Everything You Need to Know Before Picking a Hostel — Tips for Staying at a Hostel for Solo Travelers or Groups (June 2023)
So you’re planning a big trip abroad. Maybe you’re planning to backpack your way around Europe or Southeast Asia. Or maybe you just want to save some cash on your next stay in a popular destination. Whatever the reason for your travel, whatever your budget, and whatever your destination, as you’ve been planning your trip, you’ve come across one very intriguing option: staying in a hostel.
If you’ve never stayed in a hostel before, the possibility can be a bit intimidating. Hostels are a departure from your normal hotel experience. For some travelers, that departure from the norm can be amazing, so much so that they never want to go back to staying in pricey, subpar hotels again. For other travelers, the hostel experience can be lackluster at best.
So how do you know if a hostel is right for you? How do you find a good hostel to stay in? What are some of the factors that are going to make or break your hostel experience? Here’s everything you need to know, plus five tips for making your hostel stay every bit as enjoyable as a stay in your favorite hotel.
What is a Hostel?
First, let’s get a few things out of the way. If you’ve never stayed in a hostel before, you may have heard a few not-great rumors. You may have seen a certain horror movie. You may have heard stories about poor experiences in mixed-gender bedrooms, or tales of dirty bathrooms.
Those stories are not the norm.
For the large part, hostels are clean and tidy, with professional staff and ownership that are there to ensure you have the best travel experience possible. Many hostels offer both mixed-gender and same-gender rooms, so you can pick the sleeping arrangement that’s most comfortable for you. Some are extremely budget-friendly and no-frills, but then others can be quite luxurious (and you’ll see a higher price tag to match that level of luxury).
The one thing that nearly all hostels have in common, though? They’re designed to offer you a (more and relatively) affordable and alternative experience, where you’ll be able to mix and mingle with fellow travelers. Social, common spaces are a given and, in most instances, so is a packed schedule of hostel-led programming and activities that facilitate socialization. You also often get access to amenities you might not have in a typical hotel, such as laundry facilities and a kitchen.
Who is a hostel right for?
Hostels are amazing options for certain types of travelers. These might include…
- Travelers looking for a budget-friendly option with extra money-saving amenities (free activities, kitchen space, etc.)
- Solo travelers wanting to meet up with other travelers during their journeys
- Travelers looking for a central location in the heart of a busy destination
The Vacationer Tip
If you are convinced a hostel is right for you, browse Hostelworld to find hostel accommodations within 178 different countries.
Who are hostels not right for?
- Travelers who want lots of privacy and would prefer not to interact with others while traveling (hey, there’s nothing wrong with being a lone wolf!)
- Travelers who want high-end, luxury amenities that are more common at 5-star hotels, such as an on-site luxury spa, in-room soaking tubs, room service, etc.
The Vacationer Tip
If you are convinced a hostel is not right for you, consider reading one of these hotel guides.
Want the hostel environment without sacrificing your personal space or privacy?
Guess what … you can have it! Many hostels, in addition to offering bunk rooms or shared rooms, also offer private rooms. That means you can enjoy your privacy as you wish, but also enjoy the social aspect of staying in a hostel when the mood strikes (as well as the cheaper prices!).
5 Crucial Tips for Staying at a Hostel
So — have you decided that staying at a hostel is right for your next trip? Then make sure that you follow these five tips to make your stay as perfect as possible.
1. Pick your hostel with care.
Just like not all hotels are the same, not all hostels are the same, either. As you pick what hostel to stay in, be sure to take into consideration all the factors that mean the most to you. Do you want a hostel with a specific location within a city? Do you want a hostel with extra perks like a pool or game room? Whatever amenities matter most to you, look for a hostel that can deliver.
Also, look at reviews. Compare what other travelers are saying. Don’t take their reviews at face value, either. One person’s complaints could be exactly what you’re looking for (ie, if they complain about the loud environment, but you want a lively, energetic place filled with activity, you might just love that particular hostel, despite that sole bad review).
You also want to look at the types of people staying at a particular hostel. Some hostels cater primarily to travelers there for a good time. Others cater more to young professionals or digital nomads. Some are ideal for backpackers who are making their way across the world on a shoestring.
One great place to compare and contrast hostels is Hostelworld. There, you can search more than 35,000 properties across more than 175 countries, and compare millions of guest reviews. After you book your hostel through Hostelworld, you’ll also get access to cool features like the ability to connect with other travelers headed to the same destination, before you arrive, so you can make plans to hang out.
2. Pack like you’re staying in a hostel.
One important thing to realize about staying in a hostel? Personal space is minimal. This means that you won’t exactly have tons of room for multiple big suitcases (or even one big suitcase). Pack accordingly.
If you’re staying at hostels for the duration of your entire trip, pack compactly and with convenience and comfort in mind. Consider opting for a backpack or duffel bag. Plan to wear outfits (or at least most of your clothing items) multiple times during a trip. Leave the five paperbacks that you “think” you’ll read while on vacation at home.
3. Pack the right stuff.
That said, while you want to pack lightly, there are absolutely a few things you’ll want to bring with you when staying in a hostel. These might be items that you’d never even think to bring with you when planning a typical hotel-based trip. These include…
- A combination lock (You can order a cheap one from Amazon.com.)
- A shower caddy and all your toiletries
- Bedding (in some cases)
So why the combination lock? Well, most hostels will assign you a small locker in which to store your items during your stay. However, the hostel may not give you a lock. Bringing your own will ensure that you have exactly what you need to keep your stuff private and safe. Even though the likelihood of theft isn’t all that great, precautions are always a good idea.
Additionally, don’t expect to find tiny bottles of shampoo and conditioner in the hostel shower. Hostel bathrooms are usually set up with multiple showers and bathroom stalls, for some privacy, but don’t expect any extra luxuries. You’ll want to bring a shower caddy and all toiletries with you. You also want to bring towels and a hair dryer, if you use one. Some travelers also prefer to bring flip-flops or similar sandals for the shower.
Lastly, while most hostels do provide bedding, that’s not the rule. Check with your hostel of choice before your arrival and, if you need bedding, bring it. This includes sheets, pillows, and blankets.
Other items that might be less crucial, but still can be handy to have, include…
- A printed copy of your booking confirmation
- Coins or the local currency, so you can buy things from on-site vending machines or coin-fed laundry facilities
- Laundry soap
- Portable chargers
4. Brush up on the hostel way of life.
There are a few major things that hostels do differently than hotels — yes, even beyond the bunk beds. You’ll want to be aware of these things before you arrive, so you can plan your trip accordingly.
For example, many hostels have a communal food supply. Yes, really! Many travelers use the hostel kitchen during their trip and, when they leave, they often leave behind extra food that’s up for grabs. Check for any labels or anything that’s marked as belonging to someone else, but otherwise, see what you can find in the hostel kitchen. You might just find a cheap meal.
Additionally, be aware that some hostels have a “lockout” policy. This essentially means that, during a set time each day, you’ll be kicked out of the hostel. The staff wants to clean and make necessary repairs and they can’t easily do it if the big bunk bed room is still crawling with travelers. Plan your itinerary accordingly, if your hostel of choice employs one of these policies.
5. Be respectful of your fellow travelers.
Once you’ve arrived at the hostel and gotten the lowdown on how everything works, you want to take full advantage of one of the main perks of staying in a hostel: making friends! However, you’re not going to make many friends if you’re a disrespectful, rude roommate.
Treat your fellow travelers with all the courtesy that you’d want for yourself. What does that mean? Well …
- Don’t turn on the lights in the middle of the night
- Don’t blare your music, podcast, or phone calls
- Don’t strew your belongings out all over the common spaces
- Don’t leave all of your toiletries in the shower
- Don’t hog the shower
- Be respectful of sleeping roommates, no matter what time it is (they could have jet lag; you never know!)
- Don’t get up to any hanky panky in the shared bedroom or bathroom; it’s just weird
Of course, just because you follow all of the above and are a nice, respectful roommate, that doesn’t mean others will always be the same. For that reason, bring some earplugs and an eye mask. You’ll be glad you did.
Staying in a Hostel FAQs
The differences in safety between a hostel and a hotel are very minimal. Think of it this way. The hostel owners and staff want you to have a good time and tell your friends. As such, they’re going to take any necessary precautions to ensure you have a safe time. Likewise, the people staying around you are fellow travelers just like you, and they also want everyone to have a good time. As long as you practice smart travel skills (ie, not flaunting valuables, not engaging in risky behavior), then safety shouldn’t be a worry for you in a hostel.
Not necessarily. While you can save money by staying in a hostel, you can find plenty of hostels that offer fashionable and comfortable places to stay that are attractive for a variety of reasons beyond pricing. That said, hostels are not always cheap. Some hostels come with tons of perks and awesome social spaces, so they’re a little pricier. Others are outfitted with smaller rooms that are only shared by a few people or are designed with digital nomad-friendly features like office spaces.
The point? Nearly everyone can find a hostel that’s a good fit for their travel style, so they’re not just for people on a strict budget.
Hostels often get a rep of being ideal for solo travelers, but they’re a good pick for groups of friends, too. If you’re traveling with a large enough group, you can even find some hostels that will outfit your group with a private bunk room.
Just like you don’t necessarily have to book in advance when staying at a hotel, you don’t have to do so at a hostel, either. However, it’s very much advised that you do, as not doing so leaves you running the risk of landing at your destination and then not having a place to stay. Hostels, especially during peak travel times and in popular locales, can sell out just as easily as hotels.
Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.
Get The Vacationer Newsletter
Get highlights of the most important news delivered to your email inbox