Hostels are a phenomenal choice for shoestring budget travelers. With little money and a spirit for adventure, hostels can be the perfect accommodation for students, gap-year participants, or anyone looking to do as much traveling as possible on a tight budget. Scary stories and movies aside, there are some really quirky characteristics that lots of hostels have in common, and some might find them a pleasant escape from the sterile hotels that charge double for similar accommodations. Keep reading to get the scoop on the top 10 secrets kept by hostel staff, and then decide if you’re still down to book.
10 The Staff Speaks English
Hostels are known for hiring real locals from the area and forcing you to do as much painstaking translation as possible. That blank look the front desk gives when you’re using English to check-in - it’s a stare that says “respect my country and culture” versus what you suspect to be “I don’t understand what you’re telling me”.
Usually, to work the front desk at a hostel, staff will know some level of basic English. On the bright side, you'll completely immerse yourself in the culture of the country you're visiting. After all, one of the best parts of travel is getting out of your comfort zone.
9 Basic Means Basic
Your accommodations include a basic bunk in a dorm-style room with basic linens (and occasionally towels and a little breakfast). But you can't expect you'll get the same quality extras of a pricier hotel. You might not get the softest linens and towels at a hostel, and basic might not include air conditioning no matter how humid the weather gets.
It's a good idea to double check ahead of time and see exactly what your hostel provides, so that you aren't left stranded without a towel or coffee for the morning. However, don't stress about the lack of mini-shampoo bottles, your own is probably nicer anyway!
8 Don't Forget The Essentials
Basic necessities are better than none but you should still prepare properly. Lots of hostels only provide towels for an additional fee so you might want to bring a soft one of your own.
Though you should be safe with assuming you'll get linens, some travelers choose to bring their own instead of using what's provided. Don't forget your soap, shampoo, hair conditioner, and other toiletries as most hostels won't provide these items, either. Also, don't forget your flip flops for the shared shower situation.
7 The Staff Doesn’t Get Paid
Ever stayed in a hostel and wondered how the same receptionist who greeted you at 11 AM was still lingering around at midnight? Many staff members don’t even get paid to be there. Instead, they get a bunk and a meal or two in exchange for their service. In fact, if you’re really running low on cash, you can get in on this deal, too, especially if you know multiple languages.
Chat up a manager about the possibility of a work stay. Your multilingual skills can be put to good use interacting with guests. In time you might be calling your once-temporary accommodation home.
6 Other People Live There
As mentioned above, people live there. Except, it may not only be working staff. “Nomads” tend to befriend guests staying at the hostel and might follow them back for a nightcap or two.
Once anyone is too hammered or tired to care, you’ll find that the common room sofa has been converted for an overnight guest who never made a reservation or filled out an application. Somehow, everyone just accepts the new member as a part of the community, and you can feel good about the welcoming environment.
5 Expect to Do Your Own Cleaning
The staff might do some light maintenance such as refilling soap dishes, changing hand towels in the bathroom, and throwing away the trash, but your mess is yours alone, and there's hostel etiquette that should be followed.
Using a cup from the cupboard for a drink? You’re expected to wash it when you’re done. Spilled some pasta sauce on the counter while cooking? Get a rag and wipe it up. It's nice to know that those staying at the hostel are considerate enough to clean the mess they made so no one feels above the duty of cleaning after themselves.
4 Your Bed Might Be Taken
Passport? Check. Luggage? Check. Reservation? Check. Well, since everything seems to be in order on your end, you’ll have nothing to worry about, right? Probably wrong. Some hostels just can’t get their booking system right.
It can be that a current guest decided to extend their stay last minute, or someone walked in to book a reservation and the double-booking was accidentally overlooked. Mistakes happen. However, the hostel will usually be able to accommodate you anyway. You might be offered the couch or a hammock out back until a bed becomes available tomorrow, and you can almost certainly expect a refund on the days you don't actually have a bed. Most hostel guests don't even mind this arrangement because they get to save even more money while still being in town and having somewhere to sleep and shower. Don't believe it? It's been confessed by a hostel worker.
3 Secure Your Belongings
Common areas are, well, common. People are in and out all the time, so keeping track of your things is important. Don't leave your valuables unattended in the common area, because as much as you like to think that people are good at heart, it isn't always true.
Do you need to be reminded that people staying at hostels have little money? Also, bring a lock because you’ll want to secure your items. And make sure your hostel has lockers that can actually be locked. Some things are just dumped into a common closet and you’ll have to just pray all those good-natured souls are staying in the same hostel you are.
2 Hostel Hookups
Most accommodations are twin-sized bunks in dorm-style settings, so hooking up gets tricky. Hostel etiquette says don't do it. However, not everyone follows those unspoken rules. Those tiny bunks and hostel corners might still get crowded. Whether you notice drunken mates getting it on right below you or you bump into two bodies on the washer in the laundry room, you’re bound to come across some action. Want to know how to best handle this surprising interaction? Well, if it makes you uncomfortable, you can address it head-on or let the staff know so they can deal with it. But if you’re open to that sort of thing, and it doesn’t bother you - keep sleeping. Likely, it’ll be over before you know it.
1 Not All Rooms Are Created Equal
When booking your hostel, you'll see that there are usually rooms of different sizes (and prices) - but this isn't like a hotel, where every room of the same size is going to be the same quality. Some dorms are going to be the ones with the great view, close to the bathrooms, or just plain nicer than others... and many hostels even have smaller, near-private rooms or significantly nicer spaces for long-term guests. If you are planning on sticking around for a while, call and ask about what you might want to know - and you may be surprised at how helpful the staff will be!