For a lot of people the thought of staying in a hostel is cringey because they are picturing their University dormitories where people were passed out covered in who-knows-what or throwing rager parties at all hours of the day. The truth is, some hostels are indeed like that, but not all hostels are created equally!
In fact, you can be as choosy selecting a hostel as you would any other type of accommodation. While largely communal, many hostels offer private rooms for those of us who are willing to sacrifice a few extra bucks for the peace of our personal space.
Hostels are amazing places to socialize, especially if you're a solo traveller or a couple/group who likes to meet new people! I think the advantages to exploring a good hostel far outweigh the cons, unless of course you are 8 months pregnant or generally dislike people.
For those of you who plan to see what hostel living is all about, we've put together a list of the most important things you should know and practice below:
25 (DO) Lower Your Guard...Just A Bit
You don't have to go around broadcasting your personal business, but you can be more open than usual to the new people and new experiences around you. Likely if it's your first time in a hostel it will all be a bit overwhelming at first - sharing a room with total strangers, experiencing the generally carefree (and sometimes careless) nature of other travellers who come from far and wide, sleeping in a bunk bed - it's all a bit much. What can help you adjust to your surroundings is releasing any expectations on what it should be or comparing it to home. Definitely easier said than done but the more openminded and receptive you are to these new experiences (good and bad) the more readily you'll be able to recognize the things you love, like, and the things you learn from and that is a big part of any trip anyways.
If you're an introvert it can help to partner up with a friend who's slightly more extroverted and can ease you into social situations at a pace that feels comfortable. It can also be incredibly helpful for the extrovert to follow your lead and pad 'happy hour' with a bit of quiet time too. The contrasts that travel provides is where some of the richest nuggets of growth and development are hidden.
24 (DO) Respect the Common Space
DO YOUR DISHES! That's pretty standard among all commonly shared kitchen spaces but especially in places where people are coming and going regularly and hoping for a bit of home. No one wants to smell your leftover tuna sandwich from the night before lurking in the air!
Other key etiquette tips include: using headphones versus your tablet speakers for that freshly minted Spotify playlist, unless you've been dubbed the hostel DJ, it is simply noise pollution. If you spill something, clean it up right away! Don't hog the washing machine, set a timer on your phone so the next person can get their load done in time. Keep your personal scents to a minimum, clouds of cologne can be really aggressive and even aggravating to those with sensitivities.
There is usually a particular space carved out for phone calls to home or speaker phone Skypes versus your dorm room where someone may be sneaking in a midday siesta. On the flipside of that, don't take your naps in a space set up for a specific purpose either! That's right, climb OFF the beer-pong table and take it to your bunkie.
23 (DO) Check Reviews
Do I sound like your cost-comparing father who is constantly telling you about the value and features and/or insurances of his newest gadget? Well, I know I sound like mine and by golly, I don't even care! It is absolutely a game changer. As mentioned earlier, not all hostels are created equally, as in some are very, very, scuzzy.
If you are planning to stay longer than just one night it can really make a difference to read what other road warriors have to report. I know I depended on the rating system clearly outlined by hostelworld.com and booked nearly every single stay on the app. It helped me budget and keep track of my favourite hostel haunts for future trips but also it was a really simple to use interface. It rates on things like value, atmosphere, security, location, cleanliness, facilities, and staff. Each of these categories has the power to make or break your stay so why not see what the masses have to say!
Not only that but if you're in a party mood and you stumble upon one a small, quieter hostel by winging it you're inevitably going to be disappointed. Often times the description will list the type of environment and any additional activities (surf lessons! bar crawls! bonfires!) or extras that are potentially built into the price. It can help to discern what you really care about and make the right choice for your next hostel holiday.
22 (DO) Bring a Headlight
Dorky? Yes. Helpful and Considerate? Also yes! Especially if you're the type of traveller who last-minute decides to book a night train and need to rustle up your belongings after lights out in a hurry.
There is nothing more inconsiderate than flicking on those overhead lights to pack your bag when your roommates have gone to bed. Trust us, you won't like when it happens to you and travel karma is REAL. With a cheapy headlight from the dollar store or local hardware shop, you can accomplish so much without disturbing the others! Midnight packing, snacking, reading, cliffside crawling on the way back from the town (not entirely recommended)... it never hurts to have an extra headlight. Especially if you tend to air on the side of night owl (woot, woot!) versus early bird.
21 (DO) Bring Back-Up Ear Plugs
Ear plugs are like socks. They tend to get separated, lost, or just plain run down from excessive use on the road. Aside from the glorious bonding sessions and get to know you drinking games abound, you will inevitably have to share close quarters with your new-found friends and guess what?
As much as 30 percent of people aged thirty and above are snorers. Snoring affects approximately 90 million American adults and a whopping 37 million of those are affected on a regular basis. As in every night while you try to get your precious beauty sleep. We aren't talking about the soft whimpering kind either and there is nothing more disruptive to your action (or in-action) packed itinerary as a poor night's sleep due to noise.
There are also other noises in the night that happen sometimes that we won't go into too much further detail on, but suffice to say your best protection against them would be ear plugs and potentially a bottle of disinfecting air freshener.
The major point is that stuff happens when you're traveling that you can't control and it's best to be prepared and then doubly prepared so you can go on enjoying your travels and the people that share them with you.
20 (DO) Invest in A Quick Dry Towel
This isn't just life-saving and hygienic when it comes the humidity and potential mould / allergens that lurk in group living scenarios but it's also a miracle when considering the weight difference for your bag (and therefore your back!).
You can find micro fibre towels on the cheap online or at most camping stores. While they are not as fluffy and delightful as your regular at-home use towel, they are fast-drying, thirsty and shockingly compact. They often come in a variety of colours and sometimes even with a small mesh pouch so you can sling it on your arm for the beach and/or any water-bound adventures you might plan to explore.
There is nothing worse, heavier or more upsetting than packing a soggy towel into your pack and not knowing if it will come out the other side alive - air on the side of freshness/caution and grab yourself a quick dry towel pronto.
19 (DO) Be Mindful of Differences
This can be a big one when maintaining a neighbourly vibe in your hostel accomos. Likely there are going to be differences among the travellers of the world who co-habitate in your space. While curiosity can be good, it can never hurt to exercise an extra bit of diplomacy when inquiring about any newly detected differences between you and your mates.
As a largely outspoken, chatty, and curious person, I speak from experience when I say that foot in mouth disorder is something I have learned to prevent the hard way. For example if you spot someone who isn't drinking wine with the rest of the group on spaghetti night, it can be tempting to innocently razz them. Meanwhile there are host of reasons people abstain from what you might find 'normal' behaviours and habits and even the most well-intentioned lighthearted jabs can make a fellow hosteller feel isolated.
If you want to get to know someone on a more intimate level, share something personal about yourself before delving into questions about another traveller too quickly. Bear in mind too that sometimes, what seems like intentionally disruptive or rude behaviour, can also be the result of a language barrier or customary difference. The whole point of the hostel is to create community, and every community benefits from its diverse makeup - embrace with acceptance!
18 (DO) Say YES to Group Outings
Most hostels aim to cultivate a culture of 'getting to know you' so they organize group outings to nearby pubs or free walking tours. It can be easy to turn them down in lieu of a more intimate city stroll, but consider doing at least one of the nights for a group hostel outing.
Not only is it a great way to learn of the cheap watering holes and hot spots, it's usually a lot more fun to learn while in a pack. You also get to learn about your fellow hostel dwellers and often bond as you bob from place to place giddily sharing your travel plans, hopes and dreams.
Also if you've been out till all hours of the night with your comrades, it can be quite fun to nurse those communal headaches together the following day as you lounge about in the in-hostel hammocks or make a great big pot-luck breakfast. As amazing as the cities are that you're visiting, it is these group hang moments from my travels that I find myself reflecting on with fondness the most.
17 (DO) Check Curfews / Lock Out Times
This is a fun one - NOT!
I'll never forget one of my first Italian hostels that promoted a 'lock out' period of 4 and half hours for 'cleaning.' I'll also never forget the day that I remembered after I had proudly popped out for a traditional breakfast of cappuccino and a cornetto in my trendy heeled leather ankle boots (the only heels I brought with me on my journey - they seemed practical at the time!) to learn upon my return that the doors had been LOCKED.
Sitting on the step puzzled and weary from wearing heels on cobblestone (how do these women do it?! I remember thinking as I hobbled along) it was then and there that I vowed that I would always make a note of lock out periods from then on.
Don't get caught in wobbly shoes in the blistering sun or locked out from your cozy bed! Check out your hostel's policy on curfew and be sure to plan accordingly. Not all hostels have these blackout periods but it's better to be safe then sore-y.
As in blistering sores on your feet from walking around a medieval town in leather heeled boots all afternoon sore-y.
16 (DO) Monopolize Early AM Bathroom Time
Do you like chatting in the morning with a toothbrush in your mouth? Me neither.
If you want to have a lovely hot shower experience, it can be worth it to hedge your bets and get up early. With so many people in and out of the shower stalls on a daily basis, the morning is also the period when they are most pristine and devoid of mysterious strings of hair, band-aids and god knows what else. This is also a great time for any shyer or more self-conscious travellers seeing as how some communal bathing situations are also co-ed bathing situations. Of course, you will always have your privately locked stall but for some of us, the extra privacy of the less populated bathroom can be a lot more enjoyable and relaxing.
This is also a great call if you're someone who takes quite a bit of time to get ready as peak hours aren't exactly idea for prom-level hairstyling. No judgement, good hair is important to a lot of people and can be a great conversation starter, all we're saying is to please be considerate of your fellow travellers and pick a slower period to work that mane. This slides perfectly into our first don't!
15 (DON'T) Forget Your Shower Shoes!
I can't stress this enough and while it would ring true for most as common sense, it's worth bolding and CAPS locking it.
WEAR SHOES EVERYWHERE IN THE HOSTEL.
You especially need a layer of protection in the dubious environment of the communal hostel bathroom. Even when it appears clear and free, you really don't know what's lurking beneath the surface and no offence, but people generally have very different visions of hygienic sensibility (particularly with their feet for some reason!).
It is just absolutely not worth the risk and this is coming from a person who would gladly walk bare feet for all of eternity if it were possible. I would recommend just a cheap pair of flip flops that are light weight and made of some kind of foam / rubber combo. If you wear socks into the bathroom, other people will automatically assume you are festering something within them because why else would you wear socks into a shower?
Whatever you do, don't be shy on the soap and even consider working your shower shoes into the cleansing routine because plastic will also hold bacteria. Okay, now I'm feeling a bit queasy, moving right a long then!
14 (DON'T) Be A TV Hog
It's just the worst version of yourself really, and one that you should reserve for when you're back at home arguing with your partner or friends on which season finale gets precedence while you munch popcorn playfully.
You aren't travelling to watch telly but if you absolutely must watch something, for heaven's sake, be cool about it! There is nothing worse than a territorial visitor, even with something as seemingly innocuous as flipping the television station. Hostels are allergic to 'hostile' behaviour and incidentally, so are a lot of humans.
Is the world going to end if you don't catch that game? If so, maybe you can find a pub or bar where likeminded people gather together to rejoice in sports fandom together over frosty pints of local brews, it will probably be more fun anyway!
If people seem indifferent to what's on but you're the last one walking into the room, it can never hurt to ask if anyone is watching before you go on flipping the channels. A little common courtesy can really go a very long way. Afterall, it is your holiday too and everyone should be aiming to enjoy themselves, starting drama over a Law and Order rerun, simply doesn't factor into that equation.
13 (DON'T) Expect Things to Go 100% As Planned
They will not, and truthfully that's all part of the fun isn't it? You wouldn't be taking off on an awesome, new found adventure if you were satisfied with the predictable status quo of things. This section could also be entitled 'don't sweat the small stuff' because that's what we're talking about here. Sometimes after a long travel day, you're hit by a dose of homesickness and it can be tough to keep your composure. No ketchup for your burger at the BBQ? Did someone in the hostel drink your only Red Bull? Have you lost WiFi connection mid-sentence on a Skype home to mom?
These are all super annoying scenarios but not game changers necessarily. Being adaptable is a crucial aspect to enjoying yourself as a traveller who is staying in a hostel. This lack of attachment to outcomes can allow for way better results unknowingly! For example maybe you reschedule your Skype and catch a sunset at the beach instead or find a new fave hot sauce that you can stock up on in lieu of boring old ketchup. If you stay open to possibilities and do your best to detach from your expectations you are guaranteed to have a much better stay.
12 (DON'T) Miss Free Breakfast
If you have a free breakfast option included with your board it is your duty, nay your right, to indulge in some free packets of toast and cheap single serve jams. Slurp up that watered down juice and eat some random stuff you've never eaten for breakfast before (olives in Spain, anyone?)
You may be tempted to skip the free breakfast in search of something more satiating but it's always smart to take advantage of the free stuff as a backpacker. You can always splurge on lunch! If there is fruit offered at least grab an apple for your hike later, so you can refuel for free! If there is one breakfast item you should feel good about splurging on, it can be a coffee or a freshly squeezed OJ - these can be game changers on a day where you need extra might!
Otherwise keep any superfluous breakfast desires for the weekend as a special treat and don't be afraid to stockpile a few snacks for later at your hostel breaky. If your tummy doesn't thank us, your bank account sure will.
11 (DON'T) Be Afraid to Swap Rooms
Not everything is roses and butterflies in hostel living situations and you must know you're limits and abide by them. If someone has made you feel uncomfortable (I once experienced a man whisper into my ear that he liked my pyjamas and it still sends a shudder down my spine upon reflection) or worse, unsafe, tell a member of the team at the hostel you are staying at.
It can be something as nondescript as a general vibe, it doesn't matter, because you're feeling that way for a reason and just because you're sleeping cheap doesn't mean you don't deserve to feel secure. Afterall, hostels are still very much built around the concept of hospitality so if they can do something to accommodate you, they certainly will. It can also be an element of the room, not necessarily a person like for instance I am a restless sleeper and upon discovering my deathtrap of a bunk bed (it was about two meters from the wall and very high off the ground) I asked to be moved to a lower level bunk for my safety. Like I said, know your limits and be vocal about it with the appropriate parties who are there to help you.
10 (DON'T) Be Unnecessarily Loud at Night or Morning
If you drop something by accident it's understandable but when you're slamming your locker open and shut or zipping and unzipping and re-zipping again or flip flopping loudly around the space in the precious sleep hours, it's simply bad manners. As a part of the hostel community you have to become more self-aware so as not to disrupt the harmony of your fellow travellers.
If you can't sleep or get a burst of creative inspiration in the middle of the night, pop on that headlight we talked about earlier or quietly exit the dorm to a common space making sure not to let the door slam behind you. If you're a super duper morning person, like one of those who doesn't even need coffee to smile before 11 am, then please take your cheerful conversation to the breakfast room.
Alarms can be on vibrate and any pre/post bed work out routines should definitely be performed outside the dorm area while others are sleeping. Respecting the differences in those sharing your environment and mindfully adjusting your behaviour is not just appreciated, it's absolutely expected.
9 (DON'T) Fail to Keep In Touch
With people making fast entrances and exits and every travellers aim to make the most out of each moment it can be dizzyingly difficult to keep tabs. For those whom you formed a connection with, shared a unique experience with or are simply fond of, make sure to get their address!
Firstly, it's so much fun to have pen pals all over the world and can be incredibly comforting to hear from the people you met on your holiday once you're back in the swing of reality at home. If anyone is still sending postcards, it's the people you meet in your hostels!
It can also be really fun to to host your international friends in your hometown and feel like a real deal tour guide. It also doesn't suck to have a bunch of couches that you can crash on when you're drifting through their neck of the woods and buzzing for a good time with a familiar friend.
The openness and generosity exchanged between travellers is very special and not something that should be squandered due to business, laziness or even forgetfulness. Keep a notebook handy and be sure to scribble the contact deets of the people you hope to see again someday soon.
8 (DON'T) Forget to Label Your Things in the Fridge
If you don't label (or lock), it's surely going to get consumed. It's not an attractive side to hostel travelling but it's the unfortunate truth. People get drunk and when they get drunk they get hungry and when they get hungry, they tend to justify munching on unlabelled snacks in the fridge. The label may not make a difference if they're care-free, but it could and it's worth protecting those last few bites of tikka masala your splurged on, if you can.
I find it helps to get creative with your labelling and have even been known to draw full on diagrams involving a skull and crossbones (I'm very protective over my food, okay?!). If you can avoid the epic disappointment of looking forward to a tasty treat only to arrive and it's been mistakenly eaten from a lack of label, you only have yourself to blame. I think the items that are particularly vulnerable are super fresh beverages, alcoholic beverages, any food that is distinguishable from its shape/ packaging like pizza, and of course sealed snacks like chips, candies, etc. While we have your attention, another don't in this category would be DON'T KNOWINGLY EAT OTHER PEOPLE'S FOOD!
7 (DON'T) Expect Stellar WiFi
It's romantic to envision yourself with a high speed internet connection writing e-mails back home, while streaming the latest episode of Love Island, and downloading the latest Kanye album on iTunes. It's a beautiful fantasy that we all share when dreaming up computer quiet time on the road, sadly it is not often a reality in cost-effective lodging.
It got so bad when I was backpacking that I wondered what actually constitutes advertising free WiFi? Is it just having the non-functioning modem in the vicinity? If you are a person who depends heavily on internet for your work or your sanity, it might be worth it to look into a portable SIM activated WiFi hotspot machine. They are pretty expensive and will run up a monthly tab but they are reliable and portable.
If that's not an option, you can try tethering your cell phone to your computer for a half decent connection if you've already sprung for an data plan. However, if you just need to pump out a few e-mails and check your Whatsapp from time to time, the in-house WiFi should suit you just fine.
6 (DON'T) Forget It's a Hostel (Not A Hotel)
This can be confusing if it's your first time staying in a hostel I mean, the name is sort of similar? Or maybe you thought that the term 'backpacking' really stood for bag packing as in packing your days with shopping bags. Fair enough, some of the more boutique-style hostels are boosting their ranking with carefully curated boho-chic decoration that could arguably contend with some of the nicer hotels I've stayed in. That being said, it is still a hostel.
There can be thin walls and loud conversations, rowdy groups and raunchy smells as well as other unexpected twists and turns that you normally wouldn't encounter in a traditional hotel setting.
So no matter how posh the brushed metal geometric light fixtures are or how shiny the Mac computers in the Skype lounge appear to be, please just remember this is still a budget-friendly community-centric option which should signal to you to lower your expectations considerably from Shangri La standards.
If you start throwing a tantrum because there isn't a terry robe in your private room, it will mostly just be awkward for you. If you're hankering for top shelf liquor or high-speed WiFi, best to keep moving, friend.