If you’re like most of us and grew up staying in hotels during family travel excursions, the idea of a hostel is probably pretty foreign to you. Don’t worry- it was for me too! Fair warning, this post is not going to be about how hostels can feel exactly like a hotel experience. Hostels are a completely different animal- and that’s okay! The idea of staying in a hostel can be daunting…sharing rooms filled with bunk beds and 5 to 10 strangers is understandably not something most of us are used to. What many people don’t realize is that what you lose in personal space you make up for in opportunities for making friends, free tours, and discovering new activities!
Read on to discover everything you need to know about staying in a hostel: how they work, what it’s like to stay there, and tips to make sure your experience is fun and safe.
The Typical Hostel Floorplan
Every hostel operates a bit differently depending on their facilities and management, but you can generally expect to find the following set up (check the hostel’s website for notes of any specific amenities):
- Lobby: just as you would at a hotel, upon your arrival at the hostel you’ll need to check in with the front desk. Don’t expect glitz and glamour though, these hostel lobby spaces don’t typically feature sparkling chandeliers and certainly won’t have a doorman or valet. They’re often small rooms or a desk in the corner of the common space. I suggest making quick friends with the hostel staff who man the desk space! They typically have a wealth of first-hand knowledge about the city you’re visiting and can provide transportation information as well as offers for free tours and themed nights at the hostel.
- Common Area: Most hostels have a cozy common space with tables and chairs for socialization and relaxation. These days most hostels offer free Wi-Fi options in these spaces (it’ll just depend on the quality level!). This is an excellent space to meet up with your traveling group and make your plans for the day- or make friends with other hostel guests and join in on their adventures!
- Kitchen: It’s quite common to find hostels that offer guests use of the kitchen. This is a great amenity for those looking to save some cash and cook for themselves rather than eat out for every meal. I personally like to stash a few easy breakfast items here. Fair warning about hostel kitchens: you don’t know everyone staying at the hostel, so there’s a chance your food might get snatched by a hungry (or most likely drunk) guest. I suggest keeping any non-perishable items in your room with you and limiting the number of items you purchase that need to stay refrigerated (there typically isn’t much room in the hostel’s communal fridge anyhow!)
- Rooms: Hostel rooms can vary greatly depending on the particular one you stay at and the type of room you select. Often there are a variety of arrangements to choose from: private rooms, 4 person, 6 person, 8 person, and 10 person rooms. It’s also quite common to have the option to select a male or female-only dormitory, or a mixed-gender one. I’ve even stayed at hostels where the entire building was women-only! Some hostels offer an in-room bathroom while others have a floor bathroom. Make sure you read the hostel’s room descriptions carefully if you are looking at staying in particular arrangements.
Tips and Tricks for Staying at a Hostel
Socialize With Other Hostel Guests!
You’re already going to be in close quarters with these fellow travelers- might as well make a few new friends. Many are close in age and also traveling on a budget. Connecting with others is a great way to learn about the best sites, restaurants, and day-trips in the place you’re visiting! It’s not uncommon for people to join together during their stay at a hostel to sightsee together for some company, too. Travelers from around the world stay at hostels, so it’s also an excellent opportunity to get some information from a local about countries next on your list of destinations.
Take Advantage of Free Hostel Offerings
Many hostels offer free tours and/or discounted tours and excursions to hostel guests. This is an awesome way to get your feet wet in a new city and finalize your itinerary for your trip. You can also make friends with fellow travelers during this time! Additionally, ask the hostel’s staff about any free or cheap meal offerings. Many hostels have a free dinner or cocktail hour, or offer free or discount breakfasts daily.
Bring a Sleep Mask and Earplugs
You never know how loud your bunkmates will be, or the level of noise surrounding the hostel. Whether the others in your room come stumbling in late after a night at the pub, someone is careless and turns the light on, or the hostel happens to be above a karaoke bar; you will 100% be thankful you have a sleep mask and earplugs to ensure a great night’s sleep.
Be Aware of Your Surroundings
I know I just said to make friends with the other hostel guests, but that doesn’t mean to throw all your inhibitions to the wind. It’s still best to air on the side of caution. Just as you should when sightseeing, it’s important to keep safety in mind. Keep an eye on your belongings and avoid sketchy situations and individuals during your hostel stay.
Be Prepared for Shared Bathrooms
Hostels are improving by leaps and bounds every year that passes. Perusing the hostel’s website is a great way to get an idea of what to expect. However, bathrooms and showers are often the biggest question mark prior to arrival. I sometimes compare using hostel bathrooms to using the bathrooms at National Parks and/or college dorms. Everything’s a little wet, probably needs to be cleaned soon, and there isn’t a lot of space to put all your bathroom gear. I recommend avoiding ruining your nice toiletry bag and tossing your bathroom items in a large plastic ziplock. Bring cheap flip flops for shower shoes. And don’t forget to bring a change of clothes with you to the showers unless you’re cool walking around the hostel in nothing but a towel!
Safety Tips for Hostels
- Don’t share your hostel room keys with anyone.
- Keep the door to your personal shut when not using it.
- Make sure important items (especially passports and cash) are on you or in a secure location at all times. I sometimes keep my most important things in a small bag either physically on my body or in my bed with me while sleeping.
- Bring a lock! Many hostels offer lockers for you to keep your belongings secure. Some offer lock rentals, but bring your own if this is a priority for you.
- Keep an eye out for any sketchy behavior from other travelers both in common areas and your personal room. And don’t be afraid to notify the hostel staff of anything concerning.
Hostels I’d Recommend
*Note: none of these were sponsored stays.