Tips for Your First Ever Hostel Experience
So many people have never experienced a hostel in their life and after that horrible scary movie from 2005, most people try and steer far away from them. In reality, they are some of the funnest and safest places you could be while traveling, especially alone. Below are a few key points for understanding hostels and what to expect for those who have yet to experience one.
What is a Hostel?
A hostel is a budget-friendly accommodation that is usually set up with rooms that have bunk beds. The rooms can range for 4 beds to more than 2o beds depending on the hostel you are staying at. Many hostels offer private rooms for a higher cost and female only dorms to make women feel more comfortable.
Why are Hostels so Great?
Extremely Budget Friendly
The best part about traveling is saving money because it just means you get to travel even longer! Hostel's are much cheaper than the alternative accommodation and some include pretty cool amenities. I can never pass up a hostel that serves free breakfast. Hostels in Amsterdam may cost around 30 USD a night, while in Vietnam you can find options for under 5 USD a night.
It May Surprise You How Nice Some Can Be
Seeing such cheap accommodation especially under 5 USD might be off putting, but in my experience some of the most affordable hostels have been the cleanest and nicest. When you think about a country's exchange rate and how your dollar is viewed, it may get you much farther than you think. I have stayed in hostels with rooftop bars that have breathtaking views and huge swimming pools.
They Usually Have Free Tours
Tons of hostels will offer free walking tours usually once or twice in the morning. The tour guide works off tips, so it's polite to have a few extra dollars to give them at the end. Often times hostels will organize pub crawls in the evening for everyone to get together. From my experience, these have been the best way to meet other travelers and have a night to remember. Many hostels have deals with the bars/clubs they take you to, so you may get discounted drinks as well!
The Receptionists are There to Help You
Most hostels are in touristy cities, they know the sites people would like to go and can usually organize a tour group for you. Don't be afraid to ask them about taxis or anything else you might need, especially if you do not speak the language. Talking over the phone in a language you don't know very well is quite the task.
You Can Make so Many Friends
The best part about hostels are all the fun people you wouldn't ordinarily meet. If you are traveling alone it is a great way to interact with other solo travelers.
What Can I Expect in a Hostel?
Dorm Style Rooms
With saving money usually comes some sort of sacrifice. Hostels generally are so inexpensive because you are sharing a room with multiple people. You will have your own bed, usually in a bunk bed style and some rooms may accommodate anywhere from 4 to 20 people. Hostels do typically offer private rooms for a little extra money, but what's the fun in that? In my opinion, the bigger the hostel room, the more opportunity to meet other travelers!
Female Only Rooms
If you are a female traveler, there is an option to book a female only room. This may make you feel more comfortable and safe during your travelers and women do have a reputation for being much cleaner.
Make Sure You Claim Your Bed
You will be assigned a bed in the dorm room. Make sure you find your correct bed and put some of your belongings on it to show that it has been claimed. People make mistakes and the receptionist may have assigned two people to the same bed. It is better to resolve this before night to prevent crawling into bed with a total stranger.
Explore the Common Areas
Common areas are a great way to interact with other travelers. Many hostels have bars, restaurants, and different game areas for people to come together. If you are on the shyer side, the easiest way to meet other travelers is to just walk in a room and sit next to someone.
You Will Have a Shared Kitchen
Rarely have I seen a hostel that does not contain a kitchen of some sort. Shared kitchens often come equipped with stove tops, cooking utensils, and a fridge to store your stuff. This is a shared space and you are not at a hotel with maids, so clean up after yourself. Make sure you wash your dishes and keep it tidy for the next person. If you are storing food in the kitchen, label it with the date and your name to make sure no one tosses it in the trash.
Sometimes a bathroom with a shower will be attached to your specific room, other times it will be down the hall shared with several other people. Though I have encountered some sparkly clean showers, bring flip flops or some sort of shoe to wear in the shower. Keep your showering time to a minimum when you can. It is important to be respectful of your other hostel mates and hogging all the water isn't the way to do so.
Towels at Hostels
One thing I almost always forget while traveling is a towel. You can buy a medium sized packable microfiber towel relatively cheap at REI or any other camping store. While some do, most hostels do not provide towels. Many will have them available for rent, but if you are traveling to many different locations, even the few extra dollars you will drop to rent a towel at each hostel will add up. Bringing your own towel saves you from spending the extra money or drying off with a T-shirt.
Many people are concerned about not only the safety of themselves, but also their belongings while staying in a hostel. Hostel's provide lockers, sometimes they will be large enough to fit your entire pack, other times they will only be able to hold your valuables. Not every hostel will provide a padlock for you, so it is best to remember to pack one.
Hostel Etiquette 101
Being Respectful in Hostels
It is so important to be kind and respect the other guest around you. Everyone has different schedules and plans during their trip, try and be mindful of that. If you return from a late night out, try not to drunkenly trip over everything on your way to your bed.
Keep Your Alarm Close to You
Waking up early in a hostel is fine, sometimes we have to catch that 6 am bus or flight, but be courteous when doing so. If you set an alarm and it goes off, make sure you are there to turn it off. There is nothing more annoying than listening to someones alarm blare for 5 minutes while you are trying to sleep.
Pack Your Things the Night Before
If you are planning on leaving in the early morning, pack your things up the night before so you do not cause a scene in the morning. People can be SO loud when repacking their bags and rushing to get everything together. It is much better to have it all nice and organized the evening before, so you can grab it and go without disturbing a room full of people.
Utilize the Reading Light
Your bed will most likely have a reading light to use. If you are gathering your things in the early morning or late at night, use the small light rather than turning on the main light in the room. It's the little things that will make staying in a room with someone much more enjoyable.
Make your Phone Calls in the Common Room
Unless you are the only person that is in your room, it's best to make your calls in the common room. People often go back to their dorm bed to relax and listening to someone yapping away isn't always enjoyable.
Sex in Dorm Rooms
Alright, so this is the dirty part about hostels. While most hostels say "don't have sex in your room," between alcohol and being excited about a new place, it's bound to happen. Some people may think they're the only ones in the room so make some sort of noise to signal someone else is there. If that doesn't work, then odds are they really just don't care. If that's the case make sure you packed your headphones.
How do I Book a Hostel?
Hostels are quick and easy to book! Hostel World is the most popular site for booking. It's a website and an app to make it extra convenient for its users. It allows you to search by dates and location. Once you know where you want to go, you can organize the hostels by overall rating. Hostel World lets you read reviews by guests and see individual ratings on things, such as cleanliness, atmosphere, and location. When booking, you only need to put down a deposit and then the rest will be owed directly to the hostel upon arrival. If you are arriving late at night or early in the morning, make sure to communicate that with the hostel. They do not always have a 24 hour reception.
You can also book them directly on that specific hostel's website. Some hostels do not use Hostel World and these are the ones you will typically hear about from other travelers. They will often have a website or an email that you can contact for booking.
When Should I Book?
If you are traveling during high season or for some sort of event or festival, it is important to book ahead to make sure you get the hostel that you like! Hostels with great reputations will usually book up faster. If you are traveling during a less busy season, you can usually book a hostel on the day of or a few days beforehand, if you prefer more last minute planning.
I have stayed at countless hostels and have so many fun and interesting stories from my experiences. I hope that this helps you feel more comfortable and prepared on your first ever hostel stay!