After six weeks in hostels in Japan, where they were excellent with few exceptions, and then coming back to China, the dorm quality dropped down considerably. I wrote a post earlier about minimum requirements for accommodation, now it is time for a post on what constitutes a stellar dorm experience.
Let’s just assume the bare minimum is covered, like I detailed in my post above.
Oh, LOL! A Freudian slip titled this post “WTF dorms and dorm etiquette”, instead of starting with “RTW” – round the world. Maybe I should have just kept it, because some dorm room mates really earned the “WFT!” exclamation! Thankfully, most were considerate and quiet.
A great dorm bed has a comfortable mattress, privacy curtains, your very own reading light and a power socket. That way, when lights go out at ten pm (if you’re lucky), you can draw your curtains, turn on your light and continue what you were doing without disturbing others. Or, if the lights stay on later than you do (when you’re unlucky), you can draw the curtains and enjoy dimmed lighting to go with your privacy.
This should be a given, but sadly isn’t. Fresh bed linen and a towel are included in your room charge, with the bed linen covering the whole mattress, and the duvet is in a duvet cover, not on top of a top sheet that will end up strangling you by morning.
Good bunk beds have decent ladders, with none of those round rungs that hurt the soles of your feet. They don’t sway or squeak when you move around. The height of both bunks is sufficient to at least sit up straight. And there is a shelf or two, as well as some hooks on the wall for putting up your stuff. I quite liked the pod like beds in the end.
A pod room is not fun, but a pod bed can be. What is the difference? it is subtle, but mainly it is about having space outside your pod for your main luggage and perhaps a common room somewhere close by, along with the shared facilities. A pod room is basically all you get, you are expected to bring in your luggage (at least that was the case in Chiang Mai), which means very cramped spaces! A pod bed is just a bed, so maybe this is more a difference in how I perceive the two rather than an actual difference.
The room where your bed or pod is should be big enough for all people’s luggage, with a door that locks and sufficient heating and/or cooling for the climate. There should also be some type of lockers, the bigger the better, for all the effluvia you don’t want to shove in your luggage and don’t want to leave on your bed either. And the walls are solid enough that you don’t hear everything going on in the room next door or the corridor.
In exceptional hostels, there is a ladies only floor or at least a section of the floor which is only accessible to women. It does make a difference when you don’t have to be too particular about changing your top in view of others.
Great dorms have a big clean shared kitchen, showers with enough hooks and shelves and a door that locks, enough toilets and showers to cover the demand and strong wifi. A common room with sofas and a table or two are nice to have, so that you can take your Skype call there rather than in the dorm room where you may bother someone who’s trying to sleep. Even if there is no proper kitchen, a free to use microwave and a tea kettle are minimum requirements, and free coffee and tea a bonus.
There should also be a washing machine and preferably a dryer. Long term travelers will have laundry.
All future toilets will be judged on the Japanese standard and found wanting. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try.
Great hostels have hair dryers, and truly excellent ones have complementary cotton buds in the ladies’ bathroom. The best I stayed at had even complimentary sanitary towels in the women’s only floor.
As an introvert, I basically view dormitories as cruel and unusual. It is not normal to share a room with strangers.
So the only time a dormitory is worth is if it is the only affordable accommodation type close to where you want to stay. Showing up at a dorm room which you realize is miles from anywhere you actually want to go is just adding insult to injury. Of course, you should have checked the hostel better, but still..
This falls into nice-enough category. Travelers can be tired when they arrive, so a hostel with an adjoining restaurant is a bonus. If not a full blown restaurant, a small breakfast option would be nice, or perhaps a small shop selling water and snacks. At the very least, there should be some restaurants nearby, which falls in the previous category.
How to be a good dorm room mate
Thou shalt not leave the bloody door open! This is especially so in women only dorm rooms. At any time someone may be changing or sleeping in something flimsier than they would feel comfortable wearing in a mixed room, so leaving the door open when anyone can look or walk in is not on. It also is a matter of safety of both yourself, your room mates and all your assorted gear.
Thou shall make no noise and pretend you don’t exist. See Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. When waking up at 4 am to catch a flight or whatever, do anything noisy in the corridor or common room. Do not put on the electric kettle and sit on your bed humming for an hour.
Thou shalt not fornicate in the room. Or thou shall be smited. Smit? Smitten?
Thou shalt not walk around in just your underwear, especially not in mixed dorms. Nobody wants to see your bare butt cheeks wobbling by.
Thou shalt not hog all electrical outlets, horizontal surfaces or hangers.
Thou shalt clean up after using the kitchen or any other shared spaces.
When I become Queen of the Universe the first laws will be about proper dorm behaviour. Y’all best start practising, as it’s bound to be any day now.
P.s. the photos here are from Booking.com where I have booked almost all of my hotels and hostels. These are photos of some of the places I stayed in Japan.
P.s.2: this was a scheduled post, as I travel onboard the CC Kerguelen from Ninbgo China to Algeciras Spain.