Dorm Ninja 101

3.14159… tips for surviving a 12-bed hostel room

tip one: you must have an eyemask and earplugs
You must rock the eyemask with pride.

Aside from a passport, these will be your most precious travel companions. No matter where you are in the world or what you’re doing, you’ll feel better with a good night’s sleep. What do you need for long, deep, restful sleep?

1. Dark
2. Quiet

Dark and quiet come and go at a hostel. Just when you think you’ve got them pinned down, they’re snatched away.

Maybe you crash at midnight — the room is peaceful, and you drift off into blissful sleep, exhausted from your day of walking, biking, sightseeing, and socializing.

Cue the bar crew, who return at 3 a.m. — blitzed, hammered, sloshed, schwasted — drunk, basically. Needless to say, the dark and quiet you were enjoying are snatched away as they immediately turn on the light and recount the night’s adventures in voices that could wake the dead (and more importantly, the living).

But, if you went to bed equipped with an eye-mask and earplugs, you will ride out this storm. You just might sleep through it.

Foam earplugs — a couple bucks at the drugstore. Make sure you roll ‘em up tight and shove ‘em in. Don’t be timid.
Eyemask — get a decent one from Target or online for $15 or so. It’ll be so worth it.

tip two: When you’re the drunk one, be a dorm ninja
PunchingJudy has got the right idea.

The mission: Infiltrate your hostel room at 3 a.m., retrieve your toothbrush and towel. Wash up. Return to bed. Alert none of the 10 sleeping people to your presence.

What is a dorm ninja? Someone who, no matter how drunk, gets in and out of a room silently and undetected. It takes years to perfect these skills, but here are some beginner’s tips:

1. Open the door slowly and carefully. Slip inside. Allow your eyes to adjust to the low light. Get the lay of the land: mentally trace a path around the bags, shoes and piles of clothes scattered around the room. Take a deep breath.

2. Silently creep to your bed. Even in the dark, you’ll be able to grab your flashlight, because you always keep it in the same pocket of your bag.

3. Use your fist to minimize the light of the flashlight. Moving slowly and deliberately, take care of your business. Keep that light covered up!

4. When it comes time to get into bed, do it gently. Of course, creating an earthquake for your bunkmate sounds like fun, but we all know playing God has its consequences.

5. Put on your eye mask and earplugs (stashed under your pillow) and drift off, smug in the knowledge that your roommates will never know what you’ve done for them.

tip three: pack smart with mesh bags
mesh bags: so simple, so effective

Think of your clothes at home, before you travel. Do you throw your socks, shirts, pants, underwear, jackets into one giant drawer, and dig through it every time you need something? No. Well, probably not.

You probably do something reasonable like keep socks over here, underwear over there, pants yet somewhere else, etc. If this seems common sense, it is, but stay with me here.

Now imagine the typical backpacking backpack. You try to keep things separate, maybe layering them like a 7-layer dip, but soon everything’s a jumble and you’re muttering to yourself, “I just need a pair of socks, goddammit!” as you throw clothes backwards over your shoulders like a dog digging in the sand.

Finally you get to the bottom of the bag and realize that you are, in fact, out of clean socks.

There is a way to bring your closet with you. It’s such a cheap and simple and elegant solution you’ll be kicking yourself for not thinking of it:


These are made for washing delicates, but they work wonderfully for packing. They are super cheap — a couple bucks each. The aggravation they’ll save you makes them priceless. PRICELESS!

Five or six mesh bags should do it. One for socks. One for underwear. One for shirts. One for pants. A bigger one for jackets and sweaters.

Roll up your clothes, stick ‘em in the bags. You’ve now got a mobile closet. No kidding.

Now, you go for a pair socks. Hell, take everything out of your bag if you want. Lay it out. See what you’ve got. It’s all there. Bask in the glow of the mesh bags.

tip .1415926… get out there, kid

“Hostels are a great place to meet people,” they say. “Everyone is so open and friendly,” they say. “You can’t help NOT meeting people,” they insist.

But when you look around, you see people in groups. You see people on their computers or phones. You don’t know HOW to meet people.

1. Let loneliness be your guide
The inherent loneliness of traveling alone will force you to meet people. If you’re traveling with friends, make time apart so you can feel a little of that precious loneliness.

After a full day of adventuring and sightseeing solo, you’ll be craving some conversation. You’ll walk up to some interesting-looking person and say, “Hey! where are you from?”

That’s all it takes.

2. Speak a little more slowly and clearly when communicating with a non-native English speaker.

Let’s say you speak a little French. Maybe you studied it in high school.

Now you’re in France, and you’re talking to a Frenchperson. What’s going to allow you to understand them?

A. They speak a little more slowly and a little more clearly than usual.
B. They avoid slang and idioms and stick to simpler sentences.

When you’re speaking English to a non-native speaker, use these tips. You’d be surprised what a difference it can make.

3. Don’t only look to meet people of the opposite sex. Sure, who wouldn’t want a torrid travel romance with the sexily-accented German, Italian, French, Swedish, Colombian guy or girl?

But isn’t making a human connection important, too? Don’t be shy to talk to guys if you’re a guy and girls if you’re a girl.

Sam-Omar Hall is a freelance journalist based in San Francisco, CA. He has lived in Morocco and Taiwan and done his share of backpacking and hostel living. He spreads the gospel of eyemasks and earplugs whenever he can.