Scratch, scratch, scratch.
It took four years of continuous travel before it finally happened.
When I first left to explore the world, I expected these bloodthirsty insects to be a common occurrence that would have me tearing at my skin every couple of months. After all, I was going to be staying primarily in hostels while travelling, and aren’t dorm rooms supposed to be dirty, loud, and unsafe? I was convinced I’d be getting infested on the regular while travelling.
Fortunately, I was wrong.
I’ve now been travelling for eight years and have had very few bad experiences in hostels over that time. I’d say that 95% of the hostels I’ve stayed in have been clean, safe, and wonderful. When it comes to bedbugs, I’m grateful to have only encountered them that one time.
But that doesn’t mean that staying in hostels was always a fun, easy, and trouble-free experience. I’ve had my fair share of awful hostel experiences, from people vomiting in the bed above mine to moist boning from the dorm bed opposite.
In this post, I’m going to share my most ridiculous hostel experiences. Some of them are terrible, some of them are weird, and some of them are just plain funny. Let’s get stuck in!
The Gropey Couple in Bled, Slovenia
I hesitated about booking a three-bed dorm, for obvious reasons. What if a couple booked it out, thinking there’d be no way a solo traveller would go for it and they’d essentially end up with a private room?
That’s exactly what happened.
I rocked up in Lake Bled during the very first month of my trip, was shown to my room, and there was a couple already there.
“Oh hello,” they chorused.
“Hey,” I replied.
It was weird. It felt weird.
That night, they proceeded to have loud, sloppy sex. I heard them creep into our room at around midnight and I pretended to be asleep to, I don’t know, be polite or something.
First, I heard them kissing. And then I wasn’t quite sure if they were still kissing or doing anything else because there was this sound filling the air and it was only getting louder. I hid under the covers in horror, then eventually reached out a foot to move the chair at the foot of my bed, hoping the noise would be the sound they required to stop.
It didn’t work.
The following morning, I woke up and watched the woman reach into her suitcase and pull out both a toaster and a kettle. Yes, they were British. And so I sat with them in an awkward silence and accepted a cup of tea and a slice of toast.
The Broken Bed in Kiev, Ukraine
I don’t know about you, but I’ve always been uneasy about sleeping in the bottom bunk in dorm rooms. I know they’re usually the more popular option, as it’s easier to reach your stuff and you don’t have to keep scrambling up and down a ladder during your stay, but I tend to avoid them.
They don’t feel all that secure to me.
Well, guess what?
I was sleeping in my hostel in Kiev when I was jolted awake by an enormous crash. It was kind of terrifying — loud enough to have my bed shake. I thought a bomb had gone off and immediately began to panic.
Fortunately, it wasn’t an explosion. It was just the person in the bunk next to mine FALLING THROUGH HIS BED. The wooden slats underneath his mattress had given way in the night and he had slammed down on to the bed below. As he sat up in confusion and everybody tried to process what had happened, I couldn’t stop thinking about how fortunate it was that nobody had chosen the bed below him. I COULD HAVE CHOSEN IT.
Somebody could have been seriously injured. Somebody could have died. Maybe? It made me shudder to think about how I could have easily chosen to sleep in the bed below his.
From that moment onwards, I decided I was going to be a top bunk kind of girl for the rest of my hostelling career.
Lights and Selfies All Night in Taipei, Taiwan
(That was my attempt at illustrating the sound a camera shutter makes.)
Something that is just as lame as my writing skills was the guy who was staying in my dorm room in Taipei. It was 2 a.m. and naturally, he had just started taking photos.
I was staying in a modern hostel, where every bed has its own curtain, power supply, light, and shelf. The guy in the bed opposite me had suddenly decided to switch on his light, and was holding his camera in front of his face, taking selfies.
AT TWO IN THE MORNING.
I rolled my eyes and turned over, waiting for it to stop.
It definitely didn’t stop.
At one point, he got up and turned on the light for the entire dorm room to take a selfie in better conditions.
And nobody else in the dorm said anything! I sat upright and stared at him while he took his photos, in disbelief over what was happening.
He finally left the room and I turned off all the lights.
Five minutes later, he was back. He was back and he turned on his light and shrrrrr-chick! he was pulling a duck face for his camera again.
“Please,” I pleaded with him eventually. “Can you not do that in the morning? People are trying to sleep.”
To his credit, he stopped. I should have said something sooner. Damn my Britishness.
I Think I Scared My Hostel Owner in Taichung, Taiwan
My hostel in Taichung, Taiwan, was one of the worst places I’ve ever stayed in (cockroaches in the bathroom, ick), but for $7 a night, I could hardly complain. A few hours after checking in, the owner knocked on my door and motioned for me to follow her into the kitchen. Then, she opened the fridge and handed me a single egg.
I have to backpedal here and confess that in my early travel days, I had never eaten eggs. Yes, I know that’s weird. Nobody in my family liked eggs, so I wasn’t ever exposed to them, and therefore reached adulthood with an unhealthy conviction that I would hate them. For what it’s worth, these days, I happily make my way through four of them a day, but in Taichung, I was eggstremely inexperienced. Wow, I hate myself.
When I was handed this egg, I was terrified. I gaped down at my hand and panicked over what to do next. What did she want me to do? Cook it? In front of her? I had no idea how I would even go about that. To my relief, she shooed me back to my room.
And there I sat, on my bed, with a single white egg in my hand. Frowning. Confused. It was 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Why was she giving me an egg at that time? Was I supposed to eat it? Keep it as a souvenir?
Things got even stranger.
When it came time for me to check out, I found the owner in the common room and held out the money for my stay. She stared at me for a few seconds, then gasped and ran out of the room.
She ran out of the hostel.
I waited, assuming she’d gone to get some change, even though I didn’t actually need any change. I waited for half an hour for her to return, but I had a train to catch and she was still nowhere to be found. It was all so very, very weird.
The Sex Pest in Hualien, Taiwan
I was sitting in my dorm room in Hualien, Taiwan, when a middle-aged guy wandered in, paused, then looked me up and down.
“Hello,” he said.
“Hi,” I said.
“How are you?”
“Yeah, good thanks. You?”
“I just want you to know,” he continued. “You don’t need to worry about sharing a room with me.”
“I just want you to feel comfortable here. Don’t worry, it’s fine. I’m not a sex pest. I don’t want you thinking that I’m a sex pest.”
I immediately thought he was a sex pest.
Moments later, he dug a photo album from his bag, came to sit on my bed, and showed me dozens of photos from his daughter’s wedding.
The Night From Hell in Luang Prabang
I stayed in a hostel in Laos that was so bad that I checked out after the first night. I’ve told this story many times before, so I apologise in advance for its long-windedness — it was unbelievable how many terrible things happened to me in one night.
First of all, I was placed in a room with a broken lock. I left my luggage inside the room while I used the shower and when I came back, my key wouldn’t turn in the lock. After an hour of puzzling, my guesthouse owner brandished a machete and then hacked off the door handle to let me in. Once inside, I closed the door behind me and discovered I now couldn’t open it from the inside. I had to stand and bang on the door for hours until another guest heard me and got the owner to come and let me out.
The owner moved me to another room — the only room left in the guesthouse — that looked like something from a horror movie. There were no windows, there were a dozen cockroaches in the bathroom and floating in the toilet, the bed had a dirty sheet stretched across it and the light was provided by a lightbulb hanging from a string in the ceiling. I tried to sleep, but after a cockroach ran over my face, I couldn’t take it any more.
Unfortunately, Luang Prabang had a curfew in the evening, so I couldn’t leave the guesthouse to find another room. Instead, I slept on the ground outside.
I shouldn’t have trusted the two backpackers who wandered into the hostel and found me sleeping rough, but I’d formed a bond with travellers from my time on the road, and I trusted that people were good. And after all, I’d spent the better part of a year sleeping in hostels with complete strangers, and nothing bad had ever happened then.
When they found out about my room from hell, they offered to let me sleep in theirs for the night. I followed them upstairs only to discover that they were sleeping in the first room — the room that couldn’t be opened from the inside. They reassured me they’d figured out the trick to opening the door, and I took my place on the floor.
And then I woke up to one of the backpackers groping me. Ughhhhhhhhh.
Not only was it the worst, but it was really freaking terrifying because I was being manhandled in a room that couldn’t be opened from the inside. Things could turn seriously nasty.
Fortunately, the other guy let me out of the room when I demanded to be let out, and I spent the night back outside, sleeping on the cold, hard ground.
Needless to say, once morning rolled around, I was out of there and into the nicest hotel I could find in the city. It was worth blowing my budget to feel safe and secure once more.
The Poop Room of Doom in Bangkok
One of my most embarrassing travel truths is my love for Khao San Road. This backpacker hangout is big with newbie travellers and is the exact opposite of where you go to soak up the Thai culture. Dave thinks it’s hell. I think it makes me feel alive.
We had a layover in Bangkok, and I somehow managed to convince him to spend it with me on Khao San Road. He was extremely disappointed but also, apparently, a pushover, because he still agreed to base himself on the street he hates most in the world.
I was excited for our backpacking adventure, and booked a private room in a hostel for the experience. I think I’d even describe it as a mid-range place, rather than a backpacker haunt.
Every single time anybody flushed the toilet in the hostel, we could hear it.
But that’s not all.
We could smell it, too.
Yes, our bedroom seemed to be very, very close to the sewage pipe, and we spent our time in Bangkok listening to the gush of water followed by the smell of poop.
It was, shall we say, not an experience that convinced Dave to fall in love with Khao San Road.
I Slept With My Head in a Fridge in Aitutaki
The Cook Islands was hot.
I was visiting during the monsoon, but the rains weren’t falling so the temperatures were soaring. It was regularly 28/82 degrees in the middle of the night, and my hostel didn’t have air conditioning. The fan barely worked, either. It spun too slowly, creating too little of a breeze to have much of an effect.
The nights were horrendous.
I was in a stuffy little room that had been heating up throughout the day and nothing would get it to cool down. I tried showering beneath freezing cold water then jumping into bed in the hope that I’d fall asleep before I began sweating. I tried sleeping with the door of my bungalow wide open, no longer concerned about my safety, but the air was dead outside.
And so, drastic times called for drastic measures.
I clambered off the bed, opened the fridge in my room, put my pillow inside and slept with my head neatly tucked inside.
Vomit in Riga
A huge percentage of tourists in Riga are there to party, and despite being a committed non-partier, I still booked myself into a party hostel. When will I ever learn? Still, I downed my welcome shot with gusto, and pretended as though I was going to go on the hostel bar crawl before backing out at the last minute.
The girl from my dorm who did go to the bar crawl came back smashed.
And I mean crawling through the dorm room on her hands and knees smashed, struggling to find her bed. Once she was in, she let out this enormous burp and her stomach growled loudly.
And then she retched.
“Oh no,” she mumbled.
Another burp. Another retch. Another stomach gurgle.
And then it happened.
While she was crawling around the dorm room floor in circles, moaning and giggling, trying to find her way out, she emptied the contents of her stomach on to the carpet.
Vomit and Bedbugs in Tallinn
In Tallinn, I decided to stay in a hostel in the centre of town: a place I’d chosen due to its perfect location, affordable prices, good reviews, and ability to attract absolute assholes into my room. Wait, what?
On my first night in Estonia, the middle-aged man in the bed above mine, drunkenly staggered into bed, and proceeded to throw up all over himself. I very rarely lose my temper when I travel, but hearing him vomit in his bed — inches away from where my open backpack lay — had me turning on the lights and yelling at him while he rolled over in his deep purple mess and blinked.
It was revolting.
And also, another reason to avoid the bottom bunk. I cringed as I saw his barf begin to drip down past his bed and on to mine.
I complained to reception and they moved me to a different room. I thought things were going to be okay but the following morning, I awoke with 102 itchy bites covering my entire body and I was out of there.
I couldn’t believe it.
And oh my god, were they itchy! Imagine the itchiest bites you’ve ever had, multiply that by 100, spread it over your entire body, and have it last for several days. I even had some on my face and the soles of my feet. The latter made walking an extremely itchy endeavour.
I told the guy at reception that I’d been bitten by bedbugs and he couldn’t have cared less. “Okay,” he said. “I’ll change your bedding for you.” That’s not how you get rid of bedbugs, dude! Four hours later, he’d done nothing about it, and I decided to give up.
I left Tallinn on a ferry bound for Helsinki.
I spent close to all of my time in Finland with my hands in hot water. GETTING RID OF BEDBUGS IS SO HARD. And by the end of the experience, I knew more about them than I’d ever wished to know.
I had to hot wash everything I owned, and then have it dried on a high heat — and that included my backpack and daypack. I had to wash everything I couldn’t put in a washing machine in my sink, and I had to use a hairdryer to heat up everything I couldn’t wash. The most fun part was heating up every single page of the books I was travelling with.
It sounds extreme, but once you’re infested, bedbugs are tremendously tricky to destroy. Unfortunately, I’d been sleeping in Tallinn with my backpack open on the floor, so I couldn’t take chances.
Oh, and I forgot to mention before, this happened exactly one day after the vomitgate in Riga! Man, that trip was full of fun times.
The Creepiest Dude in Tahiti
Let me tell you about one of the creepiest things anybody has ever said to me.
I was at Rarotonga Airport in the Cook Islands, waiting for my flight to Tahiti. I’d spent the past week basking in paradise, taking lagoon cruises in Aitutaki and exploring the gorgeous island on two wheels. Now, it was time for my French Polynesia portion of my trip to begin, and I couldn’t wait to step foot in Tahiti.
A random guy approached me at Rarotonga Airport, but he’d noticed me several days earlier; on a different island entirely. And now he was here.
He cleared his throat and invaded my personal space, quick-firing a series of questions at my face. Am I travelling alone? Yes. Why was I travelling alone? Because I want to. How old was I? Twenty-eight. Wow, you look so much younger than that. Okay. I thought you were younger. Okay. I thought you were sixteen! Okay. Are you flying to Tahiti? Yes. Where are you staying there? I don’t remember. You don’t know? I don’t know. But what is the name of your hotel? I don’t remember. You should look it up.
He stopped and waited for me to do something, but I shook my head, and he walked away, leaving me shuddering in his wake. He’d looked to be around forty, spent our entire conversation refusing to take his eyes off me. No way was I going to tell him where I was staying.
We touched down in the stifling air of a Tahitian monsoon season and I was first off the plane. I made my way across the tarmac until I was ambushed by two ukulele players and a girl in a grass skirt. I stopped in my tracks when they motioned for me to do so and watched as they performed a Polynesian dance. It was so over the top.
I dragged my backpack off the carousel and an elderly American man with a sizeable fanny pack ran up to me and announced, that backpack looks heavier than you! You’re a very strong girl. Thanks, man.
Outside, I was ambushed once more.
Which hotel are you staying at? he asked. I ignored him and scoured the parking lot for a sign.
Ahead of me, there was a man holding up an A4 piece of paper with my name on it and another just below. I didn’t even have to ask to know whose name it was.
Hey, high five! Creepy Guy cheered. He held out his hand to me and I forced myself to make contact with it.
This is amazing! he said to the hostel owner. I was watching Lauren for the entire flight and couldn’t stop wondering where she was staying. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. And we’re staying in the same place! I mean, look at her. She’s beautiful.
Dude, you thought I was sixteen.
And of course we were placed in the same dorm room.
Creepy Guy sidled up to my bed. Did you like Aitutaki? he asked.
I nodded. It was nice, I told him.
How was Teking Tours?
You took a tour with Teking didn’t you?
Yeah, but how did you know that?
I saw you! You were wearing a dark blue bikini with fluorescent straps. You took the tour last Thursday. I watched you on the boat. And you were staying at Ranginui’s Retreat, as well, weren’t you? How did you like it?
Suddenly, this weird and annoying guy didn’t seem quite so harmless. Suddenly, I was freaked out about spending the night in the same room as him.
I couldn’t leave because there was no other accommodation around. I couldn’t move because the hostel was full. I couldn’t do anything but politely answer his questions and flee for another island the following morning.
Someone Stole the Dorm Room Curtains in Zanzibar
I was staying in a kickass hostel in Zanzibar and enjoying the novelty of a dorm room that came with a double bed for everyone! It was a pretty sweet set-up.
At some point during my week-long stay, a member of staff wandered into the room, stared at the window in silence, and frowned. This continued for several seconds.
“Everything alright?” I asked.
“Hmmm,” he replied. “Not really.”
“Somebody’s stolen our curtains.”
My gaze joined his and together we stood in silence in front of a bright window. The curtain that had been there the night before was now most definitely missing.
Nobody knew who took it, why they did so, and how on earth they managed to smuggle it out of the hostel without anybody noticing.
It was a puzzle that had the entire hostel flummoxed.
The Guests at My Hostel Were Sea Cucumber Smugglers
Let’s end on a particularly ridiculous note.
I was staying in a hostel in Rarotonga, splurging on a private room after I’d had to sleep with my head in a fridge a few nights before. Unfortunately, it turned out I was doomed to spend my time in the Cook Islands functioning on sleep deprivation, because the people in the room next door were loud. All night long, they were shouting and laughing and banging around, and it was horrible to have to deal with.
The following morning, I heard even more yelling and ventured outside of my room to take a look.
The owner of the hostel was standing nearby and shouting at the guests inside their room.
Later that day, I discovered the owner had had to resort to calling the police on the guests, thanks to the amount of noise they had been making. And yet, when the police attempted to get the guests to leave the hostel, they flat-out refused. As they argued at the door, the owner was overcome by a horrendous stench that was emanating from inside. It was foul, she told me.
After investigating further, the owner discovered that this couple had, over the space of several weeks, collected one thousand sea cucumbers from the lagoon, and spent that time drying them on the roof of the hostel[!!!!] Apparently, they’d been sneaking out of their room at 1 a.m. every evening and returning at 3 to start sorting through their stash. It explained why I’d been kept awake for much of the night.
They were Chinese tourists, it turned out, and they were planning on exporting the sea cucumbers back home, where they’re considered a luxury food. The owner was crying when she told me about it, devastated that guests in her property had stolen so much from the lagoon.
I later heard that the guests were deported from the Cook Islands.
Hostel Life Can Be So, So Ridiculous
I have a serious love-hate relationship with hostels.
Despite being in my thirties, I still find myself staying in them when I travel alone, as it’s a guaranteed way to make friends. But at the same time, every time I venture into a dorm room and discover my first snorer, I wonder why on earth I’m still doing this to myself.
I hope you enjoyed my ridiculous stories from a life spent in too many hostels! One day I’ll remember they drive me crazy and opt for a hotel instead.
Knowing me, it probably won’t be anytime soon.
What’s the most ridiculous thing that’s happened in a hostel you’ve been staying in?
[Photo of the yellow dorm room via: Elnur/Shutterstock]