Everything You Need to Know About Hostels

Updated: Jun 11, 2019


Commons area in a hostel in Porto, Portugal.

Hostels. GASP.


Let’s talk about em because if you’re like most people...or myself 3 years ago... you don’t know much about them.


Are they safe?

Are they smelly?

Are they loud?

Are they mostly just a bunch of 20-something-year-olds being bums together?


The answer to every one of these questions is yes…..no…..sometimes. Just like hotels, there is just about every kind of hostel under the sun out there and people seem to have a looooootttt of questions about them.


I wanted to answer a few of those questions and give you a little bit better idea of what the whole hostel world is like.


I'll admit, hostels aren't for everyone. Even the nicest hostel is going to be different than what you are used to with a hotel. Buuutttt if you do your research, know what you're getting yourself in to (aka exactly why I'm writing this blog post), and are willing to have an open mind, choosing to stay in a hostel just might be the best part of your next trip!


Keep in mind everything I talk about below are generalizations. Each hostel is going to vary in some way or another but most will be somewhat similar to what I’m describing.


And one more thing, always, ALWAYS read the reviews. They are going to be your best, inside look, at what the hostel is like and for us, reviews are often the deciding factor in choosing a hostel. You can read more about how we decide where to stay here.


Ready? Here. we. go!

WHAT IS A HOSTEL?

Hostels are a budget-friendly, social accommodation, lodging option. I like to describe them as cheap hotels with a variety of room options and different social opportunities for the guests.


Hostel layouts can vary greatly. In general they offer a private room OR dormitory style room with bunk beds. The dorms can either be gender specific (female dorm only or male dorm only) or mixed rooms (males and females stay in the same room). Some dorm rooms only allow one person per bed, some are ok with two. Bathrooms showers are typically shared and sometimes gender specific, sometimes unisex. Some hostels have single bathrooms and showers with their own doors and others have multiple in them. Again, you can find just about every type of hostel layout out there so do your research and know what to expect before you book. You can usually find this information online when you are booking the hostel.


They usually have a free breakfast or cheap add on breakfast available and almost always have a commons space where people can gather and hang out. Some hostels have nightly events or activities planned for their guests.


Hostels are extra popular in Europe and Asia but you can find them all over the world.

This was our hostel in Chiang Mai, Thailand. We had a private room with a shared bathroom nearby.
COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS:

HOSTELS ARE ONLY FOR YOUNG PEOPLE

They are for everyone! I had a 70-year-old from Canada staying in my hostel in Barcelona and he fit right in.


Back in the day they were called "youth hostels" giving many people the perception that they're strictly for young people.


I’d say, in general, you’ll find more young people than older staying in hostels but they are truly for everyone. Plus, I love talking to older people who stay in our hostels because they usually have such a unique insight into traveling and the world. If they’re not afraid to stay in a hostel, you can bet they’re pretty rad.


HOSTELS ARE UNSAFE

Nooo….unsafe isn’t the right word. It's just that whenever you are sharing a room with strangers, there is a higher probability that something could happen.


Listen, any time you travel, you need to be aware. Understand a situation, pay attention, and take care of your belongings.


Most hostels now have lockers or some sort of storage option in the dorms. Bring or buy a lock and ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS lock up your valuables and as much of your luggage as you can. Also avoid talking openly or showcasing your valuables.


Most people in hostels are there for the same reasons you are and will respect you and your privacy. That being said, if you are uncomfortable for any reason, don't hesitate to talk to the hostel staff.


HOSTELS ARE DIRTY

Cheap does not mean dirty. Just like hotels, hostels are usually cleaned by staff at least once a day.


There are some pretty incredible AND affordable hostels out there. We stayed in a hostel in Porto, Portugal and it was immaculate. I swear it was nicer than a hotel except we were staying in a dorm that allowed 2 people per bed. We didn't have much privacy but for needing a clean, inexpensive place to fall asleep at night, right in the heart of the city, it was perfect for 3 nights.


Again, I'd go back to reading the reviews. They're going to tell you exactly what you can expect.

Our private room in Bangkok, Thailand. It was literally a little square room with a mattress on the floor. Clean, centrally located, and a free breakfast all for $12 a night.
PROS

Affordable: Hostels are typically a budget-friendly lodging option. If you need a place to sleep for just a few nights or are traveling on the cheap, hostels are one of the best options out there!


Activities: There are usually a variety of activities the hostel lines up for guests. They connect with free walking tours (you KNOW I’m all about the free walking tour!), pub crawls, and social events. It's a great way to meet new people and get involved in a new city.


Easy Way to Meet People: Hostels are a GREAT way to meet so many interesting people from all over the world. There is usually a commons area where people can hang out but even just the dorm room life, makes it easy to meet new people. The ease and ability to meet people in a hostel is unmatched by any other type of lodging.


Most travelers have an inclusive mindset and if you’re willing to smile and have a conversation with people, you’ll be making friends in no time! Don't be surprised if you find yourself meeting a really great group of travelers and tagging along with them for your next leg of the trip. It happens all the time!


Location: Most cities have many, many hostels located all over. You can generally find them right in the heart of the city or near main attractions, making it convenient for exploring and getting around.


Free Breakfast and/or a Kitchen: Most hostels include a simple breakfast and/or a kitchen. Finding a place with a free or cheap breakfast is a HUUUUGE way to save time and money while traveling. You get a jumpstart to the day by fueling your body first thing with food, plus you don't have to spend any time or energy finding a place.


If your hostel has a kitchen, buying your own groceries can be a big way to save money as well. Some have a refrigerator where you can label and keep your food. We budget travel often and usually do a mix of buying groceries and eating in and treating ourselves to a night out.


Pro tip: I learned quickly that when I grabbed a few extra pieces of fruit and made myself an extra sandwich from the free breakfast in the morning, I could eat it for lunch and only have to spend money on one meal a day. Boo-yah!

Scott taking advantage of the free breakfast at our hostel in Porto, Portugal.
CONS:

Privacy: Privacy is pretty limited in hostels because there always seems to be people around. Getting a private room can help, but even then, bathrooms are typically communal.


Noise: Hostels generally have quiet hours and sometimes a curfew, but people are still going to come and go as they please. You're almost guaranteed to hear someone coming into your room or passing through the hallway late at night. Sleep masks and ear plugs are a simple solution for this!


Shared spaces: If you're uncomfortable sharing amenities, like bathrooms, and sleeping in a dorm style room with other people, hostels might not be the right fit for you. I always encourage people to give hostels a try but frankly, they're not for everyone.


Limited amenities: Hostels usually have limited amenities. Sometimes you even have to rent a towel for a fee. They rarely include hair dryers or shampoo/conditioner. Just keep this in mind, you might have to bring or buy your own toiletries.


Staffing: Staffing can be limited as well. Some hostels have someone at the front desk 24/7, while others have limited front desk hours. It all depends. Again, just look into this before you book and make sure you always read the reviews.


Pay extra attention to this if you're getting into town late or need to leave early. One time we left a camera battery charging in the lobby that got locked up at night. We needed to catch a flight at 5 in the morning and ended up having to knock on the staff windows (while they were still sleeping) to get our battery before we took off. Oops. Not our best moment.

The balcony at our hostel in Bangkok, Thailand. This is where breakfast was and it also served as the commons area.
ADVICE:

Read Reviews: Ok, this is the NUMBER ONE thing you should do before booking a hostel. Absolutely make sure you are reading the reviews and getting an accurate idea of what you can expect. Also, make sure the hostel HAS reviews. If it's new, use your own judgement but we tend to book places with a minimum of 20 or so reviews. We use Hostel World to look up and book hostels when we travel.


Bring or buy a lock: Most hostels nowadays have some sort of storage or locker option in the dormitories. If they don't, I'd reconsider staying there. Make sure you keep ALL of your valuables locked away and honestly, it’s a good idea to even lock your backpack or luggage to your bed.


Don’t talk about or showcase your valuables: Stealing happens. It sucks, and it's not often but it happens. You'll find most people are really, really great and a select few are super lame. Be sure to lock ALL of your valuables and as much of your luggage away as possible and don't talk openly about your gear, money, or valuables. You never know who is listening (so many people can speak or understand English) or who is watching.


Share stories, ask questions!: Hostel living is allllll about getting to meet some really great people from all over the world. I can't tell you how many times I've heard people say, "Oh I had this route planned out but then I met these people at this hostel and I totally changed my plans and started traveling with them!"


Ask people for advice, places to go, things to do, next countries to visit. Ask them about their life back home, why they travel, what their favorite experience has been. It's such a unique way to bring people together, don't just hide in the corner! Unless you reallllly need some time to just hide in the corner. I've been there too my friend. Life surrounded by people 24/7 can be overwhelming sometimes but I encourage you to make the most of it!


Get involved: A lot of the hostels have events/activities/programs they feature each night. Don't be afraid to get involved! Most hostels are excited to connect you with free walking tours, pub crawls, nightly activities, or recommendations. Since the staff live there, in the city, they're a great resource for finding local things to do!


Book a private room: If you're a light sleeper, snore extra loud (out of courtesy for others), need some privacy, or are wanting to share a bed with a partner a private room might be the best option for you. This will still give you that hostel feel and social interactions through the commons area and at breakfast but also give you the privacy of your own space.


Keep in mind that some hostels allow two people per bed in their mixed dorms but some don't. This information is provided when you're researching a hostel but it's good to know what you can expect when you're traveling with a partner or even solo.


Take advantage of the free food: Like I said above, I've definitely taken my fair share of extra food from breakfast.....to tide me over for the whole day. It's an easy way to save money and keep you filled up for a busy day on the go.


Bring a sleep mask and earplugs: For real. You won't regret this when a dorm mate comes in from a night out at 4 in the morning.


Bring flip flops: With the communal showers, it's a good idea to bring an extra pair of old flip flops you can throw on.

There you go my friend. A little inside look at the world of hostels. I hope this gave you a better idea of what you can expect.


Hostels are a lot different than what most people think of. Not only are they an incredible place to meet people from all over the world, they also can save you a TON of money. If you're willing to go outside of your traditional hotel mindset, hostels are a great way to make your money go a lot further while traveling.


Some of my favorite memories and people I've met are because I stayed in a hostel. Consider it for your next trip and happy hostel hunting!


I'd love if you shared your advice, pros, cons, and any other thoughts you have on hostels below so others can see them as well!


Cheers!

Steph


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