Some young travelers are terrified of staying in a hostel. Maybe they saw that horror film by the same name (thanks a lot, Eli Roth) or maybe they’ve heard a few too many cautionary tales from relatives who backpacked through Europe in the 80s. Maybe you’re reading this and wondering, “what even is a hostel?” The reality is, youth hostels are safer than ever, and there are dozens of reasons to book one for your journey. The cheap accommodation and social atmosphere really make it a no-brainer. Remember that no two hostels are alike, so hop around and book a bed in every city you visit. Here are ten tips on how to get the most out of your stay:
Get to know the place… before you arrive
Choose your room wisely: Coed or single sex? 4 bed or 10 bed?
Pick a bottom bunk
Buy (or DIY) a sleep sheet
Dress in layers
Watch your valuables
Don’t be shy!
Familiarize yourself with hostel etiquette
Some hostels are part of bigger networks, like HI (Hostel International), which regulate facilities and demand a certain level of quality and transparency. For more independent locations, Yelp and Tripadvisor are your best friends. That being said, take everything with a grain of salt. Lots of people book hostels online or over the phone with unrealistic expectations of both the facilities and their roommates. Don’t cancel your trip for one bad review, but mine as much information as you can. The goal is to know exactly what you’re getting and what you’re not. Breakfast? Wifi? Hairdryers? Some modern hostels offer luxurious amenities like built-in bedside reading lights, blackout drapes and air conditioning, but if they don’t flaunt it on their website, don’t expect it. After all, hostels are meant to be bare bone bargains.
Female travelers, especially those traveling alone, may want to pick a female-only room (offered at most hostels). Whatever makes you feel safe and comfortable. Same rule applies to room size. If you’re by yourself, sharing a room with just three strangers might be easier. If you’ve got a couple friends with you, save a few bucks and book the larger dorm. To find the best hostel deals, you have to sacrifice a lot of privacy, but you’ll meet other travellers just like you!
When you pick a bed, try to get a bottom bunk. They’re much easier to get in and out of (nobody wants to climb a ladder after a few beers) and you can tuck your things under the bed frame. Being closer to the ground will also help you charge your phone and other devices.
A sleep sheet is two sheets sewn together to make a sack. Most hostels provide bed linens and some will even rent you a sleep sheet, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to be prepared. You could invest $15-20, but why not save that cash? Look for a Queen/King sized cotton sheet, fold in half, and sew up the side and bottom. Voila! One sleep sheet for a savvy traveller.
Bring a small towel, soap and shampoo to the hostel, as these usually aren’t provided. Grab a pair of flip flops, too. If you’ve ever lived in a dormitory, you’ll remember that shower shoes are a must have.
Hostels have a bad reputation for being filled with party animals. Over recent years, they’ve definitely become more family-friendly, but that doesn’t mean it’s always quiet. Shared rooms will never be completely noise-free, so bring some earplugs to get the deep sleep you need.
You never know how warm or cool your room will be at night while staying in a hostel. Even if you’re cold when you go to bed, it’s amazing how much heat a room full of people can generate just from their bodies, so dress in layers to guarantee a more comfortable sleep.
The hostel system runs on trust and common sense. In general, backpackers and budget travelers are a trustworthy bunch, but would you leave your money, passport and other valuables lying around a private room? I didn’t think so. The same applies here – if the hostel offers a locker or a safe, use it. If not, keep them on you at all times, either in a soft, flat bag around your neck or under your pillow while you sleep.
You’ll find plenty of travellers milling around the hostel in between activities. Most hostelers are more than happy to have a stranger join their conversation, so don’t be shy. Introduce yourself at breakfast and share your plans for the day. If you recognize your roommates at the bar (some hostels, like Generator Venice, have really cool common areas) say hi and invite them to join you that evening. Hostels are the best places to meet other people, make friends and share valuable travel tips.
Sure, you’ll probably never see these people again, but you don’t want that kind of bad karma in the middle of your trip, do you? Follow basic youth hostel etiquette and avoid making enemies. Use headphones in the room, don’t turn on the lights at night (use a small flashlight instead), never use something that belongs to your roommate without explicit permission, keep smelly food outside the room, be efficient with the bathroom, keep your area neat (or at least contained) and if you have the top bunk, hang towels or other items over the foot of your bed, not the side. Roommate relations can make or break your hostel experience, so put in a little effort and introduce yourself when you arrive.