Surviving your first stay at a hostel
Article updated by Sarah Kearney in collaboration with the Erasmus+ UK National Agency.
Hostels are a popular choice for many to travel – offering a different experience than hotels. Although some have private rooms or smaller dorms, you'll usually have to share the bathroom and toilet; don't expect a lot of privacy.
Unlike hotels though, hostels are very sociable environments (especially if you're travelling alone) where you can meet lots of new people. And even if there are people you don't like; you never have to see them again after you leave the hostel. It's up to you!
However, if it’s your first time staying, or planning to stay, at a hostel, the one thing you need to do is prepare. Packing the essentials for your stay, as well as picking up some useful tips to survive and thrive in a hostel.
Let’s take you through some of the things you need to know and consider.
Is the hostel life for you?
The very first thing you might be thinking, even before the preparation stage, is: ‘Am I ready for the hostel life?’ While some people enjoy hostels and the opportunities they provide, others may prefer an alternative option.
So, is the hostel life for you? Let’s go through a quick checklist to see what the answer is for you!
- Looking for a cheaper choice of accommodation?
- Want the chance to meet new people and gain new experiences?
- Don't mind potentially sharing another room or bathroom with others?
- Ready to expect some of them may have, to put it lightly, unusual habits?
- Happy to embrace the party animals, night owls and more?
If you’ve answered yes to these questions, you’re one step closer to surviving in a hostel. If you still feel unsure or answered no, perhaps we can change your mind with our handy tips below.
The essentials to survive hostels
- Get into conversation:
The best way to survive a hostel stay is to be cool, relaxed and to get into conversation with other people. Start with the staff: they are probably locals and will be able to give you the best tips for things to see, places to eat and where to go out.
- Do your research:
To have the experience you’ve always imagined, it’s wise to research the hostel. We don’t mean just checking reviews (although this is equally important and we’ll explain more), but also checking its location.
Those who want to sight-see and take in the city atmosphere should look for a hostel close to the centre. Or at least with good transport connections. But if you want somewhere a bit more different or relaxed, maybe venture further from tourist hotspots.
Regardless, make sure you choose the right location for you. So even if you end up not liking the hostel, you have the ideal places to visit.
- Get familiar with the rules:
Every hostel has its rules and while you may not want to strictly follow them, (how else can you enjoy those hostel parties?) it’s worth to get familiar with them. At least avoid breaking the major rules that could make you stand out like a sore thumb. Or worse, get kicked out of your hostel.
- Respect others' privacy:
If you want to keep on good terms with everyone and avoid accidentally making enemies, one good way to follow this tip is respecting others’ privacy. If you’re being loud when someone in the room is sleeping, playing loud music, leaving an absolute mess in the room, using other people’s items, bring wild animals into the room, you’ll end up getting on the wrong side of people. So, in a nutshell, avoid all these!
Saying this, we can’t guarantee your fellow hostel dwellers won’t follow this. They may show some bad manners of their own, but don’t let this justify ‘an eye for an eye’ treatment. Be the better person – or at least look for another room or go private.
- To self-cater or not to self-cater:
Different hostels will offer the option to self-cater – meaning you also have access to a shared kitchen area. It’s a great, practical option if you want to save money with creating budget-friendly meals. This can also be the site where you could discover new recipes from your hostel buddies or discover their worryingly low skills in cooking.
For yourself, it’s best to avoid foods that are likely to smell and ensure you always clean up after yourself. No one likes a messy chef. On the other hand, not everyone appreciates those who micro-analyse the kitchen and inspect its cleanliness.
Therefore, choose wisely if you want to self-cater or not.
Remember to also bring these packing essentials to guarantee that things go smoothly:
- Flip flops - Nobody likes taking a shower standing in other people's hair or catching foot fungus, so take some flip-flops! Obviously, not those fancy brand-new leather sandals, but the cheap plastic ones that won't get damaged by the water and soap.
- Padlock - Waking up every hour because you think someone is stealing your stuff can spoil your holidays (let alone if it actually happens), so get a padlock for your suitcase, rucksack, purse, or to attach your belongings to the bed. Keep your wallet, passport, phone and other valuables under your pillow or otherwise close to your body.
- Earplugs - Being kept awake all night by someone snoring loudly tends to bring out the worst in one: it is better for everyone if you bring earplugs and block out the noise (ps: if you know you're a snorer and still want to stay in a hostel, you will make a lot of friends if you hand out some earplugs to your dorm mates).
- Towel - Bring your own towel and – if you can – sheets or a sleeping bag. Some hostels provide them but many don't or aren't too good at cleaning them. Also, you usually pay a bit extra to rent towels and sheets.
- Eye mask - Some people feel they need all the lights on when they come back from a wild night out - just when you have to get up early to catch your plane; an eye mask can spare you unwanted wake-ups.
- Plug adaptor - While the majority of Europe uses the 2-pin plug system, exceptions (including the UK, Ireland and Malta) use plugs with 3 pins. It’s worth then to bring a plug adaptor to avoid the nightmare of a dead phone with no way to charge it.
- Multiple charging cables - Another essential way to avoid a dead phone is bringing multiple charging cables. Not only does it mean you can potentially charge all your electronic devices at once, but you have spares if one stops working.
Last but not least, check for reviews of the hostel you are planning to book. It's the best way to avoid unwelcome surprises! There’s many websites you can browse to check:
- TripAdvisor: the mainstream choice but TripAdvisor offers you a detailed look into hostels and what they offer. You can also find reviews which give their own star rating, helping you get a clear idea of which hotels are worth considering.
- Hostel World: another comprehensive website, Hostel World (as you can expect) gives you details specific to hostels. You can view what types of rooms are available, reviews with star ratings and even the nationalities of those staying. It also lets you book a room once you’ve found the right hostel.
- Hostels.com: this also gives a detailed guide into hostels, plus reviews, albeit its design isn’t as user-friendly as Hostel World.
- Hostel Bookers: very similar to Hostel World, this website will give an overall rating of the hostel and splits it down into areas such as cleanliness, atmosphere and more.
By following our tips and advice, this should help you stay prepared and embrace the hostel life’s perks; making new friends, experiences and memories.
While your first time staying in a hostel may feel daunting, we can assure you it’s an experience you won’t forget. Hopefully for the right reasons!
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