It’s come to my attention recently, that many people are curious about, but unexperienced with, staying in hostels. If you’re only accustomed to staying in hotels the idea of booking a hostel can seem overwhelming, and even scary. If you’re reading this and saying “that’s how I feel!” this blog post is meant for you!
I have stayed in hostels in various countries in Europe, Latin America, Asia, and South America and have generally only had great experiences; and I’ve have never ever had had a horry-story worthy experience. Below I’ve answered the most common questions I get asked about hostels.. but please, if there’s anything else you want to know, don’t hesitate to comment and ask; someone else is probably wondering the same thing!
1. What is a hostel?
Often people associate hostels with providing only dormitory style lodging, aka a large shared room with lots of bunk beds, however this is no longer the case. Many hostels offer a range of accommodations, from rooms of 1-12 beds, gender specific or mixed gender, with or without an attached (ensuite) bathroom. You can specific your preference in your booking. If you’re traveling with a partner and want a private room, be sure and check that the “private double room” is a double bed.. and not a set of bunk beds. I learned this lesson recently on a trip in Rio with a partner of mine.. whoops!
Compared to hotels, hostels generally offer a more social atmosphere, with common areas (kitchen, lounge, bar, patio) where like minded travelers spend time getting to know each other, exchanging travel stories, and planning the next leg of their journey through the help of others.
Secondly, hostels offer a simple life.. don’t expect a flat screen TV in your room, or nice toiletries provided for your bubble bath.. It is with this saved money hostels are able to offer affordable, fun, social events and outings for their guests as well as cheaply priced snacks and beverages.
2. Is everyone at a hostel young? Old? Poor? Who stays there?
Some hostels have minimum age limits (18-24 year old minimum age) and some have maximum age limits (40 or so years old). Best to check your hostel’s website to be sure. Most commonly, the reasons for a minimum age limit is legalities with minors and the reason for a maximum age limit is to try to ensure a young, lively atmosphere.
3. How much do hostels cost?
This question can be tough to answer, because it varies so widely geographically, and depending on what type of room you book. I can say the cheapest hostel I’ve ever stayed in was in Thailand and a bed in a shared dorm was going for about $5USD (although there were many around for much cheaper!). In my experience beds in Western Europe cost around $25-40USD, with Eastern Europe running cheaper, so far in South America my hostel beds have cost $15-25USD. I’d say an across the board average would be $10-30 for a bunk in a shared room, with the cost being higher for an ensuite bathroom, and you can expect it to double for a private room.
4. Will I be safe there?
Of course, anything can happen, anywhere! However, I have yet to stay in a hostel where I didn’t feel safe, ever. Most people staying in hostels are just like me or you, just a person looking for a fun, safe, budget friendly way, to see a new place. Before ever booking a place I spend a good amount of time reading reviews from previous guests about how their experience was and if they felt safe.
5. How do I book a hostel?
I almost exclusively book my hostels through hostel world. This site is a great resource, filled with dependable reviews and you can easily filter search for you needs. Do you want a bar, Wi-Fi, swimming pool, free breakfast, gender specific room, private room, AC, 24 hour reception? You can easily filter your search to get results tailored to your needs, and reviews more than one year old don’t influence the hostels overall rating. I also love the option to book with “free cancelation,” so if my plans change I don’t loose any money.
6. What do you look for when booking a hostel?
Personally, as I stated above, I utilize the filters on the hostel world search when I’m booking my hostels, and I look for average ratings of at least 8.5 and up, with emphasis on location, safety, cleanliness, and atmosphere. When you search, your filters settings will vary based on what is important to you, but there are many to choose from!
7. What should I bring?
A lock! Hostels almost always have lockers, in your room, or less frequently in a common area, where you can store your bag. I always travel with a TSA approved combination lock that I use to keep my bag locked when I’m in airports, busses, trains etc, and then transfer to my locker when I’m settled in my hostel.
A towel! Hostels don’t usually provide you a towel, without a small fee. I like to pack small, so I usually don’t bring a towel and just pay the $2-3USD fee to rent a towel. If you’re traveling on a really tight budget, or changing hostels frequently, pack your own towel to save the money.
Toiletries! Again, you’re not at the Hyatt, they aren’t going to provide you with toiletries. I’ve occasionally stayed at a hostel that had a soap pump on the wall in the shower, but its rare. Best to pack what you need for toiletries. Also, don’t forget your shower sandals!
Eye mask & ear plugs! If you’re staying in a shared dorm, an eye mask and ear plugs can help ensure you can get decent sleep if you’re a light sleeper.
Cash- Some hostels require cash for payment, and many offer a discount if you’re paying with cash. Check your hostels policy before arriving so you can get the most out of your money.
8. What is it okay to leave in the hostel & should I take with me?
No matter hostel or hotel, when I go out for the day I always leave my passport and one bank card (always travel with two cards!) locked in the hostel. This may mean locked in my locker in my room, or a safe box behind the hostel reception desk, it just depends on your hostel. If I’m going out at night I usually leave my toiletries and pajamas out on my bed, so if I come home late I don’t have to disturb my roommates shuffling around luggage and turning on lights. I never carry my passport on me when I’m out and about; I only carry the cash I need for the day, and my travel friendly visa credit card.
9. Are there curfews? Can I get locked out?
Some hostels still have curfews, but most of them don’t, and I only book hostels that don’t and that offer 24 hour reception. In this type of setting, I would never be at risk for getting locked out. Best to check your hostels website regarding their curfew rules and reception times.
10. What are the most underrated elements of a hostel?
Wi-Fi in all areas– If there is only Wi-Fi in the common areas (not in your room), having to crawl out of bed to go double check your next flight time, check in with your partner, or listen to Spotify, can be outrageously annoying.
Curtains over your bunk- When staying in a shared room, it is nice if the bunkbeds have curtains. I always sleep better and feel like I have more privacy.
Personal power outlets– Having your own outlet right next to your dorm bed, is clutch. Don’t forget your plug adapter!
I hope this answers some of your basic questions about hostel life. I have gotten a lot of questions about “Hostel Etiquette,” so keep an eye out for that post next!
But in the mean time if you have any other questions about hostels, please comment below!