As a solo traveller, staying in dorm rooms is fun. Personally, I’ve never felt uncomfortable sharing a room with strangers, as I understand the practicality of the hostelling system; that old travel philosophy of just getting on with it.
Then again, because of personal preference, I will always try to book into the girls’ dorm first. If it isn’t available then I’ll happily take the mixed dorm option. Or so I thought. Then I entered my six-bed mixed dorm in Munich, where I was the only girl, and realized that I felt uncomfortable. I’d shared dorms with guys before–two Germans in Shanghai and two Irish brothers in Beijing–but there were always a couple of other girls there as well.
During my three-night stay, I discovered some of the differences between being a girl in a girls’ dorm vs. a mixed dorm:
In my all-girls’ dorm in Vienna, after a day out, we would repack our bags, make our beds, or reorganise our lockers. In contrast, in Munich, I witnessed more clothes being flung, money being dropped, and forgotten soggy towels draped over bunk posts.
Friendly vs. Flirty
I’m aware that some mistake friendliness for flirting, and I’m a very friendly person. I was aware of this in Munich, and whilst I was naturally friendly, I remained careful about making sure it wouldn’t be perceived as more than that. I watched Eurovision with a couple of guys, had breakfast with another, discussed books with a third, and gave tour directions to a fourth. These are all ways that I would act around girls, and I ensured that I gave off no wrong impressions. In Shanghai, I went clubbing with my two German dorm-mates along with a couple of other hostel friends, but one got a bit too friendly. Since then, I’ve become much more careful about how I act.
I’ve grown more European now; I’m quite relaxed about stripping off, within reason. Obviously I didn’t do this when boys were present, so I found myself scrabbling under the sheets, hoping my wiggling wasn’t suggestive whilst also praying that my scrunched up knickers wouldn’t fling out into their faces and that something Bridget Jones-style like that wouldn’t happen. It was either that or changing after a shower, which was inconvenient because my clothes always dropped from the pegs as soon as they sensed a wet floor.
When I entered my Beijing dorm, there was a sign on the bathroom door reading, ‘Dear friends, please do poo poo in the reception toilet. Many thanks!’ just to set the tone. However, my dorm mates were two fitness-freak Irish brothers so I learnt to forgive them. In general, I’d always wait a good 20 minutes after they’d left the bathroom, and in the mornings, I’d try to shower first. This might sound diva-ish and gender stereotypical, but when you’re out of your comfort zone, you surprise yourself by how you can subconsciously revert to societal views!