As a solo traveller staying in a dorm room is one of the easiest ways to meet people, it also however comes with some challenges, lack of space and sharing a bathroom with strangers being the main ones! I’m not the neatest of travellers and like a lot of space so I’ve had to become adept at reducing my ‘dorm footprint’ through planning what I’ll need over the next few days and making sure it’s easily accessible. My multiple dry bags are very helpful at keeping me organized as is my backpack that, unlike some packs where you access the main compartment from the top, my pack zips all the way around so you can easily see everything that’s in it.
When it comes to sharing a bathroom with strangers, well you just get used to it as there is often no other option. The shower normally isn’t separate from the main space and generally doesn’t have any kind of shower curtain so most of the time the floor and loo seat are wet. You become used to the bottom of your trousers getting soggy every time you visit!
At the beaches and on the islands where often there isn’t running water the ‘shower’ is a big barrel of water and a scoop that you use to wet and rinse yourself with. It’s best not to look too closely at the cleanliness of the water in the barrel and just get on with it. The sea also provides a nice alternative if the water in the barrel looks too grotty.
The sewage system in Cambodia isn’t able to cope with anything other than ‘natural waste’ so no loo paper down the toilet! This situation has resulted in the invention of the ‘bum gun’ a hose with a spray gun on the end which you use to clean yourself with first before you dry with the loo paper which then goes in the bin.
My favourite dorms are the ones where the bathroom and loo aren’t joined to the actual room as this give you a bit more privacy, which is kind of nice when most of the people traveling normally experience some kind of stomach upset every few days!
Some hostels give you the option of a single sex dorm but many don’t and for a few nights in Siem Reap I was the only girl in the dorm. Initially it feels a bit weird, but once again you get used to it and the various noises and smells that emanate from your dorm mates at night!
Prices for a dorm range from US$3 to US$10 per night depending on the season or location. Smaller dorms normally have 4 to 6 bunk beds in them and the larger dorms can be up to and over 18 beds. The best equipped dorms have some kind of personal ‘safe’, a private reading light and your own electrical socket next to your bed to conveniently charge the various digital devices that most travellers are addicted to.
Finally on to tips for a good night’s sleep.
The first thing to check is the bed for bed-bugs. The easiest way to check this is to look at the edges of the mattress, under the sheet, for these little critters. I normally sleep in a lightweight silk sleeping bag which is cool and provides additional protection from bugs. A lightweight sleeping bag also ensures that you don’t inadvertently reveal too much flesh to ones dorm mates! Some people aren’t bothered about this and will happily sleep in skimpy underwear on top of the covers to get reprieve from the heat. Once again, you just get used to it!
Ear-plugs and an eye mask are also key necessities to block out the noise and lights as people come and go at various times of the night and morning. Finally, if sleeping on the bottom bunk I find that tucking a sarong under the mattress of the top bunk so that it hangs down also provides a bit of additional privacy.
Written from the YWCA, Colombo, Sri Lanka.