Hostel Survival Guide

Why stay in a hostel

I think the goal of traveling is to meet people, experience cultures, and explore more than just the tourist attractions or what first meets the eye. Hostels provide you with this experience.

In my opinion, backpacking and staying in hostels is the best way to travel when you are young.

HostelWorld (a search engine for hostels across the globe in over 170 countries) describes it best: “In a nutshell, a hostel is a budget-friendly type of accommodation that focuses on a shared social experience.” Additionally, “…the main reason people stay in hostels isn’t the price, it’s the people. The social atmosphere in hostels is totally unique, and it’s what makes hostelling so addictive.”

In this article, I hope to debunk some myths, worries, or preconceptions you may have about staying in a hostel, while also explaining some of the potential concerns. I’ll also elaborate on some of the amazing benefits, sprinkled with some personal anecdotes, of course! Let the tips begin.

How to find one

Hostelworld (www.hostelworld.com) is your go-to source for credible hostels across the world. You can search based on location, price, and your selected travel dates. They provide you with ratings and reviews, as well as all the information you need to know about the hostel itself (cost, types of dorms, availability of kitchen, wifi, towels, etc).

Things to look for when selecting a hostel (things I checked for)

  1. Cost: This is self-explanatory, but I suggest looking at the various options. Hostels have private rooms, mixed dorm rooms, female dorm rooms, and much more. If none of the hostel prices satisfy you, consider looking at https://www.airbnb.com/ They might have some competitive prices!
  2. LOCATION: I can’t stress this enough. You might find a hostel that has all the boxes checked: cheap cost, pretty rooms, sparkling amenities, high-speed wifi, free breakfast, etc. But the location might be the catch. Make sure to research the area beforehand and see if it is safe. Check reviews and ask around! This is just a factor to consider, especially concerning your arrival or departure time and with whom you are or aren’t traveling. You may end up paying more to get to your hostel than the night at the hostel itself! Also, make sure that there is nearby public transport, or at least know if it can be accessed. Most HostelWorld pages will give you this information.
  3. WIFI: Keep in mind that your cell phone carrier and data may not be accessible or fast in the location to which you are traveling. Fast, free, and reliable WiFi is a great asset to your travels!
  4. RATINGS AND REVIEWS (AND PICTURES): Make sure that you are looking for customer posted images and not ones published by the hostel themselves. By looking at customer pictures you will be able to see exactly what the hostel looks like – good and bad.

Before you get there/tips for the room

  • Some hostels have towels for free, while some will charge you to rent them. I always found this a pesky thing, so I recommend buying a microfiber towel if you intend on staying in many hostels or doing a backpacking trip.
  • Bring tiny shampoo and conditioner bottles. Again, some hostels have shampoo and soap while some don’t. You can always buy some but it’s more convenient to remember beforehand.
  • Shower slippers are a good idea!
  • Bring earplugs if you’re a light sleeper!
  • If you’re sleeping on the bottom bunk, I recommend hanging your towel to dry such that it forms a curtain around your bed. Some additional privacy!
  • Try to plan your arrival to the hostel earlier in the day, rather than at night. That way you can scope out your surroundings, the hostel, and get organized. You can also confirm if this is where you want to stay for the duration of your trip. If you don’t feel comfortable at the location this will give you time to make a last minute location switch.

Make sure you optimize/take advantage of:

  • The kitchen! Backpacking and traveling, in general, can add up, especially concerning the meals. A way to save money or even find out about some local foods and supermarkets is to buy fresh food and cook it yourself. Many hostels have kitchens (again, check before you book or arrive), and they are extremely handy. I would carry olive oil and some pasta in my backpack so that if I ended up arriving late or needing to save money, I always had food ready to cook.
  • Free breakfast: Be wary that sometimes the free breakfast is just some bread and coffee, but in Europe, this is frequently a sufficient breakfast. Either way, make note of the free (or cheap) breakfast that the hostel offers; don’t sleep through it! Or pack a few pieces of bread for the day to quell your hunger later.
  • Free walking tours: Make sure you inquire at the reception desk where the city walking tour will meet. Many hostels have partnerships with free walking tours and will guide you to where they start. This is one of my biggest recommendations for traveling a city: take a free walking tour first. You’ll essentially get an overview of the city and can revisit what you like. Or find out what you’re not too interested in (and this way you optimize your time!) You might also meet some travelers in your tour group. One of my best friends today is a woman I met on a walking tour in Lisbon! Finally, your walking guide is often a local or knows a lot about the city you’re in. Don’t be shy in asking questions about local restaurants, bars, shows, or activities. They will likely know best. Don’t forget to tip your guide at the end of the tour; that is their only source of income!
  • Other types of tours: Sometimes there are food tours, bar crawls, or boat tours. These are all worth considering. Sometimes a hostel will host a bar crawl and meet up with other hostels, allowing you to meet loads and loads of people. Many of my favorite memories are from hostel-led bar/pub crawls.

Safety concerns and how to minimize them:

  1. Theft: Bring a lock for your things. Most hostels offer lockers to keep your things secure and offer to rent you a lock. It’s smart to bring one with you just in case! It’s also a good idea to have locks for your suitcase or backpack.
  2. Bed Bugs: Please, please, please check your bed before you make your sheets and get into them. Hostels are notorious for carrying bed bugs, but the easiest way to prevent such a catastrophe is by first checking reviews, and then checking your actual bed assignment or chosen bed before lying in it. Simple enough! Follow this link to see exactly what to check for https://www.epa.gov/bedbugs/how-find-bed-bugs
  3. Female travel: Traveling (or existing) anywhere as a female can be dangerous, especially as a solo traveler. Fret not ladies, I’ve done this more than I’ve traveled with others, and while it is rewarding, traveling alone in hostels can be concerning if you’re not aware of a few things. If you’re more comfortable doing so, you can always book an “all-female dorm” in a hostel. They are often the same price as a mixed dorm (sometimes I’ve seen cheaper!) and they ensure that only women will be sleeping in your room. Common sense and gut feelings are the way to go as a female in a hostel setting. For example, just make sure to survey your surroundings and the people with whom you choose to spend your time. Hostelling can be the most rewarding, refreshing, and exciting experience of your life, but it’s important to be vigilant.  
  4. Other: If anything is wrong (cleanliness, the hostel is not what you expected, you don’t feel safe, etc), try to have researched at least one other option beforehand. That way, you always have a backup and don’t feel forced to stay in a situation in which you don’t want to stay.

Last but not least, here are some places I stayed and enjoyed:

  • Seville, Spain: Hostel One, Seville
  • Milan, Italy: Ostello Bello Grande
  • Madrid, Spain: OK Hostel
  • Copenhagen, Denmark: Sleep in Heaven
  • Granada, Spain: El Granado
  • Lisbon, Portugal: Safestay Lisboa

Happy Hostelling!

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