The Unexpected Side Effects of Staying in a Hostel

The Unexpected Side Effects of Living in a Hostel

When it comes to hostels, I’ve got a bit of experience. I’ve stayed in dozens of them, and for more than 700 nights altogether. On the internet, that basically makes me an expert.

Of course, hostels vary wildly — big and little, charming and soulless, clean and, uh, not so much — but staying long-term in any kind of shared accommodation will certainly change you and your life. Just look at me: if it weren’t for hostels, I probably wouldn’t have met Simon, or be living in the Netherlands right now.

But it’s not only about the big dramatic differences, like changing your country of residence or broadening your life perspective. Sometimes, it’s also fun to talk about the little things — the ones that go forgotten or unrecognized until someone else points them out.

In that spirit, here are five often overlooked, but no less true, consequences of living in a hostel. Can you relate to any of these?


You become really talented at doing everything in the dark.

Getting used to the dark is part of hostel life | Photo by Jay Wennington
Photo by Jay Wennington

Turns out the line about carrots improving your eyesight is total bullshit. Luckily, there are other ways! A few weeks in a hostel are better for your eyes than a lifetime of root vegetables could ever be.

Whether you’re catching a 6am flight, waking up for a sunrise hike, or coming home at dawn from a night of dancing, there’s a solid chance that, at some point, you’ll be awake when the rest of your roommates are not. And trust me, you do not want to be “that backpacker” who thinks it’s okay to throw on the lights when everyone else is sleeping. (Hint: it’s not.)

Long story short, when you live in a hostel, you start developing your other four senses. Pretty soon, you’ll be able to take out your contacts, address your Christmas cards, and apply winged eyeliner in the dark — though, not necessarily any better than you can in broad daylight.

You worry more about your milk in the fridge than you do about your valuables.

Backpackers: we rarely worry about leaving our electronics around, but hands off our food in the communal fridge. | Photo by Andreas160578 via Pixabay
Photo by Andreas

Disclaimer: I am *not* saying no one will steal your laptop or passport at a hostel. That could very well happen, and you should be vigilant about your belongings.

But it’s far more likely that someone will nick a slice of your bread than take something worth any real money. Hostel dwellers can typically afford to buy their own iPhone, but they can rarely be bothered to go to the supermarket.

You do your dishes straight away, like some kind of adult.

The challenge of washing dishes in a hostel kitchen, featuring wet tea towels and half a sponge | Photo by Catt Liu
Photo by Catt Liu

Maybe you have to use watered-down dish soap and your fingers in lieu of a sponge, but at least you don’t leave your plate lying around with crusty spaghetti adhered to it for days like you might have (*cough*) say, in your formative years. I’d call that progress.

Later, when you’ve moved into your own place with your own kitchen, leaving your dishes for even a few hours will make you distinctly uncomfortable. (Unless, of course, you’re one of those entitled leeches who uses hostel dishes and doesn’t wash them afterwards. We see you, and you should all be ashamed of yourselves.)

You start to assume everyone you meet is German.

Three people stand with their arms in the air, overlooking the sea at sunset | Photo by Ivana Cajina
Photo by Ivana Cajina

You’ll almost certainly encounter more Germans in your hostel than anyone else, especially if you’re traveling in New Zealand and Australia. After a few weeks, you’ll stop asking where people are from and just consider them German until they say otherwise. Especially if they’re wearing a scarf. (German backpackers really like scarves.)

ETA: According to a few commenters, if you’re traveling in Europe, swap “Germans” for “Australians.” I’m not sure if they’ll still be wearing scarves.

You learn 17 different ways to prepare a cup of tea — each of which is the “only” right way.

No nice offer to make a backpacker a cup of tea goes unpunished | Photo by Sylwia Bartyzel
Photo by Sylwia Bartyzel

Teabag first or water? One bag or two? How long after boiling should you pour? Bag in or out? (I can feel some of you shaking with rage already, and we haven’t even gotten to milk and sugar yet.)

Years later, you may still feel uncomfortable making tea for anyone else, for fear that they will reject your attempts as blasphemous and never speak to you again. Or, in the case of the British, just sort of give you a funny look without actually saying anything. (I’m from Minnesota. I get it.)


My hostel-dwelling days may be behind me, but many of its effects linger on. Probably because I keep doing things like talking about them on my blog.

Feel free to share your own experiences with hostel life in the comments below!

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Any photos not credited otherwise were taken by me.

Five small but noticeable ways you change when you stay (a little too long) in hostels or other shared accommodations while traveling. | Photo by Jay Wennington

Five small but noticeable ways you change when you stay (a little too long) in hostels or other shared accommodations while traveling. | Photo by Catt Liu