Staying in hostels, everything you need to know

A Newbie Guide To Staying In Hostels

Staying in hostels isn’t everyone’s idea of holiday heaven, but for some, it can be a cost-effective way to travel. I have stayed in a lot of hostels over the years, some good, some not so good, so I 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.

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Benefits Of Staying In Hostels:

Most people believe staying in hostels are for hardcore backpackers. I know most of my friends turn their noses up at the thought of sharing a room and bathroom facilities with strangers and opt to stay in expensive hotels instead! Although the thought of staying in a private room with ensuite facilities sounds wonderful, the cost 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 other advantages, such as being an easy way of meeting other people, especially if travelling solo as 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). So in some circumstances, you may be able to bag a private room for a much lower price than a hotel!

Staying in hostels, everything you need to know

The Different Types Of Hostels?

When people think of hostels, they often imagine an inexpensive shared dormitory. But there are several various types of hostels out there to fit different budgets and atmosphere preferences, these include:

Chill Out Hostels

These types are generally my favourite, they have a 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. They usually have a chill-out room with bean bags and bookshelves and if you’re lucky some free tea, coffee or snacks. These types of hostels are great for solo and first-timers travellers.

Staying in hostels, everything you need to know

Eco Hostels

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.

A newbie guide to staying in hostels

Party 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’re after then these are defo the places to stay, if looking for peace then I suggest looking elsewhere!

Traditional Youth Hostels

These hostels are usually all over Europe and have a variety of travellers 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

Hybrid Hotel/Hostels

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.

A solo guide to staying in hostels

The Cheap Hostel

Wherever you travel there will always be a cheap hostel. They will have the best cheap prices but will almost always have the worst reviews to go with them.

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 it’s worth getting a place with better reviews.

How To Choose The Right Hostel?

So as you can see there are many different types of the hostel, so how do you pick the right one for you? The best way 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 idea if a particular hostel is a good fit for you.

Things to take into consideration include:

  • The location, do you want to be in the city centre or on the quieter outskirts? Close to the nightlife, the beach or attractions?
  • What time are the reception times, is it 24-hour? There’s nothing worse than arriving early in a city and not being able to dump your bags whilst you wait to check in! Or will you be arriving late at night?
  • Is there a bar/restaurant? If travelling solo, the bar can be the best place to meet other people. You will usually find other solo travellers here ready to mingle.
  • Is a free breakfast included? What’s it like? A free breakfast can save you some money if on a tight budget.
  • Are there kitchen facilities? Cooking your own food is a great way of saving money whilst travelling!
  • How many beds are 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 females only as you tend to get more snoring from the guys (sorry but it’s true).
  • Security, does each bed have its locker? How’s the access to the room? Is it by card/ key or left open? Do they have 24-hour security or staff?
  • What are the bathrooms facilities like? Are there plenty of showers/hot water?
  • Activities, do you want lots of activities to get involved 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 hostels have a young crowd, if you are an older traveller, is this what you want?

I normally opt for cheap chill-out hostels where I’m likely to get a good night’s sleep 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 favourite 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 chill out in the evenings with a few bottles of beer!

A solo guide to staying in hostels

Speaking of oldies, how old is too old for staying in hostels? Well, I’m 45 years old and still feel comfortable in hostels and staying in dorm rooms. In fact, I’ll be staying in a hostel in Lisbon on my next trip. 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 travelling and experiences after all age is just a number!

General Tips For Staying In Hostels:

Staying in hostels is a fun and economical way to travel, but it can also leave some travellers feeling overwhelmed. To make sure that your stay is comfortable and safe, there are certain tips to keep in mind such as:

For starters, always do your research; look into the safety and cleanliness of the premises and always read reviews online before you book so that you know what you’re getting into!

Be friendly, it can be hard staying in hostels for the first time especially travelling 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.

Always try to be considerate of others, especially between 11 pm – 8 am

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 prepared to have the same conversations! Where are you from, how long are you travelling, and where are 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 her.

Don’t let unforeseeable things get you down, and be prepared for things to go wrong from time to time, unless it’s something major, the likelihood is that it will work itself right again.

Attitude is key! If you expect less you will usually be blessed with more, look past minor imperfections, and let them slide. I have stayed in some hostels where 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 were an absolute mess and a shower which was more of a trickle of water but the owners were so lovely. They made and gave out free food all day including the odd free beer, it had such a friendly vibe and I made a lot of friends with whom I’m still in touch today.

Must Have Items When Staying In Hostels:

Hostels are a great place to stay, but if you’re not prepared then it can easily turn into an uncomfortable and stressful experience. Knowing what to bring along with you when you opt for this type of accommodation will make all the difference in having a safe and pleasant stay. Some of my must have items include:

  • Ear plugs and an eye mask are a must-have item especially if a light sleeper like myself. Most people are considerate of others sleeping but occasionally you come across the odd asshole!
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 metal straws and eating utensils but I suppose it depends on where you travelling to.
  • Bring your a 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.

Are Hostels Safe?

Staying in hostels is very safe. As a female solo traveller, 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, it’s 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.

Final Thoughts

So, are hostels for you? If you’re looking for an affordable way to travel, meet new people and see the world, the answer is most likely yes. Hostels can be a great way to save money while seeing amazing places, but it’s important to do your research before booking so that you know what to expect. We hope this guide has helped prepare you for your first hostel stay and that you have a fantastic time! Have you stayed in a hostel before? What was your experience like?

Thanks so much for stopping by, I appreciate every one of you who takes the time to read and make it to the end! I have lots of exciting new content coming in the next few weeks so make sure you pop back to catch up!

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