Staying in a hostel is a great way to save money on your travels, particularly for students looking to see the world on a shoestring budget. But for those who are unfamiliar to hostel life, the idea of straying from the norm of a traditional hotel room can seem quite daunting at first, but it needn’t be something to fear. The worst hostel horror stories are guaranteed to be matched by the worst in hotel horror stories. The only real difference is that hostels don't offer the added luxury of room service and fresh towels every day. As long as you come prepared for your hostel stay in terms of basic etiquette and what to pack, there’s no reason to be apprehensive. In fact, there are so many reasons to love hostel digs.
Modern hostels have come on leaps and bounds in terms of cleanliness and style. In fact, some feature such creative and homely designs now that many young travelers are opting for hostel stays over hotels since it all adds to the experience of travel! At the end of the day, it’s helpful to remember that your fellow hostel guests are there for the same reason you are there for—to see the world without breaking the bank. So, be kind and considerate and you’ll have a blast! Here are 20 great tips all hostel newbies need to know...
20 Research, Research, Research Beforehand!
Like most things in life, the best defense against nerves is knowledge and realizing that, for the most part, things rarely turn out as bad as we anticipate them to be. For that reason, the first step for hostel virgins is to do your research thoroughly before making your travel plans and you won’t be left in the dark. It might seem like staying in hostels requires little or no background research. You turn up, you sleep, you travel. What else do you need to know? Turns out, there is as much as you can find out, especially if this is your first time in one.
Hostel dorm sizes, for example, can vary quite a bit, so make sure you’re comfortable with the idea of sharing a room with 10 other travelers before you book. In most cases, though, dorm rooms are usually less intimidating than this and may only have small bunk beds and rooms that accommodate no more than 3 at a time. Hostels may not give you the plethora of choice like hotels do, but you can and do have preferences about your stay, so make sure that your first experience is as comfortable as possible by planning your stay as much as you would for any other trip.
19 Find Out What You Need To Pack So You’re Not Left Without Something
Hostels always aim to provide a clean and comfortable living space for budget travelers, but it’s silly to expect anything more than the basic requirements when you’re staying in super cheap accommodation. Unlike hotels, hostels don’t operate a room service facility or have every kind of toiletry product at hand, so it’s a good idea to feature a lot of ‘just in case’ items in your backpack. You shouldn’t have to be weighed down by loads of unnecessary items, though, so do your research of your hostel’s amenities well in advance and you may be able to pack light—it’s all dependent on what items you personally can and can’t live without, so you’ll know best at the end of the day.
Don’t be put off if your chosen hostel doesn’t provide things like towels or bed linen for free.
It’s up to you to decide whether you’d prefer to pay a small fee for items you’ll need or risk a slightly bulkier backpack by bringing your own stuff. Either way, suss out your hostel beforehand and you won’t feel short-changed by stuff like this. If you prefer having a mirror handy to keep on top of your skincare routine, for example, don’t rely on your hostel bathroom having one. Pack what you feel you need.
18 Dorms Can Be Trendier And More Creative Than Hotel Rooms
If you think about all the hotel rooms you ever stayed in, the majority of them have a pretty basic samey kind of set up—table, mirror, bed, and bathroom. After a while, a lot of the hotel rooms you’ve stayed in as kids or on business trips begin to look alike, and if there’s one thing you can never accuse a hostel of, it’s sticking to a typical design. The refreshing thing about staying in a hostel on your travels (aside from the life-saving price) is that no two hostels are ever designed in quite the same way, and the creative décor and vibe of each one is kind of part of the adventure itself!
Understandably, hotel chains need to appeal to customers on a broad scale. But unfortunately, broad appeal often means dull as dishwater designs. Hostels, meanwhile, can be colorful, edgy, and often feel a lot more inspiring and futuristic than higher-rated accommodations. Not convinced? Check out the galleries over on Hostelbookers.com, particularly ‘50 Gorgeous Hostels For Design Lovers.’ It’s not all magnolia walls and grey bunk beds—some feature amazingly cool and quirky décor for the price and could even bring out the artist in you!
17 Making Friends Is Easier Than It Seems
It could be that you’re splitting up your travels with short trips to many different hostels, and if this is the case, it’s easy to assume that a brief hostel stay means that making friends is irrelevant for you. You’ll probably never see these people again, so why make the effort for one night? The fact is, you can meet so many interesting people in hostels. People come to stay from all walks of life with one huge thing in common–to see the world by any means possible–and you’re one of them! Most people sharing a dorm room together in life can rarely say they have something in common right off the bat.
Whether you’re staying in a hostel for one night or 10, it’s always nice to make the effort, and the most effective icebreaker is often the simplest one: asking people about their travel plans. Don’t be afraid to ask people about where they’ve been and where they plan to go. Chances are, your hostel bunkmates are just as curious as you about everyone’s story and you may just come away hearing the funniest travel anecdote ever (or making a room of strangers laugh with your own!). Travel broadens the mind, but it can also widen the heart in the right circumstances. Don’t be afraid to make conversation with people—you may just forge a lifelong friendship with someone.
16 Scour Through Reviews Of Your Hostel
No two hostels are ever the same, but equally, no two hostel guests are ever the same either, so getting a sense of what many different travelers thought of their stay is almost bound to give you a rounded picture of what your hostel will be like for you. Like the best and worst hotels in the world, hostels are always going to have their own unique characteristics that will make all the difference to your stay, so remove the element of surprise and make sure you find out all the hows and whys of your particular hostel beforehand.
Swing by the site HostelBookers.com. This is pretty much like Trip Advisor for first-time hostel guests and can help to put a lot of your main fears to rest almost immediately.
Worried you’ll be the odd one out in a sea of party animals, for instance? ‘Party hostels’ are aimed specifically at backpackers looking to finish wild days with wild nights, and you can usually gauge which type of hostel it is from the reviews. So if peace and quiet is your cup of tea, look for the ones described as having a more subdued atmosphere. Hostelbookers features customer ratings and reviews from over 3,500 destinations around the world and will guide you through everything from payment to check out, so we suggest devouring the reviews before making your decision.
15 Book A Smaller Room
If you’re new to staying in hostels, the last thing you’re likely to want is walking into a massive dorm room of loud strangers (unless you’re a super-extroverted traveler looking to party for the next few weeks, that is). For every other kind of traveler, this situation might seem like a bit of a nightmare scenario, so limit the intimidation factor and try to book yourself into a smaller dorm room. If you’re looking for a quieter atmosphere, then this will be your best bet in the long run. And for extra peace, many hostels offer private rooms, which can give you the option to socialize in the common rooms as and when you prefer to.
Not only will sharing a smaller dorm room invite more peace and quiet to your travel experience, but a more intimate group of 3 people or less in your hostel could even increase your chances of making long-lasting friendships on your travels, particularly if you’re more of an introverted traveler. Massive party hostels are great for those who feed off that kind of atmosphere, but for those on the lookout for more chilled vibes, then a smaller room will calm your nerves and certainly make that first night of breaking the ice with fellow travelers far easier.
14 Bring Some Flip Flops For The Shower
While the shower and bathroom facilities always aim to be presentable on arrival, they are not cleaned daily by staff members or the hostel manager. It’s largely up to yourself and your fellow guests to be considerate and leave a clean and tidy area behind for the next person who uses the shower or toilet. As for the former, it’s wise to bring your own ‘shower shoes’ to protect your bare feet against fungal infections and the like. (If you’re immediately picturing scenes of prison showers, don’t fret!) The majority of hostels are not the dingy and neglected places that some stories would have you believe they are. It’s just common sense to keep your feet protected.
If you’re of the opinion that because it seems clean, you’ll chance it, remember that your feet are probably your greatest commodity while traveling and clocking in hours of sightseeing with a nasty foot infection in tow is nobody’s idea of a vacation.
Come prepared with a cheap pair of flip-flops or pool sliders when sharing a hostel shower. You may feel a little silly at first, but it’s better than spending the rest of your much-anticipated trip rubbing athlete’s foot into your tootsies.
13 Bottom Bunk Is Best
If you’ve shared a bunk bed with a sibling growing up, fights about who got the top bunk were probably an endless cause of arguments at night. Brace yourself for a controversial opinion now, though, because we’re here to suggest that the top portion of a bunk bed is not all its cracked up to be in adulthood and especially not one wherein you’re sharing a dorm room with strangers.
Sleeping in the top bunk can be fun as a kid, but once the novelty of climbing a ladder into your won cozy little nook has worn off, it quickly becomes a headache.
Bunk beds aren’t a feature of every hostel accommodation, but to save on space and take in a maximum number of guests, most places will have dorm rooms arranged in a formation of bunk beds, and if you’re lucky enough to book your preference in advance, we’d suggest grabbing the bottom bunk every time. Sleeping on the bottom floor bed provides you with more space since you can store your stuff under the bed and it’ll be easier to charge your phone and other devices since you’re closer to the plug sockets. Another benefit, of course, is avoiding injury to yourself (and others) by attempting to climb a ladder after a few too many cocktails in the local bar!
12 The Majority Of Hostels Are Perfectly Hygienic
A big concern for people who are new to staying in hostels is the hygiene situation. You hear a few horror stories from friends about puke-covered bathrooms and smelly bed sheets, and all of a sudden, your mind quickly starts to run riot with fears that your hostel will be exactly the same. But take it from us. This is not typical of hostels! As long as you do your research, then we can quite confidently say that if you pick out a well-rated hostel, it will almost certainly keep to the same clean and comfortable standards as most cheap hotels.
As mentioned above, be sure to use review sites like Hostelbookers.com to get a sense of how clean and well-maintained the place is. If you check out the review panel on the Hostelbookers site, you’ll be able to select and view different hostels based on their cleanliness rating alone, so you can guarantee that you’ll be staying in a place that’s up to scratch. Remember, hostels want repeat business from young budget travelers like yourself, so it will always be in their best interests to get a reputation for being a clean and comfortable place to stay. Don’t settle for anything less.
11 Get Familiar With Hostel Etiquette
Hostel etiquette is pretty simple—it’s all about being considerate of your fellow guests. And if you’ve ever shared a small space with other people at college or on family camping trips, then you’ll know what we mean by being considerate. Unlike sharing your dorm with college roommates or squabbling with your siblings on a family vacay, however, your dormmates will not be sued to your unbearably loud snoring or find it funny if you roll into bed completely hammered at 4am. Practicing basic decency in your hostel will get you the same in return, so as long as you respect the space and well-being of others, you’re good to go.
There are a few unspoken hostel rules that you should probably know to ensure that you’re a good dormmate. Firstly, don’t stay up until all hours disturbing the whole room with your phone light or listening to your music (even with headphones on). The hostel common room is a great place for night owls to go; just don’t keep the whole place awake in the process. Another thing is ignoring your snooze alarm. You may be able to snore through it, but your dormmates may not. So, hit it the first time and you won’t make enemies. A third and final basic rule is to clean up after yourself. In a shared kitchen, everyone should pitch in by washing and drying their own dishes. Makes life simple for everyone involved.
10 Take A Sleeping Bag Just In Case
Hostels may be the cheapest form of accommodation, but they won’t ever leave you without a basic necessity like bed linen. The only downside is that hostels sometimes charge an added fee for the use of bedding and sheets during your stay. The cost is largely dependent on where you go, but on average, most hostels may charge around $15-20 to rent out bed sheets. This may not sound like much in the grand scheme of things, but this could go towards a meal, a taxi fare, or an amazing attraction in your chosen destination.
Saving as much of your travel funds as possible is likely the reason why you have opted for kipping in a hostel in the first place, so it makes no sense to waste your hard-earned wanderlust cash on something you can bring yourself. To be on the safe side, remember to pack a sleeping bag with you in your rucksack or save yourself more cash and DIY one before you travel. A sleep sheet can be made easily by taking an old king-size bed sheet, folding it in half, and sewing up the sides and end like a sleeping bag. Great tip for camping on the cheap too!
9 Take Earplugs For A Good Night’s Sleep
If you’re that person in your household who snores like a speedboat hitting rocks, then move on. This tip isn’t for you. We’re kidding! In a shared hostel dorm, guests may sleep at different times depending on their travel schedule. And since there’s almost bound to be more than one loud-snoring friend amongst your group, earplugs are a definite necessity for all. If your fellow hostel guests are considerate enough, they might have brought anti-snoring aids with them like nose strips and such. Or at the very least, a loud snorer may be kind enough to tell their dorm and give them a fair warning.
Take our advice though, and don’t even leave it up to fate. Just pack the best quality ear plugs you can find on the market and use them regardless.
Earplugs aren’t just great for blocking out serial snorers either. Since everyone will be on a different travel itinerary, some may need to make earlier starts than others, and if you can block out your neighbor’s bag rustling and zipping noises for an early morning trek, then you should. Audio books and relaxing music can be a great way to fall asleep to as well, so if you find this kind of thing soothing to slumber to, use your MP3 player and headphones to block out the noise.
8 Check Out Events Organized By Your Chosen Hostel
If you think about it, staying in a hostel is not so dissimilar from college life in terms of sharing a dorm room with people. Sure, you may be staying with these backpackers for a shorter period of time, but if you’re intent on making the most out of your experience, it doesn’t hurt to jump in with both feet and try out some of the activities and events put on by your chosen hostel. In the same way that a college freshman has orientation day to get to know their campus and fellow students, many hostels actually host events that give travelers a flavor of what the place (and most importantly, the people) will be like.
It’s normally a good rule of thumb to book your hostel stay in advance before arriving at your destination, but some first-time hostel goers can feel more comfortable with the idea of try before you buy, so heading to a social event needn’t only apply to those already staying in the hostel. These kind of activities and social gatherings are simply a way to get familiar with the vibe and personality of the place, so if you like what you see and manage to hit it off with strangers in an unfamiliar city, this can be just the push you needed to try hostel life.
7 Consider Location And Walking Distance To Attractions
Hostels are generally going to be on the cheap side no matter what, so don’t worry about sacrificing comfort and convenience to get the absolute lowest-rate hostel there is. As you would when booking a regular hotel for a trip away, it’s important to take your location and walking distances in mind when booking your hostel stay.
Do you really want to get blisters from walking a mile into the city center for the sake of saving a few more bucks? Trust us, blisters are no fun while traveling, so try to be realistic about your hostel location in terms of where and what you want to do on your trip.
If you don’t mind exploring your chosen location at a slow pace, that’s great. But if you came to soak up all the city sights you can in a brief space of time, do yourself a favor and choose a hostel that’s a reasonable distance from all the spots you want to hit. You’ll be surprised at how many cute and comfortable hostels there are in buzzing city centers and ones that are tantalizingly close to all the landmarks and top attractions you came so far to see. You really do get what you pay for, so try to research as much as possible to find a suitable location.
6 Bring Plenty Of Layers With You
No matter where in the world you’re taking a trip to–sizzling hot places or destinations with a milder climate–it’s always sensible to pack the kind of clothing you’d be comfortable wearing all year round while staying in a hostel. And that means bringing lots and lots of layers with you. Unlike a hotel room, hostel dorm rooms aren’t going to be equipped with fancy heating and air conditioning appliances that can be altered at the touch of a button or a ring of a bell. There is no concierge here to keep each room to a temperature of your liking (plus, don’t forget, you’re sharing your space with other people, so there’s no way of pleasing everyone).
Don’t get us wrong here, the vast majority of hostels will not let their guests cook or freeze to death, but we can’t stress enough how important it is to pack a sensible wardrobe on your travels. Hostel dorms can get cold at night (or, as the case will be in some places, uncomfortably hot). Don’t rely on the one fan in your room to keep yourself and 5 other people chill either! Keep comfortable and in control of your temperature while kipping in hostels and stick to lots of layers.
5 Choose Hostels With A Safe/Locker Facility
It goes without saying that you should feel safe in a hostel environment and so should your valuables. It’s romantic to think of backpackers as exploring the world with nothing but the clothes on their backs and the air in their lungs, but it’s 2018 after all, so best believe that travelers have selfie sticks, cameras, and tripods in their luggage too and not forgetting their passports and hard-earned travel cash. Luckily, hostels have recognized the need for guests to feel that their valuables can be safe and secure and stored somewhere other than just under their bed, which is why any hostel worth its salt will have a locker or safe facility on site.
Most of the time, backpackers are fairly trustworthy and helpful people by nature, but for added peace of mind when your valuables are concerned, some hostels will give you the option to keep your stuff under lock and key until you need it. It’s worth remembering that not every hostel provides a locker service though, and in this case, the next best thing you can do is to simply make sure that your belongings stay with you at all times. Under your pillow, inside your bed sheets, or alternatively, keep a padlock on your suitcase or backpack and keep important stuff away from prying eyes.
4 Go On Hostel Tours
An ideal way to get an insight into hostel life is to take a quick tour around the place and get a firsthand sense of where it is you’ll be crashing for the next few weeks or months of your travels. In some cases, you may have the chance to do this virtually if the hostel website or affiliated social media channels feature things like promo videos and hostel diaries from previous guests. The next best thing, of course, is to get a quick look around the place yourself once you arrive at your location. Looking around a hostel in person may be the final clincher (or nail in the coffin, as the case may be!) as to whether this is the right place for you.
Remember that just because you have sussed out all the facilities and sleeping arrangements weeks in advance, it shouldn’t automatically mean that you have to buy before you try. Your trip, your choice—even when hostels are concerned. It may not be a 4-star hotel you’re staying in, but you are still a paying guest at the end of the day, and you should have the chance to see how things measure up.
3 Look Into Hostel Membership Programs For Even Better Deals
Booking a few nights in a hostel as opposed to a hotel is going to save you a packet anyway; there are no two ways about it. But did you know that you can hack it right so that your hostel booking can be even cheaper than the going rates? Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or your first time in a hostel is coinciding with your first big trip away, you might want to consider signing up to a hostel membership program.
For example, signing up to a Hostels International USA membership could cost you only $28 for a year, scrapping the nightly fee in applicable hostels, whilst providing you with an introductory offer like “stay 3 nights, get one for free.”
This may not sound like much of an appealing (or logical) deal to a first-time hostel user, but it’s not like you’d be under any obligation to book another hostel stay months down the line. If you can save a bit extra, go for it! Who’d say no to saving up even more travel funds, right? Signing yourself up to a hostel loyalty program is no different to receiving a discount code on an online clothes store the first time you shop. You may never shop there again, but at least you saved yourself a few bucks in the process. Do a quick search to see how you could save even more on a hostel stay.
2 You Will Have Plenty Of Alone Time
It’s easy for hostel newbies to picture noting but noisy wild dorms, but the fact is that hostels bring together people from all walks of life, and most importantly, people who are out to travel and enjoy themselves as much as you. You may hear the odd horror story of 24/7 party hostels, but these are in the minority. Trust the reviews if they are good. If the atmosphere is well-rated, then chances are disturbances and loud party animals aren’t tolerated in these places and will ensure that you will get quiet time to yourself once in a while!
While it’s a great idea to introduce yourself and be sociable on the first night, other guests will understand that you may not be out to party or live it up every single night of your stay. It’s also reassuring to remember that not everyone’s schedule will be the same, so while one person is on a day-long hike or touring the bars and nightlife of the city, you will be given plenty of moments to yourself and vice versa. And for times when you are feeling sociable, that’s what the hostel’s common rooms and lounge areas are for.
1 Don’t Be Afraid To Be You!
Lastly, don’t apologize for being yourself during your hostel stay! Everyone is there to have a good time, have a laugh, and learn, so there’s no need to treat your time there like a chance to prove yourself or feel intimidated by more seasoned travelers than yourself. The fact that hostels bring people from all walks of life together means that not all of your hostel guests will be fascinating explorer types. Many will be there looking to get away from it all on the cheap whether that’s to get away from the 9 to 5 rat race or to get over a breakup. Everyone will have their unique reasons for traveling and you’re one of them. Don’t forget that!
Hostels have long been given a bad reputation for being a magnet for wild party animals and loud residents, but these are in the minority, so don’t let this put you off saving money on your travels if you’re a little more introverted than your fellow hostel guests.
When it boils down to it, hostels are a place for lovers of travel, so whether shy or extroverted, experienced or hostel virgin, you’re all there with the same wonderful goal in mind. So, don’t be afraid to share stories and swap travel tips with some of the nicest backpackers you’ll ever meet (in the coolest digs you’re ever likely to stay in too!).