Hostels can be intimidating places when you aren’t used to their communal nature. I like keeping all my exits open, knowing what to expect and being able to sleep without being afraid. Feeling safe when sleeping can be the catalase of an enjoyable hostel stay.
I’ve been to both hell-hole-ish hostels and ones that made all my worries melt away. For the most part, I have low expectations from hostels. The places I sleep at are just for that: sleeping. They are a basepoint for traveling. This means that the vibe of a hostel is vital, while also being located in the perfect location.
Now you may think that I’m insane for saying vibe is crucial, but trust me, when you’re sitting in a hostel that has the chaotic energy of the Hotel California song, (like when a front desk clerk had to finish drinking Gatorade, then slowly put it down while an indistinguishable movie played from down below the desk before he could answer my question), you’ll think differently about vibes too.
Layout and atmosphere of a hostel:
Hostels are almost like university dorm life with the rules of a hotel. They tend to have a lobby area with a 24/7 clerk at the front desk who can help you with restaurants and places to go suggestions if you ask. They also help you check in and out and a lot of times have locks, toothpaste, and sometimes hostel souvenirs for the more franchised ones for sale.
They’ll have another room for a kitchen and eating area, and a lot of times a bookshelf for a lending library. There are then multiple rooms like a mini hotel that will be filled with bunk beds. You will be told at the check in desk whether you are assigned to a bunk or you’ll take whatever bunk is free within your assigned room. Some hostels have private rooms for extra money.
Bathrooms will be communal. Some hostels have one bathroom for each room. Others will have communal bathrooms in the hall, separated by gender. The showers will be separated by stalls, and sometimes with a curtain as a door. There’s usually no place to put clothes or toiletries except for the floor so be careful not to get all your stuff soaked. Always bring your room key with if the shower isn’t in your room for room doors lock automatically.
Beds will be bunk beds. Usually double bunk beds. Once I saw a triple one and the bunk was like sleeping on the top of a tree. The mattresses will be hard like a college mattress. You’ll only be given one pillow. The sheets will either be given to you at check in and if this is the case you’ll be asked to bring the sheets back at check out. Otherwise sheets will be waiting on each bunk. If the bed isn’t made it’s good form to pull up the sheets when you’re done and fold the comforter and stuff up to make it easier on the front desk staff. A lot of the hostels have plug ins attached to their bunks, others have it in the walls. If they’re in the walls though and you have a standard charger cord then you won’t be able to have your phone in the top bunk. If you’ve booked with a friend, take one bunk bed, and don’t take two bottom bunks, it’s bad form.
The demographic of most hostels are young backpackers in their 20s-30s. It can be a sociable place or a calm place to unwind after a long day. Like college dorms, it’s what you make of it. Most people respect and know that the rooms are places to sleep. It can be loud, so if you’re sensitive to light or sound then make sure to wear earplugs and an eye mask.
Reviews are everything:
As stated in How To Find The Best Place to Stay when Traveling article, when looking up what place you wish to book make sure to read at least the first couple of reviews on the place and to look at all the pictures. Be as prepared as possible. Know how much you’re willing to put up with. If you like coming home after exploring to a warm shower, then make sure no more than two people complain about cold showers and that the hostel doesn’t have one of those showers where you have to hold down a button to make the water come out so you’re submerged for the first five minutes in ice. (Tip: if there is only one complaint out of all the reviews that speak of what was bugging the one person it was probably a personal thing).
The one time I didn’t look at the reviews and didn’t do my research, we ended up in a hellish hostel in London where they overbooked so there weren’t enough beds. We were stuck in a room full of middle-aged men. Not feeling fully safe, I still made myself feel comfortable enough to somewhat sleep until we could complain in the morning to get put into a better room. But trust me when I say there are good hostels out there and they can be way more fun, affordable, and cleaner than hotels. But make sure you book the right rooms.
Always try and book Women only dorms:
Women dorms tend to cost more money than co-ed dorms, but usually only by five dollars and they’re worth the money. Usually women dorms have less people in the rooms, are cleaner, and don’t have that weird smell that men leave in rooms that they occupy. This doesn’t mean that hostels without women only dorms should be avoided. I have been in co-ed rooms before, but they’ve only been enjoyable when women outnumber the men. Also hostels without women only dorms usually are a bit shabbier I’ve found. They tend to not have as clean of a vibe and are best for one-night stays.
Look for lockers:
Make sure the places that you get have lockers under the beds. It isn’t always a sign of a great hostel, but it does alleviate some worry when you can lock up your bags and have a definitive space to call your own to place all your things.
If there are no lockers and you feel unsafe with your stuff out, then make sure you sleep with your bag against the wall and the middle of your back or stomach, the blanket covering it.
Free breakfast is a plus:
Now free breakfasts at hostels are never that luxurious and usually not all you can eat. There is always toast, fruit, and cereal. I usually can fill up on toast and sometimes its nice to take the fruit for later. I’ve even at some places made peanut butter sandwiches for later if I’m going on a hike or some place that I need a packed lunch. If the breakfasts aren’t free, then they tend to be only two to five dollars. You’ll need cash to pay for them and they’re always nice and cheap breakfasts that will get you through the day.
Abroad, some places will scan your passport or just look at it or a form of ID. If they say they need to keep your passport for security leave that hostel (or hotel or Air BnB). They may ask to keep an ID or cash for a key deposit (they will give it back at check out). If you don’t have cash and need to leave an ID go for a drivers license or school ID, never a passport. Always have cash on you for a deposit.
Like with a hotel when booking with friends, even though you’ll be booking individual beds, book under one person to get the same room and be placed next to each other bed wise.
Don’t book rooms with more than twenty five beds. More people in the room tends to get uncomfortable and can lead to it being easier for theft.
If you feel unsafe in a room or anything happens, go to the front desk and ask to be moved. If you don’t think it’s that bad or you’re getting just weird feelings, try and sleep on the top bunk with your backpack up against you.
If your locker lock has a key (which I suggest it’s a code lock) place the key under your pillow. I tend to sleep with my phone under my pillow as well for safety reasons in hostels.
What to pack:
o Flip Flops/shower shoes (for the showers)
o Shampoo and conditioner
o Towel (If you’re backpacking and have limited space, I’ve used a dishtowel)
o Combination lock for lockers (If you forget one, some Hostels sell them at the front desk. They tend to be heavy key locks)
o Ear Plugs (If you can’t fall asleep in a communal setting)
o Ziplock bags (If you have leftovers from breakfast)
o Grocery bag (To wrap your flip flops or towel if they’re still wet when packing)
o 10-foot charging cord (For when sleeping on the top bunk)
o Cash (For a possible key deposit and/or breakfast)