A First Time Hostel Guide
Here's everything you need to know about staying at a hostel.
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On my most recent trip, which just so happened to a be a solo trip, I stayed at a hostel for the first time (more on my hostel pick later!). Hostels are nothing to scoff at since they're perfect for travelers on tight budgets. You'd also be surprised as to all of the different add-ons hostels can provide too. You might be worried about security, but I'll breakdown how safe hostels can be, dependent on the actual hostel. Continue reading for my beginner's guide to hostels.
What to expect at a hostel
Full disclaimer: Hostels are not for everyone. If you're used to staying exclusively in hotels, especially 4 and 5 star ones, you'll experience a bit of amenity shock if you stay at a hostel. These are a few major differences you'll typically find. A few of these are similar to staying in an Airbnb.
Sharing a room
Unless you opt for a private room, you'll have to share a room with other people. You won't have a lot of privacy, so you'll need to be comfortable with other people or go to the bathroom to change every time. You also need to make sure you keep your valuables locked up.
Most hostels have bunk beds in their shared rooms. Make sure you're comfortable with possibly getting the top bunk and a twin sized bed.
Sharing the bathroom area
The bathroom is a common area at hostels. You'll be sharing it with other people of both sexes. Typically, the showers are single stalled and the bathrooms are separate. Then you'll have the sinks and such in one area.
Your sheets won't typically be changed during your stay. I recommend asking them to be changed if you are there for more than a few days.
No (extra) towels
If your hostel provides towels, you'll only receive one at a time. I suggest bringing a travel towel if you need more than one at once.
I noticed that guests at hostels are pretty open to meeting new people and chatting. Yes, there can be groups and as a solo traveler, it might be hard to connect, but I noticed people were much friendlier.
Choosing your hostel
There are so many different types of hostels out there. Some are quieter, some are for partiers, and some are great for families. There is only one website I use to find hostels and it's Hostelworld. You can choose from over 33,000 properties in 170 different countries. What I love about the site is that there is so much information on there that I'm never left wondering if the hostel listing is being honest or not. When you book, you will need to pay a deposit. You have the option of adding $1 for the Flexible Booking. This allows you to use your deposit for another booking if you need to cancel.
You can sort hostels by rating and view them in list view or on a map. This is really useful if you want to stay in a specific part of the city and see what the transportation options are. Each listing has a property description, a ton of photos, a list of services available at the hostel like laundry and a kitchen, awards, things to note like city/country taxes, cancellation policy, map, and reviews. Reviews include categories like Value For Money, Security, Location, Staff, Atmosphere, Cleanliness, and Facilities.
You'll also notice that some hostels offer co-ed, male, female or private rooms. Typically, the co-ed rooms are the cheapest and the larger male/female room is the next cheapest option. I personally like to choose a female room with a maximum of 6 people staying in the room.
Things I look for when booking a hostel:
- The cost (book a few months ahead of time so you have the most options)
- The vibe and decor
- The quality of the beds
- The quality of the showers
- Security at the hostel itself and also for your room and belongings
- If there's a common space and kitchen
- The location like how far from the airport is it and how far from major attractions
- The price compared to other hostels in the area
- High quality recent reviews, including the friendliness of staff
- Added amenities like free breakfast, free WiFi, and free walking tours
Packing for your trip
When staying at a hostel, packing for your trip is a little different than staying at a hotel or Airbnb. Shower shoes are big one. A lot of people are using the showers and I'm sure they're not cleaned as often as you'd like. Below are just a few things I recommend bringing for your stay.
Download a free hostel packing guide
There are a few unspoken rules to staying at a hostel, but ultimately, it comes down to respecting other people around you. These tips will also help you get the most out your stay too!
- Be open to meeting new people and trying new things and different travel styles. There are a lot of budget-conscious travelers who stay at hostels who may have a completely different travel approach. Don't automatically dismiss them.
- Don't keep the light on at night if you don't need it. Sometimes hostels will provide their own bed light or you can bring your own. Phone lights work fine too!
- Don't be obnoxiously loud in the rooms late at night.
- Keep your belongings contained in your area in the room.
- Take advantage of any free or cheaper add-ons like free walking tours.
- Sometimes there's a bar in the hostel, which is cheaper than going to an actual bar. You can sit and make friends here too.
- To save money on food, utilize the kitchen if there is one. Make sure you follow the clean up rules (usually just clean all the items you use). This also applies to other common areas.
- Don't complain! You signed up for a hostel experience for a reason. It's not going to be a 5 star hotel!