Perhaps you’re about to embark on a backpacking trip and are planning to stay in hostels but you’ve never stayed in them before. You’re a little apprehensive right? That’s perfectly normal! Sharing a bedroom with STRANGERS, what?!! Now I think I have stayed in over 200 hostels in my life: some utterly amazing ones but also some pretty grim and laughable ones too! So don’t worry, I’ve got a tonne of hostel experience under my belt and I’ve got you covered! From knowing what to expect, to how to choose the best hostel for you, this is your comprehensive guide to staying in hostels for the first time!
Now I get that the idea of staying in a hostel might not be everybody’s cup of tea. I think people either love it or hate it. Many people just do not want to share a bathroom with others, or seem to have this idea in their head that hostels are full of dead-beats, which is absolutely not true. I also get that if you’ve watched the scary movie “Hostel” that you might not want to stay in one at all (personally I have never watched this movie and I never plan to!), however don’t let stories like this put you off from staying in hostels – in all my years staying in them I have never had any problems or encountered any strange people whatsoever!
Why stay in hostels?
For many people the 2 main reasons why they stay in hostels are to save money and to meet other travellers!
Staying in hostels saves you a tonne of money!
People often ask me how I’m able to afford to travel so much, and it’s not because I have loads of cash to spare, but because I stay in hostels wherever possible. Hostels are often around 5 times cheaper than staying in a standard hotel room, so when you see it like this, the cash quickly starts to add up. Saving money on accommodation enables you to spend your money on activities and experiences that you otherwise may have not been able to afford.
I’ve been able to save so much money over the years by sharing dorms as it is a really cost effective way of travelling. I’m not saying I stay in hostels all the time: usually if I’m travelling with a friend we will stay in a reasonably priced hotel or a private room in a hostel as it’s nice to have some privacy and have a room for just the 2 of you to chat without disturbing others (and it certainly makes you appreciate the privacy and extra space!), but if I’m travelling alone, I’ll usually always pick a hostel.
Even though I am a big fan of hostels, many of my friends have actually never stayed in a hostel and would rather pay for an expensive hotel than even dream of sharing a room and bathroom with strangers! Whilst that would be great if money was no objection, it’s just not feasible for me to always travel like that as I am travelling around independently a lotttt of the time and so I can’t afford to be always paying for that luxury! But you know, even if I could afford to stay in expensive hotels all the time, I would still choose to stay in hostels for the majority of the time as I just love how laid-back and sociable they are!
You get to meet other travellers when you stay in hostels!
Many solo travellers stay in hostels as there are plenty of opportunities to meet and travel with new people: people from completely different backgrounds to yours and I find that often people who stay in hostels are such interesting people! Honestly, I have made some amazing friends from all over the world in hostels and still keep in touch and meet up with them whenever we are in the same area!
That being said, you can also quite happily keep yourself to yourself in hostels if you prefer. Often I’ve had days when I just wanted to be on my own so I didn’t socialise with people and that’s totally cool too! The great thing being surrounded by other travellers is that they understand that and nobody takes offence if you would rather go off and do your own thing! Everyone is super respectful and I really like that.
Is staying in a hostel right for me?
If you’re travelling alone I would say yes, absolutely! For some people travelling alone can get lonely and so at least if you’re staying in a hostel you’re so likely to find someone that you get on with and you can go out sightseeing during the day together if you wish. Staying in a hotel this would never happen: you barely even see any other hotel guests and if you do you certainly don’t have a conversation with them!
The vibe in hostels is very laid-back, everyone is friendly and approachable, and staying in hostels certainly improved my confidence around new people! Now I don’t think twice about approaching someone and starting a conversation with them, but had I not spent so much time in hostels I would be very shy to do this.
I really think it all comes down to priorities. If you’re willing to sacrifice a bit of privacy to save a lot of money, definitely stay in hostels! If you’re up for meeting open-minded, positive and fun adventurous people who love to travel, stay in hostels! If you are humble and able to go without luxuries such as a bathtub and a double bed, stay in hostels! To be honest the only people I have met who didn’t like hostels was girls who are high-maintenance, but very often these kinds of girls are not proper backpackers anyway, but more luxury travellers who would happily spend a lot of money on 4 or 4 star accomodation!
Don’t party animals stay at hostels too?
Whilst hostels are sociable and laid-back, don’t think they are all like one giant Spring Break with people getting drunk and having sex everywhere. Of course you’ll get your 18 year olds from Europe on their year abroad who just want to party and get a sun-tan, but if you know how to search for a hostel properly you can avoid meeting these people if you don’t want to encounter them (although they are pretty fun!). I have found there are two kinds of hostels: party hostels and non-party hostels. It’s easy enough to work out which one is which: a party hostel often has a bar inside the hostel and they usually make it quite clear on the website that it is a party hostel so you don’t have any surprises when you get there!
Whilst not every hostel has a bar, pretty much all of them have a common area where you have breakfast and can relax and socialise in the day. Many of them have books you can read, a TV, and some even have cool things like pool tables or even an outdoor swimming pool!
Hostels often have activities and excursions way cheaper than in hotels and travel agents!
Hostels often organise excursions and trips for a cheaper price than you would get elsewhere, as they understand that a lot of people staying in hostels are students or people travelling for months on end and so they have to watch the pennies. You don’t have to pay the single supplement that you often have to pay with hotels or travel companies if you are a solo traveller, which also helps keep your costs down! Apart from excursions, some hostels also organise really cheap dinners and pub crawls. By taking part in any of these activities or excursions you get to socialise with other people in the hostel you may have not met otherwise! I also find that in hostels the staff are always totally honest with you, they never trying to rip you off, and they are so helpful and know so much information as they’re usually backpackers themselves.
What if someone steals my stuff?
Sharing a room with so many people, what if someone steals my stuff? Honestly, in all my time staying in hostels I have never even heard of anyone’s belongings getting stolen. Everyone is in the same boat: nobody wants their belongings to get stolen and so people don’t leave their things idly lying around. But generally there is such a trusting vibe in hostels that even if people left things out, nobody is going to go rummaging through your things.
But to avoid any thefts and for peace of mind, all hostels will provide you with a locker of some sort: sometimes it’s a lockable drawer under the bed big enough to fit your backpack and all your belongings in, and sometimes it’s just a small wall locker that will just hold your hand luggage and you have to keep your big luggage outside of the locker. Either way, keep all your valuables in the locker that you won’t be taking out with you when you go out sightseeing. Sometimes the locker is just a lock and key provided by the hostel and other times you need to bring your own padlock. Therefore ALWAYS bring a padlock with you when you are travelling (I just use the same one that I use on my suitcase for the airplane). If you do forget, you can sometimes rent out or buy a padlock from the hostel at a reasonable price.
What to look for when choosing a hostel:
Hostels do vary in their standards and the amenities they offer, so along with the location, keep in mind which of the below points are important for you when choosing a hostel. I have put them in order of my priority, but of course it may be different for you:
- location – the most important factor for me so I don’t have to waste time or money on public transport to get to the centre: I will always pick centrally located hostels where you can easily explore on foot.
- wifi – pretty much every hostel has wifi, but when you’re choosing a hostel just check it says there is wifi in every bedroom (sometimes the wifi is only available in the common area and this can be a pain if you need to google or check something when you are tucked up in bed!). One place where the wifi in the bedrooms is not so good is Australia surprisingly! Wifi can sometimes be so slow in Australia so just be prepared!
- individual plug sockets -this is actually quite important for me as I want to charge my phone overnight so it is fully charged for the following day, and I often have the alarm set very early when I am staying in hostels so I want to have my phone near me so I can turn off my alarm quickly so as not to disturb anyone else. Also I would rather have my phone next to me when I sleep, as opposed to on the other side of the room charging, so I know it won’t get stolen and I can check the time if I wake up in the middle of the night! Plus I love lying in my bed on my phone just before I go to sleep (who doesn’t!).
- breakfast included – depending on my plans for the day depends if I need a hostel that includes breakfast or not (sometimes you have an early morning trip planned that leaves before breakfast anyway so you will miss it!). If I love the look of a hostel and it doesn’t come with breakfast, I will still stay there and then just buy a cheap breakfast when I am out!
- hostel bar to meet other travellers – when I have lots of sightseeing planned and many things to fit into my day, I don’t even have time to visit the bar in the evening. However sometimes when my itinerary is less packed, it’s nice to have a couple of drinks at the bar and meet people. I don’t choose a hostel because it has a bar though, because obviously you have more chance of people being loud and you getting interrupted sleep, but if a hostel looks amazing and it has a bar, then it doesn’t bother me that much – I’ll always just select a female only dorm (as these rooms tend to be a lot calmer) and ask the hotel staff to be in a quiet room (as some hostel bars are so loud that you can hear the music from the dorm rooms!).
- towels included – again this is not high on my priority list but it is something to bear in mind. Not all hostels provide you with a towel and sometimes you need to pay £2 or something to rent a towel out. When I’m travelling I always carry my travel towel with me so it’s not a problem (click here to view travel towels), but just bear it in mind and see if the website says if it is included or not (usually if it doesn’t mention anything, it means a towel is included). Travel towels are great for travelling as they are compact, light and dry super quickly!
- laundry facilities – some hostels have laundry facilities available, which is great if you’re travelling for a while and need to wash your clothes.
- kitchen to cook meals – for me this is not important as I only stay in the same hostel one or two nights so I never stay in to cook dinner. Having a kitchen is more important if you’re staying in a hostel for a few days or backpacking round constantly for a few months so you need to save money on eating out.
How to find hostels:
I always use hostelworld to book hostels. You just type the location and the dates and it comes up with all the hostels available in the area. You can sort the results by price, rating, facilities or distance from the centre. All the hostels provide plenty of pictures and a good description and give you the choice which kind of room you want (male/female/mixed, 6 bed/ 10 bed etc etc). There’s also plenty of honest reviews so you can make an informed decision. To reserve a room, you pay 10% of the room price on the website and then you pay the remaining balance when you get to the hostel.
What kind of room to pick
So when it comes to choosing a dorm room there are usually 2 options to consider: same gender or mixed sex rooms, and which size room (for example some hostels have several rooms with different amounts of beds in each one). In some hostels you also have the choice to have a private room too.
Same gender/mixed dorm:
You can choose to stay in a mixed dorm or a same sex dorm (bear in mind also sometimes there is no choice in some hostels). I have stayed in both and have always had a pleasant time, although in my experience I have always found that the girls in the mixed dorms usually tend to be more outgoing and louder than girls who choose to stay in a female only dorm (and they usually go out and party more). Staying in a female only dorm is very often a lot quieter and a lot tidier than a mixed dorm. Plus, girls tend to snore less than guys (and smell better!). So if I have a choice, I’ll choose the female dorm, but if mixed dorms are all there is, it doesn’t bother me.
Dorm rooms can vary from 3 beds to 20 beds (yes once I stayed in a full 20 bed dorm in Barcelona during my uni days!). Obviously, the more beds in the room, the cheaper the cost of your stay is. BUT often the more beds there are, the more noise there is at night (people coming in late, waking up super early, snoring etc)! So if you want to get a good night’s sleep and don’t want to go out partying, I would opt for a slightly smaller room. It costs just a couple dollars more, but it’s worth it in my opinion (or maybe I’m just getting old!).
Some hostels also have private rooms for 1 or 2 people so you don’t have to share your space – these are often comparable to budget hotel rooms and are more expensive that dorm room. Sometimes you will share a bathroom with others, sometimes you’ll get your own. This is a good option for couples or friends who are travelling on a budget.
Whilst some hostels are quite basic looking, they are functional and do the job. However, you will find nowadays that more and more boutique hostels are opening up that are decorated so nicely and have so many amenities that they could even resemble a hotel! These are definitely my favourite hostels to stay in as you feel like you’re treating yourself, whilst you’re still paying far less than you would for a hotel!
What to expect: etiquette in dorm rooms
If it is your first time to stay in a dorm there are some simple things you should know to ensure you are respectful to your fellow roommates:
- If you’re arriving very late, don’t turn the light on in the room unless you want to annoy everyone. Have your torch ready on your phone and be as quiet as you can. Remember some people may have to wake up very early.
- Equally, if you have to wake up and leave very early, also don’t turn on the light. Pack your bags the night before so you make as little noise as possible. The most annoying thing when you are trying to sleep is hearing someone constantly rustling through their bag.
- If you’re a light sleeper, consider bringing ear plugs and an eye mask incase some people come in late and turn on the light. Also like I mentioned earlier, make sure to bring a small padlock to keep your things secure in your locker. Personally I have never had any problems with theft of any kind in a hostel, even with leaving my bag open, but it’s best not to risk it.
Shared bathroom tips:
What makes hostels different to other types of accommodation is shared bathrooms (usually same sex but sometimes can be mixed). As many people will be using the same bathroom, you’ll want to keep your toiletries in your locker so the bathroom doesn’t get cluttered with everyone’s belongings, and also so nobody uses your things.
Therefore have a toiletry bag that is easy to carry (ones with hooks are really good as you can hang it on the door when you are getting ready, especially as there is not always somewhere to place your belongings in the bathroom). Also bring flip-flops for the shower. As I mentioned earlier, some hostels provide a towel for you, whilst in some hostels you can rent one out, so it’s best to just always be prepared and bring a towel with you.
So there’s my advice for staying in hostels! I hope you’ll find it useful and have the best time out there!
Also, if you ever decide to go to Tokyo (which you totally should!), one experience that I DEFINITELY recommend to try is to stay in a capsule hotel. They are like upmarket boutique hostels and are so cool and very unique to Tokyo, unlike anything you’ll have stayed in before! They are a lot cheaper than staying in hotels there (which are notoriously expensive in Tokyo!) and it’s really a once in a lifetime experience! CLICK HERE to read my article: A Guide to Tokyo’s Capsule Hotels!
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