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How to Make the Most of Your Hostel Experience

Bunk beds along both sides of a room.

In a lot of places around the world, hostels are a cheap, easy accommodation option for travelers. Here’s what to expect, and some tips to help you enjoy the experience.

What to Expect

Hostels vary drastically in size, price, quality, facilities, and atmosphere. What they do all have in common is most guests sleep in bunk beds in a dorm room. Occasionally, dorms are split by gender, but they’re usually mixed. You pay by the bed, and it’s normally between $10 and $40, depending on the city, location, and quality of the hostel.

Before you book a hostel, you should know what to expect. Do some research online and check out any reviews. Here are a few important things to consider:

  • Dorm size: Some hostels have massive dorms that sleep 20+ people. Others have smaller, four- or six-person rooms. The bigger dorms are usually cheaper, but you probably won’t sleep as well.
  • Party vibe or family-friendly: A lot of hostels cater to young backpackers, bachelor parties, and people who want to have a good time. However, there are some with a more sedate, family-friendly vibe. If you prefer a party crowd, choose a hostel in a central location. If you want a good night’s sleep, look for something closer to a residential district that advertises its family-friendly cred.
  • Facilities: These vary widely. Some hostels have bars that serve food, while others just have a kitchen you can use. I once stayed in one that had a sauna!

In Europe, hostels are incredibly popular with people of all ages, genders, and nationalities. If you decide to stay in one, you should expect to mix and mingle with a variety of folks.

It’s common to stay in the dorm with an elderly couple, four young backpackers who just met, and a group of Australians bumming their way around Europe.

Arrive Prepared

Most hostels offer a pretty barebones service. You get a bed (usually with sheets), and that’s about it. Breakfast might be served, but it’s not always included in the price. If you want to have a great time, it’s a good idea to arrive prepared.

You won’t have control of the lights, and there’ll be a snorer (or five). If you need dark or silence to sleep, bring an eye mask and earplugs.

The restrooms are regularly cleaned, but you often share them with quite a few people. Bring flip-flops for the showers and late-night visits.

And while we’re on the subject of showering, towels are rarely free in hostels, so bring your own if you don’t want to pay a few extra dollars to rent one.

You also might want to bring a padlock to store your stuff. There are normally lockers, but you have to buy or rent the locks. It’s the same with plug adapters—many hostels have added USB plugs, but it’s far from universal. So, be sure to bring the right adapter, or you’ll have to buy one.

Be Friendly, Courteous, and Respectful

At a hostel, you’re all in it together! It’s not like a watered-down version of a hotel, where you can do whatever you want, whenever you want.

If you’re respectful, I find that other people are more likely to be so, too. Here are a few guidelines that will help:

  • Respect the quiet hours. If you must talk, do so quietly and be sure to silence your phone.
  • Greet new people. It’s polite, and you might meet your new best friend.
  • Use headphones. These are a necessity if you want to watch something or listen to music.
  • Don’t turn on the lights at night. Use a flashlight or your phone if you have to leave the dorm.
  • Clean up after yourself. Better yet, don’t make a mess in the first place. Your stuff belongs on your bed and your bed alone.
  • You get one alarm. You can’t hit snooze—double alarms aren’t allowed. You can, however, set your one alarm to go off as early as you want (someone always has to get up for a stupid-o’clock flight). When it does, get up and leave as quietly as possible.

You should always try to be polite and courteous, but if someone makes a lot of noise after lights-out or is otherwise just being a jerk, say something about it. You can be polite and firm. Hostel dorms are shared spaces.

Embrace the Experience

Various people eating and preparing food in a hostel bar/dining area/commons room.
David Bokuchava/Shutterstock

Hostels have plenty of downsides. You almost certainly won’t sleep as well there as you would in a hotel. But they have one big upside: the social scene.

Most people who stay at a hostel are open, social, and want to have a good time. A huge number of people (myself included) stay at hostels when they travel alone, even if they can afford a hotel. They do so because hostels are so much fun!

Check your cynicism at the door and make friends with your dorm-mates. Go to the hostel bar and talk to the other guests. If there are any walking tours or group activities (and there often are), join in. You won’t regret it—and it makes the whole hosteling thing worth it.

Get a Private Room

If the thought of sharing a dorm with random people is not inviting, but you’re still curious about the hostel experience (or just want the sweet, sweet savings), consider getting a private room.

While single rooms are usually almost as expensive as a hotel, twin rooms and small private dorms tend to be pretty reasonable.

Whether you’re traveling solo or with a few other people, a hostel is often the best, most economical place to stay.

Hostels are a fantastic accommodation option when you travel outside the U.S.—especially if you’re solo. Make the most of it and enjoy the experience!

Harry Guinness Harry Guinness
Harry Guinness is a photography expert and writer with nearly a decade of experience. His work has been published in newspapers like the New York Times and on a variety of other websites, including Lifehacker. Read Full Bio »
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