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The Beginner’s Guide to Staying in Hostels

Hostel bunk beds in a room

So, you’ve decided you want to stay in a hostel! But you’re a little scared. Maybe it’s because of your own worries, or maybe those around you are getting in your head. Especially if you’re a solo female traveler! But not to fear. You’re in the right place. This is the unofficial beginner’s guide to staying in hostels!

But first, let’s get some frequently asked questions and concerns about hostels out of the way. Those of you who don’t have concerns can skip to tips and things to know before staying in your first hostel.

What are hostels?

A hostel is accommodation where guests rent a single bed in a room full of beds (instead of the entire room, like in a hotel). Many hostels do offer private one or two person rooms, but otherwise, shared rooms tend to have between three and over twenty beds in one room.

Some hostels have all bathrooms ensuite, others have only communal bathrooms, while others have a mix. (I personally like hostels with communal bathrooms so the whole room doesn’t have to use an ensuite bathroom one at a time.)

Hostels are geared towards lower budget travelers, but some are priced the same as splitting a hotel room between two people. So definitely don’t assume a hostel is always the best option for your money.

Why are hostels so cheap?

Hotels are cheap because they are able to house more people for the same amount of room as a hotel and because they are typically very simple in amenities compared to hotels. 

Are hostels dangerous?

Like any situation, hostels are never going to be 100% “safe.” Of course, falling asleep or leaving your belongings in a room full of strangers might have you a little more worried than doing so in a private hotel room to which only you have the key. But there are things you can do to mitigate your hostel safety concerns.

Firstly, always make sure the hostel you are staying at provides lockers. You can’t always fit your entire belongings into the lockers provided. But they’re almost always large enough for the most important things like electronics, money, and your passport. If your hostel for some reason does not have lockers, the front desk can often keep your passport, if you want.

Secondly, if you are a female or solo female traveler uncomfortable potentially being the only female in a coed room, you can book an all female room. Not all hostels provide single-sex rooms, but most do.

Thirdly, you can take out traveler’s insurance to mitigate the inconvenience of any possible theft. This is a tip worth considering for non-hostel travel too!

Are hostels clean?

Some hostels are extremely clean, and some hostels are filthy, just like hotels. In my experience, I’ve never been in a hostel I felt was particularly unclean. That’s because I never book a hostel whose cleanliness I’m suspicious of based on its online reviews.

Tips and Tricks for Staying in Your First Hostel

If you are booking your very first stay in a hostel, you probably have a lot of questions. So here are my top tips for having an enjoyable first hostel experience.

Use Multiple Websites

My first tip for staying in your first hostel is to use multiple websites. (This is assuming you are booking ahead of time and not in person.) You’ve likely heard of Hostelworld, the most well-known site for booking hostels worldwide. This is a great starting point for your hostel search simply because Hostelworld has such a large quantity of listings.

I also like using Booking.com after searching Hostelworld. The price on Booking.com is often the same as on Hostelworld, but a lot of properties on Booking.com have generous cancelation policies. Lasty, once you’ve settled on a hostel to stay in, find the hostel’s own official site. The price by booking directly with the hostel is sometimes cheaper than booking through a third-party site.

But before I actually book a hostel, I always search the hostel on TripAdvisor. This is because TripAdvisor has traveler photographs, while Hostelworld and Booking.com only have photographs provided by the hostel itself. I also find that TripAdvisor has the most dramatic reviews, so I always search the word “bug” to check if any reviews mention bed bugs!

Check if Hostel is a Party Hostel or Not

Staying in a hostel can sometimes be reminiscent of a college dorm or frat house experience. Personally, I’m the lightest sleeper ever, so I stray away from any hostel that looks like a party hostel from the photographs and reviews. But to you, a hostel where the party never stops might be the experience of your dreams!

So you will definitely want to skim hostel photographs and reviews to get an idea of how social the hostel is. There are plenty of hostels that are happy mediums – that is, social through nightly events and welcoming common areas, but still enforcing quiet sleeping hours.

En Suite Restrooms vs Communal Restrooms

While you are booking your hostel bed, you will see that some rooms say “en suite bathroom” or “private bath.” This means that there is a restroom attached to the room, that only those in that room may use.

The alternative would be having to exit your bedroom to a shared restroom every time you use the toilet, wash up, and shower. This could look like a dorm-style restroom with multiple sinks and stalls, or a shared one-person restroom.

I actually prefer having the option of restrooms outside my bedroom. I hate waiting for each person in the room to use the en suite restroom one by one, especially in the morning and before bed. So I love just leaving the room and knowing there will be a free sink or shower somewhere.

Mixed-sex vs Single-sex Rooms

Most hostels have the options of single-sex rooms in addition to the standard mixed-sex rooms. This can be a really important option for some female travelers to feel comfortable (or to make your family feel more comfortable letting you go on your trip!). Single-sex rooms just about always cost more than mixed-sex rooms, but sometimes the difference is just a dollar or two more per night.

When staying in mixed-sex rooms, I am often the only female in the room. This isn’t always the case, but it often is. So if being the only woman in the mixed-sex room is a concern of yours, know that there is definitely a high possibility of that happening. Another thing to note is that men definitely snore more than women (though the worst snorer I ever encountered in a hostel was a young woman….).

Bring Your Own Ear Plugs, Eye Mask, and Hostel Lock

I’m always shocked when someone in my hostel room doesn’t think to bring ear plugs! Trust me, unless you are the heaviest sleeper in the world, you absolutely need earplugs and an eye mask when staying in a hostel.

People come into the room and turn on the lights after you’ve gone to bed. Someone might have an early departure and start loudly packing at an ungodly hour. Noises from the window outside. Snoring! The list goes on. If you do forget earplugs, hostels sometimes give them out (or sell them) at the front desk.

Another must to pack for a hostel is a locker lock. Hostels usually provide the lockers themselves for free, but they charge a couple dollars for renting a lock. So it’s much cheaper to simply purchase your own lock before leaving home. 

Bring Shower Shoes

I hope it goes without saying that you do not want to shower barefoot in a shared shower! Definitely pack some cute flip flops or slides to use as shower shoes.

Get a Shower Caddy if You Use Many Products

There often is nowhere to put your shower items except the floor. And if you require more shower products than a combo body wash and shampoo (curly-haired girl problems!), it will be annoying to carry everything in your hands between your room and the shower. So consider investing in a nifty little shower caddy to avoid taking multiple trips during your bathroom routine.

Invest in a Quick-Drying Towel

This may seem very strange to those who have never backpacked or stayed in hostels, but hostels do not always provide complimentary towels and sheets! You might have to rent them for a couple dollars when you arrive, or the hostel may not provide them at all. So be sure to check what is included before booking a hostel online.

Personally, I never book hostels that don’t provide sheets. Not only are proper sheets inconvenient to lug around, but it’s simply cleanlier if the hostel is the one replacing and washing the sheets as opposed to just trusting the guests. In fact, many hostels don’t allow you to use your own sheets or sheet liners for this very reason.

But when it comes to towels, you might want to invest in an easy-to-travel-with one if you find yourself continually renting them out. Many backpackers staying in hostels use microfiber towels. They aren’t thick and heavy like traditional towels, and they dry a lot more quickly. I normally travel with two; one for showering, and one for if I’m swimming or something.

Use the Hostel Kitchen

Aside from saving you money on accommodation, you can save money in a hostel by using the hostel kitchen instead of eating for every meal of every day. Not every hostel has a communal kitchen, so double-check this while booking if it is important to you.

Hostel kitchens usually have cubbies for guests to put their non-perishables in. Everything else can go in the communal fridge. Make sure to label all your items or the bag carrying your items with your name and check-out date. Hostels usually provide stickers or masking tape and a pen to do this. If you see something with a date that has passed, that means it’s fair game for you to use for your cooking.

It hopefully goes without saying that you have to clean up after yourself and put back all the plates and dishes you used after eating!

Hostel Etiquette: The Dos and Don’ts While Staying in Hostels

Now that you know what to expect at a hostel, let’s go over hostel etiquette. You definitely don’t want to be that one person in the room that everyone hates! After all, a large point of staying in a hostel is to make friends. So here are the dos and don’ts for making sure your hostel-mates don’t dislike you.

Don’t Turn on the Lights Too Late or Too Early

Instead, do use your cell phone’s flashlight if you need to move around the hostel room while people are sleeping.

Don’t Be Too Loud

Hostel living has the reputation of being one big frat party, but it’s often not. Hostelers need their sleep, too. So don’t be loud in the early mornings or late evenings. This means:

  • whispering in the room if someone is sleeping
  • taking video calls away from the hostel room door (yes, we can still hear you loud and clear from outside the room!)
  • closing the hostel door all the way with your hand instead of letting it slam shut (hostel doors are super heavy and therefore loud)

Do Keep Your Belongings Tidy

The hostel room is already a tight space. It’s okay to temporarily spread out your belongings while getting something out or rearranging things, but make sure to repack everything up after you are done. Also try to group all your belongings in one corner or by your bed if possible. No one wants to have to climb over your things to get in and out of the room, or not have any place to hang their towel because you took all the spots.

Similarly, make sure your belongings aren’t smelly! We know you’ve been on the road for weeks, hiking and walking around all day everyday. But that doesn’t mean your roommates want to smell your BO. So regularly wash your clothes, socks, and shoes. If you haven’t been able to, definitely don’t leave those smelly items out. Collect and stash them away in a bag.

Do Use Store Strips

I know it’s not your fault if you snore! But snoring in a shared hostel room and making it impossible for your roommates to sleep before their jam-packed days of sightseeing tomorrow is the surest way to get on their grouchy sides (and potentially have them complain about you behind your back). So if you know you snore, pack some snore strips from home.

In Summary

And there you have it, folks! You’re ready to stay in your first hostel. Just remember to treat others how you would like to be treated, use common sense, and be friendly.

Questions About Staying in Hostels?

Have I answered all your questions about hostels? Drop a comment below if there’s anything I missed that you would like to know!

2 Comments

  • James
    March 31, 2024 at 1:46 PM

    Great post! I’ve only stayed in a few hostels but this is great advice for beginners.

    Reply
    • That Travelista
      April 1, 2024 at 4:00 AM

      Thanks, James! 🙂

      Reply

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