Hostile Hostel Roommates: How to Deal

Yes, I know. I don’t normally post twice a week but I have been receiving lots of e-mails from you adventurers out there wanting advice. Looks like cheap travel is in the air and we’ve got a lot of adventurers preparing to embark on their first hostel experience. Whoohoo!

And I get it; there’s a lot of fear to be had about sharing space with strangers. “What if I get crappy roommates?” “Will it be like the movie? I don’t want to die!” “I’m traveling alone. What am I going to need?”

So by popular demand I am releasing this blog early (I can’t leave my homies hanging). No worries mate; just read so you can breathe easy about your upcoming adventure. =)


I had been pretty lucky so far on my journeys through Australia. Most of the girls in my bunks were friendly, interesting, and courteous. They had been traveling a great deal as well and knew the unwritten rules of how much space to overtake, when to ask questions and share their histories, and when to give each other space. I didn’t realize how lucky I’d had it until I met Jenny* (name’s have been changed to protect the identity of the annoying).

I greeted Jenny like all the other roommates. I shot her a smile, held out my hand and introduced myself. “Hi, I’m Hilary! How’s it going? Where are you from?”

She stood in the doorway with a frown on her face. After an awkward pause she said, “What time do you go to bed?” I was taken back by the question. Normally the other girls would respond with a, “Nice to meet you.” I told her I wasn’t sure (I’d forgotten to jot that info in my diary). I didn’t know where this was going but I was pretty sure I didn’t want to find out.

She sat down and verbally vomited her unfortunate encounters thus far. She complained about the woman she had shared a bunk with the night before. Apparently the other woman had gone to bed fairly early. “I mean, she didn’t even tell me she was going to do that. That was just rude.” I nodded blankly. I mean, obviously she should be upset. Who likes quiet roomies or REM sleep?

And as the days went by, I realized Jenny was upset by many things. She held it against the hostel for running out of rubber bands to tie her food bags with. She chastised hostel goers that didn’t know how to use the tea kettle. She complained about the cleanliness of the kitchen, noise in the halls, and the weather. She huffed when I woke up too early or too late or if I was talking with someone in the room. She would ask me what I was doing that day and then list all the reasons why it was a bad idea when I told her. Yep. She was a delight.

I didn’t really care about pleasing her. I just wanted her to shut up and leave me alone.

I tried my best not to encourage her to talk to me, but she just kept cornering me, insisting on sharing why she was right and everyone else was wrong. Apparently her husband hadn’t been able to get the time off of work and so she was doing this trip by herself. I may have felt bad for her had she not been such a bitch. Luckily, I only had a couple of days with her but that was enough.

I learned quickly from this experience that while you can’t always avoid hostile hostelmates, you do need to be ready to deal with them. And while my experience was emotionally draining, I’m sure it could have been worse. Luckily, I can call upon my psychological training but I know I’m not the only one who will have a negative experience. So to help you through those painful interactions, I have compiled the following solutions for those who get stuck in that sitch.

Hostile Hostel Roommates: A Guide on How to Deal

The Problem
Your Roomie is rude, mean, or otherwise annoying. And even though you only have to deal with her for a few days, you just can’t take her snarky ‘tude any longer.

The Solution
Don’t react to the negativity; that will only escalate the situation. Dilute the drama by using one of the following techniques:

1. Ignore the crap out of them. People only complain when they think there’s someone listening to them. If you aren’t responsive to their drama, drinking in their negativity and responding with, “OMG- no she didn’t,” one of two things will happen: either they will stop talking to you about their drama because they aren’t getting a reaction, or they’ll search for someone new to spread drama with. Either way, they leave you alone and you win.

2. Redirect them to topics you are okay with discussing. If you absolutely cannot be the person that is actively ignoring a roomie you can always train them. When your roomie starts complaining about the other hostel goers, say something like, “Hmm. I haven’t noticed that. Hey, so do you have any pets?” People (especially self-centered people) like to talk about themselves. Give them a topic and see Spot run.

3. If the behavior doesn’t cease, stay positive and try to look at it as a learning experience. This is easier said than done (especially when you’re cornered or tired or wanting peace) but necessary. Remember that this is only for a short while and try to get what you can from it. Obviously you are dealing with it for a reason. If you cannot escape it, maybe there is something you’re supposed to learn from it. For example, I now know that I like traveling and being surrounded by positive, adventurous people. I also now know that regardless of what I do, I cannot make an experience better or worse for someone. I feel bad for Jenny, but am so grateful I’m not her.

4. Find the humor in the situation. Seriously, who gets mad over food labels? Always remember to laugh at the experience. Travel is supposed to be a fun adventure and even in the annoying moments there is something worth smiling at. And just think what a story you’ll have to tell your friends later! Plus, if you don’t laugh you start taking the situation as seriously as your hostile roommate. So smile- life’s not all that serious.

5. If you are absolutely over it, remember you can always switch rooms. Being in a negative environment is not good, especially when traveling so much. You’re already going to be out of sorts so make sure you don’t feel threatened or attacked in your rest space. If you don’t think you can help to adjust the behavior, learn something, make it into a positive experience, or laugh about it, just get out. You may have to pay more money, but you do what you have to do. This is your life. Peace of mind is non-negotiable.

The Problem
Your Roomie is an outlet/space/locker hog.

The Solution
Outlets– Newer hostels will be set up so each person has a place to plug in their electronics and put their bags. But any hostel over ten years old will not be set-up this way.

I once shared a bunk with eight girls. We had one outlet with only one plug. I did the math. If each had a phone, an iPod, and a camera battery to charge, we would have one hour for each electronic, taking rotations every three hours. Yeah. Good luck getting 8 girls to agree to that.

So how do I deal? I try to prevent these problems before they happen. If I’m going to be at hostels for awhile, I throw a power strip in my bag. No-one is going to argue when you pull that puppy out and everyone can charge their stuff at once. Just ensure you throw it back in your bag when you’re not using it so it doesn’t walk off. If that’s not possible, scope out other possible charge locations on the property and charge your stuff there. That way you can avoid the argument all together.

Space– I don’t mind people throwing their stuff everywhere unless I need space to dry something. When I look to ask someone for some room, I do it in a way that’s non-threatening. No-one can argue with logic of sharing, but they can argue if you attack them. So instead of saying, “You know, it’d be nice if you’d move your shit so someone else could have a chance to dry something,” I’ll say, “Hey! It looks like your clothes are good and dry. Would you mind if I borrowed the hooks for a few hours so I can air dry my clothes? I’d really appreciate it.”

And remember. Some of these people never went to camp, never had siblings, never shared space and forget that there are other people around. Some people are just hogs, but if you check them nicely, they’ll be happy to share.

Lockers– Always always always travel with locks that fit through your bag’s zippers. That way if your bag doesn’t fit into a locker or there isn’t enough locker space, you don’t have to argue about it. Your stuff will be safe regardless because it’s locked in your bag. Wasn’t that easy? =)

The Problem
You’re a chick rooming with a bunch of guys and it’s uncomfortable.

The Solution
Well for one, if you’re not comfortable sharing space with dudes then start by applying for an all female room. Don’t put yourself in situations you don’t want to be in. If you get weirded out at the thought of having a guy sleep on the top bunk, then recognize it’s your issue and don’t subject the poor guys to your problem. Plus most hostels offer the same price for an all female room as they do for their coed dorms so you have no excuse.

If they are making you uncomfortable for other reasons (i.e. they’re hitting on you), be ready to take command of the situation. Do it in a way that doesn’t instigate confrontation but addresses the problem. So if they’re constantly hitting on you say something like, “Look, I know I’m a chick and all but I’m not interested. I’m just here to have a place to stash my stuff. Is that cool?” If it continues to be a problem, you can always switch rooms.

And while I’m sure this situation happens every now and again, I haven’t met a female backpacker yet who’s had to deal with this. You’ll more likely receive indifference or be ignored.

Remember, the guys may be just as weird about sharing space with you as you are with them. So just be friendly. And don’t worry about it unless they give you a reason to. I promise they’re paying less attention to you than you think.

The Problem
You can’t sleep because your roomies are loud, always coming in and out, or otherwise classified as creatures of the night.

The Solution
I am a very light sleeper so again, I come fully prepared to deal with this problem. It’s important to remember that they have just as much right to use the space as they please as you do. So if your schedule’s clash or they’re super loud, it’s partly your fault. Plan accordingly.

I always travel with melatonin or sleeping pills to help me sleep. Then I wear ear buds or use ear plugs at night to block out the excess noise. I listen to music anyway to help me wind down, so sometimes I’ll just leave the ear buds in. I also really like ear putty (normally used by swimmers) because it reduces noise and stays in place. I’ll also wear an eye mask or sunglasses, so in case lights are going on and off I won’t be disturbed.

Sure, I might look ridiculous to the person in the top bunk, but what does it matter? I much prefer that than losing sleep. Pick your battles.

The Takeaway
Hostels are awesome for their cheap rates and locales, but there is a risk that comes with sharing space with strangers. Like I said, I have had very few unpleasant experiences thus far but they do exist. The more you can be aware of them and be ready to deal, the easier your travels will become.

Hope this helps you guys with your nerves. Remember that if all else fails, it’s not permanent. And you are a survivor. And as for your hostile roommates? Well, they’ll continue to be like that until they become aware of themselves. So if nothing else, feel bad for them that they can’t recognize how their choices are affecting others.

Didn’t see your concern addressed here? Have a tip I didn’t mention? Leave a comment! Let’s share the love. =)

Happy Adventuring!


38 thoughts on “Hostile Hostel Roommates: How to Deal

  1. The one thing you just can’t prepare for… people who kick bunk bed posts in their sleep. I couldn’t help but laugh at how unlucky my friend was for having to share the bunk with that person. She would just shake the bed a little in response because people who violently move and/or snore seem to be fairly deep sleepers, this would make her stop for a little bit and didn’t wake her up at all. The place was full so she just shared a bed (not in a sexy way- had to clarify) with another friend the next night.

    • Haha! I love your (not in a sexy way) clarification. Hilarious! Isn’t that always the way? I feel like deep sleepers all share similar personalities, but I haven’t quite figured it out yet… You ever noticed that the loudest snorers, biggest thrashers, etc. all seem incredibly at ease with themselves? Not much concern for the others in the bunk? Or is that just my psychological side dying to discover something useful while on the road? 😉

      Too bad we can’t administer a ‘sleeper’ survey at each hostel… make them put the snoring, bunk kicking, thrashers all in the same room.

  2. I have issues with loud talking people. I am staying in a hostel now in Washington, DC and got the “luck” of staying with 3 girls from south america who are in town for a law school competition. They have essentially taken over the room. so much so that I feel like I am in thier room.
    It is annoying when friends travel together and you can’t relax at night in an quiet environment or sleep in the mornings
    so anyway 2 of the girls came together and the other one turned out to be part of the same group and now chatters away with them in the early morning hours (7-8:30) am with them when they get ready to go out. There is a bathroom in the room and they hog it. Including sharing the bathroom and talking all while getting ready to go out in the morning. I am forced to get up too as I am a light sleeper.
    This morning I was able to jump into the shower before the last girl in the room could finish up her primping.

    I essentially don’t like the idea of a bathroom in the room because of the wait times that could occur. I like community showers so that no one can interfere with your getting ready in the morning.

    I am moving to another hostel down the street (thank god there is an alternative)

    for my last night just to possibly not have to deal with this whole routine Monday Morning
    Luckily tomorrow morning I have a place to go and plan to get up at 6am to be the first one up and out.

    I feel that if you have a travel partner you shoud be able to get a budget hotel and split the cost or get a private room so you can talk and go in and out of the room all night etc.
    especially talk.
    I have been with great hostel roommates in the past that have been quiet, considerate of space, and polite.

    I have even been lucky enough to be in a 3 or 4 bedroom alone at times.

    and I only stay in female rooms. I hate the idea of sleeping in a room with male strangers. Guys can be really gross as you mentioned in your blog why you want to sleep in a room with them.

    To each his own on that point.

    • Hey Lee!

      It sounds like you have had quite the memorable experience! And it also sounds like you made the right decision to make a move to somewhere you’ll feel more comfortable. It’s all about making the right choice for your experience.

      I’ve had experience staying in rooms where all the other girls are friends. I know it’s a little after-the-fact but I always find it helps to really work to get to know them. I know it’s harder being the odd-one out, but I’ve found in my experience this helps. And even when it doesn’t, I try to remind myself that sometimes in life you just have to deal with people you don’t jive with, ya know? =)

      I hope the rest of your trip has been going better! I’ll be thinking of you. Let me know if I can help at all!

  3. Unless they were full, I have always stayed in the cheapest co-ed dorm possible, and have very rarely had negative experiences. There have been a couple of instances of bunk-stealing. In Israel my boyfriend and I checked in late at night and the numbered beds we were to occupy were filled. We got the “night watchman” of the hostel to help us sort it out and get everyone in their correct bed. Most hostels have someone who keeps watch at night to deal with these very problems.
    The other instance was a little stranger. In Amsterdam we were four girls in the 25 person coed basement dorm with at least 10 stoned British dudes. We went to bed late and my sister’s bottom bunk was taken by some dude who was fast asleep. She was irritated, but took his top bunk instead. What made matters worse was when he arose in the middle of the night and returned to the bed – with a companion. Because nothing says “sexy nighttime rendezvous” like a 25 person basement coed dorm! Right?

    • Oh my… that sounds like QUITE the experience! I don’t know how I would handle that… And yes, having assigned bunk numbers can be helpful/aggravating. At one hostel I recently stayed in it was posted that if you bunk hopped you would be asked to leave. I guess it’s enough of a problem!

      And yeah, a roomful of strangers and a bunk bed doesn’t exactly do it for me, but I guess to each their own? =/

  4. Thank you! So timely, im staying in a hostel next month. Last week I actually googled “hostel etiquette” because I once stayed in a house in Maui with a group of people from many countries (maybe 12 and all different nationalities, all wind surfers) and they hated me. It was sickening the way they ganged up and essentially voted (demanded) me out to the landlord. This time I thought I’d research because maybe there was some unwritten rule I’d missed…? Nope, I was actually the only one in the house who consistently was considerate, quiet etc. The only one to cook meals for everyone (they liked them at the time…) and the only one who ever took an afternoon off and cleaned the bathroom. Even the owner was embarrassed because he knew it wasnt nice what they did. It’s been a decade, guess I’m scarred. Hahaha. It’s nice to know it wasn’t that I was a horrible roommate, it was just…something ephemeral I’ll never understand. Maybe I’m negative jenny?! Thank God this new hostel has private rooms!

    • Hi Anastasia!

      I’m so happy I could help, but I’m so sorry to hear about your previous negative experience. I know it’s hard to let those things go, but sometimes you just don’t jive with some people, you know? They may have felt like you were a buzz kill to their party lifestyle. It’s hard to say, really, because the reality is you have no idea how you’re behaviors will be construed by someone else. I could smile and you could tell me to go screw myself. It doesn’t sound like you did anything offensive, but I commend you for taking the time to be aware. Sometimes that’s all we can do. =)

      Let me know how it goes! I can’t wait to hear about the lovely experience you have!

      • yes i do. heres a good one. fight fire with fire. increase self psychosis level in midst of psychotic roommate. so wake up at night and stand and stare in front of roomate until she wakes up to see you. talk randomly during day in some ancient language.
        make demonic possession sounds at night. during normal conversation randomly pause and slap yourself on the face.

  5. Hey I’m going to reblog this on a group that I’m in called Women of Color Abroad! This post was very insightful and very useful!! I think that everyone will definitely love it! But staying in a hostel with other people shows your true colors whether you’re selfless or just a selfish b*tch heheh!

  6. These are great advice. I have my share of annoying travelmates/ roomies but I always keep a mindset “she’s not gonna ruin this for me…she’s not gonna ruin this for me…she’s not gonna ruin this for me…”

    **PS> Hey Hillary, that husband of Jenny’s? I don’t think he wasn’t able to take time off from work…he really wanted to stay back home, enjoy the peace and quiet while holding a beer in his hand. =>

    • Almost died reading the part about Jenny. I’ve been wondering the same thing myself… maybe he knew and secretly was enjoying his time away, haha.

      And yes, the, “she’s not going to ruin this for me,” mantra is one of my favorites. =) I’m so glad you liked it!

  7. Reblogged this on William Penn University Study Abroad and commented:
    As an international traveler, I can relate to some of these stories about staying in a hostel (which is like a cheap hotel that offers rooms with 4 to 12 people).

    Out of five hostels I visited during my South Africa semester abroad, there was only one which was not a pleasant experience. We learned after traveling there multiple times that for $33 per person per night (for 3 of us) versus the $12 per person for a hostel room. (The $33 per person per night room included air condition, our own bathroom, and cable television – which were all amazing for those of us used to sharing bathrooms and not watching any television for months.)

    Check out The Nomad Grad’s post on this topic of staying in a hostel – and what you need to keep in mind as you do so!

  8. I have faced most of the problems that you have listed out here, and I must say, I have always ended up in a sticky situation… And I must say, the solutions you have listed are so much better than the ones that I followed!! Thanks for sharing this…
    PS:Wish you had posted this a year ago, so I wouldn’t have made so many blunders!! 😉

    • Hi Sumithra!

      I’m so sorry to hear you had to go through these things. But on the other hand, I’m happy you approve of my solutions! So happy to share and so grateful you enjoyed it!

      What was the one thing you learned while staying at hostels?

      • Well, I was a real loner and an introvert before I stayed in the hostel. I really learnt to share and adjust to any situation once I came here… And one very important thing that I learnt was, that sharing space and time with others can be fun too!! 🙂

        • How brave of you to go stay in a hostel even though you were more of a loner! I think that’s really awesome that you went for it anyway and faced it head on. Sharing space can be fun. I’m so happy to hear you managed to make the best of it! =)

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