The Hostel Way of Life
Everything you need to know about staying in a hostel and more.
To the unexperienced outsider, the word might easily be confused with its negative homonym or lost among an exaggerated or false mess of travel horror stories. To those who have experienced the hostel life, however, the word often brings laughter and good memories of cities well traveled. Especially popular in Europe and Southeast Asia, these budget-friendly social accommodations are the best friends of the frugal backpacker. Whether you fall into that category or if you just want to give the more informal rooms a try, here’s all you need to know about why should stay in a hostel, what you should be aware of, and what you should bring.
The Good Stuff: Why the hostel life is your best option when traveling.
The Penny Pincher. Hostels are a godsend for the Mr. Krabs in us; they’re almost always the cheapest option you’ll have to spend the night. With a range of options from a 12-bed coed room, to a 4-bed female-only room, and private rooms, you can choose your level of comfort and save money while doing so.
The It Crowd. When you’re traveling, especially alone, there’s a certain It Crowd that everyone wants to hang with, and it’s usually at the hostel. Hostels are typically populated with younger travelers (I’ve met anywhere from 16 to 35 year olds) who are passionate about traveling, eager to make friends, and full of fascinating stories. Stay at a hostel and leave with new friends from around the world.
The Cafeteria. In addition to the money-saving glory of cheap rooms, hostels typically are equipped with an optional breakfast, a next-door café, or a kitchen. If it’s the first two, you’ll usually get a discount or a coupon for staying at the hostel and eating their food. Otherwise, it’s an easy way to save money by cooking in house and possibly even trying food from some place new from your hostel mates!
The Hot Spot. With the space-saving benefits of sleeping multiple people to a room, hostels (especially in the large European cities) can be found in some of the best locations next to tourist hotspots. This means saving money on transportation costs and going to bed with some prime views. Extra bonus: most hostels either have a bar included downstairs or are in walking distance for a great night as well.
The Know-it-alls. One benefit that comes from hostels being known for the backpacking tourist eager to explore everything possible is that most hostel reception desks have information on the best must-sees (especially from the local perspective!), free walking tours, or cheap city tours that depart right from the hostel. And when in doubt, chat up the hostel staff—they’re usually very friendly and full of good tips.
The Bad Stuff: What you should know before you go.
Trust your gut. One reason you might be hesitating to book a hostel are the bad stories you’ve heard about the creepy people lurking there and the thieves that have a heyday with your belongings. Let me be honest: you might encounter a creep or thief during your stay, but if you stay alert and trust your gut when something feels off, you’ll end up besting them at their own game. If there’s a warning bell going off in your head when someone invites you out or is watching you turn your combination too closely, be smart about it and you’ll be fine.
Know the rules. Some hostels come with great additions and amenities, but you’ll want to pay attention when you’re checking in if there’s any extra rules. For example, some hostels have lockouts for multiple hours in the middle of the day where no one’s allowed in while they clean. I guarantee it’s better to know the rules beforehand instead of being surprised.
No drama queens allowed. If you’re staying at a hostel, you will not be treated like a Kardashian. A hostel is (typically) not a glamourous five-star hotel. It will be clean, liveable and enjoyable, but don’t be that person who complains that it’s not enough for you because, quite frankly, that’s not what you paid for.
Save your pennies. Though the bed or room itself might be cheap, hostels are somewhat notorious for charging you for every other essential, including sheets to sleep on, towels, luggage locks, breakfast, and more. The best way to save your pennies? Look at the hostel website beforehand and bring all the essentials you’re not willing to pay for.
Remember the memories. Hostels might tend to have a bit of the party-hard reputation. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with going out on a town and cheersing with some newfound friends, but don’t be that other person who passes out on the lobby couch or makes a mess in the bathroom when the night takes a bad turn. Just like any time you drink alcohol, drink responsibly so you can remember the memories you made at the hostel.
The Stuff: What you should bring with you.
Prepare to walk the walk. In hostels, the bathroom facilities are typically communal, so you’ll want to be prepared to walk the walk. Make sure to bring some cheap flip flops to wear to the bathroom, in the shower, or around the hostel in the common areas that are fast and easy to slip on.
Lock it up. Though I try to have more faith in humans than not, the truth is you might have some shiny toys that catch unwanted eyes. Before you arrive, invest in a padlock to lock your luggage in (most hostels have luggage lockers for each guest). And if your luggage is more than a backpack or inflexible, throw a lightweight cable in as well to secure nonvaluables or larger luggage.
Plug it in. If you’re a light sleeper, you’ll want to mentally prepare yourself for the first night. Odds are it most likely won’t be as bad as you’re imagining with drunks and snorers and screamers, etc., but make sure to pack the earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones just in case. Plus, if you do the city justice, you’ll be so tired from the day that you’ll just pass out anyways.
Just keep smiling. Staying in a hostel for the first time might be a bit nerve-wracking and intimidating, especially if you’re alone. The easiest way to make friends and unforgettable memories? Take a deep breath and smile. Strike a conversation with someone who seems friendly in the lobby or kitchen and enjoy the adventures that come next!
BYOS: Bring your own stuff. If you’re worried about staying in a hostel, using a hostel towel, sleeping on the sheets, etc., then bring your own. As I warned earlier, the hostel will often charge you extra for a towel or a cleaning fee for the linens. If you want to avoid those discomforts, look into a large microfiber towel (quick-drying and multi-purpose for the beach) or traveler’s sheets (in my opinion, an unnecessary space eater).
And now, you’re all set! Enjoy the hostel way of life and spread the fun!