How To Hostel: The Complete Guide

Heard of hosteling but not sure if it’s for you? Are there stereotypes about hosteling stopping you from trying it? Do you just want some tips and packing advice for your first stay? I am sure you have questions and concerns; I know I did. Just to get a few out of the way;

 

Ok, Yes. There are MANY backpackers who stay in hostels

Yes, there are SOME party hostels

Yes, NORMAL people stay in hostels 

Yes, you can make FRIENDS

YES, YOU CAN HAVE A GREAT HOSTEL EXPERIENCE.

[And No, you are NOT too old]

 

I have both worked in and stayed in hostels: here I can answer your questions, provide tips and tricks and ultimately assist you in having a better first experience. I am a hostel advocate here to help you to get your hostel on!

 

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The FAQs

I don’t understand why people want to stay in hostels, WHY?

If your budget isn’t a factor for your vacation, you may never ‘feel the need’ to stay in a hostel. If you are someone who enjoys luxury traveling, a typical hostel probably isn’t for you. However, if you are willing to make some compromises on privacy and comforts in exchange for cheap accommodation, it helps your travel money go further. Here are examples of when I use hostels:

-Long-term travel, to make my finances last longer

-During an overnight layover

-Cheap, spur-of-the-moment, weekend getaways

-When I just need a place to rest my head and keep my bags while I explore a new city

-Traveling solo to meet other travelers

-Working in exchange for free room and board [many hostels offer this around the world.]

Personally, I would rather travel for a longer period of time and make some compromises than to use all my money for a short trip. It all depends on your priorities, and how you choose to use your travel funds.

What Room Options are Available?

Most hostels have several room options to book. The ‘typical’ hostel room is a dorm-room style with bunk beds for the guests.

The price you pay is per bed, generally the more beds that are in the room lead to a cheaper rate per bed. Unless you are on a VERY tight budget, I think it is worth the extra cost to go from a 26 person dorm room to a 12 person room, or even a 6 person dorm if it is within your budget. This can make an enormous difference in the quality of sleep you get during your stay.

Most hostels also offer private rooms at a higher rate. If you are traveling as two people, the cost for the room may not be so bad. If you are solo traveling and want your own room, I encourage you to look at Airbnb* for a price comparison. It can often be cheaper to get an Airbnb room than a private room in a hostel.

*New to Airbnb? I humbly suggest that you book through this link HERE to get a $40 travel credit for you, and a $20 travel credit for me to continue traveling and writing.

Are Hostels Safe?

This question can essentially be viewed in two ways; personal safety and from theft [see below.]

In regards to personal safety, I have never had a negative experience in regards to safety during a hostel stay. AS SOMEONE WHO HAS WORKED AT HOSTELS; if you ever feel uncomfortable or unsafe in ANY hostel- you need to go and talk to staff. They have limited interactions with guests and don’t know if something’s not right. Speak up, ask to change rooms and make them aware of the situation. Hostels are meant to be a safe place for all people to stay.

It is also important to read the reviews of the hostel before you book on official booking websites, this will be the best indicator of if others felt unsafe.  

 Should I book a Mixed-Dorm Room or a Female-Only Room?

Some hostels offer only mixed gender dorm rooms and others offer female/male-only options as well. I have stayed in both and don’t see much of a difference from my own experiences. Sleeping in a room with men and women makes no difference to me and I always tend to change in the private stalls anyway.

I know many women who feel safer in a female only room or only stay in female dorm rooms. That’s fine, but theft can happen anywhere and ideally everyone is treated with respect in a hostel regardless of where they stay or their gender.  I think both options are fine depending on your own personal preference.

To see examples of 3  different mixed gender dorm rooms I have stayed at, read: 3 HOSTELS, 3 CITIES, 3 DAYS   for hostel photos and honest comparisons. 

Am I Too Old/Young to Stay in a Hostel?

Some hostels have age restrictions to book with them. Most hostels require you to be 18 years of age unless accompanied by a parent, and some do have upper cutoff ages as well.

It makes me genuinely sad that some people feel ‘too old’ to stay at a hostel, especially if you want cheap accommodation!

Because there are so many hostels out there, there are many different types of hostels. Some are more of a party, youth hostel while others are more of a family-friendly kind of bed and breakfast feeling. As mentioned before, I am an advocator of reading reviews and even visiting their website.

If you are ever unsure if you are ‘too old’ for a hostel, send an email chat to them to get a feeling of your stay and address your concerns. 

Fun Fact: I have stayed in a hostel in London with my father, we got a private room but there were people both older and younger than us there.

 What is the Toilet/Bathroom Situation Like?

This is something that I find really varies from hostel to hostel.

Most hostels have shared toilet areas, this means they have shower stalls and toilet stalls. Some are separated by gender, others just have one for every few dorm rooms to share (regardless of gender.)

There are some hostels that have their own en-suite bathrooms attached to the room. Personally, I have found that I prefer shared toilets because the sounds of the door opening/closing all night,  body functions, and shower all adds up when it is en-suite. I also enjoy my privacy and not feeling as though someone is waiting for me to finish or can hear me using the toilet. This also means if people get up and get ready early- they are outside of the room getting ready so that you can sleep in peace.

The main difference in toilets and bathrooms I have found is the cleanliness, some pay better care to their bathrooms than others- again READ THE REVIEWS [and see my packing tips below for more on this.]

How do I keep my Valuables Safe?

I cannot tell you how many times I walk into an empty dorm room to laptops lying around, peoples passports or cameras left on their beds, and their stuff sprawled everywhere. If I were a thief, many hostel users simply would make it too easy.

Most dorm rooms offer under- bed storage drawers [or at least a locker] where you can put your valuables. -FYI nobody wants to steal your dirty socks, you don’t have to necessarily lock everything away.-

[Read the packing tips below for what you can pack to reduce chances of theft.]

When it comes to theft my advice is ALWAYS to not be the easy target. You don’t need to be paranoid but you do need to be smart. Lock your things up and reduce attention to your valuables, if someone ever wants to steal something, they will go for the easier objects.  

Often times people report having things taken from them at night time. If you leave your phone plugged in to charge across the room, how are you to be sure that nobody will take it?  I keep my laptop, money, passport, camera, and all valuables locked up at nighttime while I sleep. The only exception I will make is for my cell phone, and ONLY if I need to set an alarm. If not, I keep it locked up as well.

I don’t want to make hosteling sound unsafe. I have NEVER had ANYTHING stolen from me on my travels (ok I did have a pack of fruit snacks stolen once from my hotel room in Vietnam.) Most people I meet in hostels are just like you and me; they just want to travel for cheap too!

Are Hostels Comfortable?

Hmm.. this is hard to say, I would say it is comfortable enough. This again varies depending on hostels and your level of comfort.

Some hostels keep nice fluffy bedding and mattresses for you, others have real shit mattresses. [Excuse the language but after a night of sleeping on them, you would say the same- ha ha.]

The amenities offered at the hostel and what you pack with you can really make or break the experience.  When booking [see below] check to see if they offer things to help make your experience more comfortable. 

 


Booking

Ok, so you are considering booking a hostel now. Or maybe you already knew you wanted to and just needed some reassurance.

For me, it is important mostly that you BOOK BEFORE ARRIVING. Even if you just book for the first night or two while you decide if you will stay or go elsewhere. If you just show up, you won’t be able to read reviews [did I mention how important I find it to read the reviews?] Unless you are some sort of masochist,  do your research on a place you plan to sleep.. especially if you are picky.

How to Choose;

When you are looking to book a hostel, Hostel World is a great place to start. This allows you to see reviews and locations of different hostels in the area. You can also search using filters for amenities.

You can also see the countries of origin for guests and the ages of the reviewers. Take this into consideration if you have apprehensions about language barriers, being too old/young, or if you are avoiding the party scene hostels.

Every person has different criteria on amenities they look for; mine varies even depending on the trip. Here are my must haves and ideal inclusions

-Good location: not really an amenity but a key factor in your stay nonetheless

-Linen Included: Most hostels include linens, but there are some that exist that you are meant to bring your own sleeping supplies.

-Wifi: *Bonus if it is available in the rooms and not just the common areas.

-Communal Areas: If I am feeling social, it is nice to have an easy place to make connections. *Bonus if there is a bar attached to the hostel or nearby for the guests to socialize and get a drink at a discount.

-Breakfast included: [ideal] even if it’s not fancy, I enjoy a free breakfast and coffee to start the day

-Kitchen Usage: [Depending on the trip] in big hostels, food left in the refrigerator is often used without your discretion. I like to be able to cook and use the refrigerator to lower my overall costs. However, I only keep things in the kitchen if it is a smaller sized hostel.

Other features to consider:

-Laundry Facilities on site

-Tours and Activities arranged through the hostel

-Meals [I have stayed at one hostel where a full dinner was included.]

*Read my Comparison of 3 Different Hostels that I stayed at for real-life pros & cons listed in different hostels.

How to Book;

When it comes to actually booking the hostel, I recommend booking directly through their website if they have one. Many hostels offer some kind of bonus by booking with them because they will not have to pay a portion of the cost to third-party booking websites.

If you are staying more than a few days, contact them to inquire about a discounted rate. Many accommodation services will provide a discounted rate in exchange for longer stays.

As mentioned above, when spending a long period of time in a city, you could consider offering to work in exchange for your rooming. Not all hostels do this, but many will allow you to stay for free if you work a few shifts throughout the week. You can contact them and ask if this is something they do or would consider.


 Packing for a Better Experience

To be fair, none of these things are necessary to take with you if you decide to stay in a hostel. From personal experience, I just find they make it a bit more comfortable.

Shower Shoes; Remember how I said hostels vary in terms of cleanliness? There can be something unsettling about standing in a dirty shower. If you have the room in your bag for a pair of ‘flip-flops,’ you can consider bringing some along.

-Some Type of Towel;  generally I travel with a hand towel rather than a full-sized towel but you can also consider a microfiber one that packs smaller. Many hostels will allow you to rent one while you are there, so this is up to you and your packing space. 

-A ‘Bathroom Bag’ or Tote; When you have a shared bathroom, it is nice to have some kind of bag [even a plastic one]  to take with you back and forth. This also allows you to hang up your items inside rather than have to set your clean clothes on the floor. 

-Eye Mask/Earplugs;  If you are a light sleeper or even if you want to improve your quality of sleep, these are a must. Someone snores in your room? Pop in the earplugs. Want to go to bed early but people are still using the light?  Slide on your mask. These solve problems that would otherwise make you complain. 

– External Charger; In many hostels, you will go to plug in your phone to charge at night and the plug is across the room. This is not a good idea to leave your phone plugged in away from you, especially if you have to set an alarm. [read below on how not to be an asshole.] With an external charger I keep the phone and charger under the blankets with me and I wake up with a full battery. 

– Lock; I recommend taking a padlock with you, some will let you rent locks but if you plan to stay in several hostels, just pack one in your bag with you. 


 How NOT to be an Asshole

This is such an important topic to me, I decided to make a flowchart to decide if you can handle staying in a hostel. 

↓ Pin  For Later ↓

hostel 

If you are arriving late at night and the light is off in a shared dorm room, for the love of god do not turn on the light. Use your phone flashlight or take a headlamp. 

This also goes into making a lot of noise when people are trying to sleep; be courteous and take your conversations out of the room and turn off your phone notification sounds.

Please don’t have sex in dorm rooms. Please

If you have to leave early in the morning, make sure you have all of your stuff together the day before to prevent the early morning packing noises. 

Try your best not to abuse the snooze button on your alarm clock when sharing a room.

Have patience and manners with each other but speak up if people are not doing their part. 


Whew, that was a long one. Did I lose you there?

If you made it ALLLL the way to the bottom leave me a comment!

If you have any additional comments or concerns about How To Hostel,  don’t be afraid to reach out.

Happy Travels [And Happy Hosteling]

8 comments
  1. OMG! i wished I have written this piece! i survived living in hostels in most of my trip and I LOVE the vibe. Though some inconveniences but in full most of my best travel memories involved hostels

    1. Kenneth; I am sure you could have written something to the like. I feel that once you start ‘hosteling’ you quickly become a master at it. I have liked it thus far and will continue making memories at hostels. Thanks for reading and happy travels!

  2. Great post- lots of good info there!

    1. Thank you for reading, hopefully it is helpful! Happy Travels xx

  3. I totally fell in love with the graphics representation you have shown here for how to hostel. I agree that it needs a little bit of preparation because unlike hotel, here you are sharing your room with one or more strangers who can be totally different people than what you go along with. And thus you need to be prepared. And your tips are really going to help one prepare to live that hostel life.

    1. Neha; Thank you for your comment. Having extra roommates can sometimes be hard, but it can also be great fun! Happy travels and happy hosteling!

  4. Thank you for sharing this amazing information. Great stuff to read !!

    1. Thanks for stopping by!

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