A STARTER GUIDE TO HOSTELS
Hostels should play a large part of your long term travel plan. This is one of the cheapest ways to sleep and see the world. Everyone should experience hostel life at least once!
I've stayed in party hostels in Prague, in stunning, modern hostels in Tokyo, in chill-out, hammock filled hostels in Belize and peaceful hostels deep within the rain-forest in Costa Rica. Every hostel is unique and you will take away a different experience from each. But they all have something in common, and that's the price.
Depending on where you are in the world, a bed in a dorm can range from £1 per night per person to £40 or more but will still be one of the more affordable options in that city. They range from extremely basic (& dire) to bloody beautiful to high-end and modern. They are built for backpackers so they will help you by making your new journey in a new city that bit easier.
So let's break it down a bit.
HOW DO HOSTELS WORK?
Hostels mostly consist of Dorm Rooms which are filled with a number of bunk beds or single beds. Dorms are separated by how many beds there are in each of them and the price for a bed decreases the more beds there are in the room. So a bed in a 16-bed dorm will be cheaper than a bed in a 4-bed dorm.
There is usually an option of staying in a Mixed Dorm or Female Only/Male Only Dorm and some hostels even have Private Rooms with Private Bathrooms available. So don't worry, with the amount of competition there is now, there will always be somewhere that's right for you!
Your bed will come with clean sheets, a pillow, a shared bathroom, a towel (usually to rent) hopefully an available locker for your valuables and full use of the hostels facilities. Fancier and more equipped hostels may come with your own personal locker, USB port/charger socket, bed light, privacy curtain
--- it's actually heaven when you find a hostel like this after roughing it on the road!
Remember you're always priced per person for a dorm bed --- perfect for solo travellers but as a group or a couple you might be cheaper splitting the costs of a private room so always compare.
WHAT DO HOSTELS HAVE TO OFFER?
Hostels really do have lots of helpful facilities that are made for backpackers and solo travellers --- other types of accommodation just don't have the same social settings and activities. Of course what each hostel has available differs from place to place but you should find most of the following during your trip.
These are usually always fun, comfortable and social. It could be in the form of a large living area with hammocks, bean bags or sofas; a bar (with special deals and sometimes ladies nights) a small library, a rooftop chill out area or even a swimming pool. A common area could include, T'V's, computers, books, board games or even play-stations.
A must if you're working, studying or having to check in on home while on the road! Other than that it's sometimes better to disconnect and become completely nomad for at least some of your trip. Some hostels only offer WiFi in common areas to encourage you to be social.
An essential for long term travel! Some places in the world charge pennies to buy already made fresh street food but others it's a lot cheaper to cook for yourself. Hostel kitchens should come with cooking utensils, plates and cutlery but you must buy the food yourself and label everything that's yours! There is sometimes a 'Free Food' drawer or cupboard that you will find food and snacks travellers have left behind that anyone can use. Kitchens are always a great place to start chatting to people!
Most of the time the person working behind the desk is friendly, helpful, young and sometimes even a backpacker themselves. Hostels offer a lot of information about the city/country you're staying in and know all the cheapest places to eat and things worth doing. Some even offer guided tours and excursions.
Again, depending on where you are in the world, getting laundry sent out and cleaned for you can be pricey so having a washing machine to use in a hostel can be very helpful! Just remember to not hang your wet clothes around the dorm everywhere and use other people's space as this is annoying! Take a travel line with you to hang washing outside or use a dryer if there's one available.
ORGANISED SOCIAL GATHERINGS
Like I said, hostels are made for backpackers and solo travellers so you can rely on them to organise city tours, activities or evening fun. Basically they will advertise on the notice board or around the hostel and you can book on or just turn up. This could be segway, bicycle or walking tours, quizzes, theme nights, pub crawls, movie nights and team games.
Doesn't sound exciting? These actually provide tons of helpful tips and information and represent, what I feel, what hostels and travelling is all about. It's a step back in time by showcasing handwritten notes, advice and advertisements where usually we're stuck on our phones scanning websites for this information.
Hostel notice boards have advertisements for job vacancies, travel buddies, road trip buddies, house sharing as well as travel gear, vehicles and equipment people who are moving on want to sell. You will also find tips on the best things to do while you're there and advice on any hidden gems of the country or city.
PROS + CONS OF STAYING IN A HOSTEL
So, what's the best and worst things about staying in a hostel?
MEETING NEW FRIENDS
Hostels can be a little intimidating at first because of the close environment and everyone seems to be an experienced globe trotter, a self discovered nomad, know what they're doing and where they're going but you will, without a doubt, make friends.
Share travel stories, advice and tips with each other and have a laugh. Meeting new people as an adult is so rewarding and has taught me many life lessons like to never judge someone or make a decision about a person until I've got to know them. People are fascinating and we are all there for the same reason near enough, so always be kind and open to chat to someone if they're trying to make friends.
Depending on what you're looking for and doing in a hostel --- partying, chilling, working, studying, exploring the city? Everyone needs to unwind, be social, have a laugh and make memories. Enjoy the activities that's on offer and try something new!
BEST ADVICE, TIPS + INFORMATION
The information and tips you get by talking to other travellers of different nationalities and walks of life who have been to or are from places you want to visit --- is invaluable. They can tell you things you just can't get from a guidebook. Hostel staff themselves also provide free advice and help as much as they can during your trip.
The most inviting thing about hostels are the cheap prices. Not only are they good for your budget when looking for a place to sleep, but also buying food, drinks and activities are usually cheaper through the hostel too.
Although lockers are usually provided in the rooms, there is sometimes not enough of them for everyone or they are only big enough to hold some of your stuff. This means the majority of your possessions are visible in a room full of strangers. It is unlikely for other backpackers to touch or take any of your things but don't let it be a possibility. Never leave valuables unattended! Use a secure locker while you sleep or on a night out, or ask the front desk fit there is a safety deposit box you can use.
LACK OF PRIVACY + PERSONAL SPACE
Sharing a dorm and bathroom means you will be sharing your personal space with people you might not necessarily click with or approve of their way of living. I hate getting the last bed in a dorm because it usually means people have claimed most of the floor space and there's little room left for my stuff. Be considerate of others by keeping your belongings under the bed or tucked away elsewhere. I like to use a sarong to create a privacy curtain while I sleep.
Lots of people means lots of noise. Snoring, partying, talking loudly late at night, chatting on the phone, never ending zipping/unzipping of bags can come hand in hand with hostels. I'm a deep sleeper so it doesn't bother me much but for others it's undeniably irritating! Make sure to carry ear plugs with you on your trip if you're easily wakened.
It's rude and disrespectful not to tidy up after yourself in a hostel. Kitchens, Common Areas, Bathrooms and Dorms are all shared so if there's a mess made, it should be cleaned up by the person who made it ready for the next person to use. Dirty clothes and shoes should be put in a laundry bag and hidden, empty toiletry items should be thrown away, food shouldn't be eaten in a dorm and plates/pots/pans should all be washed after use. This is sometimes easier said than done though.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF HOSTELS
Every single hostel is unique and designed differently but they all fall under a certain category. Before booking you should know what sort of environment you will be paying for. I've written about my favourites below!
CHILL OUT / HOMELY HOSTELS
These tend to be cosy, quieter and hard to leave. Filled with hammocks or comfy seating areas perfect for lounging around. You may find pretty gardens or hostel pets as well as extra lovely staff.
The name speaks for itself, these hostels are catered for young travellers who are looking to fill their stay with never ending nights out, drinking games and sleeping most of the day. The hostel will organise pub crawls and alcohol fuelled events almost nightly. It's easy to find out from their online description, reviews and photos if it's a party hostel or not! They can be a nightmare for noise if you're looking for a decent nights sleep but can be so much fun if you're in need of a laugh and night out.
These hostels are conscious of the environment and are dedicated to the practice of 'green living'. They are a great place to volunteer, learn about a more beneficial way of life and completely disconnect! You may find your stay will be without WiFi!
These are beautifully designed, very clean, modern and come with a more upscale way of living. They usually have special facilities such as swimming pools or quirky cafe's and are more personally equipped for an extra comfortable stay. Boutique or 'luxury' hostels are much more convenient when it comes to privacy and personal space. Dorms may come with bed curtains, your own shelf, charging station and a locker big enough to keep your whole backpack.
These should not be confused with party hostels because even though they organise and encourage very social events (some involve boozing) they have more rules and standards that they do hereby. I find social hostels extremely friendly, comfortable and are the hardest to move on from. You will more than likely find movie nights, game nights and 'family dinners'.
THINGS TO ALWAYS PACK FOR HOSTEL LIFE
When it comes to staying away from home, especially in shared living arrangements, there are some items that you should always remember to take.
A LOCK + KEY
This is an absolute must! Use it for your locker in your dorm, your backpack in luggage storage or your small rucksack while you're out and about exploring!
EAR PLUGS + EYE MASK
Snoring, party animals, early risers are all factors and annoyances of hostel life. If you're a light sleeper or easily stirred then increase the chance of getting a good nights sleep by taking these items.
I suggest a micro-fibre travel/quick drying towel because they're thin, take up little room, stay fresh and dry in no time. Most hostels provide towels but for a price. Take your own!
This is another must have item for hostels. Sharing a shower / bathroom with sometimes a dozen people or more means wet floors, hair everywhere and who knows what else. It doesn't matter what the weathers like outside or how clean the hostel is kept ---- take a pair of flip flops to save yourself from walking barefoot!
A PACK OF CARDS
I remember reading this on a packing list of a gap year site years ago before I started travelling and didn't think much of it. But now I realise how useful a pack of playing cards is to start drinking games, start conversations and to be social. They're small, light and you're always thankful you have brought them.
REUSABLE WATER BOTTLE
Take use of water tanks that are available in the kitchen / common areas or use it to sneak in alcohol as some hostels forbid you to take in your own!
Not only are they incredibly useful for overnight camping trips but come in handy when you need to find something in your backpack or while you write in your travel diary when the lights have been switched off in a dorm room.
USB MULTI CHARGER
You will have more than likely have taken travel adapters or a universal adapter for your trip but these multi chargers prove their worth in hostels with limited power outlets available in a dorm room!
Keep muddy, dirty and smelly clothes and shoes away from other travellers with your own waterproof laundry bag.
I hope this guide was helpful! Make sure to read my posts below on how to find the cheapest accommodation that's right for you!