The one luxury I love about home, and one that I only truly appreciated once I started living on campus accommodation, is the privacy of having your own bathroom. There’s something comforting about a familiar toilet, where everything is in its place and is (usually) up to your personal standard of cleanliness.
When you are staying in hostels, you can differentiate the excellent ones from the grotty ones by the state of their toilets. After braving long transits and cramped train/plane toilets, sometimes you just want to come back to a place where you can take a nice shower and not wonder what those dubious stains on the floor really are.
Some days I often dig deeper into my wallet and pay a little more for a private room and ensuite bathroom so I’ll never have to wait in line, but in the event you don’t have that luxury, here are a couple of essential items to pack that make sharing a communal bathroom a much more pleasant experience.
Essential item #1: Plastic Bags
Whether they’re ziplocs or just plain ol’ plastic bags, these are a godsend in any bathroom. Hostel bathrooms generally tend to be pretty small, so having a plastic bag allows you to keep your clothes dry, even if the cubicle is just big enough for you and the toilet bowl. Your stuff stays dry – you just need to wipe off the plastic bag after you’re done, and you can use the plastic bag again and again.
You don’t even have to specially buy these bags – just save some of them from your shopping or grocery runs – that way even if they get irrevocably dirty (ew) or spring a leak, you can toss them easily. Also, if you fold them right, they don’t take up a lot of space in a backpack.
Plastic bags are also useful as a surface to rest your stuff if there aren’t any suitable ledges or hooks, and you can use them to bag your dirty clothes after your bath, or keep your damp towel/toiletries away from the dry stuff in your bag.
Essential Item #2: Cheap Flipflops
I’m a little squeamish at the idea of stepping on the floor of a toilet I’m not familiar with – you’re never quite sure what has been there, or how fastidious the staff have been in cleaning the place. Cheap flipflops give you that little comfort of not stepping on a strange floor with your bare feet, though if the drainage is clogged, you’re still stuck standing in your own bath water (and more), which is still uber gross.
Some places provide slippers for their residents, but if you prefer not to stick your feet in other people’s toejam, just carry your own indoor flipflops around! Even if I’m in a swanky hotel room, I usually prefer to plod around in my own slippers.
Essential Items #3: Soap and a toothbrush
If there are only 2 items you can pack into your toiletries, make it some soap and a toothbrush. When in a pinch, soap can double as shampoo and washes off grime better than plain ol’ water. And while you can usually bum some toothpaste off a well-prepared traveller, very few (if any at all) will volunteer to share their toothbrush with you. And there’s no better way to start off a day than with a minty fresh smile and breath!
Other bonus items that are good to have: Your own stash of tissue and wet wipes (because some toilets are always out of paper, or the rolls get wet which is icky), hand sanitizer, hooks and suction cups if there just aren’t enough hooks on your door, large thin bath towel that dries you sufficiently and protects your modesty if you left your underwear in the room…
What are your essential items when you’re sharing a communal toilet in hostels?
I got a true taste of hostel life when I first moved into my room at my local university – not having a place where my toiletries were just waiting for me was weird at first! It was then I developed little habits and ideas on how to best navigate this – I had a little basket with my toiletries inside, and I had a toothbrush with a proper cover for the first time (because just leaving it out in the open was yech!) as well as preferred shower cubicles (right water pressure, one tile-width wider space, good lighting) and sinks to use… It’s an art and a science, using the communal bathroom optimally!
So using shared bathrooms in overseas hostels wasn’t that far off from what I spent 4 years getting used to, and while I never had any major bad experiences, I always loooooved the days when I splurged a little more and had my own toilet to return to at the end of the day. Or sometimes in the less busy areas, you could get pretty decent private accommodation for equivalent popular city-hostel prices (like in Chipiona), and on those days, I took effort to take extra long baths, just because I could!
These days, I’m more willing to pay for private accommodation and attached bathrooms as I realize I do value my privacy. I attribute it to a childhood as the middle child and never having my own room till I hit university =P
And honestly some people have no concept of communal living! My general mantra is “Clean up the shit you make because no one else is going to want to touch it”, and while I’m far from the tidiest person around, I think I’m pretty respectful of communal areas and quite good at maintaining a decent level of cleanliness!