to-day life, you’ll find yourself crashing early. Out of respect for fellow hikers, the trail community has agreed to quiet down at around nine p.m., also known as “Hiker Midnight.”
In the early days, you may want to revel in the famous trail party scene and stay up late into the night downing beers with your new friends. The exhausted southbound hiker, the guy who just crushed 30 miles, and the hard-working hostel staff might not share your interest. As such, it’s common courtesy to keep the volume to a minimum.
Keep the shenanigans outside of the bunkrooms. If you’re partaking in any mind-altering substances, know your limits. You might not realize how loud you are after a few cold ones or a “safety meeting.” All this will help you avoid an awkward scolding or dirty looks across the breakfast table in the morning.
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