Hostels: do you love them or hate them? As a budget traveler, I’m definitely a fan. I’ve traveled around the USA, Canada and Europe, and most of my long term travels have been totally dependent on hostels – with a few budget hotels chucked in when I need some alone time! Standards vary massively from country to country, and no two hostels are the same, and despite what many people believe they’re not all party pads for gap year students. But they do have a lot of other things in common, and along my travels I’ve certainly learned a few lessons that have helped my hostel stays become a lot more comfortable…
1. Always travel with ear plugs
This is a lesson I picked up pretty quickly when I first started hostelling. For some reason it didn’t cross my mind when packing. ‘A room full of other like minded travelers? I’m sure we’ll all want a good night’s sleep after our busy days!’. Nope. I quickly realized that it’s a free for all in hostels, so a good night’s sleep isn’t a given. Every hostel is different and some have more of a party atmosphere than others, but a good rule of thumb is if it has a large bar, it might get noisy! It’s all part of the experience though, and some nights it’ll be you stumbling in at 4am, trying as hard as you can not to wake up the person in the bunk below you as you climb the creaky ladder to your bed. My advice? Take more than one pair of ear plugs, and make sure your alarm is on vibrate so you don’t sleep through it the morning after.
2. It pays to wake up early
You know what they say, the early bird catches the worm. Or in this case – no line for the showers, hot water before it runs out and the best selection of goodies from the (hopefully) free breakfast! Plus if you’re out early you get to watch the morning slowly unfold in your new surroundings. I love people watching in a new city around this time of day, it’ a real insight into the local’s lives. Also, you know that sold out tour you were too late booking yesterday? If you’re quick on your feet in the morning you might just find that another guest has pulled out (hungover, much?) so you can nab a space.
3. Money goes further in the hostel bar
It’s tempting to head out on the town to explore the bars in the local area, and I’m definitely an advocate for this; mingling with the locals, attempting to order drinks in another language and finding unique hidden gems is one of the most fun things about exploring a new city. But if you’re on a budget you’ll burn through your cash pretty fast. The hostel bar is usually much cheaper for drinks and snacks, and some hostels will even give you a couple of free drinks tokens when you’re checking in! Plus it’s one of the best places for meeting other travelers.
4. It’s the best place to meet people
I’m sure you’ve hear this one before, but it really is true. Unlike hotels where everyone keeps to themselves, hostel are a social community for travelers. You’ll meet people from all over the world, each with their own plans, itineraries, and stories of how they got to where they are now. Two of the most common questions in hostels are ‘where are you going?’ and ‘where have you been?’. Be prepared to repeat these (and the answers) over and over again! If you’re lucky, you’ll meet people during your hostel stay that will remain friends for years to come. And at the very least? You’ll have some awesome, albeit hazy, drunken memories of your evenings with these strangers.
5. How to pack and unpack in 60 seconds
Waking up a bit too late, slightly hungover, and realizing you have to haul ass to the bus station in about an hour…. we’ve all been there. Moving around from place to place, unpacking and repacking your bag will start off as a laborious chore that will take what seems like forever. That well planned method you used when you first packed all your stuff into that backpack? A couple of months into your trip it’ll have turned into a well tuned ‘chuck it in and go’!
6. It’s not that weird to sleep in a room of strangers
I still remember my first night in a hostel dorm, thinking ‘will I really be able to sleep with all these strangers around me? What if one of them takes pictures of me while I’m asleep?!’. Chances are that won’t happen (although… it actually did for me once, but that’s a story for another time) and your fellow dorm buddies are just looking for a place to rest their heads at the end of the day, just like you. And after a few nights they won’t be strangers any more, but more than likely your new drinking and/or travel buddies. Be open to to the small talk at first, however strange it feels! The more you start talking to people, the more comfortable you’ll get in approaching people and opening up the conversation.
7. You don’t really need that hour long shower
This one is for the girls especially: your morning and/or evening routine will be halved while you’re living in a hostel. Trust me, spend more than 20 minutes in the bathroom you’ll be guaranteed to open the door to a queue of annoyed faces. I love a long, relaxing shower with a million different products as much as the next person, but this is a luxury that you really won’t have time for – and soon you’ll realize that especially while traveling, wash ‘n go is the best option! Why waste time shampooing and conditioning when you could be out exploring?
8. Shamelessly scavenging other people’s left overs is fun
Speaking of showering…. don’t over pack your toiletries! It’s tempting, and there’s always that part of your brain thinking ‘but what if I can’t find it on the road?’. But hostels are a haven for left overs, so if you do forget a product or run out, it’s more than likely another traveler has had a ‘backpack clear out’ and left it behind. Yay for free shampoo and shower gels!
9. Always wear flip flops in the shower
Whether you’re in a dorm or a private room, chances are your bathroom facilities are going to be shared. All those people sharing the same shower? Sometimes it ain’t all that pretty. And certainly not always clean. Avoid any nasties by making sure you have a spare pair of slip flops to take in the bathrooms! Trust me.
10. The eternal mystery of the late night rustler will never be solved…
There’s always one person who spends an hour every night – just after your head has hit the pillow – rustling around in their luggage, as if they’ve packed every single one of their items in a separate plastic bag. And of course, they need every single one of those items right now. Why guys? Why?!
Are you more of a hostel or hotel person? Are there any lessons you’ve learned from staying in hostels?