Photo of a dorm room

Dormlife: what it’s like to share a room with strangers

I haven’t felt inspired to write recently. It’s difficult to be creative when you’re getting over a robbery and I didn’t feel like I had anything to say. I know that it didn’t seem like such a big deal, but saving and planning a trip for five years and then having a part of that taken away from you – the places you missed going to visit and the cherished photos you lost – is quite crushing. I’m pleased to say that we’re getting back on track, so here is my first post in a while:

Having been on the road for four months now enjoying exceptional highs and enduring spirit-crushing lows, one thing has remained consistent: dormlife.

And by consistent I mean that you consistently know that noise and cleanliness of a room is entirely out of your control. For example, you never know if you’re going to go a full night without being woken up by drunk people.

I had never imagined that in my 30s I would be sharing rooms with around eight other people. I’ve never actually shared a bedroom long-term with friends or siblings in my life. I didn’t really know what to expect. And I’m sure a few of you are cringing at the idea of it. A couple of days ago we met some travellers who never stayed in hostels because ‘they like to be clean’. I didn’t think I looked that bad.

Anyway, since our adventures began in June we’ve had some interesting experiences of dormlife.

The mixed dorm
I’m travelling with my husband, which means that if we want to stay in the same dorm we have to select the ‘mixed’ option. We do occasionally get some other couples. But it is likely that we are sharing with a mixed group of friends on holiday.

Me and Alex had been out for a night in São Paulo and were suffering with quite a big hangover so we decided to have a quiet night in. We were staying in a ten-bed dorm, and it was empty apart from us and another guy. We thought we’d got quite lucky because we would be able to watch Narcos in peace.

That’s when the seven college kids showed up. They were friendly enough and they headed out just after 10pm. We were surprised when most of them returned just after midnight. All except one.

Anyway, long story short. It was 3am and we’d been woken up multiple times by people shouting and banging on the door. Shortly after, a poor drunk girl was ushered into the dorm by a random. She is wearing only her bra and pants as I assume they put her in the shower after she threw up all over herself.

Twenty minutes later she wakes up and is sick on the floor next to my bed. Great.

The big dorm
I’ve stayed in four-bed dorms, twenty-bed dorms and everything in between. The first thing I can tell you is that the size of the dorm is irrelevant. Sure, you’re more likely to be sharing with a dickhead if you’re sharing with 19 other people, but all it takes is one person to ruin your dorm experience. To be fair, sometimes it’s beyond their control, yet they still manage to keep you awake.

Take snoreface, for example, who kept me and Alex awake for three nights in a row in Bariloche. We were in a six-bed dorm. Sure, he didn’t set out to be a dickhead but it was very difficult to like the guy. You can guess why we gave him that nickname. His snoring was LOUD, almost comical at times. We even thought of being deliberately noisy so we could wake him up and try to get to sleep ourselves. It didn’t work.

The creaky dorm
Creaky beds, creaky doors, flickering lights: we’ve had it all. It’s difficult enough to climb onto a top bunk without the knowledge that you’re about to wake everyone up as you do it. It makes you think long and hard about how much you actually need to get up to go to the toilet.
One of our worst experiences was in Valparaíso. This particular dorm was set in a lovely old building. It was just a shame that none of the doors were hung properly. Anyone coming in or out of our dorm room instantly woke anyone who was sleeping. It didn’t matter what the people were like in that room, even the most considerate of people can’t help it. I thought about flying Dad out to come and fix it.

The sleepy dorm
There are two different types of early dorm: the one where the whole place just doesn’t wake up until midday, and the one where you will get back in the afternoon to find the lights off and people asleep. It doesn’t matter what time of the day it is, there are certain dorms we have stayed in where people just sleep constantly. It makes me wonder why they even bother travelling. And then if you wake them up you get some serious side-eye. IT’S DAYTIME.

This happened to us in Puerto Iguazú. We arrived back at 5pm after a walk around the town to find two people asleep with the light out, one of them in my assigned bed. I understand if people have had a long travel or whatever. They hadn’t. And then they went to bed again at 10pm. All of the time making us feel really unwelcome.

These are my least favourite dorms. You feel like you can’t do anything for fear of waking the dead.

What have I learned?
Nothing really, I already knew that I don’t like sharing. It’s even more awkward when it’s a bunch of strangers. Cheap though.

Don’t get me wrong, we’ve also had some great times in dorms and you do get to meet some great people. We’ve made friends and learned some really useful things from others’ experiences. I would always recommend staying in hostel dorms because of this. Just be mindful that it’s luck of the draw on who you stay with, no matter how highly rated the hostel is.

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