When you’re traveling on a tight budget, hostels are where you’re going to spend most of your sleeping hours. Over the years I have stayed in my fair share of hostels across Central America, Europe, and Oceania. I’ve stayed in some pretty gross ones, and I’ve stayed in some incredibly beautiful ones. Hostels can be a big hit or miss.
Living in hostels can be both tiring and nerve-wracking at times, but with these ten tips on how to survive hostels, you’ll become a hostel pro in no time.
How to Survive Hostels
Choose Your Hostel Wisely
Not all hostels are created equal. Some hostels have age limits, but most do not so don’t be surprised if you see a 70-year-old walking around. Some hostels cater to the party hungry crowds while others are more laidback and relaxing. For example, if you’re looking for the ultimate party, book a night or two at Wake Up! Hostel in Sydney, but if you’re looking for a little shut-eye, head straight to one of the YHA hostels.
The location is important. Do you want to be in the heart of the city or would you rather be in a quiet suburb and have to take the public transportation into the city? Is the hostel in a safe neighborhood? When choosing a hostel, make sure you find it on a map before booking it. It’s no fun to discover that your hostel is 20 minutes from all the fun stuff you want to do.
Just like location, amenities offered by the hostel are just as important. Determine which ones are essential for your stay. Do you need the internet? Do you need to do laundry? Most modern hostels offer things like Wifi, luggage storage, and lockers. Some even offer breakfast. Find out what your hostel offers before booking it.
Make Friends with the Staff
Most hostel staff members are locals. Don’t be afraid to ask them where to eat or what to do. They often know the best cheapest or free things to do in their city. Since they work in a hostel, there is a good chance they are just dying to tell you anyway!
If you’ve ever lived in a college dorm, you probably have a good idea what hostel life is like. Pack accordingly. When you pack your suitcase, don’t forget your hostel survival kit. Bring ear plugs (your new best friend!), an eye mask, a travel-sized towel, flip flops, and a padlock.
Lock Up and Be Smart
Most hostels offer storage lockers in dorm rooms or the hallways. It is the one amenity that you should always look for in a hostel. While most people you meet in hostels are honest and kind, there are unfortunately a few bad eggs. Lock up your stuff, especially your valuables, when you are not in the room. This is why you should always bring at least one padlock with you.
If your hostel doesn’t have lockers for your valuables, ask the hostel if it has a safe. You should be able to store small things in there for safe keeping. Don’t leave your stuff laying around either. Flashing expensive computer and camera gear to your roommates or hostel staff is not a good idea.
Never leave huge wads of cash laying around or within sight of your stuff. Even if you lock it up, you should split your money and hide it in different places. Keep some hidden in your backpack and some on you.
Most hostels offer free Wifi. While most networks require a password, you should never treat hostel internet connections as secure. Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) when you need to access accounts like your bank and credit cards.
If you’re looking to save money while traveling, consider cooking in your hostel. Most hostels have kitchens for guests to use. Just be aware, some are just plain scary. Cooking is a great way to save money and also meet other guests.
Be courteous when using a hostel kitchen. Don’t leave dirty dishes everywhere. Wash up. Unfortunately, not everyone knows how to wash a dish properly, so it’s good practice to re-wash dishes before using them for cooking or eating.
Don’t steal other people’s food. That’s just not cool. Someone took my leftover Thai food from my Darwin hostel, and it wasn’t cool. Make sure you write your name on things before putting them in the fridge or on the shelves. And keep an eye on the “free shelf” as you never know what you may score!
Many people choose to stay in a hostel because it’s a great way to meet new friends. I’ve met some of my closest friends in hostels. The best way to be social and meet people in hostels is to hang out in the common rooms, like the tv room, kitchen, or lobby, or sign up for organized activities. Many hostels offer things like free walking tours, pub crawls, or even game nights. Don’t be shy!
Know the Signs of Bedbugs
Bedbugs can be anywhere and everywhere. It’s not just a hostel problem; you can get bed bugs in 5-star hotels. When you get into your dorm room, check your mattress for signs of bedbugs. Look for reddish or brown stains on the sheets or dark spots about the size of the tip of a pencil. Check around the floor and walls of the bed for any live or dead bugs.
If you believe you found bedbugs, alert the hostel staff immediately. Some hostels may give you a refund, but if not, it’s probably just best to take a lost and find a different hostel. If your hostel is infested, there is a good chance that your luggage might be too. Don’t freak out. Wash your clothes in hot water and place your luggage in a large black garbage bag in the sun. You may need to spray it with insecticides, too.
Choose the Bottom Bunk
If given the option, always choose the lower bunk. It allows you to store some of your stuff under the bed and you’ll have easier access to the power outlets. Plus, if you’re afraid of heights, the bottom bunk is closer to the floor.
If you absolutely need a bottom bunk for whatever reasons, let the hostel staff know when you book so they can reserve one for you.
Pack the Night Before You Leave
Nothing is worst than waking up at 5 am to someone loudly packing their bags to leave. It has happened to me everywhere from Honduras to Berlin to Sydney. Be courteous to your roommates. You’d probably be quite mad if they did it to you.
Pack your bags the night before you have to leave. Keep out the things that you need to get ready in the morning and try to be quiet as you can be. Your roommates will thank you!
Save Money with Membership Cards
Many hostel chains offer membership cards. Hosteling International is the largest hostel chain with thousands of hostels across the world. A $28 annual membership can save you an average of $2 per night. If you travel frequently, those cards can save you a lot of money in the end. Some even have additional benefits like free breakfast or internet access.
Some hostels, especially in Australia, offer work for accommodation opportunities. Spend an hour or two daily cleaning the hostel, and you can earn free room and board. It’s a great way to save money if you know you’re staying in one place for a period of time.
Hostels are a great place to stay for budget travelers. Not only do most hostels offer incredible amenities, like pools, free breakfast, and activities, but you can meet fellow travelers from around the world. With these ten tips on how to survive hostels, you’ll be a hostel pro today.