The first time I stayed in a hostel, I was 22 and on my first solo trip to Ireland. I didn't know what to expect, all I knew was that I would be sleeping in a room with several other people. I had an image of the place in my mind as being a frightening dump (yes, I have seen the movie hostel).
Sharing a room with a bunch of strangers worried me. I wanted to keep my safety into consideration, but it was pointless to fear something I have never tried.
I did tons of research and came across a hostel I thought looked fun, had good reviews and was central. Staying at that hostel ended up being one of the best decisions I have ever made.
It proved my conceptions of what a hostel was were way off.
Hostels have ended up becoming one of my favorite parts of traveling. I have met friends from all over the world some of which have become my best friends.
If you aren't sure hostelling is right for you, this guide will shed some light and answer any questions you have. By the time you finish reading this, you'll know for sure if staying in a hostel is right for you
What is a hostel?
Simply, a hostel is a cheap, shared, and sociable accommodation that allows you to rent a bed in a dorm room. There can be anywhere from 4 to 30 beds in a room. Prices will vary depending on how many beds to a room and if you decide to stay in an all female room or mixed. Female rooms are generally more expensive.
Hostels are ideal for people who want to save money on accommodation. Generally, hostels come equipped with a kitchen so you can save money, by cooking your own meals and a common area where you can enjoy the company of fellow travelers. A lot of times hostels will also hold events, which are ideal for solo travelers who want the chance to meet other travelers in a fun & laid back setting.
In most hostels, you will get a choice to pick different room types. The most common is a dorm. You will be able to pick how many beds you want in one room. Rooms with the fewest beds will always be more expensive. My preference is no less than 6 and no more than 10. I say no less than 6 because sometimes you will get groups of three people sharing a room and if you are the only one not a part of their group, it can get awkward especially if you are solo traveling and want to meet people.
The other option is a private room. This is great for people who want privacy but want to experience the social aspect of staying in a hostel. They can be quite a bit more expensive, but generally much cheaper than staying in a hotel and to be honest, the rooms have a lot of the same amenities as you would get in a hotel anyway.
What type of hostel is right for you
When picking the perfect hostel, it's important to be aware of the different types of hostels out there. Depending on what you are interested in, this should be a good overview to get you started.
The focus of a party hostel is well…to party! Generally, these hostels will offer nightly activities that will involve getting drunk and exploring the nightlife of whatever city you are in. I personally prefer party hostels because they have a really fun atmosphere and people who stay at party hostels are generally looking to meet other travelers and join in on all the craziness. These hostels also tend to have activities during the day, so that sober you can make friends and enjoy the city too.
Examples of Party Hostels:
- Retox Party Hostel – Budapest, Hungry
- Far Out Beach Club – Ios, Greece
- Madhouse Hostel – Prague, Czech Republic
- Loki Hostel – Cusco, Peru
- Slumber Party – Koh Phangan, Thailand
Homely Hostels are hostels that look and feel like a home. Maybe the owners converted their house into a hostel or a hostel is just decorated to look like a home. These can be great for first time travelers who are nervous about leaving the comfort of home. I find myself staying at homely hostels after weeks of party hostels. It can be nice to stay somewhere that feels like a home, especially if you have been traveling for a long time.
Examples of Homely Hostels:
- Activity Hostel – Budapest, Hungary
- The Sibling Hostel – Bangkok, Thailand
- Hostel Blues – Bratislava, Slovakia
- Cozy Hostel – Tbilisi, Georgia
- Madame Isabelle's House – New Orleans, USA
Eco-Friendly hostels have become more popular over these last few years. These hostels focus on being environmentally friendly and green. Which can include, but is not limited to Composting, Recycling, Using Organic Veggies & Fruits for meals, having an electronic shower system, and using non-toxic cleaning materials. Some eco-friendly hostels are built using sustainable materials as well, for example, Bamboo Eco Hostel, in Turin, Italy is built entirely from recycled and refurbished materials. And some eco-friendly hostels even give back to their community, like 28 Towpath on the River Front in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. They provide opportunities for hostel stayers to volunteer their time, supporting community projects like Music Therapy, Permaculture, Art, and Education Programmes. This hostel also takes being green to whole new level by using excess shower water to feed banana and papaya trees in the grounds
Examples of Eco-Friendly Hostels
- Palace Hostel – Vienna, Austria
- Luz En El Cielo – Montezuma, Costa Rica
- The Lost and Found Hostel – Valle De Hornito, Panama
- Manipa Hostel Eco-Friendly – Grand Canaria, Spain
- Grampians Eco YHA – Grampians, Australia
Adventure hostels are hostels focusing on a certain activity or sport. They are a great option for adrenaline junkies who want something different than the typical hostel experience, or anyone who loves staying active while traveling. There are adventure hostels all over the world offering guests the option to partake in various sporting activities such as surfing, snorkeling, scuba diving, volcano sledding, hiking and so much more!
Examples of Adventure Hostels
- Afei Surf Hostel – Kenting, Taiwan
- Big Foot Leon, Leon, Nicaragua
- Rock Solid Backpackers – Rotorua, New Zealand
- Pineapple Park Kona – Kona, USA
- Bcnsporthostels – Barcelona, Spain
A Relaxation Hostel is a perfect place to escape to, maybe you have been traipsing through cities non-stop and just want a few days to recharge by the pool or beach. Maybe you have had a long week at work and just want to get away for the weekend. Whatever it may be, relaxation hostels are for you! They are more like resorts than hostels. You don't need to cough up $300 a night, to stay at a fancy smancy resort, when you can stay at a hostel with some of the same amenities for $10 a night, and will probably be way more fun!
Examples of Relaxation Hostels
- Friendz Resort & Hostel Boracay – Boracay Island, Philippines
- Arenal Backpackers Resort – La Fortuna, Costa Rica
- Casa En El Agua – Costa Caribe, Colombia
- Mad Monkey Siem Reap – Siem Reap, Cambodia
- Aquarius Backpackers Byron Bay – Byron Bay, Australia
Boutique hostels are places that look and feel more like a hotel. They are smaller than the average hostel and are decorated very tastefully. They can have a sophisticated feel and may seem luxurious compared to other hostels you may have stayed at (Yes, luxury hostels do exist).
Examples of Boutique Hostels
What makes a great hostel
In any decent hostel, there should always be lockers to put your valuables in. Most of the time they will be in the room, but sometimes they might be outside in the hallway or common area. You will have to bring your own lock or rent one from reception. Some hostels have high tech lockers that you can lock with your key card.
Wifi these days is a must. Staying connected with friends and family is something every traveler needs the option to do. Unless being device free is part of a hostels mission to provide a more social atmosphere or the hostel is located in the rainforest or some distant land where wifi would be harder to get, than having no wifi isn't such a bad thing. Most of the time though, hostels will provide it for free. I haven't stayed in very many places where it wasn't.
Social events are the best part of staying in a hostel. They provide travelers a chance to meet and get to know other travelers in a fun atmosphere. These events can include but are not limited to: Free walking tours, pub crawls, family dinners or taking you out to eat, cooking classes, BBQ's, and beer tours. I've been to a hostel in Lanquin, Guatemala called Hostel Oasis that took a group of us white water rafting or a hostel in Lisbon, Portugal called Goodmorning that had a free Sangria Night where they filled HUGE bathtub sized buckets with Sangria!
When researching what hostel to stay at, make sure to read reviews and see if other travelers mention if there are events or mention the easiness of meeting other travelers. Another way to check for events at a hostel is checking the hostel's website. Sometimes there will be a calendar showing events or they will have a list of events they plan.
Having a room that's dedicated to meeting other travelers is something all decent hostels have. Some common areas aren't necessarily set up to be social. I have found the most social hostels I have been to are set up with couches and chairs all facing each other, so you are kind of forced to get all cuddly with the people next to you and while you are close and personal with them you might as well start a conversation! Staying in a hostel isn't fun without that social aspect, so make sure any hostel you find has some sort of common area. This can sometimes even be the kitchen.
The great thing about most hostels is that they are centrally located! That's so important when choosing the right hostel. You don't want to commute 30 minutes or an hour to see all the touristy sites. You want it to be outside your door, or a close walk or metro ride away. Before deciding on a hostel, make sure you look at a map to see where it's located and if it's close to the sites you want to see. I once booked a hostel 45 min away from all the sites I wanted to visit. I had to take a commuter train into the city, which was quite expensive. After that experience, I don't book a hostel without researching where it is.
Don't you hate it when you're on a trip and you have a pile of dirty clothes sitting in your suitcase, waiting to be washed? The time it takes to do that is time, I am sure, rather spent exploring whatever city you are in. But alas, laundry is something we all have to do sooner or later, even if we really don't want to. There has been one incident where I stayed at a hostel without any laundry facilities. I had to walk down the street to a laundromat and waste 3 hours, waiting for my clothes to finish. Don't make the same mistake I did! Make sure the hostel your staying at has laundry facilities. Any decent hostel will have one, or if you are lucky, some hostels provide a washing service for you, so that you can go about your day and not even worry about it!
A kitchen is a crucial element that any adequate hostel should have. As travelers, we like to save money and that includes cooking our own food. Eating out every single day is expensive and can add up, not everyone has the budget for that. Many hostels will say if they have a kitchen, on their website, but if you are unsure, it never hurts to contact them and ask.
When staying at a hostel, security is important, especially since so many people are coming and going on a daily basis. Most places will have a form of security, whether it's a wristband that you show as you're entering the hostel or a keycard, there should ALWAYS be a way to check if whoever is entering the hostel, is actually staying there. I personally haven't stayed in too many hostels that didn't have a security system in place for their hostel guests.
Having amazing staff can either make or break a hostel experience and by amazing staff, I mean staff that actually care! I have stayed in countless hostels where as soon as I walk through the door, I am instantly greeted with an overwhelming amount of enthusiasm. One hostel, in particular, Madhouse in Prague, had some of the best people working there and they alone made my stay memorable. They really got involved with everyone staying there, by getting all of us to partake in drinking games, taking us out to some awesome bars, and just making sure everyone had the best possible time! I tell anyone planning a trip to Prague to stay at Madhouse!
The ideal hostel guest
It's important to understand that staying in a hostel isn't for everybody. Some people cringe at the thought of sharing a room with strangers and the lack of privacy. And some people are light sleepers and need it to be quiet all through the night. On the other hand, some people love hostels, like yours truly. The idea of meeting people from all over the world, especially when traveling solo can be exciting. It can even be life-changing. Having friends worldwide means you have people to visit on future trips.
When deciding if staying in a hostel is right for you, a few factors should be considered:
Do you enjoy the constant company of others?
Obviously, you don't have to hang out with people 24/7, but it's really difficult to get any alone time, with people coming and going, it's a whirlwind of new faces every single day. New people to talk to and hang out with. It's great for solo travelers because you don't really get the chance to feel lonely, on the other hand, it can feel frustrating to never have time on your own. But if having people around you all the time doesn't bother you, then you'll enjoy staying in a hostel.
Are you a light sleeper?
Are you someone that wakes up to a pin drop? if so, you probably won't be getting much sleep at a hostel. People come in all hours of the night, drunk or just arriving and as quiet as they try to be, most of the time they aren't. I have had people in my room have full on conversations at 3 am, while everyone else in my room was tossing and turning, they were oblivious. You're definitely going to come across rude people that don't know proper hostel etiquette. But most of the time, I haven't had any issues.
If you are a light sleeper, you should consider bringing earplugs. I bring earplug's on every trip I take and they have saved me from nights of restlessness. Snoring is a big problem in hostels, and when you're sharing a room with 8 people, chances are, there will be at least one snorer amongst them. If you are a heavy sleeper or light sleeper (with earplugs), then I think staying in a hostel will suit you just fine.
Do cramped spaces make you uncomfortable?
Sometimes close quarters can make people uncomfortable, even claustrophobic. I'm not saying you will stay in the room the size of a closet, but with several beds lining the walls, it will seem like it is. Of course, it depends on the hostel, so it's important to do research, just to make sure the hostel you are booking has decent sized rooms. I've stayed in hostels with massive rooms, like Wombats. I've also stayed in hostels with closet-sized rooms, like Astor Hyde Park in London.
It depends on how many beds are in your room, and some hostels will even have different sized rooms with the same amount of beds. Usually the more beds, the more space there will be. If cramped spaces bother you, I recommend booking a room with more beds or contacting the hostel and asking about the room sizes. They will be able to put you in a bigger room if one is available. Chances are, you probably won't be spending much time in your room anyway, so the room size might not even bother you. But regardless, we all have our own level of comfort when traveling.
Most of the hostels I have stayed at have been fine, I haven't had too many issues with other guests being rude and obnoxious, but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen. Since hostels are shared spaces there are a few things that you should know before you stay in a hostel for the first time.
Be aware of other people in your room
This is super important. I have had people rudely come in and turn on the light at 2 am or talk super loudly when everyone else is trying to sleep. Hostels are shared, communal spaces and being aware of the people you are sharing your room with will make for a happier hostel experience for all. If you think you will need to turn on the light, bring a flashlight. If you think you will have to rummage through your things, get what you need out and ready before you leave your room.
Keep your area tidy
When you're sharing a space it's common courtesy to keep your belongings together and out of everyone's way. There were times I have accidentally taken home someone else's shirt or sock because it would somehow get into my bag. It can be difficult when sharing a room with so many people, but take advantage of the lockers or try and keep things on your bed or find a corner of the room to put your bag.
Clean up after yourself in the kitchen
If you plan on cooking, don't leave the mess for someone else to clean up. Your mother isn't here and food that is left out can get other people sick.
Clean up after yourself in the and bathroom
Bathrooms, in general, can get gross if they aren't cleaned so you can imagine how disgusting a communal bathroom can get if people don't clean up after themselves. Whatever you take into the bathroom with you, should always leave the bathroom with you or be thrown away.
Don't use plastic bags
Plastic bags are the worst! They are noisy and bad for the environment. A lot of the noises I hear when people are packing come from plastic bags being moved around. I recommend instead using Ziploc bags. They take up less space in your bag and you will be able to see what you have in them.
Pack up the day before you leave
If you plan on partying late and know you have an early flight to catch pack up the day before. You don't want to pack drunk or hungover with the possibility of waking up your roommates and you don't want to risk forgetting anything.
I had a situation at a hostel in Poland where I stayed up late the night before I was supposed to catch an early flight to Croatia. I didn't pack the night before and when I woke up the next morning I realized my alarm didn't go off. I hurriedly packed my things and raced to the airport. This caused me to forget over $200 worth of items in my room. I now make sure to ALWAYS pack the night before.
Keep intimacies private
I get it, we all have urges and it's hard to follow through with them when there are 7 other people in the room. If you do find yourself wanting to hook up with someone, split a private room for the night or consider staying at a party hostel where hooking up in the dorm is more accepting. Many party hostels will even sell condoms.
This also applies to masturbating in the room. If you think you are being quiet, you probably aren't. People will know what you are doing. If you are desperate, go to the bathroom.
Hostels really are fun places to stay and it's rare that you will come across those rude travelers who think they are gods gift to this earth. The majority of the time people are very relaxed and are eager to meet other travelers. As long as you have common sense, you will be fine.
What you should pack
The one thing I hate about traveling is that feeling you get when you know you have forgotten something, but you can't quite figure out what it is. Then you arrive at whatever destination you're visiting, go through your things and start making a list of items you need to buy at the store. This has happened to me way too many times and don't want it to happen to you. I have compiled an essential list of items you should pack for your next trip.
Hostels will usually have lockers and in order to take advantage of them, you should bring your own padlock. You can rent them at most places, but it's just so much easier when you have your own that you're familiar with. I prefer padlocks with a key, rather than a combination because they are faster to open and I can open them in the dark. I find the numbers on combination padlocks hard to see.
Unless you don't want a nasty case of athletes foot, bring shower sandals! You never know what sort of feet have been in a shower, and frankly, you don't want to. You will be protecting yourself and other people who use the shower.
For some reason, adaptors are the one thing I am constantly forgetting. I have tons at home, but I always seem to buy them whenever I arrive at my destination. I recommend buying a universal adapter, that way you only have to keep track of one and it will charge all your electronics no matter where you are in the world.
I can’t stand snoring and staying in a hostel room with several people, there is bound to be at least one snorer. Earplugs are essential if I want a good nights sleep.
Microfiber Travel Towel
Towels aren’t necessarily something you need to bring, but it’s a good idea too. Some hostels rent out towels, but they can sometimes be expensive. Microfiber travel towels are the way to go. They are easy to pack and dry quickly, making it convenient to bring on any trip.
It’s nice after a long day to sit back, relax and take those walking shoes off. I always pack a pair of slippers that I can just wear around the hostel. The ones I currently own, look more like uggs, but they are super lightweight and really comfortable. I never leave home without them.
I just recently invested in a travel sized laundry bag for my last trip, and it was a lifesaver! I loved the convenience of it when I had to take my clothes down to the laundry room. It was also nice just to have something to put my dirty clothes in.
You never know when a flashlight could come in handy! You may have to check out of the hostel super early or you may want to read in bed, whatever the reason is, having a flashlight is always a good idea.
Having a portable charger has saved me so many times. My phone loses battery so quickly because I constantly have google maps running. If it ends up shutting off, I would pretty much be screwed (I’m horrible with directions). This was one of the best purchases I could have made.
Multi-charging cables are essential. With a limited number of outlets in each room(unless you have one by your bed). Everybody is on a hunt to claim one, so it kind of sucks when you have a few electronics that need charging daily. With multi-charging cables, you don’t have to worry about that!
Packing cubes are a godsend, seriously! Staying neat and tidy in a hostel can be tough, especially with such a small amount of designated space to occupy. These are the packing cubes I use. When I pack or unpack my bag, It feels like the unorganized me has a bit of order in my life.
Book Your Hostel
Looking to book your hostel adventure? Hostelworld is my favorite Hostel booking website. They are easy to use and offer accommodation choices in more than 60 countries. Click the image below to start browsing.
I really hope this in-depth guide to staying in a hostel for the first time has helped you decide if it's the right move for you or just eased your fears. I can't say that I have stayed in too many hostels that have disappointed me. Every hostel experience is different, you'll meet tons of people from all walks of life, and hear an array of different stories. If you have never stayed in a hostel before, it's definitely something you need to experience at least once in your life
What has been your favorite hostel(s)?
Please Note: This post may contain affiliate links, which means if you book/buy something through one of my links, I may earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you!).
Helpful Travel Resources
Book your Flight: Check out Skyscanner and Momondo! They always seem to have great deals. Airfarewatchdog is also a favorite of mine. I get notified by email every time there is a good deal from my local airport.
Book your Transportation: Wanderu is usually where I check first. They check hundreds of different transportation companies all over the world and find you either the best bus or train deal. Flixbus is one of my favorite cheap options for Europe. The buses generally aren't too bad and they go to most countries around Europe. It's the perfect option for short distances. Train travel is my favorite mode of transportation and I always use Rail Europe to book my tickets. The Eurail pass makes train travel super affordable.
Book your Accommodation: On a budget and looking for cheap accommodation? Hostelworld is my preferred site to book cheap and reliable hostels through. Hotels Combined compares hundreds of sites to give you the cheapest hotel deal. If I know the hotel I want to stay at, This is the site I generally use. Hotwire has a fun mystery to it. It's a great site to use for last minute bookings. They don't actually tell you the name of the hotel when you are browsing. You will just get the area of the city it's in, the price, and how many stars it has. I love the surprise aspect of it!
Book your Travel Insurance: Getting travel insurance is such a crucial part of preparing for a trip. You never know what could happen and why take the risk? Before I travel anywhere I always book my insurance through World Nomads.
Book your Activities: Now, you have planned all the logistics time to think about what you will do once you get to your destination! These are a few of my favorite trip planning sites. I always use Viator when I am looking for tours. I have booked cooking classes, day tours and so much more through them and absolutely love the immense selection they offer in cities all over the world! Pinterest is great to get travel inspiration and plan an upcoming trip or share inspo with friends and family. I use Trip Advisor to plan itineraries for what I want to see & do in each city. I also use them to read reviews on restaurants and hotels.
Store Your Luggage: Do you have a long layover or a late flight and need to store your luggage? Luggage Hero has got you covered. You can book luggage storage in more than 35 cities worldwide for as little as $1 an hour or $8 for the day.
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