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Hostel Jerks: Reasonable or Reason for Revenge?

Hostels can be places to meet the best people. They can also be places to meet the worst people…or perhaps they bring out the worst in people. Small rooms, shared facilities, blended cultures, language barriers and different schedules can all be factors contributing to discomfort. The things that make hostels excellent places to stay can also make them hotbeds of discontent. Perhaps they should be called ‘hostiles?’

public bench art new zealand

Why can't we all just get along?

It’s been awhile since John and I went backpacking and stayed in hostels, but not so long that we’ve forgotten the basic premise: in exchange for cheap digs and the chance to meet other travellers, you sacrifice privacy, space and sometimes cleanliness. We’re a lot older than we were on our last backpacking trip and perhaps that has made us either more intolerant or just more aware of other people and expecting the same courtesies. But we’ve seen some shocking behaviour these last seven weeks in New Zealand, not just towards us but also towards other travellers and hostel owners. We'll continue to stay in hostels, of course, but I'd be lying if I said that some of this stuff isn't affecting my mood.

Here are some highlights:

Kitchen Playground

The scene: Kitchen in a large hostel during peak dinnertime hour. A five year old boy is tearing around the kitchen yelling, “Mommy, mommy, mommy, mommeeeyyyyy!” Where is this Mommy you might wonder? She’s certainly not minding her little boy. Nor is she worrying about the eighteen to twenty-year olds who can barely avoid spilling their pasta down the drain as they burn their fingers trying to play ‘clever without a colander,’ much less navigate past a barely visible fast-moving child. This continued intermittently for at least ten minutes before the mother appeared and moved the child to be babysat by a portable DVD player in the living room.

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The Takeover

We were staying in a tiny double room that shared a kitchenette with another tiny double room. The first two nights were excellent as we shared the kitchenette with a friendly, sensible Aussie guy. On returning after a day out on the third night we discovered our new neighbours: two girls in their twenties who had unloaded their car in our common area. They took up every shelf but one in the tiny fridge (thank goodness we left a bottle of soda to signal our presence) and spread the rest of their groceries and belongings across the countertops and all over the little shared table. We were friendly at first, learning that one of them had the flu and they were there to recover. Germs, excellent. Retreating to our little dogbox we thought we’d hide out and get some work done. An hour later their dinner preparations began and Frank Sinatra music was cranked up nice and loud. No worries. We asked them to turn it down a little because we were working and they obliged. But when dinner was over and the dishes were done, did they move on to their room to allow us to use the kitchen? Nope. We didn’t need to use the kitchen that night so it was okay, but they were still up until just before midnight with all their things sprawled out in what had become their own private living room, the one girl sneezing and coughing all over the place. In the morning, bright and early, banging and talking at the top of their lungs commenced again so that I could hear it right through my earplugs. We opened the door to find more suitcases blocking our door, sleeping bags being rolled up across the kitchen floor and a sandwich assembly line in motion. Their bedroom? Empty. Why use that room when you can terrorize your neighbours. The piece de resistance? Hygienic activities like face washing and tooth brushing going on in the kitchen sink. Nice.

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Where’s My Phonebooth?

Sometimes your hostel door leads right out to the great outdoors. So it’s noisy sometimes. It’s the hostels' fault for poor design (a lot of that going on in New Zealand). But why, may I ask, would someone with a loud booming voice come and sit right in front of our door to chat on his mobile phone at midnight? Not sure what was wrong with the space in front of his door. Probably too noisy for him. And when I stuck my head out the door to ask him to please move on, I was met with a look of incredulity and not obliged. Lot of mysteries in this world.

Midnight Solo Guitarist

It’s always nice when some talented musicians rock up to your hostel and entertain the crowds with a little guitar and nice singing. I can even handle the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears covers (okay, not really, but I’m trying here - really I am). The concert started around eight and a few people were enjoying it. When it was still going on at midnight and most of the hostel seemed to be going to sleep we thought, wow, it’s gotten louder down there. Must be about ten people being entertained. Maybe we should set sleep aside and join the party. One look out the window revealed one solitary man, strumming and singing at the top of his lungs, not another soul in sight.

The Pressure Cooker

We were on the phone with family members one evening. Unfortunately the public phone is in the common room and you don’t have much privacy as it is. But most people are respectful of the space and sit to wait at one of the tables that was several metres away from phone. Not this young woman. She entered the common room and planted herself pretty much right on top of us and proceeded to glare at us every thirty seconds while making a big show of flipping her wallet and keychain around. Yes, we know you’re there, mate. We’ve only been on this line fifteen minutes and we’re almost finished. In fact, there is another phone in the adjacent room that you could be checking out if you weren’t so busy being up our arses. It was only our second night in the hostel and we had a few days so we didn’t want to make a big deal about it, but if we hadn’t been about to finish the call, there might have been a more entertaining end to this story.

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I’m posting this not to have a good bitch session, but to find out how the rest of you are faring out there in hostel land. I understand that these situations can happen anywhere and aren’t just limited to hostels. But I seriously think that some of the people currently travelling in New Zealand have leapt from the warm acceptance of their parents’ living rooms into the public arena, with some unpleasant effects on everyone else. More than anything I’d like to learn how other travellers cope with offenders and take the temperature on what is now acceptable behaviour in hostel common areas.

What are some of your worst experiences in hostels? How do you cope?


  1. Priyam Patel 27 July, 2015 at 08:52 Reply

    I really enjoyed your blog post. It could be a great experience of living in hostels, but it depends how good inter-personal skills you have. But if you don’t have such skills it time to learn, if you are going to stay in any hostel.

  2. Federico 14 June, 2011 at 20:26 Reply

    I remember 2 cases of no sleep because of a guy (different in each hostel) snoring. Funny how both events were in Ireland. In Dublin, deadbeat at 3 am I walked to reception and explained the problem- fortunately the guy was kind enough to set us in a different, empty room at no cost. In the other we were not so lucky as the dorm room was big. I know that very few people slept that night because everybody kept staring and the guy the following morning…

    • Geert @ Inspiring Travellers 15 June, 2011 at 00:23

      Uh oh, we’re spending three weeks in Ireland in July 😉 It’s tough with snorers…they can’t help it, but if a person knows he snores really loudly, he should get a private room! Though sometimes in hostels you can hear through the walls… Thanks so much for sharing your story =)

  3. Erin in Costa Rica 28 April, 2011 at 23:51 Reply

    I have to get sleep or I’m a complete bitch. My solution to getting sleep in hostels, or other similar situations like on a bus, etc., is to take drugs. I don’t like medication, but it’s way better for me to be on meds than be on no-sleep, trust me.

  4. Waegook Tom 12 April, 2011 at 22:23 Reply

    My worst was in Fethiye, Turkey. After 2 nights, my room-mates in a room with 3 beds moved out, and I got 2 new room-mates. After a day wandering around, I came back to the room and found all my stuff had been moved from the top bunk onto the bottom one…literally ALL my stuff. I had only one bag, so I kept my clothes, books and toiletries perched at the end of the bunk (there being no locker space) and when I came back, they were sprawled all across the bottom bunk. ARRRRGH. To say I was unhappy was the understatement of the century.

    I switched the beds back to the original way they’d been and my new roomies said nothing about it…they actually turned out to be good friends and we’re still in touch today!

    • Geert @ Inspiring Travellers 13 April, 2011 at 07:20

      An interesting turn of events! It’s good that you got along and made friends in the end. Not sure what it is that makes some people just feel they can dominate space. An animal territorial thing, perhaps? Thanks so much for sharing your story! =)

  5. Christina 7 March, 2011 at 10:17 Reply

    I’ve had very pleasant hostel experiences most of the time, but there has been the odd bad hostel or staff. Here are my top 3 worst hostel experiences:

    1. Being treated like boarding school pupils at an otherwise brilliant, clean, homey place in Palmerston North – the host just didn’t know how to handle independent travellers older than teenagers.
    2. Sleeping in the cheapest hostel in Wellington with also turned out to be the dirtiest place I’ve ever been to, complete with bugs, shady people, broken windows, cold water only and rickety stairs.
    3. Sleeping in a party hostel in Queenstown – good for the 18-24 year old crowd, but just a nuisance to anyone outside that bracket – too much noise at night.

    • Geert @ Inspiring Travellers 7 March, 2011 at 14:03

      Thanks for sharing these! We found it tough to pick a hostel in Wellington and had an absolutely horrible experience at the one we chose. It was seriously the night from hell and would have topped our list here had it not happened post-script. Luckily that was out last bad NZ hostel experience and we really enjoyed all the other places we stayed in the North Island before we left.

  6. Joel 1 March, 2011 at 01:29 Reply

    There’s definitely a factor of knowing what you’re in for in hostels, but the lack of courtesy still astounds me. Sure, it’s a shared space, but is that reason for rudeness?

    At my last hostel (which I loved), a couple of my pet peeves popped up. One, a guy walking around in the common areas in nothing but boxers. A walk to the toilet, I understand. But hanging out while hanging out? C’mon.

    Dishes left all over the place (despite signs requesting people wash their own dishes) and a bathroom that was left in such a shambles I felt I needed to clean it a little because I was embarrassed that the staff would have to deal with it.

    The other one that I’ve seen on a couple of occasions is people who use laptops to play music or movies and attach portable speakers instead of using headphones. That happened again last week while I was trying to get some writing done in a shared area.

    As is the case when you have a roommate, you’re not always going to agree on which way to put the toilet roll. But a hostel is not your apartment and you need to show a little understanding that other people are using the area. Manners should be even MORE important when you’re traveling, not less.

    • Geert @ Inspiring Travellers 2 March, 2011 at 02:28

      Thanks for your comment, Joel. Couldn’t agree more. The things you mentioned are also things we have noticed in addition to the incidents I relayed in the post. Can be really frustrating. I guess we all have different standards for behaviour but I’m constantly surprised at the minimums.

  7. Brady 27 February, 2011 at 23:17 Reply

    Lighten up, it’s a hostel. If you dont want to deal with shared spaces, a hotel is more suitable. As for the telephone incident, 15 minutes is a long time to be tying up a communal phone. And how is she to know you’re “wrapping it up”?

    • Geert @ Inspiring Travellers 28 February, 2011 at 03:37

      Thanks for your comment. Most hostels here in New Zealand have a sign requesting limits of 20 minutes. If we’re only using the phone once during our stay, 15 minutes is not too long for two of us. And there was another phone.

  8. Nancie (Ladyexpat) 26 February, 2011 at 02:28 Reply

    I stay in hostels, but almost always a private room. One thing that can get annoying is people standing outside in the hallway late at night and having loud conversations. They seem to forget that anyone else exists except for them.

  9. Lauren Rains 24 February, 2011 at 09:31 Reply

    WOW these stories are INSANE!!! I can’t believe all of this haha. Especially the girls taking over your kitchen! Then again the hippie playing his guitar all night long is hilarious.
    Now, I’ve never been to New Zealand but I have stayed at hostels in South America, China, Thailand, Vietnam, Japan and a few others and I have actually never ever experienced anything like any of us. In fact, I’ve always had really good experiences. Maybe you’re right – there’s a weird kind of traveler exploring NZ these days.
    It’s kind of a bummer b/c i like to think all travelers have this profound view of the world and a greater sense for others, but sometimes people are just people – and they can be naively stupid haha.

    I hope your next hostel stay is more magical you two!

    • Geert @ Inspiring Travellers 24 February, 2011 at 17:51

      We have definitely met some awesome people! Not sure what happened in these instances but at least it made for some good stories. We’ve stayed at heaps of hostels before as well and never noticed such bad behaviour – just the amount of gross things we see people doing, haha. Yesterday a girl was eating breakfast in the dining room with her friend. She stopped, sniffed her armpits and then sprayed aerosol all over the place right there where people were eating…ick! Trying to be zen…none of it is a big, big deal, but pretty unnecessary (and sometimes revolting).

  10. Jimshu 22 February, 2011 at 16:28 Reply

    I’m with Inka, never a dorm or shared room for us, we’ll pay more to get away from the crowd.
    Inka, you with a short fuse? I can’t imagine that ?

  11. Lisa @chickybus 20 February, 2011 at 04:21 Reply

    Hostels can be great, but if the people staying in them are inconsiderate, then these crazy things can happen. It’s interesting how you never really know what you’re going to get.

    That kitchen takeover would have annoyed me, too!

  12. yTravelBlog 18 February, 2011 at 16:05 Reply

    It never ceases to amaze me when staying in hostels just how many rude and ignorant people there are. Too many people live in their own self-indulged bubble and can’t see beyond their space to even think about other people. We like to camp a lot when we travel because we can stay in our own space and avoid these monsters. One thing that always amazes me is the fact that some people have sex in dorm rooms, while their roomies are “sleeping” WTF- get a private room

    • Geert @ Inspiring Travellers 18 February, 2011 at 16:37

      In hindsight I wish we had camped more in NZ. We’re not very experienced with it, but I seriously think a tent would have been better than some of the rooms we have stayed in. At least with a tent, you can pitch it away from the noise. I don’t get the sex thing either. I’ve only unfortunately been in a top bunk once in my life with “activity” going on underneath. Some people have no shame.

  13. Ayngelina 18 February, 2011 at 09:28 Reply

    I once stayed at a hostel in Ecuador where a guy decided at 10pm that he wanted to learn how to play the pan flute. After 5 minutes someone finally told him he was terrible and needed to stop.

  14. Jamie Davy 18 February, 2011 at 03:16 Reply

    i am a huge hostel fan. but, there are always some issues. try working in one! there are about a billion bad stories, but maybe 10 billion incredible ones. for me, so far the advantages have outweighed the disadvantages. and when the going gets tough, im with lindsay. as a general observation, ive always found the hostels in so-called third world countries to be run far better than those in more developed lands. from what ive read on this post, that seems to be the case here too.

    • Geert @ Inspiring Travellers 18 February, 2011 at 16:30

      I agree with you, Jamie. John and I both think that many of the New Zealand hostels have been shocking, though there are some really good ones too. It seems to be one or the other. I expect the hostels in South America to be much better. We saw better ones in places like Turkey and Fiji.

  15. Aaron's Worldwide Adventures 17 February, 2011 at 23:49 Reply

    LOL!!! Love this! I have very mixed feelings on hostels for this exact reason. Yes, they’re cheap and you meet some really awesome travelers. But, then there are always the people who come into your dorm at 5am totally wasted and make a huge racket. I’d kind of like to sleep to actually see the places I’m visitng, but hey!

    Give me CouchSurfing over hostels almost any day of the week! That said, I miss the camaraderie of the hostel experience. That and CouchSurfing requires a bit of advanced planning…

    • Geert @ Inspiring Travellers 18 February, 2011 at 16:27

      Haven’t tried couch surfing since there are two of us, but I’m sure that would be better. I’m starting to think that a lot of the blame lies with the hostels here and the way they are designed. Common areas are often right next to double rooms and stupid layouts mean facilities are located in the worst possible places.

  16. Laurel 17 February, 2011 at 11:51 Reply

    Oh no, I cringed as I read some of these. I haven’t stayed in a hostel for a long time, but never had anything more annoying than drunk people being noisy when they came in really late – which is to be expected in a hostel.

    • Geert @ Inspiring Travellers 17 February, 2011 at 18:05

      Well, I wouldn’t let this post put you off hostels all together because what inspired this post was really the fact that we’ve been so surprised by the behaviour. Our past experiences have been much more positive. Could just be something going around the travel community here at the moment. Our last three nights have been awesome at a hostel in Kaikoura. It is certainly not a given that you’ll have a bad experience.

  17. stones_luce 17 February, 2011 at 03:50 Reply

    Hi Guys. Great article Andrea. We too were talking last night about people in hostels, who, like Rease suggested, make you feel like you have just set up shop in their personal house instead of a hostel. We too do the private room, shared facilities thing, but I hate coming in and going out when there is a bunch of ‘regulars’ sitting around and stopping their conversations to cast their judgement as we leave to go out, or come back in. We feel chastised for not being part of their gang, but there is no attempt to welcome new people. It sounds a bit pathetic, and maybe it is a case of being too old. I don’t feel like I should make an effort with hostile people, hell, I’m old enough to have made valued friendships. Perhaps a lot of the people who we come across are making their life long friendships and perhaps we are lacking the need to be wanted by them and therefore don’t fit their requirements. Forget em!!!

    • Geert @ Inspiring Travellers 17 February, 2011 at 18:02

      Couldn’t have put it better myself. That inner sanctum can be hard to break. Haven’t really encountered the bad vibes in other countries like we have in NZ, though. We’re hoping for a sea change when we hit South America…two weeks to go! =)

  18. Kelly 16 February, 2011 at 23:29 Reply

    Yes, hostels can be awful. They can also be awesome though. I guess it just depends on what you get. It’s funny, I can almost associate any hostel with the town I was in, and the experience I had in that town depends a lot on how the hostel was!

    • Geert @ Inspiring Travellers 17 February, 2011 at 17:56

      I agree, Kelly! We’ve been really lucky the last week since I wrote this post…have had awesome hostels and met some great people. I think it is really luck of the draw with regards to the people who are around when you are.

  19. Tweets that mention Hostel Jerks: Reasonable or Reason for Revenge? — -- 15 February, 2011 at 10:55 Reply

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  20. The Dropout 15 February, 2011 at 10:19 Reply

    Oh, do I have a doozy for you. In Geneva, pretty pricey YHA hostel. Checked into a four-bed dorm, met the neighbours, a trio of American girls, wandered off, wandered around, bumped into a guy in the lobby who was on his way to a bar… typical traveling story… headed back to hostel about 11pm when my money ran out. Knocked on dorm room, shouted out in a possibly slightly drunken manner: “Hey there, I’m back”. No response. “Hello, anyone there. Can you let me in?” No response. I go down to reception, which is locked up tight. I go back to the dorm, quadruple check the number on the door. I start banging, thinking maybe the three Americans have been gassed by the foreign heating system or are so drunk they can’t hear me. “HELLO. IT’S ME. ANYONE THERE. DO I HAVE TO CALL THE POLICE. THE AMBULANCE?”
    And finally a response. “We are not opening the door. We are from New York and we never open doors after dark.” WTF??? I try to explain I’m the same person who met them earlier. I describe the backpack on my bed. I describe myself. I describe them. THEY start to get angry. WTF??? I mean really..
    I am at a complete loss. I find my way back to the bar I left about 45 minutes earlier. I gather up a posse. We all go back and pound on the door. Bad move. Now they’re really scared. One of them is sobbing. It’s really cold in the corridor. It’s freezing outside. It’s Geneva in Februrary. My posse and I explore the hostel, looking for a possible place to crash. Everywhere is too cold.
    I agree to go back to the guy’s dorm on the next floor up. I know it’s a bad move but I figure I’m strong and quite sober by now, I can beat him up if he tries anything. He directs me to a spare bed, which he says is being shared by a pair of gay sailors who stay out all night. I sleep in the spare bed until about 3am when a very puzzled Nordic guy pokes me and starts complaining in a foreign language. There’s a very strict segregation policy here. I am so sleepy I just climb up to the top bunk, nudge the guy I met in the afternoon to move on over and we spoon til it’s light and the hostel manager wakes me up to kick me out for sleeping in the men’s dorm.

    • Geert @ Inspiring Travellers 16 February, 2011 at 19:24

      Sounds like a special kind of paranoia to me – I would think Geneva is pretty safe, even compared to the ‘new’ New York (which I now call NYC-lite…it’s so safe there now compared to two decades ago). Didn’t they give you your own key?

  21. Shane 15 February, 2011 at 07:53 Reply

    Wow, you two are way too nice. Fortunately as a vindictive, hardcore night owl I’m able to exact any revenge on such dreadful people right through to 7am should I want to. I’m half deaf too and by putting my good ear to the pillow can sleep soundly through any attempt at payback.

  22. inka piegsa 15 February, 2011 at 06:46 Reply

    I loved reading this post. As you might imagine, I have never, ever been near a hostel because the idea of shared accommodation and, even worse, bathrooms, does not in the least appeal to me.Reading this, it seems to me that my decision isn’t all that farfetched and given that I have sometimes a very short fuse, I might have avoided a lot of trouble.

  23. Robin 15 February, 2011 at 05:24 Reply

    We still stay in hostels the odd time but we tend to take the private room option these days – saying that we will be in Cadiz, Spain for Carnival next month and as prices are so hiked we will be in a shared dorm. Hope our roommates are nicer than some of the people mentioned above!

  24. Trev Chappell 15 February, 2011 at 00:10 Reply

    Hostels are usually OK. The probs I’ve had is the ‘drunken fux’ – once in Glasgow and once in Cesky. We’ve all had drinks in our time but no matter how smashed I’ve been I’ve done my ‘best’ to be considerate. You get you revenge by slamming doors (repeatedly) at 7 thirts in the morn. In Glasgow this big gorilla came out of his door, in his jocks, and in a German accent goes “what are you doing?” “Just shutting the door man.”

    • Geert @ Inspiring Travellers 15 February, 2011 at 01:50

      Funny stuff brosin. We had our own German accent story when we first tried to move to Melby back in ’05. We heard a knock on our hostel door whilst watching Big Brother at a reasonable 10pm. This girl says angrily “what are you doing?” Very funny that you had a similar experience.

  25. Amy & Kieron 14 February, 2011 at 21:02 Reply

    I love a good rant, kudos for saving this for online instead of giving these morons the reaction they deserve face-to-face.

    Don’t know if I’d be that calm, but I guess we’ll see in a few months. 😉

  26. Mike C 14 February, 2011 at 18:33 Reply

    Yeah I’ve been here. Unfortunately some people really don’t know how to act and be considerate to others. I remember staying at On Top backpackers in Dunedin, great hostel and a great town but woke one morning to find the contents of the room next door smashed up and piled up outside my dorm – oh and covered it puke. Like I say some kids need to grow up and realise there is more to travelling than getting wasted (don’t get me wrong – I love to drink).

    • Geert @ Inspiring Travellers 14 February, 2011 at 22:51

      How gross! That’s pretty over the top. We love to drink too but not to the point we are out of control…thanks for sharing. Dunedin seemed a wild town on Saturday nights. We saw local teenagers threatening and mooning each other out our window!

  27. Rease Kirchner 14 February, 2011 at 17:13 Reply

    I stayed in a hostel in Montevideo, Uruguay that served a as a pseudo dorm for a lot of out of town student. My friend and I rented 2 beds in an 8 room dorm. There were 5 girls living there and they acted as if we had just set up shop in their personal house instead of a hostel. There were 8 lockers, presumably one per guest. Of course all of them were taken and locked. The girls met us with very angry faces. When we first arrived one of them was taking a nap at 3pm. We decided to be respectful, we quickly put our things away in the dark and left. We were not met with the same respect at 3am when they came crashing in, lights on and talking loudly. There stuff was EVERYWHERE and they never said a word to us, just glared at us. Miserable.

    • Geert @ Inspiring Travellers 14 February, 2011 at 22:49

      Yeah, I’m not sure why people think they are going to have complete use of an area they didn’t pay for. And why are some travellers so hostile to other travellers? If you aren’t going to be friendly and positive, stay home! Thanks for sharing your story =)

  28. monette | fliptravels 14 February, 2011 at 16:01 Reply

    i was traveling with my friend in kota kinabalu and we wanted to save up. we got a 10-bed mixed dorm only to find out that i was the only girl in the room with nine guys prancing around in their boxer shorts. i had to make sure most of them are in bed before get out of mine or before i go inside the room!

  29. Scott 14 February, 2011 at 15:38 Reply

    I have to say I can relate 100%. I used not have almost any issues staying in hostels or guest houses. Now I guess things just get to me a little more. The last time I stayed in a dorm I had great neighbors the first night. The second night we shared with a chinese man that screamed in his sleep. Maybe we are just getting older too.

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