When staying in a hostel, you gain a richer travel experience by meeting like-minded travelers from around the world. Additionally, when traveling on a budget, it’s your best option. Americans can be a bit hesitant to explore the world of hostels since they aren’t popular (or even an option) in the USA. Have no fear, hostels are safe and a fun way to immerse yourself in a new city.
Be sure to read this essential list before booking your first hostel!
Choosing a Hostel
Hostelworld.com is the best resource for finding hostels. When you type in your dates and location, it’ll take you to the list of hostels there. Each hostel has a number score, which is the overall ranking of: value for money, security, location, staff, atmosphere, cleanliness and facilities. Read the reviews for some tips and reviews from past travels.
In hostels there are two types of rooms – privates and dorm rooms. Privates are private rooms, which are basic hotel rooms inside the hostel. Privates are a more expensive option, but offer more privacy. Dorm rooms are filled with bunk beds to house anywhere between 4-40 people. For the dorms, you rent the bed, so you share the room, and obviously privacy is limited. For dorm options, there is typically a co-ed and female only dorm. As a female solo traveler, I feel more comfortable in female only dorms. The higher the amount of bunks in the room, the cheaper the nightly cost will be. You’ll meet more likeminded travelers, but will be sacrificing some privacy.
A wide range of people stay in hostels. Some hostels have age limits (usually between age 18-34) and others don’t, I have seen families with young kids stay at hostels.
A bed in a hostel will cost anywhere from $6 a night (South East Asia) to $30-40 a night (Western Europe).
Exploring the city
A majority of hostels have organized activities around the city, and if not you’ll meet people who also want to explore the city and see similar sites that you do. The people at the front desk usually have the best idea about what’s going on in the city, so ask them whatever questions you have. A hostel with a good location can make a big impact if it’s convenient to public transportation/grocery stores/sights etc.
(Bikes for rent at Kinlay Hostel in Cork, Ireland)
Imagine communal college dorm room bathrooms, not glamorous by any means. Private rooms will have connected bathrooms (just for you, or shared with another room), while dorm room bathrooms are typically down the hall. This is a good time to have a large Ziplock bag or toiletries bag to bring all essential toiletries(toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, etc) with you when you wake up and go to bed.
(Bathroom from a private room in Wulingyuan, China)
Be sure to read these online before you go, because some hostels only accept cash, some have a curfew (although, I’ve personally never experienced this). Some receptions are NOT open 24 hours, this is very important if you’re checking in late, and need to make sure beforehand you arrange on how you’ll get in.
A hostel with a nice kitchen is amazing; you can save so much money by cooking your own meals. Even getting meals to-go from the local grocery store is cheaper than a restaurant meal out.
Many hostels offer free breakfast, but don’t get too excited, it’s usually a slim collection – generic cereal, some breads and jams. I’ve been to some hostels that offer free dinner, or dinner for a small fee. It’s usually family style – so a great way to meet a group of people from all over the world. Also, some hostels have small cafes or sell/make food of some sort.
(Hostel lunch in Zhangjiajie, China)
For a hostel with a lively scene, find one with a bar. Drinks are affordable, and it usually leads to a big group going out to some other bars near by. But to forewarn you, hostels with bars can be a bit nosier.
Free wifi is becoming a standard for all hostels; most have a few computers and printers as well. Tip: Print your boarding passes here for your next flight here.
Many hostels offer free walking tours, which usually are 3-4 hours, and start in the morning. These are great for meeting people, and seeing the key sights. Be sure to ask the front desk of any activities the hostel offers. The guides work off tips, so throw them around $10.
One amenity your hostels may offer is washing machines where you can wash your clothes yourself, or they’ll have a service to get it done. Usually very inexpensive. If there are no washing machine (dryers aren’t popular in Europe) you can go to a local laundromat as a budget option.
Be sure to always note the address of where you’re staying. It’s best to take the business card of the hostel to always have the address of the hostel. To remember the location, look for a main monument or store in the area. All hostels will have a place by your bunk to lock up your stuff.
Pick the bottom bunk, it’s much easier to get in and out of. As well as better for charging all of your electronic devices.
Pack rubber flip flops, you’ll need them for the showers (last thing you want while you travel is bacteria).
Don’t be shy, strike up a conversation and introduce yourself. Talk about your itinerary for the day and see what sites and activities everyone else is up to.
Map out exactly where you’re going before you arrive to the hostel. Hostels are often hidden, and not clearly marked.
Bring ear plugs and a eye mask with you. People can be in and out of the dorm room at night, so these make sleeping a little more soundly.
(Leaving Hostel One Sevilla Centro in Seville, Spain)