A Hostel Life: Hostel Travel 101

The abundance of Covid-19 vaccines and dropping positive cases means that we can finally start planning out our next great adventure! Granted, this adventure might not be for another year, but I always like to plan ahead.

As I have talked about before, lodging is often one of the larger expenses during a trip. One of the ways to get that down (and have a new experience) is to crash in hostels. For the uninitiated, hostels are low-cost, shared lodging. Rather than renting a full room, you are paying for a single bed within a shared room. These beds are usually in a bunkbed dormitory style. The occupants of the room usually share a bathroom and there are shared kitchen, dining, and lounging areas for the whole hostel. Some hostels offer full private rooms, but these are often the same price (if not more) as a standard hotel. Renting a bunk allows travelers to allocate more money to outings, food, and souvenirs.

Here are my tips and tricks to how to hostel.

Finding A Hostel

  • Research the Location. Before booking my hostel, I always look at where the hostel is located. Since hostel accommodations are low cost, it isn’t unusual for them to be located in the not-so-great part of town. You’ll want to know what the crime rates are for the area, especially if you are traveling alone.
  • Look at Reviews. I find others’ experiences to be incredibly useful. Yelp and Google Reviews can give you an inside look at the hostel’s cleanliness, hospitality, and security. That said, take these reviews with a grain of salt. For many people, especially first-time hostel users, their views may be skewed or biased. The more reviews and blogs you can read about a hostel, the better idea you’ll have of what you’re walking into.
  • What type of room will you book? Hostels offer gender-exclusive, co-ed, and private rooms. If you are traveling alone, especially if you are a woman, I would highly recommend booking a gender-exclusive room.
  • What type of hostel is it? Just like dorms in college, there are many different types of hostels. Hostels can be divided into seven general categories. For more information, check out Hostel Geeks.
    1. Party Hostel. Like the name suggests, the point of a party hostel is to party hard! These hostels often advertise on-site bars, pub crawls, and a lack of a quiet hour. These hostels are very popular with a younger crowd. The vibe prioritizes drinking over a cultural exploration.
    2. Budget Hostel. These hostels are usually pretty minimalistic. They won’t have top of the line facilities and will be located off the beaten path. You’ll need to find out if the hostel will provide linens and food or if they charge extra for towels. You’ll definitely want to check out reviews before staying at a budget hostel.
    3. Boutique Hostel. These hostels provide extra comfort, usually coupled with a unique theme. These hostels are generally more intimate than a budget hostel, providing their patrons with more space and a more comfortable bed. Many of these hostels also include extended luxuries, such as a pool, spa, or fancy kitchens. If you want to treat yourself, this is a good way to go.
    4. Homey Hostel. The mission of this hostel is to provide a home away from home. They often have full kitchen facilities, family-style dinners, and an actual living room rather than a breakroom.
    5. Youth Hostel. This is one of the most well-known types of hostels. When people think of hostels, this is usually what comes to mind. These hostels emphasize inexpensive accommodations for large groups. They feature large dorm rooms and roomy common areas.
    6. Lifestyle Hostel. If you are travelling for an experience and to explore the local culture and activities, this is the hostel for you. Located in the center of all the activity, these hostels offer a variety of activities and rentals, such as surfing, hiking, biking, diving, group tours, and more. This is the ideal hostel for the adventurer.
    7. Certified Hostel. Unlike hotels, most hostels are run independently. However, there are many certification programs and hostel networks that provide third party certification and oversight. This holds hostels to a specific standard and provides peace of mind for travelers. For example, Hostel Geeks offers 5 Star Hostels and Hostel World hosts their Hoscars every year, celebrating excellent hostel in multiple categories.
  • Keep your valuables safe.
Most hostels offer lockers for visitors to keep their valuables safe.
  1. Lockers: Unless you’re staying in a private room, double check that your hostel offers personal lockers. Theft is always a concern in a shared room scenario, both with your roommates and hostel staff. A locker, secured with your own, personal lock, is the best way to keep your gear safe. That said, I have been in the situation where I was in a room without a personal locker. For those scenarios, my Pacsafe Venturesafe Pack is my best friend. It has lockable zippers and razer-resistant fabric and straps. It takes a lot to cut through the pack. I tried before I left on my trip. I carry a pack lock, which allows me to secure my luggage in my room. Of course, there’s always ways to break into my system if the thief is determined, but most thieves are opportunistic. If it takes too much work, they are more likely to be caught.
    1. Don’t showcase your valuables. I get it. You can’t always get around leaving your laptop at home. Or maybe you really wanted to bring your handheld game system or tablet with you on the trip. Perhaps you brought your expensive camera. That’s all fine, but when you stay in a hostel, do not flaunt your electronics. Disguise their cases so it isn’t obvious what they are. If you’re going to work on your computer at the hostel instead of a coffee shop, cover your laptop with stickers to make your laptop look less desirable, old, and harder to resell. Don’t let people see you lock your electronics in your luggage or locker. The less people know what is in your bag, the better.
    2. Keep your wallet, phone, and papers on you at all times. These important items don’t go in my luggage or locker. Instead, I carry them with me all the time. I make ready use of slimline exercise bands for when I am hanging out or sleeping. When I showered, the door was locked, and those valuables were inside the bathroom with me. Don’t take chances on your money and identifying documents.
  2. Talk and Make Friends. Hostels are an amazing opportunity to meet people from all around the world. The last time I stayed in a hostel in Hawaii, I met people from New York, Germany, Japan, Ireland, and China… and that’s just the women I roomed with! Hostels are a gathering point for travelers. You can meet some of the most interesting people. You might find a life-long friend or at least a short-term adventure buddy. At the very least, you’ll learn about cool places to check out and, trust me on this one, your bucket list will grow exponentially.
  3. Be considerate of your roommates. I’m sure we’ve all had that college roommate who came barging into your dorm room at 3 AM the morning you had an important final. The same thing can happen at a hostel. Don’t be that person. Use your phone light to find your bed and luggage rather than turning on the main light. Try not to make too much noise. If you want to chat with someone late at night or read a book after your roommates have gone to bed, utilize the common areas. There’s nothing worse than trying to sleep when your bunkmate is talking (or even whispering) on the phone. Pro tip: if you tend to do anything with a light, such as scrolling your phone or reading a book before going to sleep, offer to take the top bunk. That will help contain the light and be more courteous to your roommates.
  4. Showering in Hostels.
    1. Consider that your shower is not a private shower. You don’t know how often it is cleaned. Always wear sandals to shower.
    2. Bring a waterproof bag to hold your shower essentials and belongings. Not all hostel showers include hooks or a shelf to set your stuff. If it is a shared shower, similar to a gym, you might want to keep a closer eye on your money and personal documents.
    3. Does your hostel offer towels? If not, consider bringing a micro towel. These towels absorb tons of water and dry quickly. They fold up very small and are lightweight, so they’re perfect for travel.
    4. Always bring your change of clothing! If the hostel has shared showers they might be close to your room, but running back in only a towel can lead to embarrassing or uncomfortable situations.
Hostel beds are general dorm-style bunkbeds. Most hostels will provide a sheet and MAYBE a blanket. Check ahead so you can be prepared.
  • Bedding. Hostels generally offer clean sheets and linens, thought this might be an additional charge so you’ll want to check before you book. There’s no reason for you to bring your full bedding. Leave your sleeping bags and pillows at home. After all, most hostels don’t even let you use sleeping bags in their rooms. That said, I always bring a sleeping bag liner with me. The liner gives me extra warmth is needed, will save money if the hostel charges for sheets, and gives me extra protection if the bedding ends up being less-than-clean. Most traveler blogs I’ve read recommend bringing silk liners, which are small and lightweight, but I prefer Sea-to-Summit’s Thermolite Sleeping Bag Liners. These liners are a little bulkier than silk liners but provide extra warmth and are softer on my skin. I sleep cold, so the extra warmth is welcome.
  • Parking and Transportation. Great! You’ve figured out where you’re going to visit, but how will you get around? Many hostels do not have parking lots or street parking, so if your renting a car or driving yourself, you’ll need to know where to park ahead of time. Are you using public transit? If so, how accessible is your hostel to train and bus stations? If you’re biking, does your hostel offer biker lockers? Your mode of transportation often determines your hostel. A hostel might be offering a great deal, but if it’s completely inconvenient for the rest of your trip, it might be better to pay just a bit more to have access to transportation.

Did I miss your favorite hostel tips and tricks? Let me know in the comments below!

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