Over the last few years, backpacking around the world and being a digital nomad, I have stayed in a lot of hostels. Actually, if I had to give you a ballpark number, I would say I have been to fifty hostels all over the world. And not just as a guest, I have also worked at several hostels through Workaway, exchanging work for free accommodation and food.
So, having experienced hostels from both the guest and staff side, I feel comfortable calling myself something of a hostel expert. And it seems only right to share my experience and hostel travel tips with all of you. Whether you’re a novice backpacker or already converted to the hostel life, here is everything you need to know about hostels:
What to expect in a hostel
Hostels are not for everyone. I personally love them, but you have to know what to expect. The most important thing to know about hostels, is that a hostel is not a hotel or Airbnb. The service and facilities are limited, and you get less privacy and comfort. But hostels are generally cheap and fun places to stay. To me, they are the perfect travel accommodation and I especially recommend them to solo travelers.
In a hostel, you’re sharing facilities like bathrooms, common rooms and kitchens, so you have to be flexible. Good hostels are clean, but even they can’t keep the place spotless with people constantly running around (trust me, I’ve tried!). If you’re super fussed about cleanliness, perhaps a hostel is not for you or make sure you’re the first to shower after the staff has cleaned 😉
A lot of the more modern hostels offer private rooms, but most people stay in dorms. This means very little privacy and being okay with sharing a room with others. I personally don’t mind it and have stayed in dorms with 20+ people and slept fine. But I totally see how that is not for everyone.
If you choose to stay in a dorm, be aware that some people are going to snore, some might come home drunk or get up early. Instead of being annoyed, buy yourself some good earplugs and a sleeping mask. Some female travelers don’t feel comfortable sharing a room with men. Luckily, most hostels now offer female-only dorms as well.
How to pick the right hostel
Congratulations, you’ve decided to stay in a hostel. But how do you pick a good one? With so many options to choose from, there are a few key factors to consider:
- Budget. Are you going for the cheapest hostel you can find or do you want a more upscale experience? For me, budget is a big factor, but I am willing to pay a bit more for comfort. When it comes to hostels, you get what you pay for. Sometimes a tiny bit more will get you a much nicer and cleaner accommodation, so never ignore a bad review in favor of a low price. But the most expensive hostels are not always better either.
- Location. Always keep an eye on the location of the hostel, so you don’t end up in a suburb somewhere. I prefer hostels with a central location, close to all the sights. That way you won’t waste time and money getting to and from the city center.
- Vibe. What kind of a hostel are you looking for? As a solo traveler, social atmosphere is really important to me and I want to stay somewhere that I can easily meet other travelers. Party hostels are super fun, but usually not the best regarding noise and cleanliness. Now that I’m a bit older, I don’t want to spend my time with drunk teenagers so I avoid party hostels. Instead, I look for places with communal spaces and lots of activities.
- Amenities. Check exactly what is included in the price of the hostel. Linens, towels, wifi, breakfast etc. In order to save money, I cook some of my own meals while I travel, so I look for hostels that have a communal kitchen. Free breakfast is also a great way to cut down on your expenses. If possible, I prefer to stay in a hostel where the bunks have curtains, lights and individual outlets.
But the absolute most important thing to check when picking a hostel is the rating. I never stay anywhere with less than an 8 out of 10 rating. I usually check Hostelworld ratings as they tend to be more in line with my own opinions than Booking.com.
However, be sure to also check the breakdown of the rating. How do people rate the location, staff, cleanliness and atmosphere in the hostel? To get a good feel for a place, read individual reviews and look for key phrases. Positive ones like “feels like home”, “very clean”, “friendly staff”, “fun” and “easy to meet people”, as well as negative ones “dirty”, “noisy”, “no atmosphere”, “unhelpful staff”.
Although I check the ratings on hostelworld, I always try to book directly through the hostel. This is usually cheaper and the hostel won’t have to pay commission to a booking site. Support local hostels!
How to be a good hostel guest
Since hostels can be kind of closed quarters, being a considerate guest is key. One of the most important things to know about hostels is how to be a good guest. That does not just mean be nice to the staff (although you definitely should). But mostly, it means being considerate towards other hostel guests. Since you’ll be sharing a room, bathroom and living space with others, you can’t just do whatever you want. Common sense applies, but you’d be surprised at the weird stuff some people think is acceptable.
Also, do. not. eat. other. people’s. food. Just don’t. Most hostels provide labels and pens so you can label your food and put it in the fridge. Hands off anything that isn’t yours. Which obviously goes for other peoples belongings as well. Stealing is a crime and stealing from broke backpackers is just bad form too.
Don’t hog the bathroom, other people need to pee and shower too so this is not the place for your hour long beauty routine. Mornings before check-out and evenings before bed time are usually rush hour. So if you want to relax and take your time, plan accordingly.
And clean up after yourself. You’re sharing spaces and amenities with other people, so don’t make them sit in your filth. Sure, there is staff, but they do not have time to clean up after you all day. So be a good guest and don’t leave a mess everywhere. Wash dishes after you use them, throw out your trash etc. if you notice that others have not been as considerate and left a mess somewhere, alert the staff so they can fix it.
Bring the essentials
Hostels are not always the most comfortable, but luckily there are things you can bring to improve your experience exponentially. I never travel without any of these essential hostel items:
- Ear plugs. One word: snoring
- Eye mask. Will let you sleep despite people turning on the lights or inadequate curtains.
- Pad lock. Use it to secure your locker or your bag.
- Towel. Can do double duty as a make-shift curtain.
- Flip flops. A must in communal showers.
- Charger/universal outlet. The best ones have multiple ports do that you can charge all your devices without hogging the outlets.
Most hostels will have these things for sale/rent. But you might as well invest in your own if you travel and stay in hostels often.
How to have fun and meet people
The last thing to know about hostels, is how to use them to make friends. Obviously, I can’t tell you how to be a nice person and interact with people. But I can give you some hostel specific tips! If you’re shy, hostels might seem a little overwhelming, but they are actually perfect for introverted travelers! Good hostels will try to facilitate interaction by creating fun common spaces and hosting activities.
To me, hostel socializing starts from the moment you walk in. Say hi to people and be nice to the staff. Be sure to ask if they’re hosting any activities during your stay. Once you get to your room, greet your dorm mates, introduce yourself and make small talk.
Hanging out in the common room is always a good way to meet other guests. Don’t be afraid to ask people if you can sit with them or join in, they won’t bite 😉 Most people who stay at hostels are solo travelers as well and actually want to make friends and be social. So once you’ve got a group going, invite others to join as well.
If approaching people is a bit out of your comfort zone, focus on the hostel activities. Happy hours, family dinners, pub crawls and walking tours are all great opportunities to meet the other guests. Sign up for whatever is available and chat with whoever else joins.
Bonus: some of the best hostels I’ve ever stayed at
- Ostelling Genova – Genoa
- Auberge NOLA – New Orleans
- Babylon Garden Hostel – Hanoi
- Meander Hostel – Budapest
- Okidoki Hostel – Warsaw
- Nice Way – Porto
- Swanky Mint – Zagreb
- ControVento – Trieste
This post is specifically meant for newbie travelers who have never stayed in a hostel before. As an experienced backpacker, I’m happy to share my knowledge on things to know about hostels. I’ll let you in on all my tips and secrets for the best hostel experience. From how to be a good guest, to how to make friends quick.
Do you need a hostel recommendation for your next destination? Or do you want to add something to this list? Let me know in the comments.
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