Staying in hostels is one of my favourite parts of travelling. You get to meet like-minded people from all over the world. As a first timer, it can be a daunting experience, but this guide will help you with everything you need to know before staying in a hostel.
Hostels are my preferred style of accommodation because they are budget friendly, they offer a great social setting and they have all the best information about the local hotspots.
Tips for your first time staying in a hostel
This article will go over in detail about everything you need to know as a first time hostel goer. I have broken it down into easy to read categories and by the end of this ultimate guide you will be itching to get booking.
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Hostel Essentials, Starter Pack
These 6 items are the difference between an epic hostel experience and a terrible one:
1. Ear Plugs. People snore and they can snore loudly! Anything to drown out the noise will be a blessing.
2. An eye mask. Sometimes you get annoying humans that think it’s acceptable to switch the light on at 3am (it’s not).
3. Flip Flops. Always wear flip flops in the shower. You have no idea the last time that area was cleaned, or the state of the person’s feet who went before you.
4. A microfiber towel. The smell of damp is the worst. Having a towel that is quick drying may not feel soft and luxurious on your skin, but your backpack will thank you.
5. A padlock. Most hostel rooms come with lockers but not locks, so prepack one. This is great for keeping passports and laptops safe.
6. Colour Catchers. These are pieces of fabric that go into your laundry to keep the colour from running when you are washing your clothes. With washing machines not being cheap, I highly doubt you will want to separate your whites.
What is a hostel and why choose a hostel?
A hostel is shared accommodation, typically with rooms of several bunk beds, with a shared bathroom and a communal kitchen. This cheaper priced venue can also offer private rooms, breakfast and activities.
Depending on your budget, you can get hostels with pools, towels included, curtains and food included.
You should choose a hostel if you are a solo traveller, if you want to keep costs low or if you want to make friends and get out of your comfort zone. Choosing a hostel over other accommodation, will allow you to socialise in a different setting, it will also help you plan and get inspired for your trip.
Hostel Dorm Rules
Usually there aren’t signs with rules on, but as an avid travellers there are some unspoken rules to abide by:
- If you are leaving early, pack the night before. There is nothing worse than someone rustling plastic bags at 4am when people are trying to sleep.
- If you get into the dorm room late and the light is off, leave it off. Chances are people are sleeping and don’t want to be disturbed. Personally, I think this after 11pm.
- When your alarm goes off, get up/turn it off straight away. Please do not snooze it 7 times or let it ring constantly.
- If you come in from a drunken night out and want to continue the party, take it into the kitchen or common room, not the dorm room.
Hostel Dorm Types
Female Dorms – Sometimes being a female solo traveller can be daunting. Most hostels offer female only rooms that allow you to be surrounded by fun, female energy. Hostels want to make you feel safe and secure in their rooms, so please book this option if you feel more comfortable.
Mixed Dorms – These rooms are designed for everyone. You could have a ratio of 4 boys and 4 girls or you could have 2 girls and 6 boys. It really depends on who has booked. I have only had 1 incident when I felt uncomfortable. It was only me and an older guy in the room all night. The guy didn’t do or say anything wrong. I just felt on edge (to many true crime documentaries!).
Private Rooms – These rooms give you the best of both worlds. You can still be social in the common areas and kitchen, but you can also have your own space. Depending on the hostel, you will get a double bed and either an ensuite or share the bathroom with the rest of the hostel goers. The prices for these rooms can vary from £20 – £50 more than the dorm rooms.
Hostel Accommodation Types
Party Hostels – This style of hostel usually has a bar on site, with loads of social events throughout the week to get you in the party spirit. These types of places usually have music playing until late at night, drink specials and a younger crowd. Although they aren’t always the best option for people with jam packed itineraries, they are worth a few visits to let your hair down and have fun with new people.
Budget Hostels – I know all hostels are budget friendly to an extent. But this type of hostel is catered for the penny pinchers. Sometimes cheaper isn’t always better. Sleeping in a room with 18 people, 5 plugs and no kitchen, is a no for me. However, that being said some “cheaper” hostels are amazing value for money. Just check the reviews.
Boujee Boutique Hostels – This style of hostel is for backpackers that have a little extra cash. These places offer more quirky interior design, comfier beds and fluffier towels. The ambiance is more of a hotel.
Eco Hostels – These hostels aim to please the sustainable living, environmentally conscious traveller. There are not enough Eco hostels in the world, so when you see one advertised be sure to stay. It is great to be more gentle to the world we love to roam in. Differences include using renewable, natural energy sources, waste being divided into recycling and compost, toilet paper being biodegradable etc.
Digital Nomad Hostels – Think cute coffee shop meets social sleepover. Hostels specifically designed for digital nomads offer super fast WiFi, loads of adapters, a chilled co-working space and a social atmosphere in the evening.
I personally go to a mix of these hostels on my travels to give me the opportunity to meet all different kinds of people.
Alcohol in Hostels
Each hostel has a different policy on alcohol, but usually you have a bring your own or a bar on site. If they are selling alcohol on the premises, it normally means you can not drink your own. Both types of hostels create different atmospheres. I personally like accommodation where I can bring my own, because I find it more social with playing cards or travel games and chatting. Whereas with a bar on site, it is more of a party place with the intention of dancing and drinking the night away.
Lockers and Safety in Hostels
Staying in a hostel for the first time can be intimidating, but it doesn’t need to be. Staff members are there to put your mind at ease and make your experience as good as possible. If you have safety concerns, please speak to someone. Is staying in hostels safe? Yes! Obviously, nowhere is 100% safe, but there are measures you can put in place to feel more comfortable.
Buy a padlock and use the lockers on the premises. I always put my passport, my tablet and my Kindle in there when I don’t need them. This gives me peace of mind that they are safe in the room. The same goes for money. Store it in a locker or put it in a random place like an empty shampoo bottle or in your dirty laundry. Get creative!
I also put nail varnish on all my cables and chargers to indicate they are mine. People are less inclined to steal something when there is an obvious trait that it belongs to someone. Also charge things when you are in the room. If you are happy to leave them when you are out, then pull the hostel curtain or put your towel up, do something that doesn’t make it obvious. Once you have been in hostels a few times, you will get more confident about leaving things out.
Discounts for longer stays
If you are planning on staying at a destination for longer than a few days, look into weekly specials. Some hostels will reward long termers with a discounted rate. The longer you wish to stay, the better the deal. I suggest contacting the hostel directly as these offers might not be on booking sites.
Check the hostel facilities
It is really important to check the facilities available before booking a hostel. I went travelling for a month in Greece and none of the hostels had kitchens!
I recommend checking the reception hours. If you are arriving late, make sure it is manned 24/7, otherwise you are going to be in trouble.
Check the WiFi situation. If you don’t have a local sim, you will want a hostel that has WiFi in the rooms as well as the common areas.
Be savvy when it comes to plug sockets. This is a big one! Try and book rooms with plug sockets on each bed. There is nothing worse than a room of 8 people and only 3 plugs. Also, you will need to take into consideration not everyone has the same adapter, so sometimes 1 plug can take up 2 spaces.
If you are running low on clean clothes, make sure the hostel offers a laundry facility.
Get involved in the hostel social events. Being open to new experiences will allow you to meet great people. It is always a little awkward at the beginning, but once you start chatting and making plans, you will be glad you put yourself out there. Hostels put on events like bar crawls, free walking tours, BBQ’s, games, family nights etc. These gatherings tend to be a mixture of free and an additional charge.
Volunteering at Hostels
A great way of saving money and exploring a destination thoroughly, is volunteering at hostels. The perks of volunteering are usually free accommodation, free laundry and sometimes free meals. In order to receive these benefits, you would do housekeeping shifts, reception shifts or some other work around the hostel.
To apply for these kinds of jobs, you can speak to the hostel directly or sign up to a volunteering site like Worldpackers. Worldpackers have programmes all over the world allowing you to do a wide variety of tasks to earn your keep. The yearly subscription is $49 but with this link (click here) you can get $10 off. My Travel for free article goes into detail about how you can travel more for less and explains the work exchange programmes Worldpackers offers.
Hostels vs Hotel
Choosing accommodation that is right for you isn’t always easy. Hotels give you privacy, a comfy bed and a shower where you don’t have to wear flipflops. But a hostel gives you the social element, a chance to cook your own food and is a lot more affordable.
Here is a list of pros and cons for each.
- Less likely to get your items stolen
- Fluffy towels and comfier beds
- Clean bathrooms
- TV and desk
- Knowledgeable staff on area
- Activities desk
- Less social
- Social atmosphere
- Sometimes free food and activities
- Kitchen area to cook food
- Laundry facilities
- Good locations
- Activity desk
- Opportunities to stay for free
- Sometimes inconsiderate people
- Not always clean
Kitchen Rules for a Hostel
- Clean up after yourself. Preferably wash up as you go to allow other backpackers to use the utensils. Leaving dirty dishes in the sinks for the staff to clean is not a good habit to get into.
- Free shelf means free food! Anything on there has been donated by other travellers who have moved on and don’t want to carry it. The best free food shelves are the ones with airports in the area. You can get anything from cereal, to pasta, to soy sauce.
- Always put your name on your food bag/items, along with the room number and the length of your stay. That way, no one can claim it as their own. Hostel staff will do a fridge sweep every week, so to avoid going hungry, make it clear to them that you are still there.
Showering in Hostels
I have mentioned this previously but always wear flip flips in the shower! Hostel bathrooms do not get cleaned after every use, so it is important to stay hygienic and avoid that floor. If a shampoo bottle has been there for a few days, it is fair game, so feel free to take it. I personally won’t take them incase someone has forgotten and comes back for it. But I will still use it/decant some shampoo into my tiny bottle.
Bedding in Hostels
As a first timer staying in a hostel, you won’t be familiar with the bedding situation. Basically, if the hostel bed has a sheet and a blanket, that means the blanket gets reused without being washed. This is such an important piece of information to know.
Hostel prices are very dependant on location. For example a Vietnam hostel can range from £2 to £11, whereas a Australian hostel can range from £20 – £45. I usually take all factors into consideration before deciding on what hostel to pick. While saving a couple of pounds each night is good sometimes cheaper is not always better. However saying that my £2 hostel in Dalat (Tigon) was amazing!
How to make friends in hostels
Here are a few simple ways to help you make friends whilst travelling:
- Always be open, say Hi to whoever walks into your dorm room.
- Put your phone away when you are in the kitchen, let people know you are approachable and happy to chat.
- Be brave and invite people to join your plans! Chances are they have similar ideas about where they want to go.
- Like above, be spontaneous and say yes if someone invites you to join them. 🍻
- Go to social hostels. Check reviews from other travellers and see what they say about it! I love hostels that have the bring your own booze policy because chances are you will all congregate and play cards.
- Sign up for tours, whether that’s a walking tour or a bar crawl or a boat trip. There will be some solo travellers there and you can chat and go for food or coffee after.
Some of my closest friends I have made through backpacking. I even attended a girls wedding who I met randomly at a bus stop in Rotorua New Zealand and it all started with a Hi.
How to book hostels
Booking hostels is exactly the same as looking for hotels, simply type in the destination and sort by lowest price and most recommended and some will come up. Alternatively, just search for the lowest price and go to the price range you are comfortable paying.
I use a mixture of 3 booking websites to find the best deal:
Look at Hostel reviews
I so often overlook this step. But reading reviews from fellow travellers will give you so much insight into the place you are about to book. If the recent reviews are all negative and highlight the same issue, it might be worth looking elsewhere. If the reviews are old and outdated, then they might have improved.
Something to consider when looking for a hostel is its location. Is it close to public transport? Is there a supermarket nearby? How far away are the sites you want to see and the activities you want to do? It is great to find a cheap hostel, or a really fancy one, but if it’s in the middle of nowhere it is going to cause more hassle than it is worth.
Frequently asked questions
Is staying in hostels a good idea?
Absolutely!! You get to meet amazing people, save money on accommodation, get discounts on local experiences and get out of your comfort zone.
How long can you stay in a hostel for?
It usually depends on the hostel. Some hostels will only allow you to stay for only one month, while others will let you stay 6+ months. The hostel will normally put you in a room with other long term guests. That way you aren’t always disturbed by passing through travellers.
Is it safe to stay in a hostel alone?
Yes. However, no place is ever going to be 100% safe. But in my 5 years of hostel experience I have never had an issue. If you are a female and feel more comfortable, book female only dorms. Make sure not to leave valuables on display.
Do hostels have age limits?
Some hostels have the policy of 18-35 year olds only, but most hostels are happy to take in anyone. YHA, for example, stands for Youth Hostel Association but Sydney Harbourside YHA had a number of families staying there. So do not be put off if you are an older traveller. You can still enjoy hostels.
Can you have visitors in a hostel?
Usually not. However, that being said if you speak to the hostel staff and ask if a friend can come over for dinner or have a few drinks, they are normally pretty lenient and will say yes. But if you are bringing someone back for “a good time” and you get caught you are likely to get kicked out. So ask reception if you can get a last minute private room.
In summary, hostels are a great place to build friendships, help you save money whilst travelling and open you up to new experiences. This guide will hopefully have given you the tools to book a hostel, enjoy a hostel and want to continue the hostel backpacker lifestyle.
As always, Happy Exploring!