Here’s The First-Timer’s Guide To Staying In A Hostel


You want the cheap price tag and community feel of a hostel, but you’ve seen Taken a few too many times to jump right into the unknown.

Don’t worry, we broke it down for you so you’ll be ready to embrace the backpacker life. Here’s the step-by-step guide to everything you need to know before you spend your first night in a hostel.

1. Pick a room type.

Hostels are infamous for the ultra-packed dorm scenario, but that’s not the only sleeping option. Here are some common layouts:

  • Private room. Yes, you’ll pay close to double the cost of a big dorm, but if you rent a private room, it’s all yours.
  • Double or quad. Sharing a room with two or four people is a great option if you’re traveling with a couple friends, or if your travel buddy doesn’t like the idea of a dorm.
  • 5- to 8-person dorms. This is the beginner level hostel dorm. You’ll have other people sleeping around you, but you won’t be overwhelmed by lots of strangers coming in and out.
  • 8- to 12-person dorms. You’re definitely getting a bunk bed in one of these dorms. They can be a little crowded, but bigger dorm rooms also tend to be more fun if you’re looking to meet other travelers.

If you’re staying in a dorm, bring earplugs. You don’t know if there might be a snorer in the mix.

2. Think about privacy.

Some hostels have curtains dividing the dorm beds into little private spaces, but some are simply clusters of bunk beds. You should prep for no privacy in your pajama plan – bring PJs you’re comfortable with everyone in the room seeing.

Let’s get blunt, y’all. If you want to have some sexy time with your travel bae, do everyone else in the dorm a favor and get the private room. You are an adult. You can shell out the extra cash. It’ll still likely cost less than a hotel room.

3. Look at amenities.

Especially if you’re traveling outside the country without an international data plan, get the WiFi situation figured out early. Everywhere has some sort of WiFi access, but it doesn’t hurt to read reviews to understand if the signal extends to the dorms, or only works in common spaces.

Although most hostels are generous, some will charge you for bed sheets and towels. Just read the fine print in a listing. You’ll never be sheetless, but sometimes you might have to throw a dollar toward a linens and towel fee.

Some hostels offer a beautifully-free complimentary breakfast, although the spread usually isn’t extensive. Others will offer kitchen access as an alternative. To save even more money, go for hostels with a kitchen and make pasta for dinner.

4. Read reviews.

Sites like Hostelworld run on user reviews, so you can parse other travelers’ opinions for clues about which hostel will best suit you. Make sure to pay it forward and rate hostels you visit so that other travelers have your insights added to the list.

HostelWorld does take a 10 percent commission on every booking made through the site, but the number of reviews is extremely helpful. You can always book straight through hostel websites to save that extra ten percent. Big chains like Mad Monkey Hostels, Generator Hostels, Wombat’s Hostels and St. Christopher’s Inns have websites where you can browse each brand’s multiple locations.

5. Know the lingo about hostel reputations.

To understand where you’ll be sleeping, here are the hostel insider definitions for some important terms:

  • Party hostel. These are hardcore. Party hostels are known for welcoming travelers with a shot and leading extreme pub crawls through town that usually end with someone blacked out in a shared bathroom.
  • Quiet. When a hostel describes itself as quiet, you should expect low key. You’ll likely get a good night’s sleep here, but won’t go home having made a bundle of new fab travel friends.
  • Common areas. If you’re looking to meet fellow travelers, you want some common space outside the dorms to hang out. Check photos to see whether there’s a lounging space, or read reviews for mention of a lack of common areas.

6. Don’t forget your flip-flops.

It’s like college all over again. You’ll want a pair of flip-flops to navigate shared bathrooms and shared showers. The bathroom situation varies from hostel to hostel; sometimes you might have to share with 10 people, sometimes two.

7. You need a padlock.

Although you want to trust your fellow travelers, take advantage of hostel lockers to hold your luggage. The best versions are drawers under your bunk, where you can store your entire backpack. Bring your own padlock to avoid renting one from the hostel.

8. ID is required.

When checking into your hostel, you’ll need to provide your passport and your method of payment. Although many bigger hostel chains do accept credit cards, be prepared to pay cash (in the local currency) at smaller establishments.

Occasionally, you’ll be asked to leave your passport as a deposit in case of damage. If you are uncomfortable leaving your documents, suggest using your driver’s license or student ID instead.

9. Make friends.

The best part of staying in a hostel is meeting fellow travelers. And if you’re traveling solo, you’ll want a hostel that makes it easy. Look for these type of activities listed on the website or HostelWorld listing:

  • Walking tours. Many hostels arrange morning walking tours through a city. But although they might be advertised as such, these aren’t truly free. Guides ask for tips at the end of the tour. You don’t have to give much, but throw in enough to buy your guide a beer.
  • Planned excursions. Some hostels partner with local tour companies to offer day trips to nearby towns or national parks. Browse the brochures at the front desk to see what your options are. Full disclosure: These tours probably won’t be the cheapest way to see a certain site, but they come with a better chance of meeting people than doing it scrappy and solo.
  • Family meals. At certain cozy hostels, you can chip in a few bucks for a home-cooked meal. If you’re really lucky, you’ll get to sample some local cuisine. But even if you’re eating overcooked spaghetti in France, you’ll make friends while you’re all slurping soggy noodles.
  • Pub crawls. It’s the stereotypical hostel night. A bunch of backpackers hitting the local [tourist] bars together. If you don’t have friends at the beginning of the night, you’ll have lifelong pals by the time you hit the fifth pub.

Diving into the hostel social scene might seem intimidating at first. But if you’re watching a big group laughing together with envy, know that most of them were probably strangers ten minutes ago. They’ll be thrilled to let you pull up a chair. Even better? Bring a bottle of wine to the table to share with your new friends.