Hostels 101: 9 Helpful Tips for Staying in Hostels

Tips for staying in hostels - London King's Cross Station
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Hostels can be a great way to save money on vacation, especially in expensive destinations. They often have great central locations, and can offer useful facilities like kitchens and laundry rooms.

But staying in a room with a bunch of strangers might seem daunting, especially if it’s your first stay in a hostel. But it doesn’t have to be! I had only stayed in a hostel a few times before this summer, and then I stayed in hostels almost the entire summer while traveling Europe. You can definitely acclimate to them quickly.

If you’re planning a trip that includes hostel stays, here are my top tips for staying in hostels.

1. Research their facilities online before you book

Hostels can vary a lot in the facilities they offer. Some have shared kitchens with fridges, microwaves, cookware, and so on. Some have laundry rooms you can use (usually for a fee). Some have lounges. Some have restaurants or bars attached.

But just as many hostels don’t have all or even any of these. If you are looking for something specific (like the capacity to cook), double check the facilities a hostel has before you book.

Check sites like hostelworld.com and booking.com, not just amenities listed, but also what’s shown in photos. For example, a hostel might say they have a lounge, but it could be incredibly tiny. And obviously, check the reviews on multiple sites, and even Google Maps.

2. Make sure they have lockers in the room

Every hostel will give you access to a bed and a bathroom. But when staying in hostels, the thing you have to pay attention to is safety, especially if you’re a solo traveler.

In general, hostels are perfectly safe. You don’t need to be afraid of staying in one. But you will want to minimize the chances of anything bad happening to your valuables.

You don’t know if you can trust the other residents of your room, and even then, people will change every day or two. So the safety of your stuff is of utmost importance. And you get that with a locker.

Most hostels have at least small lockers that can fit a small backpack, but not all do. It’s essential that your hostel has at least small lockers so you can store your valuables.

Some hostels have a whole drawer under the bed that you could fit a carryon-sized bag and a small day bag. But many places don’t offer such large, lockable drawers.

Lockable drawer at a hostel

Example of a large, under-the-bed lockable drawer at a hostel

Whatever you can’t store in your locker, you will just have to leave out somewhere in your room. Ideally near your bed, but that might not be possible in every hostel, especially in large cities where space is limited and expensive.

3. Bring a towel, lock, and flip flops

Staying in hostels is a great way to save some money while traveling. But the cheaper price comes with a lack of amenities. Namely, they don’t usually provide you things like towels, locks for lockers, and toiletries.

Of course, many hostels offer you towels and locks to rent, for a fee. But other hostels don’t offer these at all. So you don’t want to be caught in a situation where you have no towel or lock, or have to pay exorbitatant fees at the one store in the area selling what you need.

(Like the time I paid $20 USD for one charging cord that I desperately needed in the Old Town of Dubrovnik.)

So to save yourself money and trouble, bring your own towel, lock, and toiletries. If you take away one thing from my tips for staying in hostels, this should be it.

To pack light, you can bring pack something like a microfiber travel towel or Turkish towel.

In regards to the bathroom situation, you will be sharing the facilities with many people. You will want to bring some shoes you can wear in the shower stalls (e.g. flip flops, slides).

4. If your hostel has no lockers, store your valuables someplace safe

So you booked a hostel that doesn’t have lockers. While that is far from ideal, you still need to keep your valuables (e.g. passport, credit cards, cash) safe.

You could do this by keeping your stuff on you somehow, like with a money pouch you can wear under your clothing. If that is not an option, you could try putting your valuables deep in your pillowcase while you sleep.

Generally, people don’t touch other people’s towels, clothing, toiletries, et cetera. But that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. Someone stole my travel towel in my hostel in Venice.

So if you have some expensive toiletry you use, make sure to store it out of sight if you don’t have a locker.

(Do note that these tips are not guaranteed to keep your stuff safe, but are just suggestions.)

5. Book a hostel with beds with privacy curtains

There is a great feature that many hostels offer: privacy curtains on their bunk beds. It’s exactly what it sounds like – curtains you can open and close on one or several sides of your bunk. It lets you have your own little private space when you’re in your bed, which is so nice.

Privacy curtains on a bunk bed at a hostel

Example of a large, under-the-bed lockable drawer at a hostel

However, despite how nice these curtains are, many hostels don’t have beds with them. I think of the hostels I stayed at in Europe, more hostels didn’t have the curtains than did (though I tried to find places that had them).

Without curtains, hostels just have open beds. As in, the other people in the room can watch you as you toss and turn in your bed and play with your phone.

If you can, I’d definitely recommend you book a hostel with beds with privacy curtains. Of course, it’s not the end of the world to not have the curtains; it’s just nicer and more comfortable.

If you are unable to book someplace with curtains, you can always hang up a towel, sarong, scarf, etc to act as a curtain if you’re on the lower bunk.

6. Consider your room options

Most hostels offer a few different options for rooms, with varying numbers of people and genders for the rooms.

Most hostel rooms are mixed, meaning both women and men are staying in the same room. But some hostels also offer women-only rooms, and sometimes men-only rooms.

If you’re a woman who is uncomfortable staying in a mixed room, that’s okay. Many hostels offer women-only rooms. Just make sure to book a hostel that has one.

If you’re a man who is uncomfortable staying in a mixed room, I have sometimes seen hostels list men-only rooms. You can definitely search for this option, but it seems to be a lot less common.

Then hostels have rooms with different amounts of people, like rooms with 4 people vs. 6 people vs. 10 people.

The rooms with more people are almost always cheaper. But your sleep is more likely to be interrupted with more people, as more people will be coming in late and getting up early. In addition, specific gender rooms often cost more.

So how do you pick the right room option when staying in hostels? Stay wherever makes you most comfortable and that your budget allows.

Usually, I opt for a room with an amount of people in the middle if the prices are vastly different. If the prices are all the same, I go for a room with less people.

7. Be as social as you want

You don’t have to become best friends with everyone in your room. You don’t even have to chat with them endlessly.

It can be nice to acknowledge them and say hello, especially if they say something first. But you don’t have to, nor do you have to socialize with people if you don’t want to.

If you’re a social butterfly and you’d like to make some new friends, you can try striking up a conversation with those in your room. But just know and accept that that they might not want to chat. In fact, they might not even speak your same language!

Your best bet for meeting people would be attending any events your hostel puts on (like happy hours, free walking tours). Or try starting conversations with people in the lounge/bar/terrace of your hostel.

8. Use packing cubes

If you’re hostel hopping, picking up some packing cubes could be a good idea. If you’re not familiar with them, packing cubes are zippered bags that make packing and unpacking extremely easy.

I’ve used them on all three of my long backpacking trips, and it’s a breeze to organize my stuff and pack. I just roll up my clothing and put it in the appropriately-sized packing cube. Then I shove everything into my backpack.

It also makes staying somewhere only a night or two easy, as I can easily locate the clothing I need. I know exactly where I packed it and can pull out just that cube.

9. Don’t be a jerk

When you stay in a hostel, you are sharing the various spaces with a lot of other people. So don’t be an inconsiderate jerk.

Be respectful of others and their stuff. Don’t leave your stuff all over the bathroom when you’re not using it.

Don’t be too noisy early in the morning or late at night (your hostel may even list specific quiet hours). Don’t turn on the main light super early in the morning or off super early at night.

Hopefully the others in your room will be just as respectful as you.

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