When I tell people about my travels, there’s one thing that almost always results in a raised eyebrow: my use of hostels. There’s a common misconception about hostels that they’re dirty, sketchy places that open you up to abduction and a whole host of other nefarious deeds. But in my experience, and the experiences of others, this is untrue. If you’re a traveler on a budget and you’re hesitant to check out the hostel scene, here are the answers to your hostel questions and some of my best hostel travel tips!
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First off, you may be wondering: What is a hostel? Hostels are a form of accommodation with an emphasis on community, typically aimed at students and young travelers on a budget. Hostels usually offer dorm rooms where people pay to sleep in a bed in a shared room. But they can also offer private rooms, food, activities, and common spaces for building new friendships.
Hotels vs. Hostels
There are some pretty glaring differences between Hotels and Hostels. The biggest is that hostels are more meant for fostering a community atmosphere. They tend to provide large community spaces like living rooms and kitchens for travelers to come together and socialize. They also host activities like walking tours and pub crawls to help bring people together. Hostels also tend to be much cheaper than hotels, especially for solo travelers.
But in some ways, hostels can be similar to hotels. They can offer private rooms for people who don’t want to share space with strangers. They can also provide similar amenities like towels, free wifi, free breakfast, and sometimes even pools and business centers.
Who are Hostels for?
As I mentioned earlier, hostels are generally aimed for students and younger travelers, but that’s not totally exclusive. While some hostels do actually have an age limit, many do not. Anyone is invited to stay, so long as you have an open mind and a willingness to share space. Whether you’re a couple, a family with kids, or a senior traveler, you can find a hostel that’s right for you.
Hostels and Family Travel
Hostels can sometimes have a reputation for not being very family friendly. And this is true for some places. But more and more hostels are beginning to cater to traveling families with kids. From family rooms with bunks for the kiddos, to kids common areas, hostels are stepping up their game when it comes to families. So if you’re traveling with your family, don’t totally discount hostels as an accommodation option. They can be a great way to save money, by allowing everyone to share a room and give you all access to a shared kitchen space for cooking your own meals.
When searching for hostels, it will usually be noted whether or not the hostel is family friendly. My biggest hostel travel tip for families is to read the reviews. They can give you a really good idea of whether a place is right for your kids or not. Some popular family-friendly hostels include:
- Blue Mountains YHA, Katoomba, Australia
- YHA London St. Pancras, London, UK
- Palm Lakefront Resort and Hostel, Orlando, Florida, USA
- Hana Hostel, Kyoto, Japan
There are many advantages to staying in hostels. My personal favorite is the price! As a solo traveler, staying in a hostel dorm can be significantly cheaper than booking a private hotel room. In addition, when you can find a place that offers free food and great amenities, staying in a hostel can far outweigh a hotel.
Another advantage is the social atmosphere of hostels. When traveling solo, that loneliness can creep in and staying in hostels helps a lot to beat it. Enjoying the common spaces and group activities opens you up to meeting so many like-minded and interesting people from all over the world.
I also like staying in hostels because they tend to be a bit more unique and creative than hotels. When you picture hotels, it’s usually starchy white sheets, monochromatic decor, and rather stuffy clientele. But hostels often bring a unique element that many hotels are missing. This hostel in Ottawa, Canada is located in an old jail. Book lovers will love this hostel in Toyko, Japan. Here, you can sleep in a rail car in an old railway station in Sydney, Australia!
It’s probably one of the biggest questions on your mind: Are hostels safe? The short answer is Yes! They can be quite safe, just like any place else. The longer answer is…it depends.
Staying in community-focused accommodation opens you up to more encounters with other people. Whether or not they are positive encounters may vary. Some typical troubles that may arise while staying at a hostel include theft and people who are just plain rude. Unfortunately, some travelers have also dealt with assault while staying in hostels as well, but there are steps you can take to protect yourself against this rare possibility.
How to stay safe in Hostels
Of all my hostel travel tips, this one is probably the one you came here for. If you are concerned about safety in hostels while traveling, there are a number of things you can do to help stay safe. When choosing where to stay there are some specific things to look for.
First, is it a party hostel? Party hostels typically mean drunk roommates, which can lead to a bad experience. You can usually identify party hostels by seeing if they have a large bar on site, if they lead pub crawls or nightlife outings, and by checking the reviews of the hostel.
Second, what kind of security measures do they have in place? Look for things like free lockers, female-only dorms, 24-hour staff, security guards on duty, and curfew times. A hostel that offers these things definitely places a good emphasis on traveler safety, and you are less likely to run into trouble by booking a place with these features.
Lastly, like always, be aware of your belongings. Don’t leave your laptop or smartphone out in the open, unattended. Make use of the lockers and keep your valuables in there overnight or whenever you don’t have them on your person. Use locks and bag protectors to keep your backpacks unaccessible in the dorm rooms.
Picking a good hostel is key to having a great hostel experience. There are many differences from hostel to hostel, and as you travel more you’ll find what elements and amenities you like best during your hostel stays. As you search through all the hostels in your desired destination, here are some hostel travel tips for booking a good hostel.
One of the first things I look at when searching for hostels is the location. I generally like to stay in centrally-located hostels to help cut down on public transportation costs. Plus, the city center is usually the safer area of a city. When narrowing down where to stay, I like to filter my options by location and view them on a map to see which hostels are available in my preferred central location.
If I can’t find a hostel that fits my needs in a central location, I also keep in mind things like its proximity to a train/bus station, what attractions and restaurants are close by and how easy it is to get there from the airport.
Looking through the photos of a hostel can give you some really good insight on what to expect. You can usually find photos of the common spaces, the dorm rooms, and sometimes even the bathrooms. If the photos of the property are intriguing, it’s definitely worth looking further into the hostel for a potential stay.
A hostel’s security features are really important when searching for a hostel. Most online hostel search engines will have review ratings specifically for security. Like I mentioned before, look to see if it’s a party hostel, see what security measures are put in place, and also take time to read the reviews to see what people have said about the hostel’s security.
For me, this goes along with the security of a hostel. I feel much safer in a hostel when I know that my belongings can be safely locked up while I’m out exploring. Most hostels will provide lockers for their guests, but I like to double check that I can either see them in the photos provided, or they’re listed in the hostel facilities.
Breakfast, Wifi, and other Freebies
Many hostels offer different freebies to their guests. I personally tend to favor hostels with free breakfast, assuming the cost difference isn’t significant. Staying in a hostel with a free breakfast can help cut down on food costs while traveling and is a welcome added bonus to a hostel stay.
In addition, look to see if the hostel offers free Wifi. This is really important to me, as it’s how I stay in contact with my hubby and family while I’m traveling. Bonus points if the hostel specifically notes that there is free Wifi in the rooms.
Other freebies a hostel may offer include free towels for showering, free soap
The Bathroom Situation
Bathrooms in hostels differ depending on where you are. Most of the time, you will be sharing bathroom space with other guests. But it’s not as bad as it sounds. Sometimes the bathrooms are large, with multiple sinks, toilet stalls
Tours and Activities
Hostels will often offer extra tours and activities for free or at a small cost. Hostels that offer these services are awesome because it saves you time from having to find tours and activities yourself, and they give you a great opportunity to meet people staying at your same hostel. Game nights, pub crawls, and cooking classes are all fun activities that I’ve seen hostels offer. I did a really great free walking tour with HI Washington DC to see the DC memorials at night time. The hostel in Merida, Mexico, where I stayed, offered free yoga and salsa dancing lessons!
Chains and Brands
Just like with hotels, there are a number of hostel chains with properties all around the world. I’m not saying that staying in a chain is better than staying in a boutique hostel. But sometimes it is nice to have the familiarity of a chain. If you have experienced a specific brand of hostels before and you know you like them, this may be a factor in where you decide to book. Some common hostel chains include Hostelling International, Generator Hostels in Europe, Mad Monkey hostels in Southeast Asia, and Che Lagarto hostels in South America.
Curfews and Rules
While not too common, some hostels do have more strict rules and curfews they expect their guests to follow. I’ve seen a few hostels that require you to vacate the dorms for an hour or two a day for cleaning. Some will impose a nightly curfew, where guests will no longer be able to enter the hostel after a certain time of night. Other rules may include the use of alcohol on the property, the ability to bring outside guests onto the property, and whether or not you can use a sleeping bag. Special rules like these are typically outlined on the hostel’s website and on online search engines.
One of the main reasons to stay in a hostel is for the social atmosphere! You can generally get an idea of the hostel’s social atmosphere by reading reviews and seeing what kind of common space they offer. Also, if the hostel offers tours and activities, as mentioned before, they are more likely to have a good social atmosphere.
Another big thing that draws people to stay in hostels is the uniqueness. If I have a choice between a very plain, standard looking hostel or one with a fun theme and funky decoration, I’m definitely more likely to choose the one that’s more unique. This is up to your individual preference, but why not pick a place with a fun and unique vibe?
After staying in a number of hostels, I have compiled a list of extra amenities that can influence my decision to stay somewhere. These little extra touches are more of a personal preference, but they can often be the final thing that pushes me to book one hostel over another. Some extra amenities I like to look for are airport shuttles, beds with electrical outlets and curtains, pools or hot tubs, bicycle rentals, luggage storage, and outdoor gardens and terraces.
If you’ve been convinced to give hostels a try, you may be wondering how exactly to reserve a room or bed. There are a number of great ways to research the best hostel for you and make a reservation, but here are some of the best!
HostelWorld is my go-to source for finding and booking hostels around the world. The website has tens of thousands of properties to search through, in more than 170 different countries. HostelWorld gives you all the information you need before picking a hostel and makes booking a breeze. Click the image below to start your search!
This is usually my secondary go-to website for booking hostels. This website searches for both hotels and hostels, so it requires a little more research to specifically find hostels. Generally, if you filter your search so that the cheapest options show first, these will be hostels. My favorite thing about Agoda is that you can link your favorite airline loyalty programs with it and earn miles and points through your Agoda booking. Click the image below to search for a hostel.
AirBnb sometimes has hostels listed as well. They’re a little bit more rare to find, but they’re there! You can typically find these in your search listed as “Room 1” or “Bunk 1”. Make sure you have your filters set as shared spaces, or the hostels won’t show up. AirBnb is usually my last resort when searching for hostels, but it can help you find them in more remote places.
The idea of not having an advanced reservation scares the living bejeezus out of me. But for travelers who are more “go with the flow” than I am, this is a really great option. This is basically when you just walk into a hostel and reserve a bed on the spot. It’s great for discovering places that don’t have an online presence. Plus, you can request a tour and walk through the place yourself to make sure it’s up to your personal standards. However, I don’t recommend this method if you’re traveling to popular cities during peak season, as you run the risk of encountering places with no vacancy.
The hostel scene can be so different from typical hotels that often, first-time hostellers get a bit nervous. My first time in a hostel, I was so nervous that I didn’t talk to anyone and ended up sleeping with all of my
Get in the right mindset
If you go into your first hostel stay expecting privacy and quiet, you might be disappointed. I like to compare hostel stays with going to sleepaway camp as a kid. They’re often set up much the same. If you go into your hostel stay like you’re going to a sleepaway camp, you’ll find your expectations are not let down.
It is definitely okay to introduce yourself to your dorm mates! Showing some friendliness can go a long way. In fact, it’s a great way to break the ice and shed a little of the awkwardness of sharing space. Share your name, where you’re from, and maybe mention whether or not you occasionally suffer from night terrors. (Yes, there’s a story there…)
Hang out in the common areas
Along those same lines, don’t spend your time at the hostel buried in your social media, in bed. Make use of the great common areas to mingle with the other people staying in your hostel. This is a great way to make friends and find people to go out adventuring with. I wasn’t planning on going out and exploring Guatemala City during my 2 nights there, but after meeting a really nice girl in the common area, we decided to meet up later and venture into the city center together!
Pack the right stuff
There are a few key things that you’ll want to make sure you pack when staying in a hostel. The top three things you’ll definitely want to bring
a genderseparated dorm
Of course, it’s up to your preference. But if you’re a bit nervous about your first time sharing a dorm, maybe opt for a gender-separated dorm. I still prefer staying in female only dorms when I can. Boys are smelly.
Staying in a hostel means you’re probably going to have to share bathroom space. For some people, this can make your daily poop an anxiety-ridden experience. Don’t make yourself sick by being too nervous to use the shared toilets. The best thing is to remember that everybody poops.
Remember those tours and activities we talked about? Do them! Get involved in the hostel community and take advantage of the great programs your hostel offers. Take that walking tour, sign up for the cooking class, try yoga for the first time! Hostels are designed to have a social atmosphere, so go and experience it as much as you can.
Don’t stay out late
One way to definitely upset your roommates is to come back to the dorm room late at night, turning lights on and making loud noises while people are trying to sleep. It’s easy enough to not be that person: just go to bed at a reasonable time. Some hostels will even have a lights-out policy at a certain time. So plan on being back by that time to avoid disturbing your roommates.
Clean up after yourself
Another way you can avoid dissonance with your fellow hostel mates is to take personal responsibility and clean up after yourself. This applies to all areas of the hostel. Don’t leave your belongings strewn around the dorm room. If you use the kitchen, clean up your dishes and take care of your food mess. And please, if you make a mess in the bathroom, clean it up! That includes your stray hairs that fall out in the shower.
Follow Hostel rules and etiquette
Lastly, be sure to follow the hostel’s rules and apply some basic manners to your stay. You are sharing space with others so it’s important to consider how your behavior affects other people while staying in a hostel. You may love to sleep in the nude, but it’s going to make other people uncomfortable so pack some dang pajamas. And if you have to wake up at 5 in the morning, don’t turn all the lights on and start loud conversations with your travel buddies. It’s just not cool.
Staying in hostels is an awesome way to save money, meet new people and have unique experiences while traveling. While hostels may tend to have a negative reputation, I’m here to tell you that staying in hostels is really not that scary or weird. And if you follow all my hostel travel tips, I’m sure you’ll come to the same conclusion!
If you have any questions about staying in hostels that I didn’t address in this post, please feel free to shoot me an email or find me on social media!
Check out some of the hostels I’ve used on my Hostel Takeover section!
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