A Traveler’s Guide to Staying in Hostels

Before I left for my first trip to Europe I was worried, even a little scared, to be staying in hostels. I had not known many people who traveled abroad and no one told me what to expect. Mostly, people mentioned that there is a horror movie with the name Hostel… but I was determined to give them a chance because my budget was depending on it!

It has now been 5 years since I started staying in hostels; I cannot even count how many I have stayed in! I still think they are one of the best types of accommodation all around the world. They are cheap, comfortable, and a great place to meet other travelers. And they are definitely not scary at all.

What is a hostel?

A hostel is a type of inexpensive accommodation that is catered to young travelers and budget travelers. Hostels typically have dorm rooms with at least 4 beds and sometimes up to 16 beds in a room. Typically, the more beds, the cheaper nightly rate. These rooms can be mixed gender, female only or male only. As a lady, if I’m traveling alone, I typically book a female dorm room. But if I’m traveling with a bunch of people we normally book a mixed dorm. There is typically a locker of sorts so you are able to lock your valuables in a dorm room. Hostels may offer private rooms too, which is often cheaper than a hotel room.

The bathroom in hostels can be a variety of different things, it can be a private bathroom that is inside the dorm room, a shared bathroom down the hall that has a bunch of stalls.

Some hostels offer a free basic breakfast with the stay for more value. Most will also have a kitchen so you can cook your own meals, which is typically cheaper than eating out at restaurants. They also have common areas to hang out and make new international friends. These common areas sometimes have a pool table, board games, a pool, and ping pong. Another benefit of hostels is they commonly have laundry rooms for you to clean your clothes which is a lifesaver for long-term travelers!

How to book a hostel

The best way to book hostels is through Hostelworld.com or Booking.com. I typically start my search with Hostelworld.com and start favoriting a few that I am interested in. I will compare the price with the location, reviews and the photos. I always make sure there are lockers in the dorm rooms and then a kitchen to cook my own food. I also like to have free breakfast because I am always pretty hungry when I wake up. Then I will go to Booking.com and check if any of the ones I have favorited have my genius discount (which is a 10-15% discount that is offered on certain properties to Booking.com members who have booked with them at least two times). The price difference isn’t typically a lot so I will normally book on Booking.com because I can earn better rewards from them.

Want to sign up for Booking.com? Use this link and receive $15 off your first booking!

When I am traveling as a solo female, I typically book a 4 bed female dorm room, just to be safe. With a group of friends, I typically book a mixed dorm room which works out great if you have at least 4 people. Then it becomes a 4 bed private room!

What to pack

  • Earplugs- when staying in dorm style rooms, it is possible you will encounter some noisy roommates. So make sure you pack headphones or earplugs to be block some noise.
  • Sleep sheet- this is always a way to keep comfortable in a hostel bed, it is also called a travel liner. It is basically a thin sheet sleeping bag, that you can tuck into and not have to sleep in the hostels sheets. Specifically, I like to use Sea to Summit since theirs are always compact and durable.
  • Locks- most hostels have a locker for you to lock up your valuables but they do not provide locks. Some will rent you one for your stay, but I always travel with a small variety of locks in my bag. Travel with a couple different types of locks for any type of locker and make sure to lock up all of my valuables anytime I leave.
  • Travel towel a fast drying, small microfiber towel is perfect for hostels that do not provide towels. I have tried several over the years and Dock & Bay’s are definitely my favorite. They dry quickly and are much softer than normal microfiber towels.
  • Shower shoes- some showers are not the cleanest, so a pair of basic flip flops to wear in the shower are perfect.

Tips for staying in hostels

  • Utilize their kitchens! The easiest way to save money while traveling is to cook your own food. Most days when I am traveling, I will eat the free breakfast at the hostel, have lunch out in the city, and then cook my own dinner. Restaurants typically have lunch deals which are cheaper than dinner. So fill up out on lunch and make your own dinner.
  • Make sure you have the directions of how to get to your hostel printed or on your phone. I normally take a screenshot so if I don’t have access to Wifi when I arrive in a new country, I know I’ll still have the directions upon arrival.
  • Reach out to your hostel roommates, or to people also eating breakfast with to make friends. Solo traveling can get lonely, but, fortunately, it is very easy to make new international friends who have a lot in common with you in hostels.
  • Always lock up your valuables, I have never had a problem with anything being stolen in a hostel because I always lock up my valuables when I’m not in my room.
  • Hostels sometimes have an age restriction, which can actually be ideal. I once stayed at a very cheap hostel in Frankfurt, Germany and there were old men (barely wearing clothes) everywhere. Now I often check to see if there is an age restriction just to know for sure I will be around a younger population at the hostel.
Our private double bedroom with a shared bathroom at JJ’s Backpackers Hostel in Cairns, Australia

Some of my favorite hostels I’ve stayed in:

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