Adulting properly: homestay and hostel etiquette (Updated March 2018)

Full disclosure: Normal Nomads contains affiliate links, for which you are charged nothing and we may make a small commission. Normal Nomads is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to and affiliates (, or,,, or

It comes to our (we, the majestic Normal Nomads) attention many of our fellow travelers do not understand the fundamental basics of communal living. Sometimes there are specific rules for hostel accommodation, which are very simple. More often, instead of a long set of hostel rules there is an implied hostel etiquette. We dare not speculate why many of these otherwise astute (we assume) individuals insist upon living so inconsiderately, but even so we endeavor to illuminate this shadowy world as to their misgivings.

Still with us?

Pomp and circumstance aside, we are about to get a bit preachy (a fact, we are sure, our families will lovingly tell us is "nothing new").

Living in a hostel or homestay assumes a few things:

-The guest has access to a kitchen (or kitchenette) which includes pots, pans, plates, and cups.
-The bathrooms might be shared by more than one room.
-The lodging has at least one person whose job it is to clean and make ready rooms, etc.
-The lodging can support many guests.
-The lodging is relatively cheap, especially compared to hotels in the area.

If this all sounds fine to you, we highly recommend and regularly use AirBnB (discount code for signing up here) and Agoda. Find a hostel using Agoda and they offer awesome discounts (the best I have found)!

As you've probably already guessed most of our observations are going to be centered around the kitchen (kitchenette) and bathroom.

Kitchens are a world around which we (humans) congregate. As anyone who has hurriedly tried to cook dinner can attest, people love to get in the way. They taste the sauce, poke the chicken, smell the soup, give all sort of opinions about what needs salt and what they like best, and frequently ask if they can do anything to help.

People like being in kitchens!

They are reminded of "simpler" times when they were a child at their grandparents house, watching their grandma make turkey noodle soup while being fed sweetened iced tea and carrots (probably in order to keep them occupied so they stay out of the way and clear of the hot pots and sharp knives).

They like thinking about that time they first made something tasty and how it still seems, to their memory, they had learned a sort of alchemy.

They like to chat! Kitchens are frequently the only room of the house devoid of televisions and computers. A place where people can catch up beyond social media!


You know what people don't like to do in kitchens?

Oh, you know already. You've known since you started reading this article.

Alright, how about this... let's say it together.

On three, say out loud what people don't like to do in kitchens...




Did you say it with us? Well done!

Dishes are the seedy underbelly of your glorious dinner.

And, as any parent of a large family knows, the secret to getting people to do your dishes rests on the twin concepts of attention and praise.

"Joey, would you mind doing the dishes tonight? By the time you've finished, that pecan pie you helped me make should be ready to eat. It sure does smell delicious!"

Now everyone at the table knows Joey (who is super fictional, btw) is going to be heroically slogging away at the brutal task of cleaning and he was a vital contributor to dessert. Attention and praise.

But... what happens when mommy and daddy aren't there to lavish Joey with attention and praise?

Well, sometimes, Joey becomes a jerk.

Before we start our lists, we would like to point out a truism: The excuse "I was going to get to that" is never cool.

"I was going to turn off those lights in a minute!" Why didn't you do it a minute sooner then?

"I was going to wash my dishes when I was done eating!" But in the meantime you filled the sink so we had no choice but to do them for you if we wanted to do our dishes.

"I was going to get to that!" But you didn't. We did. And it wasn't because we love doing your work for you.

This is probably how every parent feels most of the time :)

Cool! On to the lists!

Not Being a Child:
Things to do (or not do) in hostels and homestays:
The Kitchen Edition

1. Make sure your dishes are actually clean.

We are starting with some low hanging fruit here. This is such an obvious one, we normally wouldn't have thought to even include it (do people have to be reminded to put pants on too?), except that we have encountered dirty dishes everywhere where they could be dirty.

Most kitchen sinks have a sponge and dish soap available. Sometimes the sponge is new, sometimes it is gross, and sometimes it is at the end of a stick (making it easier to clean glasses we suppose). Most people seem to understand that the basis of cleaning dishes goes beyond rinsing and requires the use of some type of sponge/soap combination.

So, if people do understand this, then why are dishes still dirty?

Because some people seem to be under the mistaken impression that a sponge is a magical thing, like a wizard's wand. If you touch the sponge to the coffee cup or plate and say an incantation or whatever, the dish is now clean!

But... you still gotta check bro!

No matter how well you sponge a cup (strangest thing I've said today), you still have to use your actual fingers to feel inside for detritus not eliminated by the sponge (make that the second strangest thing I've said today).

Your fingers have more nerve endings than your sponge. Wait, did we just blow your mind? Science!

2. Make your food or coffee as quickly as possible, then clear the heck out of the kitchen. 

"Still finding that low hanging fruit?" you ask.


We all want our coffee in the morning. A lot. Just as much as you.

So, what we would encourage people to do, in order to be more efficient/quicker in their cooking process, is to take a moment before they even begin and think.

Yep, just think.

"What am I about to do?"

"What is the process required to do that?"

"What dishes will I need to make that happen?"

"Am I going to make garbage? If so, where is the bin?"

Nothing more complicated that that. People shouldn't have to have a checklist to be allowed in the kitchen, just a basic idea of what they are doing there.

Small things, like toasting a piece of bread while locating a knife, peanut butter, and a plate can save a lot of time, allowing the next person in line to actually start making their breakfast. But, again, this requires thinking.

And if you can't think until your morning coffee (we get it), then maybe just start with that before trying to do much else. And then, you know, get out of the way.

If you are in a hurry to make breakfast before catching a bus and really need to take up all the space because you are making coffee/food for the nine people in your group while they finish packing/showering? One, cool I guess... go ahead. Two, your friends are making you a jerk on their behalf and you should tell them to shove it and wake up earlier/be more prepared next time but this time they are just going to have to survive without breakfast because... Three, every one of us behind you in line has a bus to catch too.

3. Know the difference between dishes you can wait to wash and dishes you can't. 

Assuming that your hostel has a bunch of plates, then it is perfectly fine to take your time after finishing your meal to enjoy your cup of coffee before getting to your dishes.

But if there are three plates in total and ten people waiting to make food, then it isn't.

You feel us?

Coffee cups disappear pretty quickly with people making a cup and taking it off to somewhere else. And you know what will make someone pretty murderous? Having to make coffee in a shallow bowl because the twenty cups in the hostel are currently chilling in someone's room.

If you go beyond breakfast in your hostel and decide to make some instant noodles (a great way to save money for sure), the pot you used to cook your noodles falls in the "wash immediately" category. Before you eat your noodles, take a minute and wash the pot... the noodles are too hot to eat for a few minutes anyway and this way you can sit and relax after your meal as long as you want without being a jerk.

4. Use a freaking plate.

If you don't like to do dishes and would prefer to find a way to not have to do them, then allow us to be the first to congratulate you on being just like the rest of the world.

Plastic or paper plates are stupid, we all know that. They are wasteful, lazy, and expensive. Perhaps appropriate for a child's birthday party... but that is it.

And not using a plate at all is far from being a great idea... cause, back up a minute...

If you've never been to Earth then you might not know this, but the whole of our pale blue dot in this crazy universe is covered in a little creature that is just as industrious as it is pernicious and ubiquitous.


Only slightly less known than their presence itself is that the tropics have waaaaaay more types of them then more temperate climes.

What do you think happens when you make toast without using a plate?

If you said, "ant food," then you get a prize (and the prize is a plate).

Most of us appreciate being able to set our plate of food down for a few minutes without it becoming overrun in ants. Just saying, in case you hadn't thought of that.

5. Use appropriate dishware whenever possible.

Duh, right?

If there is a cutting board, don't cut chicken on a plate or the counter (see my previous point).

If there is a saute pan, don't fry that chicken in a sauce pan. And definitely don't flip it with a meltable spatula.

There are going to be a lot of people wanting to make food after you, using the exact same equipment as you. And they aren't going to appreciate the dulled knifes, pans with an irremovable layer of carbonized chicken in them, and melted spatulas.

Besides, usually using the right equipment will make the process of cooking easier for you! Flipping chicken is easier in a non-stick saute pan than a sauce pan made for nothing other than boiling water... ask anyone!

6. Put things back as soon as you're done using them.

And, just to clarify, you are done using the sugar once you have added it to your coffee, not once you are done drinking your coffee. Moving commonly used items to your table is never appropriate; you butter your bread where the butter is, not where you wanna sit.

Oven mitts, sugar, creamer, lighters (for lighting stoves), and any sort of liquid holding container (like jugs or pitchers) are common items that we, in the comfort of our own homes, tend to move around a lot. Not that this is a great idea even at home! Many of us have had biscuits burn because we didn't look in the freezer for our oven mitt (next to the remote).

Because there are going to be a lot of people looking for the very thing you just used in the future, it is important to not absent-mindedly set things down whenever you are done with it.

This all harkens back to point two and taking a moment before you start cooking to actually think.

7. Make the smallest effort to keep the dish drying rack organized.

Imagine a world where that rack can hold more than what you are currently adding to it.

No, seriously... we'll wait.


Now that you've done that, how would your dishes, the ones you are currently adding to that rack, fit into this crazy world? Is the answer different than, "my dishes take all the space"?

Yes? Great!

Now that we are beyond that hiccup, we would like you to now imagine a world where drying dishes belong on the drying rack. In this imagined world, next to the drying rack is not the same as on the drying rack.

Whaaaat??? Bizarre! 

Final part. Go back to your imagined dish utopia for a moment, the one where a drying rack can handle more than just your dishes and is the only place for drying dishes, and consider what you should do if there simply isn't space for your dishes.

Have you considered it? Cause, hint hint, there is only one right answer here.

Answer: Put away some of the dishes in order to make space for yours.

We know, we know, they weren't yours! You shouldn't have to do someone else's work for them... human rights... capitalism and free market... blah blah blah.

Have you considered what the next person is going to do when their dishes don't fit? Like when they put away your dishes? So maybe this is just the most obvious case of paying it forward, yeah?

We wanna illustrate this point with a few pictures:

The first picture is what happens when someone doesn't imagine a dish utopia.

Dish Dystopia

The second picture includes the exact same dishes, but was done by us while imagining dish utopia.

Dish Utopia

And this picture is a reminder that things like sponges, usually have a home. (Did you notice where the sponge was in the first picture? It was an unhappy sponge.)


Believe it or not, we are done complaining!

About kitchens.

Wait, don't turn that dial quite yet! Kitchens represent most of the communal spaces in a hostel or homestay where people have the ability to be jerks. The other sections will be much much shorter.

So, let's talk about the infamous hostel bathroom for a moment.

Not Being a Child:
Things to do (or not do) in hostels and homestays:
The Bathroom Edition

1. Remember, other people want to use the bathroom too.

As a rule, there are usually fewer bathrooms in a location than people staying there. 

Excessively long showers, epic magazine reading sessions (you know what I mean), and overly indulgent mirror times (you look great, can you back away from the sink now?) are fine at home, but not when people are waiting for you. This isn't your mama's house, it's a hostel shower!

"But no one was waiting when I went into the shower!" 

We know, we know. But the thing here is that other people might have started to wait after you shut the door and started the shower. And maybe they didn't expect you to take twenty minutes, so now they don't get a shower before they catch the bus to whatever they are off to see. And the punchline is that by the time you get out of the shower, they have already had to stop waiting and have left for the day, so you don't even know that you've been a jerk the whole time!

Ignorance is bliss, amirite? Well, yes, but jerks are ignorant too! Maybe blissful jerks, but still jerks.

2. Do not eat the toilet paper.

Or doing whatever it is that some people do that requires so darn much of it!

Fun fact! Many Asians don't use toilet paper.

They use a bidet (which is sometimes just a hose), and many of the owners of the communal living places in Asia are Asian! They know some people like toilet paper, so they buy some. But from their lack of personal experience, they usually buy way too little. They think to themselves, "One roll is good for six people for three days, yeah? Good, I'll only buy that and then go on vacation and be unable to buy more for a week."

We have had to supply our own toilet paper many times now because one person somehow used an entire roll in one morning visit.

So, yeah, they should stop eating it. Because there is no way their butt is that dirty.

3. Drink more water.

And pee on the seat less.

Whether it is from a lack of familiarity from sit toilets (as compared to squat toilets) or the bizarre tendency to "hover," it seems many people struggle getting pee into the toilet.

And that's gross! But you know what is grosser? When they don't clean it up afterwards!

You know who else doesn't clean up their pee? Children! Babies!

And the grossest? We get to smell their pee when we use the restroom after them, since it is all over the seat and the floor!

And that is how we know that people, in general, need to drink more water. 

4. Don't do dishes in the bathroom sink.

Who knew this could be a problem?

We shared a bathroom with *one other room* a while back, and the two women in the other room would make smoothies and tea every day, and drink them in their bedroom. They would then wash the pulp and tea leaves out of the cups into the bathroom sink instead of walking down the stairs to the kitchen.

Lazy? Yes. Acceptable? Absolutely not.

You see, when you put tea leaves and fruit detritus into a small bathroom sink every day, it get covered in slime and clogs up. We went to the bathroom one day to find this:

So gross
We then did what normal adult humans do, and went out and bought drain cleaner. When we returned 30 minutes later, the sink was still like this and they had made zero effort to fix it. Did they think it would magically drain itself? Who knows? Either way, don't put nasty stuff down the bathroom sink.
And that's it! 

Well, not really. That's it for the bathroom section though... told you it would be shorter.

Most people know not to leave their bathroom stuff behind, probably because they need that special shampoo to prevent dandruff and know that if they leave it people like me are going to go ahead and use it (on principle). So that's good. 

Finally, there are a few things that need to be mentioned that go beyond bathrooms and kitchens. Points that are more general.

Not Being a Child:
Things to do (or not do) in hostels and homestays:
The General Edition

1. Communal spaces are communal.

We suspect more people need to google "communal."

This might come to a shock to some people, but different people have different tastes in music. We know, it is shocking. Yes, it is because they do have bad taste. Yes, your musical tastes are empirically better.

Are you on board again?

Communal spaces are not the place to declare your love for TLC via your blutooth speaker. Other people might want to use these spaces too, and maybe they don't like TLC (heresy!).

Oh, and who doesn't love loud and aggressive drinking games?! Well, literally everyone who is not involved in playing one. Like maybe people trying to relax... or write a blog post... or anything that can be interrupted by shouts of "Waterfall! Waterfall!".

And if there was no one in the communal space when you started being a loud-music-loving-aggressive-drinking-game-playing-communal-space-dominating pal, you still shouldn't do it! Because (stop us if we are moving too quickly) a lack of people using a space now doesn't preclude a lack of people wanting to use a space ever.

Unless you are blaring your TLC collection, that is.

2. Do all that stuff your parents always complained at you to do.

We are lumping this into one category, because everyone knows what we mean. We don't have to have a whole separate section for "turn off the lights" or "flush the toilet" do we?


We all know that certain behaviors are associated with being a child. 

Crying when you don't get your way 
Not using your indoor voice 
Stomping when you walk
Smacking your gum while in company
Slamming doors
Watching YouTube on your phone without the help of headphones while in company
Not cleaning up after yourself
Making excuses for bad behavior

These are bad behaviors for adults. All the time. Everywhere. These and many more we don't feel we need to list here, cause you get the idea.

But, if you only ever lived at home with your parents and then went off and bought your own home where you could be whoever you want to be, we understand why you might not have realized how annoying these behaviors were.

So, for those people who have never lived in and among other humans who were not required to love you because of blood relations, allow us to illuminate and clarify:

Children are stupid and irresponsible people. They aren't born knowing things. 

But as they get older, children learn things... like how to be less stupid and more responsible. 

By the time children become adults old enough to travel and stay in hostels and homestays, other people expect from them a certain level of "adultness" (some people call it maturity).

In short, when you do anything in a communal living environment, pretend your parents are standing behind you. What would they remind you do to? Then do that.

And if your parents never told you anything like that, then pretend our parents are standing behind you! And if you don't know our parents, then let us help you out: They aren't children. Get it?

3. Never eat durian fruit indoors.

This is another, "I didn't know I had to say this..." moment.

If you didn't know, durian is the fruit that smells like alcoholic garbage and tastes significantly better. It's banned from lots of grocery stores and subways even before being cut open. According to Wikipedia, Richard Sterling says "... its odor is best described as pig-shit, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock."

Given its wonderful reputation it should be obvious that you should NOT bring durian into your shared accommodation. However, we have had the pleasure of sharing a floor with some lovely ladies who didn't get the memo... and would leave their cut open durian carcasses in the hallway, next to the trash. You could smell it two floors away:

Not just one indoor durian - many bags!

In case you're wondering, these are indeed the same ladies who would wish their dishes in the bathroom sink. They weren't the best.

And that's it (again)!



So, you may be asking yourself, "Self, but aren't there people who clean up after me at hostels and homestays?"

Not in the way you think. 

What you are thinking of is called a "hotel." Maybe you've heard of them.

They usually include maids, minibars, and privacy.

But they are also three, four, five times the price, so we understand why you wouldn't want to stay there.

This discount means hostels don't pay as many people to clean up after you. A lot less. 

Oh, and a fun fact for you, something you maybe didn't know: In many countries, people are paid by the day or by the month, not by the hour. So if you create more work for them to do, they don't get paid more, they just work more. Often, they work more for a rate that is low enough it should make you embarrassed by your $400 shoes.

At every hostel or homestay, when someone leaves a mess or doesn't do their dishes or can't figure out how to turn off a light, there is often another guest who has talked to workers and figured out how little they make (and are usually still expected to get home in time to cook large meals for their families) and who is actually the one who cleans up their mess or does their dishes or turns off the lights.

And if you reacted to this by saying,
"So what do I care if some other guest wants to go around and clean up after me?"
Then we would like to respond with,
"No one wants to clean up after you. Oh, and your pee smells bad and everyone thinks you're a jerk. ;)"


Popular Posts