Hostel lockouts were very common a decade ago, but thankfully aren't so much anymore. They used to be popular because owners would often live onsite, so locking guests out was the only way the proprietor could either leave the hostel themselves or carry out some tasks without backpackers underfoot. Hostel lockouts are no longer as common, but they do still exist.
What is a Hostel Lockout?
You can probably figure out from the name and the description above, but a hostel lockout is when a hostel closes its doors for several hours during the day. Nobody is allowed to stay in the hostel during this time, so it means you'll have to find somewhere else to be for a couple of hours. The lockout typically occurs in the middle of the day and lasts for two-to-three hours. There are typically no exceptions either -- if a lockout is in process, you won't be able to stay in the hostel, and that usually means you won't be able to check-in to one, either.
Don't think that a hostel lockout is another name for a hostel curfew, which is totally different. A hostel curfew means you have to be back in the hostel by a certain time at night or you'll be locked out; a lockout only occurs during the day.
Why Do Hostel Lockouts Exist?
It's typically for cleaning purposes -- if the cleaners need to make or change the beds, it's easier to do so if backpackers aren't in their taking a nap; if they need to tidy up the bathroom or common room, they can do so more efficiently if there's nobody else in the room.
If, as mentioned above, the owners are the sole staff members in the hostel, utilizing a lockout is the only time when they'll be able to leave the hostel to do some errands. Some owners will decide to block out two hours of every day to leave the hostel, so they're not stuck there all day everyday. In this case, it's a lot more easier to understand and not so frustrating, but I have to confess, it's still annoying to have to deal with as a traveler regardless of the reasons behind it.
How Common are Hostel Lockouts?
They're definitely quite rare, especially in larger hostels where there are plenty of staff members around. In six years of full-time travel, I've come across a hostel lockout exactly twice. It's therefore not something you need to worry about if you're planning a trip -- the odds are unlikely that you'll even have to deal with one.
What are the Advantages of a Hostel Lockout?
There aren't many. One of them, though, is that it forces you to get outside and explore the place you're in. And while that may sound weird, travel burnout is real, and sometimes you'll just feel like sitting in your hostel and watching TV shows instead of wandering around yet another museum.
You'll might say it won't happen to you -- I know I definitely did -- but it hits most travelers eventually, and that's when a hostel lockout does some good. It forces you to get outside and explore your surroundings, it encourages you to get some exercise, and it forces you to stop looking at a screen all day. And who knows, going for a spontaneous wander around a new place could lead you to a cool spot you wouldn't have otherwise discovered.
As frustrating as hostel lockouts can be, they're great if you're feeling burnt out and in need of some motivation to explore.
And the Disadvantages?
To be frank, hostel lockouts are annoying. They interrupt your plans and can often lead to you just sitting outside the hostel bored and wanting to have a shower after your day exploring.
It can interrupt your plans as well. What if you couldn't sleep because someone was snoring all night, and then you have to go outside for three hours when all you really want to do is take a nap? What if you fly in on an early morning long-haul flight, haven't slept for 24 hours, are incredibly jet-lagged, and now have to wait by the hostel front door with your backpack because it's currently closed? What if you spent all day at the beach and need to clean off, but have to wait for your hostel to re-open?
What if the only time your family can Skype with you is when the lockout is active? What if you need to meet friends for dinner and can't get back inside to grab some extra cash from your locker?
In short, it's a huge inconvenience, and there's no real reason for them to exist. I understand that small, family-run hostels find it easier to clean without backpackers in the dorms, but plenty of hostels manage just fine with travelers hanging around.
Should You Avoid a Hostel That Has a Lockout?
I don't actively refuse to stay in a hostel if it has a lockout policy, but if I have a choice between two places and one of them doesn't have a lockout, I'll opt for that one every time. When so many hostels don't have a lockout policy, why should I inconvenience myself for opting for one that does?
The only time I do choose a hostel with a lockout is when it's the best reviewed hostel in town, can save me a lot of money by staying there, and seems like it would genuinely better my trip by booking a bed there. Let's just say that I've yet to find a hostel that meets that criteria.
This article has been edited and updated by Lauren Juliff.