So why choose a hostel?
There are so many advantages of staying in hostels when travelling, especially if you’re doing so solo. If you’ve been used to hotels or private apartments the idea may be a bit daunting but as long as you know what to expect there is so much to be gained by giving it a go. Keeping your costs down is the obvious one but the real bonus is the social aspect. Hostels tend to have a real community feel about them and the opportunity to meet people and make new friends from all over the world is priceless.
Realistic expectations are important, you do get what you pay for and there is a reason why choosing a hostel is so budget friendly. That’s not to say you’ll be slumming it by any means. The popularity of hostels with travellers in recent years has led to a lot of competition throughout the industry and the facilities and options on offer have greatly improved to entice more travellers through the doors.
How to choose a hostel
First rule is to do your research and choose wisely. Hostelworld or Booking.com is a great place to start. Think about what is important to you – location is obviously a big one! Shortlist to a particular area and then go with your budget. Keep an eye out for deals that include free breakfast, over the course of your stay just having access to coffee, cereal and toast in the morning can save you a small fortune in some cities. Check reviews carefully and keep an open mind. Any seasoned traveller knows the difference between a genuine complaint and an unfair rant. Check the target market for wherever you’re booking if sleep is important to you it would be wise to avoid the party hostels!
Hostels are well known for their dorm rooms but most now have private rooms, with the option of private or shared bathrooms. You will pay for your privacy however so if you’re on a budget definitely stick to dorms. There will usually be a variety of options, from 12 bed to 4 bed and mixed or single sex so go with what you’re comfortable with. If you choose a dorm it’s worth requesting a bottom bunk at time of booking, you may not get a choice once you arrive and the majority of regular hostel travellers will pick the bottom over the top every time. Having to use a ladder to get in and out of bed can be precarious at the best of times never mind if it’s the middle of the night, lights are out and you’ve maybe sampled some of the local beverages.
Don’t be a Dick!
There is an unwritten etiquette to staying in dorms. The most important rule to stick to, and to be fair this one should go unsaid, is ‘Don’t be a Dick!’. Having consideration for your fellow traveller will get you far and is a big help towards making new friends. Space is limited so keep your belongings neat and tidy within your designated area. If you’re in a top bunk it’s fine to hang stuff such as your towel to dry from the bed rails but use the end of the bed, not the side.
It’s important when you’re travelling to get a good nights sleep and there is nothing more irritating than being disturbed by selfish behaviour. If people are sleeping don’t be turning on lights. It’s useful to have a small torch with you to navigate a dorm room in the dark. Seems obvious but keep noise to an absolute minimum. Keep your phone on silent and turn the vibrate off. If you’ve got an early start in the morning then organise your stuff the night before, don’t be rustling around in bags giving your roommates an early wake-up call.
What to pack
There are a few essentials that will make your stay comfortable and safe. Bring a couple of combination locks with you. While overall your typical hostel guest will be trustworthy and respectful you can never be too careful. Lockers will usually be available but locks can come at an additional cost. A second lock can be used for securing your bag while you’re out and about.
While etiquette dictates everyone should be nice and quiet at night obviously there is the possibility of having one muppet in your dorm room that doesn’t quite understand the ‘rules’. That and the certainty of at least one snorer. I’ve checked with friends on this one and a night in a dorm room without snoring is unheard of. Therefore earplugs are invaluable for ensuring a decent nights sleep. An eye mask is also a good idea or you could consider an eye mask with headphones built in. That would give you the option of drowning out background noise by playing music or whale noises (whatever works for you) through your phone.
The bed linen that is provided it may not be of the highest quality. It’s always cleaned between guests but if you are particularly fussy when it comes to dubious stains having a sleeping bag liner to put between you and the bed may make your stay more comfortable. If you’re sticking to a budget a plain cotton, double bed sheet, folded in half and stitched round two sides works just as well.
Portable power bank
Chances are you will want your phone next to you at night time. Power points will be available but you’re not always guaranteed to have one next to your bed. Always a good idea to bring a portable power bank when travelling anyway but it is especially useful when staying in dorms. better to leave a power bank charging unattended if needs be rather than your phone.
Always bring your own towel, they are sometimes provided but usually at an additional cost. Invest in a lightweight microfibre travel towel. Not only will it take up less space in your bag but will dry quickly, nothing worse than having to pack a wet smelly towel into your bag.
Showers in hostels see a lot of action and it is wise to protect your feet when using them, bring flip flops, thongs, sliders – depends where in the world you’re from. Having a shower bag with a hook is also useful since you’ll be carrying everything you need in with you. Also worth noting that the majority of hostels do not provide any toiletries. I recommend having a pack of tissues to hand, you never know when the toilet roll could run out and there may not be staff around during the night to replace it.
Go forth and have fun!
The best advice I can give for staying in a hostel however is to make the most of it and chat to as many people as possible. If you’re usually a shy kind of person push yourself out of your comfort zone and strike up a conversation with fellow guests. You’ve already got common ground so it’s easy to ask how their trip is going. There will usually be activities on offer, sometimes free, organised by the hostel, such as walking tours or pub crawls so there is no excuse for not getting involved.