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!

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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.

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Rooms

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.

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Who

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.

Price

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.

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(Bikes for rent at Kinlay Hostel in Cork, Ireland)

 Bathrooms

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.

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(Bathroom from a private room in Wulingyuan, China)

Hostels’ policies

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.

Kitchens

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.

Meals

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.

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(Hostel lunch in Zhangjiajie, China)

Hostel bar

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.

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Internet

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.

Walking Tours

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.

Washing Machines

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.

Safety

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.

 Tips

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.

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(Leaving Hostel One Sevilla Centro in Seville, Spain)

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If you want to travel abroad, but don’t know where to begin, don’t be ashamed. Everyone needs to start somewhere! Here are 10 tips and tricks to having the best travel experience on a budget.

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1. Secure your passport

Your number one travel tool for exploring outside of the country.

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2. Decide where you want to go

You may have a city or country that’s been on the top of your bucket list, or you may have be open to suggestions. First time travelers tend to migrate to the bigger, more popular cities (London, Paris, Rome) There is nothing wrong with that, but be sure to embrace the culture and experience how locals really live in smaller/off the beaten path cities. Keep an open mind and broaden your horizons – that is why you’re exploring a new country in the first place. To find a town or city thats right for you, research ‘day trips from (location you’re visiting)’ Rick Steves and Lonely Planet Guide Books provide great itineraries and all the information you could ever need on a foreign city (Tip: buy it on your iPad or phone so you can have it with you anywhere). From history, to best places to eat and drink, free walking tours, they have it all. My favorite inspiration websites(and Instagram) are Conde Naste Traveler and Travel and Leisure.

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3. Book your plane trip abroad

Use a flight search site to find the flight with the best deal. Read my blog, 5 best airline tips, for more specific information.

4. Set a budget

The number one reason that people make excuses to travel is money. If you cut out the things you “want” verses what you “need” in the process of planning your trip, you can save more money then you think. Skip the Starbucks and 4th meal at Taco Bell, and put that money in your traveling piggy bank. Eat more meals in and pick up extra money making opportunities where you can. Matt of Nomadic Matt published a book called “Travel the World on $50 a Day.” His website provides helpful articles and and has a destinations tab, that has specific country guides. Each country is separated by city, and has typical costs, money saving tips, and things to see & do. 

5. Stay in low price accommodations in hostels or AirBnB

Hostelworld is a world renowned website for the best way to find hostels. Type in your city and dates, and a list of hostels will appear. The most important way to determine what hostel to choose is the percentage based off of total reviews. BUT, be sure to read the reviews and consider what every visitor has to say. Sometimes, hostels will pressure visitors to write positive, praising reviews (I’ve experienced it many times before) so be sure to read a few pages of reviews.

I’d recommend sticking with hostels that are rated in the high 80’s and 90 + %. Once you choose a hostel, there are different room types available. The more beds in the dorm, the cheaper the room is. But consider your sleeping priorities, the more people there are, the nosier and less sleep you will get. Ensuite means there is a bathroom in the room. That way you don’t have to walk down the hall to go to the bathroom. Mixed dorm translates to male and females are allowed to sleep in the same room. It’s a little weird waking up in the same room with complete strangers, but they’re all like-minded travelers from all around the world. Part of learning more on your trip and embracing the friendships you create.

AirBnB is another cheap alternative than hostels. With AirBnB you can have the whole place to yourself, share a room, or have a private room.

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(AirBnB in Cork, Ireland..dogs included!)

6. Transportation within the country

Research all options: train, bus and plane. Each depends on the time you have to spend on transportation, whether you’re on a time crunch or have the time to spend a full two days on a bus. Sometimes, trains aren’t always your cheapest option. If you’re crunched for time and going a long distance, consider a budget airline. Typically, Ryanair is your go-to budget airline for Europe, and AirAsia for Asia. BUT, buyers beware, being a budget airline, they’ll try to get your money any way possible. There are very specific weight and size requirements for bringing a carry on. My best advice is to check your backpack when booking your ticket online. This way you’re paying $15-25 when you purchase your ticket, instead of paying about $100 once you get to the check in counter because your bag doesn’t fit the specific requirements. Be sure to read and reread the requirements when booking. One outrageous RyanAir rule is you have to print your ticket before, and charge you a fee if you don’t. For bus or train transportation, use Google and type ‘trains from place a to place b.’

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7. Get the right gear

Step 1: acquire a backpack. The correct backpacks(meant for you) can be a tricky find. You have to find the right size and fit for you. This isn’t the easiest piece to blindly buy online. Besides researching, my best tip is finding your local outdoor store. This way an expert employee can help fit and explain to you the dynamics/straps/fit/right way to wear a backpack. The bottom of the backpack should fit right on the back of your hips.You don’t need a lot of expensive gear – pack light and keep in mind you are carrying all of it on your back. When packing, no matter how long many weeks your trip is, my best advice is to pack 7 days worth of clothes. Choose clothes within the same color scheme so you can mix and match.

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Top 5 travel necessities you wouldn’t think of :

Packing cubes – help make packing more organized and easily accessible.

Microfiber towel- necessary for hostel living since towels aren’t provided, or they are for a fee. Be sure to get one of the larger sizes. 

Lock- locks are necessary to lock up your possessions in the lockers provided in hostels. Some provide locks for a fee, but that’s money you can be spending elsewhere.

Nail Clippers – effective mini scissors at a moments notice.

Ziploc Bags- bring extra!! I can’t emphasize this enough. These are essential for organizing.

8. Take Advantage of the booming sharing economy

AirBnB – Stay in locals’ homes in a shared room, private room, or have their house to yourself. Often with rates cheaper than hotels.

Homestay- Homestay accommodation connects guests with live-in hosts who open their homes to travelers.

Eatwith – EatWith hosts share a talent for making amazing meals and a love for welcoming people into their homes to share them.

Über -Connecting riders to drivers through the Uber app, drive with a local for a lower fare than a taxi

Vayable – Discover and book unique experiences offered by local insiders.

9. Travel slow

It can be tempting to try to see it all in a short amount of time. But squeezing every city in, and rushing through 12 cities in 12 days isn’t your best bet. Your memories will be fogged by long commutes, stress and only a surface of knowledge about the places you visited. Take time to people watch, relax in a park, get lost in the streets and spend hours at a coffee shop, art gallery or local restaurant.

10. Souvenir tips

When traveling light, it’s hard to buy trinkets and knicknacks along the way. To preserve memories, I love collecting tickets, postcards, bookmarks and other light paper objects. Then when I get home, it’s fun making a DIY travel memory notebook. Use your ziploc bags or a folder with you to keep them safe.