My husband and I have stayed in a number of hostels as we’ve traveled together. We’ve stayed in some great ones, some okay ones, and some we wouldn’t go back to. Together, we’ve compiled a beginner’s guide to staying in hostels so you know what to look for and what to expect when staying in a hostel.
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So, What is a Hostel?
Hostels are very budget-friendly, dorm-like lodging options you can find almost anywhere around the world. So instead of paying for a whole room like you would in a hotel, you’re paying for a bed in a shared room. There are typically 6 or more beds per room. Hostels also tend to have really unique themes or stories. I’ve heard of a space-themed hostel where all the beds are in individual capsules, and I’ve stayed in a hostel that was an old converted cathedral. The price can vary drastically depending on where you’re going, but you can usually find decent digs between $15 and $45 a night in Western Europe, which is a highly popular hostel hub.
Where to Look
Hostelworld is the best resource for booking hostels online. There are thousands of options for you to pick from all in one place, booking is simple, and it’s very easy to navigate. Some countries and continents are much more friendly to hostels, like Australia, Europe and even Africa. They’re not so common in others, like the US. Depending on where you’re heading, Airbnb may be a better option.
What to Look For
We would not recommend staying in a hostel that got an overall rating of less than 8/10. Here’s why: hostels are already a pretty cheap lodging option, so when the ratings are bad, it means unclean showers and rooms and other nasty scenarios. Some hostels aren’t equipped with A/C, some are well-known for their incredible BBQ Friday nights, and some are built above bars with no sound proofing. Really scour those ratings and reviews to make sure you’re getting a good deal and a good experience.
Take a look at the hostel’s photo gallery, especially the bathrooms. Bathrooms in hostels are also dorm-style, which means they’re communal, so look for cleanliness. Look through the common areas, rooms, views and the kitchen if you’re planning on cooking your own meals.
The Dorm Options
Some hostels will only have mixed-gender dorms, which are fine if you’re traveling with a group – but if you’re on your own, people can get a little friendly. If it’s your first hostel experience, or if you’re a female traveling alone, I’d highly recommend a same-gender dorm.
Some hostels provide free breakfast (score), while others don’t have WiFi available. Look through all of the offered amenities, which you can find on each individual hostel listing. When you’re on a Hostelworld listing, scroll all the way to the bottom, past the reviews, until you come to a section that looks like this:
This is where you’ll find whether or not a hostel has free breakfast, towels included, and other available amenities.
Extra Things You’ll Need to Pack
Almost all hostels will have towels for hire at a small fee, but if you really want to avoid paying, you’ll have to bring your own. Grab a thin one that will roll up easily in your backpack. You’ll also want to grab a pair of old flip flops to use as shower shoes, and bring your own padlock so you can lock up your belongings while you’re out for the day.
What to Expect
You’ll check in at a front desk, much like at a hotel. Every hostel has its own check-in hours, so when you’re planning your trip, make sure you make note of those so you’re able to get into your room. Hostels are very social environments, where people love to trade travel scars and stories. If you hang out in the kitchen or common areas, you’ll likely end up talking to someone for a little while. It’s also not uncommon to be woken up in the middle of the night because someone is heading out to catch a plane.
Many people are hesitant to jump into the world of hostel lodging because they aren’t sure if they’re safe. And I’ll be honest: there are some less than ideal, sketchy hostel options out there. My first tip for staying safe is make sure you’re booking all of your hostels online beforehand, rather than walking into one off the street. People rate hostels on Hostelworld for a variety of things: Value for Money, Security, Location, Staff, Atmosphere, and Facilities.
Make sure when you’re booking that the hostel you pick has a security rating above 8, and don’t forget that padlock. Finally, stay in same-gender dorm or look into a private room. Private rooms at hostels are still typically cheaper than a hotel room, but they’ll be on the more expensive end as far as hostel pricing is concerned.
Do you have a favorite hostel you’ve been to, or other travel tips to share? Leave them in the comments below!
All screenshots above were taken from the Belford Hostel – an old converted cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland, which is a favorite of ours!