Noelle’s Ultimate Beginners Guide to Hostels

Hostels are not very popular in the U.S. – a few of the big cities have them and that’s about it – so many of my friends (American and not) have been befuddled when I mention that I regularly stay in hostels while traveling. Hostels tend to have a bad perception – possibly due to the Quentin Tarantino horror movie trilogy Hostel, but my experience in staying in over 20+ hostels over past few years has been anything but horrible.

So with that being said… Why Exactly Do I Recommend You Stay in a Hostel?

To first explain, the main difference between staying a hostel instead of a hotel is that in a hostel you are allocated a bed in shared room with other hostel stayers, rather than an entire room.

The benefits of a hostel are:

  • They’re cheap – If you want your budget to stretch, then staying in a hostel is the perfect way to do so. You can sleep in a prime location in a destination often for less than $30/£24 a night, often with breakfast included.
  • There’s a communal spirit – Since you are sharing a room with others, and there is usually a common area, it’s a great way to meet other travelers. This is especially a bonus if you are traveling solo. I’ve done a lot of sightseeing and had drinks and dinner with people I’ve met while staying in hostels – many of whom are now good friends!
  • They have amenities – Just because hostels are budget-friendly, they still offer lots of amenities such as laundry facilities and printing services.
  • They are good for any age – While the larger percentage of hostel stayers are 20-and 30-somethings, I’ve seen everything from families with young kids to retired women staying in them.
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Spacious room in Sophie’s Hostel, Prague, Czech Republic

Picking Your Hostel

Not all hostels are created equal. After dozens of hostel stays over the past few years, I’ve determined what some of the top characteristics are of the best hostels.

Here’s what I recommend considering for a successful hostel stay:

The roomRooms in hostels are like dorms – they are shared rooms with multiple beds.  The important things to consider in a room is the size and gender.

  • Size – Hostel room size can range from a 3-person dorm, to a 16-person dorm. The larger the dorm size, the cheaper the cost tends to be, but the less privacy you will have.
  • Gender – Some hostels offer all female or all male dorms. Others only have co-ed rooms. When searching for hostels, consider if you have a preference.

Amenities – Just like hotels, hostels can have various amenities. A few key amenities that you may want to look for are:

  • Common room or bar – Is there a common room or bar where you can meet other travelers staying in in your hostel?
  • Breakfast – Is breakfast included?
  • Activities – Does the hostel offer any activities? Some hostels coordinate activities like walking tours, bar crawls, and day trips.
  • Luggage storage – Does the hostel have luggage storage, if needed?
  • Lockers – If you are bringing valuables, make sure the hostel has lockers to store them in.
  • Wifi and computer services – Is Wifi available? Some hostels will also have computers available or will offer printing services.
  • Laundry facilities – Some hostels offer laundry facilities should you want to clean your clothes.
  • Location – Dependent on your destination, you’ll likely want a hostel that is centrally located.

Reviews

As with any accommodation, I always advise to check reviews before you make a reservation. Top sites I look for hostel reviews on are TripAdvisor and hostel third party booking sites (more on these sites in the Hostel Booking Websites section below). In reviews, the main aspects I look for are that the hostel is clean, it’s safe, and that there is good customer service. When looking at bad reviews, consider what it is that the person took issue with and determine if it is something that would bother you as well (example: I stayed in a hostel that had train noise, which didn’t bother me personally, but may bother light sleepers).

Packing For Your Hostel

Packing for hostels requires a few extra steps than packing for a hotel or other types of accommodation. The main things I recommend to bring are a towel, toiletries, and ear plugs. Flip flops and a lock are also a good idea. And, since hostels almost always have kitchens, you can bring or buy food to save some money as well.

For more details on what I recommend to pack, read my hostel packing essentials.

fishandchips
Fish and chips dinner at SoHostel, London, England

During Your Hostel Stay

You’ve made it to your hostel! There are a few things I recommend to check for and also etiquette to follow:

  • Store valuables in a locker – If you have valuables you are concerned about being stolen, then store them in a locker. I’ve never actually had anything taken from me in a hostel, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
  • Be respectful of others in your room – If you are going to be out late then make sure to be quiet when coming in, and if you are leaving early in the morning try to get as many of your things ready the night before so you can leave without waking others up.
  • Keep in mind there may be shower queues – This is especially important if you need to be somewhere in the morning!

Also don’t forget to ask for the Wifi, when breakfast is served, and what the check out procedure is.

Otherwise, get to know your fellow hostel stayers and have fun!

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Roof terrace views from Bergen YMCA Hostel in Bergen, Norway

Hostel Booking Websites

Are you ready to book your hostel? Here are three sites I have used to book hostel stays. Alternatively, you can go to the hostel’s own website to reserve.

Have you stayed in a hostel? What was your experience?

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