If you are thinking about staying in a hostel for the first time, there are some things you need to know, and it’s not all pretty. No, I don’t mean you’re going to end up starring in Hostel 6 or 7 or 12 or whatever number they’re on now, but there are definitely some big differences between staying in hostels, and staying in the hotels you might be used to. However, as long as you know what to look for and what to expect, they can be an excellent experience AND save you a lot of money while you travel. My thought process is that I don’t spend much time at my accommodation anyway, so I spend less on places to stay and have more for all the things I want to do and see. Not to mention, hostels have kitchens so I can cook most of my meals instead of having to pay to eat out all the time. The point is, you can make hostels work FOR you as long as you’re careful. Before you book, just keep these things in mind, and you’ll be traveling cheaper send doing more in no time!
You can choose the size and gender of your room. If the idea of sleeping in a room with 11 other people freaks you out, I don’t blame you at all. Luckily, most hostels have rooms ranging from 12 to 2 people per room, and you can choose between mixed dorms and all female or male dorms. You can pick whatever you’re comfortable with and the price difference usually isn’t very big. A lot of hostels even have private rooms that are still cheaper than a hotel room, plus you get access to a kitchen and can still socialize with other travelers.
Some hostel rooms don’t have air conditioning. I found this out the hard way when I got to Sydney in the middle of summer and ended up in a 10x12ft room with five other people, no windows, and no A/C. Now I always check when I book online and refuse to book a place without it. I use Booking.com for all my bookings because it specifies whether each room has A/C or not, and at a lot of places only some of the rooms do.
Some rooms have bathrooms and some don’t. I’ve stayed at hostels that have private bathrooms in each dorm, and ones that only have a bathroom for each floor. Obviously it’s convenient to have a bathroom in the room, but it also means that you’ll get woken up if someone decides to get up and blow dry their hair in the morning. I’ve found that the floor bathrooms actually stay cleaner because they’re easier for the cleaners to get to, but it’s really all about your preference. When picking a hostel, I wouldn’t make bathroom location a huge priority. If I have to choose between a private bath and A/C, A/C wins every time.
The beds can be HORRIBLE. If you stayed at a hotel and could feel every spring in the mattress you’d absolutely be able to complain and get moved, refunded, or given a free night. However, hostels just aren’t held to the same standards as hotels, so if you have back problems or anything you might want to ask the property about the beds before booking.
A lot of hostels don’t provide towels. If you’re used to staying in hotels, it might come as a shock when you check in at your hostel and don’t get a towel or any toiletries. I haven’t stayed at any hostels in Australia that give you a towel, but I know a lot of the hostels in Asia do, so it just depends on where you’re going. Some places will also let you rent a towel, but the best thing you can do is just bring your own if you have room for it in your bag.
They can be loud, but don’t have to be. Different hostels have different atmospheres. Some are obviously party hostels where you can expect to hear music and loud drunk people most of the night, and people won’t be considerate about coming in and out of the room in the middle of the night. Others are more relaxed hostels where you’ll usually find a mix of age groups, and there are usually posted quiet hours and strict rules about guests. The best way to make sure you end up in the right kind of hostel for you is by reading the online reviews prior to booking.
Some hostels don’t allow alcohol. This is something that isn’t included in Booking.com property descriptions, so if it matters to you, call or email the property ahead of time. The bright side of dry hostels is that they’re usually quieter. People still bring alcohol in of course, but they drink in their rooms instead of in public areas, and since they can’t party at the hostel, they go out instead of staying in and being loud. On the other hand, if you want to party cheaper, look for hostels that do allow alcohol and drink there instead of at bars.
Some people stay long term. This can be a really good thing if you’re looking to spend a few months in a city. Not all hostels will let people stay for more than a week, but those that do usually have weekly rates that save you money. Most hostels also offer the option to work for accommodation, which includes working a few hours a day, four or five days a week in exchange for your bed there.
It’s very easy to give to charity. I don’t just mean the donation boxes that most hostels have available for backpackers to dump all their extra stuff. Basically, if it’s left out and unmarked in common areas, it will become public property. This applies to food, clothes, shoes, bath products, etc. Because people are constantly coming and going and leaving things behind, it’s hard to know what is free and what isn’t, so people usually just assume the former. If you don’t want something to be found and kept, keep close track of your stuff and always make sure you label your food.
Most will lock up your valuables. Some of the hostels I’ve stayed in have had lockers in the rooms, but most of them haven’t. However, if you have valuable items you want to lock up, the front desk will usually put them in a safe for you. They also have luggage rooms where you can keep your bags before you check in and after you check out, so as long as you have a luggage lock you’ll be set. I picked mine up at an outdoors store for about $5 before I left the U.S., and it’s been great.
They’re not the cleanest. When you have up to a couple hundred young people staying in one building, it’s bound to get messy, but they really can be quite dirty. Unfortunately people don’t always clean up after themselves in the kitchen or dorm rooms, and usually the cleaning staff is just other travelers working for accommodation, so perfection is not a priority. Even though most places I’ve stayed get cleaned daily, you can never expect the same level of cleanliness from a hostel as you can from a hotel. Still, you don’t have to settle for a place that’s filthy. If the bathrooms and kitchen aren’t cleaned at least once a day, (usually the kitchen is cleaned a few times a day) move on to another place.
People will have sex anywhere and everywhere. Seriously… nothing is off limits. I’ll never understand it, but some people are totally comfortable having sex in a twin bunk bed in a dorm room full of people. Those who aren’t will find any and every other possible corner or surface to do the deed. The shower, the bathroom, the T.V. room, the balcony, nothing is out of bounds, not even the places with cameras. On the bright side, most hostels do have posted policies about late night visitors, and at least frown upon dorm room sex, so if someone’s noisy night activities keep you up, you can complain and have something done about it. We all pay for a place to sleep, so if someone is making it impossible for you to get the rest you need, say something about it and get yourself or them removed.
Making friends is easy! When it comes to socializing in hostels, you’ll get out of it what you put in. Most people are traveling alone and are really open and receptive to meeting people and making friends. If you want to be social and find people to spend time with, you can. If you’d prefer to keep to yourself and focus on your trip plans you can do that too. Just keep in mind that you don’t have to be shy and people aren’t going to be judgmental. Everyone is going through the same things, and experiencing the same feelings of excitement, confusion, sometimes even loneliness and homesickness.
People share a lot. Obviously, travelers are working with more limited resources than what they have at home, and often people just plain forget things. The great thing is that being somewhat deprived creates a great environment for sharing. In every hostel I’ve stayed in, I’ve seen people share clothes, hair products, flat irons, shoes, medicine, etc. A lot of times, people will even cook big meals together so they can share the cost of buying real food. It’s nice to feel like everyone is in this whole traveling thing together, so people usually don’t mind helping a fellow traveler out. However, the other thing people share is sickness… colds, STIs, the flu, you name it. I started taking daily vitamin C as a precaution when I’m staying in hostels, and for the most part it’s kept me from getting sick when something is going around. As far as the STIs…well, I trust that you all know what to do about that.
They usually offer free activities! A lot of hostels do things to help bring people together. The hostels I’ve stayed at have had BBQs, tours of the city, movie nights, free parties, workouts, yoga, and other social outings. It’s a great way to meet new people, so definitely take advantage of these things when you can!
Navigating hostels can be tricky, but if you’re careful about what you book, you can save a lot of money that might be better spent on things like…SKYDIVING! Just remember to do some research before you pick a place to stay, and if your first hostel doesn’t meet your expectations, don’t give up on them completely. The first one I ever stayed in was horrible, but since then I’ve had some really good experiences and I plan to keep staying in hostels when I travel. It’s been challenging at times, but I’ve also met amazing people and made lifelong friends that I wouldn’t have become so close to if we hadn’t shared room.
As always, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to post them, or contact me via email! Happy traveling!