There’s no place quite like a hostel. A true home sweet home on the road. Hostels can occasionally get a bad rap. Some of the things I have heard from friends, family or strangers include… “Aren’t they always noisy/party places?”, “is it safe staying in the same room as guys?” “I could never share with a room full of people”.
No. Generally yes. And that’s a shame!
Hostels have come such a long way over the years, especially as past travellers and backpackers have leapt onto the scene, creating their own incredibly cool and even luxe-looking hostels.
10 tips for your first stay in a hostel
In hostels, you’ll meet people just like you, and people completely different to you, and that’s what makes them such perfect places.
If you’re feeling a little nervous and you’re not sure what to expect, these tips for your first stay in a hostel should hopefully put you at ease and prepare you with a delightful level of hostel etiquette.
1. Choosing the right hostel and room
OK, if you’ve already booked a place you can skip right on to the next point (you’ve probably made an excellent choice!). But if you’re pondering over what hostel to choose, whether it’s budget, location or style, always check the reviews to get a sense of the ‘vibe’ or atmosphere. Whether you’re looking on booking.com or Hostel World etc.
This opinion is completely un-sponsored, but if there is a YHA I would often go for that (depending on price and reviews). My top 5 favourite hostels include at least 3 YHA’s. They’re professionally run, non-party hostels (you can have a good time there, there’s just not a nightclub downstairs like Gilligans in Cairns, Australia…), and just full of interesting, adventurous and friendly people.
Female solo travellers
If you’re a female solo traveller, and a little nervous about the idea of sharing with guys (totally fine), choose a female-only dorm. The great thing about most hostels is the options you have when it comes to rooms. From a single/private room to a 4-bed female-only, 8-bed mixed, you have control over who you share your space with. I’ve been in lots of mixed dorms and have always felt incredibly safe, but would often opt for a female-only dorm from time to time.
I really want to stress that whilst I felt safe and completely respected, keep your wits about you. I’ve never met anyone who had an issue in a dorm room, but there are small stories floating around out there. It’s perhaps best to change in the toilets, and maybe scope out who else is in the room, or if the rooms nearby are occupied, in case you need any help, I hope that doesn’t scare you, but any doubts, female-only dorms are always there.
Female dorms can often sell out, so try and book as early as possible. They’re often an extra few pounds/euros/dollars, but for peace of mind that’s not much at all. PS. Men, please call out crappy behaviour from other guys if you see/hear it.
2. Checking In
Checking in is generally just like a hotel, but a little more on the casual side. The staff are often other backpackers, working for accommodation or just earning to save up some more money. So be friendly to everyone! (not that you wouldn’t be friendly to hotel staff…).
Remember that not everywhere will have staff at the desk 24/7, especially small hostels, so make sure to check their conditions and warn them if you plan on arriving late. They can often email you a front door code and leave a key out in an envelope for you.
3. Always say hello when you first enter a dorm room!
An important point that I’ve included in my tips for shy travellers too. Whether you’re arriving into the room for the first time, or you’re already there and someone new walks into the room. Always say hello! (unless they are sleeping…) This immediately breaks the ice, and as you’re all going to be sleeping in the same room, and possibly even sharing a bathroom/toilet, it’s best if you’re on speaking terms!
No matter how tired you are, at least give a hello. You can always explain to people that you’re super tired and are going to just lie down and chill/sleep. If you arrive in the middle of the night, or the middle of the day when everyone is out exploring, say hi the first time you see someone.
It puts everyone at ease, and can lead to some incredible conversations and travel buddies! If you worry about what to talk about, check out this list of questions always asked in a hostel.
4. Be considerate
This one comes in all shapes and forms. So I’ll break it down…
Keep the noise down in the morning (ie. don’t let doors slam) if you’re waking up at 5 am for a tour, or if you’re getting back at 5 am from a pub crawl… if you’re doing both at once, then well… good luck to you.
Keep shared areas tidy (showers, toilets, kitchen, lounge), and don’t let your backpack contents explode out across the entire floor while you attempt to repack or find that missing sock.
Staying up late and talking, whether to a travel buddy or on the phone to a family member, is best done in the hostel kitchen, dining room or lounge. No one wants to hear your late-night argument with your girlfriend at 1 am — take it outside people!
Keep food in the kitchen. I’m sure no one will have anything to say if you eat a sneaky bar of chocolate in the dorm room. But food can attract pests, and may not smell that great to your roommates, so keep it in the kitchen.
Speaking of kitchens. Hostel kitchens can be sparse. And when I say sparse I mean only 3 really good cooking pots for over 100 people. So wash your cooking pans before you eat. It can be tempting, but decanter that pasta into a separate bowl and don’t sit there eating it out of the pan… someone wants to cook more pasta!
After a long day exploring, you just want to get on and cook, and having to wash someone else’s dirty pans just so you can get cooking is annoying as h*ck, to put it politely.
5. Keep your food/ingredients in a reusable bag
It’s often best to travel with 2-3 reusable bags. One for food shopping, and one to keep your food stored together in a hostel kitchen (in a cupboard and/or fridge). Depending on how long you’re staying (you might be doing a working holiday visa and live in a hostel for a few months), what you’re storing, and what storage facilities the hostel has, keeping your food in a bag keeps it safe and organised.
Lots of hostels will have a wall of crates or cupboards that you can store dry/packaged foods in, just write your name and room number on a label outside and stick your food in. Fridge space is often more difficult to come by, so it’s best to keep your food all wrapped up in a bag. It keeps the fridge organised, stops you from forgetting something at the back, and even deters sneaky people from pinching some of your food. Reusable bags are also great for reducing your plastic waste!
6. Double-check the washing machine for that last sock
The box of lost laundry at a hostel is usually made up of black trainer socks. While backpacking, you’re probably only carrying a couple of pairs, so to save hunting down a fresh pair (or borrowing one from that box), keep an eye on your socks (and all laundry items).
Bonus tip, keep an eye on your laundry timings. Frustrated staff and backpackers might decide to empty your clean laundry onto the floor (or a basket if they’re kind) if you’ve left it sitting in a machine for half the day.
7. Sharing is caring
If you’re catching a flight and have a bottle of shampoo you can’t take with you, offer it to your dorm mates or leave it in a designated ‘free to take’ box. Likewise with food, if you’ve got some extra ingredients left or can’t take something refrigerated with you, offer it to someone in the kitchen, or leave it in the ‘free food’ boxes.
You have no idea how much people appreciate the things in there… people check it constantly, and it helps to stop waste!
8. Not all showers will have hooks!
Frustrating! But yes, some shower and toilet cubicles will not have a hook for you to hang your clean, dry towel, clothes and toiletry bag.
You might need to fold things over the door or place your toiletry bag on the floor in the furthest corner away from the shower. So it’s best if it’s waterproof, or has a hook of its own, that you can balance on the door. Of course waterproof usually means plastic, so if you’ve got a nice cotton bag, just stick it on top of your shoes.
9. Bring at least 2 padlocks
Hostels are sweet and friendly places, but very occasionally, a few bad apples can ruin them from time to time. Most hostels will have lockers in the room, some big enough for your backpack, others not so much. Two padlocks let you chuck some of your valuable stuff (cameras, laptop) into the locker to be locked up, while leaving the other to just secure the clothes, gear, toiletries etc, in your backpack.
It’s so easy to become trusting of everyone, and they likely all are super kind people, but you just never know. It’s best to just keep things locked up whenever you leave the room. A bonus tip is to use combination locks over keys, if you lose the keys you’re pretty stuffed… but you can write the combination codes into a note on your phone.
10. Invite people to places!
From the local botanical gardens, a museum, a bar, a run, a tour or even the next leg of your journey… Whether you’re travelling solo, or with a friend or group, invite people along and share the memories together. This is what travelling is all about, meeting people from different backgrounds, countries and cultures.
You won’t always gel with everyone, but you’ll still have a good time and those you do gel with might end up being friends for life <3