WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE STAYING IN A HOSTEL
My first time staying in a hostel, I honestly didn't know what to expect. Was it going to be full of strange, old men? Would people be awkward and antisocial? Would I be partying till 5am each morning with rowdy guests in my dorm? The answer would be yes, at some point in my hostel staying career I have experienced all of these moments. It's hard to group all hostels together because all hostels are unique. I think especially over the last decade the hostel industry has boomed, with it becoming the norm for young travellers and backpackers to stay for months on end in hostels across the globe. I always use HostelWorld to find my hostels, but I would recommend just finding the hostel you want to stay at on their site then booking directly on the specific hostel website as it cheaper and it helps to support small hostels.
I could sit for hours and list of a range of weird hostel stories including: being at a hostel in the Luxembourg countryside where it was just me, an American girl and French guy who were the only people staying there and the French boy waited outside my dorm room for 30 minutes to talk to me at 1am and you didn't want to talk to him so you brushed your teeth in the dorm and had to spit out the toothpaste from the second story window.
HOW A HOSTEL WORKS
So I thought I would cover the basics first, what is a hostel and how does it work? In simple terms a hostel is a low cost, short term shared accomodation where people rent a bed in a shared room (dorm). Over the last few years hostels have come a long way in terms of what is expected from them and what they provide for travellers. It is no longer just a bed in a room, but a place people choose to stay to have a safe, comfortable, sociable time when visiting a new city.
Some of the basic amenities you can expect to find at a hostel is a kitchen, common area where you can socialise, reception, shared bathrooms and lockers for your possessions. However, the hostel scene has been inundated with new hostels which offering everything from - pools, hot tubs, free extras you can use during your stay (bikes, gopros, surf boards), bars, and the list goes on. Hostels have really become the best place for travellers to make life long friends, so there is a definite emphasis on community and having a memorable experience during your stay.
When you rock up to a hostel for the first time it can be a bit intimidating, you're sweaty and lugging all your bags through the door while people are sitting with big tables of people laughing and having an amazing time. Where do you even start? Over the last four years I have stayed in countless hostels across the world and have definitely felt that initial awkwardness, however I have NEVER left a hostel without making at least one amazing, unbelievable friend - so you have nothing to worry about! I have spent more time in a hostel bed than I have in my own, so I feel pretty equiped to give you the in's and out's of the 'unspoken' hostel rules so you can feel fully prepared have focus on having an amazing time.
UNSPOKEN DORM RULES
You aren't alone in your room at home anymore, you now have other people to be considerate of when you're going to sleep. There are a number of unspoken rules that come along with staying in hostel dorms including:
People don't appreciate loud, obnoxious behaviour at the best of times so I don't think they would appreciate being stuck in a room with someone like that! Just keep in mind that you're sharing this space with other people so be considerate with your actions!
If the light is off at night, leave it off - someone has turned it off because they are going to sleep. If you don't think anyone is in the room, check the beds to make sure before turning the light on.
AFTER A NIGHT OUT
After you come home from a night out very drunk, try and be as quiet as possible, while you've been dancing away some other people were tucked up in bed. I usually like to put my sleeping stuff, toothbrush and makeup remover on my bed before I go out so I can easily access it when I get home.
BRINGING PEOPLE HOME
If you're bringing someone home from the bars/club, be respectful about it - not everyone wants to hear what's going on between you two.
LEAVING EARLY IN THE MORNING
If you have to leave early in the morning have as much of your stuff packed up and ready to go so you're not fumbling around at the crack of dawn trying to get your stuff together. I usually leave my outfit and makeup out so I can quickly get changed and go without having to worry about packing!
Keep your stuff as messy as you like but make sure it's in your space and not along the floor or on someone else's stuff! I usually have a very messy bed but it's not in anyone else's way so it doesn't matter.
BIGGER ISN'T ALWAYS BETTER
Generally how hostels work is the bigger the room, the cheaper it will be and while saving money is great, sometimes it can be too much of a good thing. The largest dorm I've ever stayed in was 20 beds in both Barcelona and Marrakech and it was cramped and very hot. Sometimes a few extra euros could be the difference between a peaceful sleep with only a few people in your room, compared to the party happening with the 19 others by your bed or the symphony of snorers.
However in saying that, you can never guarantee a quiet room in a hostel, I stayed in a 4 bunk room in Vienna with three snoring boys - so if you're on a budget and looking to make your money go as far as possible, buy some ear plugs and you'll be set for those big rooms!
Travelling alone as a girl can feel a bit intimidating, especially when you're sleeping in a room filled with men, so if you would feel more comfortable you can opt for a female only dorm. These rooms are designed to make girls feel more secure in hostels so make sure you utilise them when you can/need to. I stayed in a female only dorm in Auckland and it even had its own blowdryer and straightener we could use. Sometimes it's nice to be immersed in some uninterrupted female energy!
Most hostels these days offer lockers for you to store away your valuables while you are out exploring or sleeping and I would recommend using them. While I've been very fortunate not to have anything stolen, some people get unlucky and find that someone has taken a fancy to something of theirs. Always bring a code padlock when you travel so you don't have to worry about buying one when you're away (make sure it's a code and not a key, because a lost key is not fun).
BOOK IN INTERVALS
Say you're planning on living in a city for a longer period of time, don't just book the whole stay in one go. You might get to the hostel and realise you don't actually like it, the staff are rude or it is a little further out of the city than you would have liked. Instead, book your stay for a few nights to a week at the most just to see if it suits you, then if you decide you don't like it you can easily leave and find another place to stay without any financial commitment to the first hostel, or if you absolutely love it it's easy enough to book some extra nights (you might have to move rooms if it's busy but that's no problem)!
IT'S PARTY TIME
If you are a party person, get ready. Hostels are a hub of likeminded partiers, especially if you hit up party cities like Budapest, Bangkok, Split, Barcelona or Tel Aviv! You have to be okay with staying up a little later than usual and get ready for people to drag you on a pubcrawl any night of the week. Meeting people suddenly becomes a lot easier when you've had a few drinks, so don't be shy to head out by yourself because I'm sure you will find some wildly fun people to hang out with for the night.
LOCATION IS EVERYTHING
A hostel might be cheap, but if it is ages outside of the city then you'll probably spend more money to get into the city everyday than it would have cost to just stay somewhere slightly more expensive! Make sure you check the location before booking to see how far away it is from the city centre, or at least has a way that you can easily access the main hub like via train, bus or trams. Also checking how far away it is from the airport, bus stop or train station if you're travelling to and from the city is a great idea!
CHECK FOR THE BASICS
While some hostels offer everything you could ever need when travelling, there are some hostels that offer absolutely nothing. Make sure to double check before booking to see that the hostel offers the basics like wifi, common areas, kitchen, 24 hour reception, etc. It is better to know what they do and don't have before getting to the reception at 2am after a long flight and realising that it won't be open again till 8am.
ASK FOR A MAP READING
When you check in typically you will get a map reading of the city with the best recommendations, a reliable ATM and supermarket, however it never hurts to ask for a few other things to do and see while you're visiting. Asking a hostel worker is nearly as good as asking a local so they will definitely be able to give you some great ideas. I especially love asking for great food places - eating like a local is a massive part of the experience!
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF WHAT THE HOSTEL OFFERS
The hostel will offer a range of different activities and promos for you to try out during your stay. Generally they will offer at least one daily activity for you to take part in, which can be anything from a walking tour, pub crawl, beach day, lunch, drinking games or a home cooked 'family' dinner at the hostel. Usually these are free or very inexpensive so it doesn't hurt to tag along and mingle with other people staying!
When you head out in hostel groups for pub/bar crawls you also tend to get free entry or discounts (and skip the line) for bars and clubs which is an added bonus!
STAY FOR FREE
Say you fall in love with a city, why not stay there for a little longer? Most hostels have two different types of people who work there, volunteers and paid workers - and a lot of the time people start off as guests before either asking for a job or being offered a job! So if you really love a city or a hostel, ask if they have a job vacancy. Typically the volunteers will only have to work 2 - 4 hours a day doing things like changing beds and cleaning the kitchens/bathrooms, then the rest of the time you can just hang out with the guests and explore the city! I volunteered at a hostel in Budapest which is how I got free accomodation and lived in the city for two months - you can check out that blog post here!
A hostel kitchen is a place of community, because who doesn't love food? I love hanging out in the kitchen because it's usually pretty busy with people to talk to, especially around dinner time when people are cooking dinner and getting ready to go out. When you're in the kitchen here are some things to remember:
CLEAN UP YOUR MESS
The number one rule when you're in a hostel kitchen - clean up your own mess. Leaving all your dirty pots out for someone else to scrub won't get you many friends, so make sure you wash, dry and put away anything you use.
NO NAME FAIR GAME
The second most important rule in the kitchen is no name fair game. If you plan on leaving any of your food in the fridge or cupboards to eat at a later date make sure it is named - otherwise the rule declares that it's anyones for the taking! In saying that, if you see anything in the fridge without a name, you can also swipe that up!
HOSTEL FOOD BASICS
Depending on the hostel you stay in they may offer some basic kitchen extras like seasoning, spices, oil, pasta, rice, etc. If they do, make sure you take advantage of it, you'll be able to save money on your groceries!
FREE FOOD BASKET
Most hostels have a free food basket where other travellers leave their leftover ingredients for someone else to use, so feel free to use anything you can find in there, and then you can leave anything you don't use when you checkout!
Arguably the worst part of staying in a hostel is the communal showers. Sometimes you can get lucky and get an ensuite in your room but most of the time you'll be stuck with sharing. Here are some of my shower recommendations:
PUT SOMETHING ON YOUR FEET
I wouldn't want to know what type of bacteria is hanging around on the floors of hostel bathrooms, so just to be safe keep some cheap flip flops, slides or waterproof sandals with you to use in the showers.
NO NAME FAIR GAME (AGAIN)
Much like the kitchen the unspoken rule in the shower is that if something has been left, it's free game. So if you're planning on keeping your bodywash or shampoo unused by others, make sure you take it with you when you leave the shower!
YOU'LL BE LUCKY IF IT'S A NICE SHOWER
The Holy Trinity of having a clean shower with hot water and good water pressure is hard to come by when you're staying in a hostel - so be very thankful when you find it!
WASH AT WEIRD TIMES
Depending on the hostel and its shower to guest ratio, there are some times during the day where you'll have to wait up to an hour to get into the shower. Generally this is in the mornings between 8 - 10 and in the afternoons from 4 - 6, so if you can shower outside of those times you're pretty much guaranteed no waiting.
WELCOME TO THE FAMILY
Welcome to the family! Hostels have provided me with the chance to make friends I will cherish forever and I have so many wild, wacky stories from them, so I'm sure you will experience the same magic during your time travelling the world.
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