How to survive staying in hostels
Staying in hostels isn’t everyone’s idea of holiday heaven, but for some it can be the best cost-effective way to travel. I myself have stayed in a lot of hostels over the years, some good, some not so good, so know what to look for and have gained a few tips on how to survive those first few nights in a dorm. So I’ve put together this guide on how to survive staying in hostels for those who may be considering or are not too sure what to expect.
So why stay in hostels?
Most people believe hostels are for the hardcore backpackers. I know most of my friends really turn their noses up at the thought of sharing a room and bathrooms facilities with complete strangers, and opt to stay in expensive hotels instead! Although the thought of staying in my own room with private facilities sounds wonderful, the cost really is a huge downfall for me, especially when staying in Europe’s big cities!
The average daily cost of a hotel in say Paris can be upward of £100 whereas a hostel could be only £20. That’s an extra £80 I could spend on other things such as experiences or taking a longer trip. Not only that, but hostels have so many advantages especially for solo travelers like myself. Staying in hostels is a great way to meet other people, especially if travelling solo like I do! You will also find most hostels will have a variety of activities and tours which are usually cheaper than tour operators, as well as access to cheap or free laundry services and free WiFi (which you generally won’t find in expensive hotels). So if you take all that on board sacrificing some personal space and privacy is only a small price to pay. However some hostels have private rooms available for the same price as two dorm beds like the Yim Whan Hostel in Ayutthaya, Thailand for only £12 a night (low season).
Types of hostel
Chill out hostels
These types are generally my favorite, they have a really relaxed atmosphere and very friendly owners who sort of take the role of distant aunties or cousins. There is no pressure to get involved in any activities and don’t encourage late night drinking sessions or parties. There is usually a chill out room with bean bags and bookshelves and if ya lucky some help ya self tea and coffee. These type of hostels are great for solo and first timers travelers.
If helping to save the environment is your main concern then there are many hostels out there whose focus is responsible and sustainable travel. Here you will find environmentally friendly design and facilities and maybe even a vegan friendly restaurant. Again these are usually friendly relaxing hostels with no emphasis on drinking and party nights.
Boutique 5 star hostels
These can be very nice hostels in deed, but are slightly more expensive. This is due to elegant designs and extra special touches like pod style bunks, upgraded breakfasts and extra facilities such as swimming pools and loungers. These hostels can sometimes look as good as boutique hotels without the expensive price tag. I find that although pretty and modern they are not always as friendly and welcoming as other hostels.
As the name suggests these are the hostels to go to if drinking and partying the night away is what you have in mind. You will find an abundance of party activities such as bar crawls or even beer pong in the bar. If this is what you are after then these are defiantly the places to stay, if looking for peace and quiet then I suggest looking elsewhere!
Traditional youth hostels
These hostels are usually all over Europe and have a variety of travelers staying with them, this includes large groups of school children and families. If you don’t mind this then you will usually find these hostels in top locations and with cheap prices. Although for some you may need to be a member to stay with them, or being a member may get you a small discount. For the United Kingdom check out YHA.UK
Essentially these are hotels that also offer budget dorm rooms. If you want the services of a hotel but with a hostel price these can be very good options especially if staying as a group or a family, snapping up a 4 bed dorm can be a lot cheaper than getting 2 hotel rooms.
The cheap hostel
Wherever you travel to there will always be the cheap hostel. They will have the best cheap prices but will almost always have the worst reviews to go with it. If cost is only the deciding factor then these are the way to go but be warned, you may be met with dirty bathrooms, poor facilities and even dirty bed linen! For a few extra pounds its worth getting a place with better reviews.
How to choose the right hostel?
So as you can see there are many different types of hostel, so how do you pick the right one for you? The best way to check is to write down what you need and then check sites such as booking.com for availability and prices and most importantly check through all the reviews! This will give you a good sense on if a particular hostel is a good fit for you.
Things to take into consideration are:
- The location, do you want to be in the city center or on the quieter outskirts? Close to the nightlife or to the beach or attractions?
- Is there a bar/restaurant? If traveling solo the bar can be the best place to meet other people. You will usually find other solo travelers here ready to mingle.
- Is free breakfast included? Whats it like? Can save you some money if on a tight budget.
- How many beds in the dorm room? I usually go for the smallest rooms like the 4 bed dorms as you have less chance of being disturbed by people coming and going.
- Female or mixed dorms? I’ve stayed in both but prefer female only as you tend to get more snoring from the guys (sorry but its true).
- Security, does each bed have its own locker? Hows the access into the room? Is it by card/ key or left open?
- What are the bathrooms facilities like? Are there plenty of showers/hot water?
- Activities, do you want lots of activities to get involves with?
- Atmosphere, are you looking for a party vibe or looking to kick back and enjoy a good book?
- Age? Some hostels such as party hostel have a young crowd, if you are an older traveler like myself is this what you want?
Me personally I go for cheap chill out hostels where I’m likely to get a good nights kip with clean facilities, secure lockers, centrally located, a good bar area and good reviews. Sounds like a lot but this is generally what most people are after when looking at hostels and seems to be the middle of the road common hostel type. One of my favorite hostels is Budget Backpackers in Edinburgh . It had the right amount of activities on offer including bar crawls but didn’t have a big party vibe going on either which is great for the oldies like me to stay in and chill of an evening with a few bottles of beer!
Speaking of oldies, how old is too old for staying in hostels? Well I’m 41 years old and still feel really comfortable in hostels and staying in dorm rooms. Over the years I’ve met lots of younger people who I’ve still partied the night away with, as well as many people a lot older than me. In my opinion most people who stay in hostels don’t care about age, it’s all about the traveling and experiences, after all age is just a number!
Tips for staying in hostels
Items to take:
Make sure you take a pair of cheap flip-flops! Always useful when taking a shower or taking a trip to the bathroom.
A quick cover up like a sarong is also essential, especially if the bathroom isn’t en-suite.
Ear plugs and an eye mask are a must have item especially is a light sleeper like myself. Most people are considerate of others sleeping but occasionally you come across the odd asshole!
A padlock for the locker! Some hostels will sell these but you can usually find them much cheaper in your local supermarket. Plus you don’t want to run the risk of them running out like what happened to me on my last trip to Edinburgh. God I must have about 10 padlocks at home now as I always forget to pack them!
Plug extension, if you have lots of gadgets to charge up then make sure you bring along one of these as you generally only have access to one socket per person. Always a useful way to make friends when the power outlets are a little more lacking.
Take a travel sheet or sleeping bag liner, this is especially useful if staying in cheap hostels or if you suspect there may be bed bugs! Be aware though bed bugs can strike even in the fanciest of hotels! To be honest I have never used one of these but know a lot of people who do.
A travel mug or drinking container is always useful for filling up on the go and also helping to save the environment. I know some people who also take their own metal straws and eating utensils but I suppose it depends on where your travelling too.
Bring your own towel, if possible invest in a travel one as they hardly take up any room. A lot of hostels will supply them for free but many will charge you for the privilege.
Always try to be considerate of others especially between 11pm – 8am
If you have to get up early, try not to have your alarm constantly going off, everyone understands people have to get up early for flights or excursions etc just don’t be the one who keeps pressing snooze!
If possible don’t use plastic bags, use a tote bag or canvas bag instead as these don’t make a lot of noise. Trust me there is nothing worse than a bag rustler in the early hours of the morning!
Be friendly, it can be hard staying in hostels for the first time especially traveling solo, but just remember most people are in the same situation and a pleasant hello can go a long way. You never know you might just meet your next travel buddy.
Be prepared to have the same conversations! Where you from, how long you travelling, where you travelling to next? It’s generally always the same first questions but try to be a bit inventive if you can, you don’t have to lie but try to be creative with your answers, you never know where the conversation will lead. I once met someone who used to completely re-invent themselves at every hostel and try to see how far she could go before people clicked on.
Don’t let unforeseeable things get you down, be prepared for things to go wrong from time to time, unless it’s something major, the likelihood is that it will work its self right again.
Attitude is key! If you expect less you will usually be blessed with more, look past minor imperfections, let them slide. I have stayed in some hostels that when I arrived I just wanted to walk straight out again but they went on to be some of the best hostels I’ve stayed in. I stayed in one in Chiang Mai, Thailand about 4 years ago and the rooms where an absolute mess and a shower which was more of a trickle of water but the owners where so lovely. They made and gave out free food all day including the odd free beers, it had such a friendly vibe and I made a lot of friends with whom i’m still in touch with today.
Staying in hostels is very safe. As as a female solo traveler I have never felt that my safety has been at risk at any time. If anything I feel a little safer as I don’t feel as isolated as when staying in hotels by myself. However even though hostels are generally safe, its important to follow simple safety precautions as you would do anywhere. These include, not showing off expensive possessions, don’t leave valuables lying around, and using lockers at all times.
So there you have it my guide to surviving hostels. Would you now consider staying in a hostel or do you have any other useful tips? If so, leave a comment, like, share or subscribe to be the first to hear about any new posts.