Hostel bathrooms can be the worst part of budget travel, but they're not all bad. Some are actually just as nice as you'd find in a hotel.
You should, however, prepare yourself for shared bathrooms, though private hostel rooms may have an en suite. Hostel bathrooms usually start the day clean, but you may be sharing with double digit numbers of backpacks who do not share your bathroom habits, hygiene practices (whatever they may be), or bathroom cleanliness standards.
Almost always true: the toilet will be semi sloppy and the shower temperature unpredictable. Do bring flip flops to maintain healthy feet in spite of the shower.
There's a bit more to know and consider about hostel bathrooms -- and a few things to keep in mind.
Expect to Share Your Bathroom
You'll be sharing this bathroom if you're staying a hostel dorm, and you may be sharing it with the opposite gender (and you will most definitely be sharing with the opposite sex if you're staying in a mixed-gender dorm, where men and women share the same dorm room). If you're female and you haven't lived with a man or shared the bathroom with one, know this: the toilet seat may get left up. (In some countries, there may not be a toilet seat, which handily eliminates the question of which gender is supposed to leave it in which position; more on kinds of toilets worldwide here).
"En suite" means that the bathroom is attached to or inside your hostel room; generally (but not always), you'll get an en suite bathroom if you spring for a private hostel room. Sometimes you'll still have to share with the rest of the hostel even if you did decide to go private. Check the hostel listing before you book if a private bathroom is important to you.
Keep in mind that in some hostels, you may not even be on the same floor as the bathroom. I've stayed in hostels that have had just one bathroom for five floors of travelers, and having to walk up three flights of stairs in the middle of the night to use the toilet wasn't exactly the highlight of my stay there.
Hot Water Can Be Rare
Of course, with so many people staying in a single hostel, hot water can easily run out, so do expect some lukewarm showers at some point. To make sure you get a hot shower, either aim to be in there first in the morning or in the afternoon after exploring, as both these times are not popular.
If a hot shower is important to you, check the reviews on HostelBookers or HostelWorld before you book to see if the showers are mentioned. Trust me: if all a hostel has to offer are cold showers, there'll be plenty of reviews complaining about them! If nobody mentions the quality of the shower, it's most likely because they didn't have a problem with them.
The Quality Varies Wildly
Not all bathrooms are created the same. Though hostel bathrooms can be quite nice, they can also be visions from some circle of toilet hell. In a hostel in Taiwan, I regularly showered or used the bathroom with cockroaches scuttling around the floor. At a hostel in New Zealand, I was ready to move into the bathroom because it was so pristine and comfortable.
How do you know what you're letting yourself in for? Make sure to take a look at recent reviews to get an idea of what you'll be dealing with -- if the hostel bathrooms are disgusting, too few for the amount of people staying there, or lacking in hot water, there'll be plenty of travelers talking about it in their reviews.
How to Observe Good Shared-Bathroom Etiquette
Anytime many people, especially of multiple cultural backgrounds, cohabit in the same water closet, things can get messy and unpleasant. You don't want to be the person causing others to recoil in horror, so it's important to observe good shared-bathroom etiquette. If everyone behaved this way, there would be no disgusting bathrooms. These are my five ultimates when it comes to sharing a bathroom:
1) Clean up after yourself. When you're finished in the shower, be sure to pick up any wet towels, as well as toiletries and clothes that you may have changed out of. Mop up any excess water, clean up any toothpaste stains in the sink, and wash any stains from the shower floor.
2) Don't use up all the hot water. You definitely won't be popular if you grab the first shower and use up all of that precious hot water! If there's unlimited hot water in the hostel, though, you can take a little longer in the shower, but do be aware that people will get angry if you spend longer than twenty minutes in there.
3) Don't take super-long showers. Sorry! You're welcome to take hour-long showers in your own home, but when it comes to sharing a bathroom, keep them to less than five minutes. Someone may have a tour booked and need to shower beforehand, someone might need to shower before bed; both of them will be mad if they have to wait more than a few minutes for a shower.
4) Take everything into the shower with you. Make sure you have all of your toiletries, plus a towel and change of clothes into the bathroom with you. You want to be in and out as quickly as possible, and this helps you keep your time down.
5) Observe the water rules if you're in a drought-ridden country. I was shocked when I stayed in hostels in Australia and realized it's a huge no-no to even leave your shower running while you're shaving or applying shampoo. If you're somewhere that is water-rationed, be sensitive to those rules.
Bring Flip Flops and Make Sure to Use Them
You'll most likely be bringing flip-flops along for the ride with you on your trip, so you'll be pleased to hear they have another use when it comes to hostel bathrooms. I always make sure to bring my flip-flops with me into the shared bathrooms and use them whenever I'm having a shower. Whether various worms, fungi and parasites can actually enter the body through the unbroken skin of the feet is a matter best left to experts, but here's what I think of when deciding whether to wear them into a shared shower: somebody probably just peed in there and you don't want to stand in that.
They're not Something to Worry About
Sharing your bathroom with a dozen or more strangers sounds like a daunting prospect, but you'll be surprised by how normal it quickly becomes. Don't worry about it -- the vast majority of bathrooms aren't as disgusting as you imagine they'd be. Just read the reviews before you commit to a hostel, bring your flip-flops to keep your feet safe, and you'll likely be pleasantly surprised by them.
This article has been edited and updated by Lauren Juliff.