It’s been 7 years since the first time I stayed at a hostel. I wouldn’t say I was specifically nervous but I can tell you – there were many mistakes I made with choosing and staying at hostels that first sumer. For many North Americans, hostels are intimidating. I’ve heard from many people who have told me in no uncertain terms that they don’t want to stay at one.
To be direct, that’s such a huge mistake. Hostels are cost effective ways to explore in many parts of the world. Not only that, nut you can meet incredible people through hosteling. On top of that, there are times and places where I truly believe that the services and staff in hostels are better suited for travelers than hotels. You have more interaction with the workers and often they become an integral part of your overall experience in a city.
So what would I say to first time hostel travelers? Here are some realities and tips to get you to pluck up the courage to book your first hostel.
- Hostels are run to service different types of traveler. There are party hostels. There are quiet, peaceful hostels. There are design hostels. There are huge hostels. There are very small hostels. You can get the feel of a hostel from the reviews and photos. For first time hostel go-ers, I don’t really recommend going to a big, party hostel. It might sully your experience.
- Most good hostels have pretty tight rules to ensure your experience. The first time I had a hostel give me a list of rules, I was turned off. Then when I looked at them, none of them were unreasonable. In fact, most of them would be obvious to anyone who is conscientious. Rules like “don’t make noise after 11 o’clock” or “keep the party in the common room” are there to make sure those people who want to get a good night sleep are able. Rules like “no sleeping bags” or “do not eat in the rooms” are to make sure your hostel can stay clean and bedbug free. I’ve found the best hostels have pretty specific rules. As long as they don’t actually restrict your experience (for example, a curfew), rules normally just enhance your experience.
- Most people traveling at hostels want to have the same positive experience as you. If you want to have a nice time and The one addendum I’m going to say is that there are some cultural bounds which dictate how people behave at a hostel (or really any accomodation). In general, I’ve found certain cultures to be louder or less aware of quiet hours. That’s the worst of it though. If anything – I’ve met interesting, cool and like-minded people at hostels.
- Read the reviews before you book. I mentioned this above but seriously – reading reviews is pretty important. I used to work at a hotel so I feel like I’m able to weed through reviews and find the truth about a place. Obviously there are going to be some outliers that might have had a bad experience which wouldn’t actually affect most people. However, if you find the same sort of language in several reviews – it may be something to take into consideration. Consistent mentions of noise, dirty facilities or rude staff probably show some truth there. That being said, it also works the other way. If people consistently note the warmth of the staff, accesilbility of facilities or clenliness – it is worth noting as well.
- Some hostels offer things that hotels don’t. Some of my favorite hostels have nighttime programing including things like dinner, pub crawls, games or events. The first time I experienced this was when Mosquito Hostel threw a 4th of July party for us back in 2014. Between the sparklers and the American food and trivia – it was a blast. The regular nightly dinners in particular are a really wonderful to meet travelers. I was staying in Porto over Easter and during dinner, I mentioned my home town. A girl interrupted and told me that her family lived there. It was really sweet! We were able to talk and get to know each other. It was the first time she and her boyfriend stayed at a hostel and I hope they had an amazing experience! (Hi Kelsey!)
- If you forget something: ask. This goes for hotels as well but I’ve found that hostels often have excellent lending libraries of things. From toiletries to chargers to towels to earplugs to even medicine. Also – most hostels have laundry facilities. Whether you pay for all of these extras depends on the hostel but you may be surprised on everything they offer when you just ask.
- Many hostels offer other types of rooms than just dorms. There are often private rooms for rent as well. If you are nervous about sleeping in a room with other people but want a hostel experience, you can look into private rooms in hostels. They are normally admittedly simple but if privacy is what you want – you can find it while still being able to meet likeminded travelers.
- Most hostel bathrooms are very private, clean and well equipped. While there have been some weird ones I’ve stayed at, overwhelmingly hostel bathrooms are not intimidating places. Bathroom stalls are pretty private and same with showers. I don’t know when this became normal practice but lately I’ve been having incredible rain water shower heads in most hostels I’ve stayed at. Often, the bathrooms are cleaned many times a day – more than most hotels.
- You want to sleep well? Make sure to bring a lock, sleep mask and earplugs. Let’s face it. People sometimes come back late and turn on the lights and make noise. You can combat by making sure to have a sleep mask and earplugs (or music if that works for you). In terms of securing your things – I have never had something stolen. Even if I didn’t lock things up. However, having a lock will make you relax a little bit when sleeping or being outside of the hostel during the day. These three things are my hostel essentials that I may not always need at a hotel. If you do forget a lock – my favorite weird hiding place is under the mattress for things you can’t bring around with you.
- All this said, of course you may find a weird situation at a hostel. The same sorts of things might happen at hotels. Most hostel complaints I can think of come from the other travelers and not the hostel itself. In Lisbon, someone slept in the wrong bed which ended up in a yelling match in the middle of the night. In Barcelona, some Brazilians came in having an extremely loud conversation at 4 AM. In Krakow – well, we had a young person exploring their sexuality loudly in the bed next to us. In all of these situations, the staff graciously stepped in to help. I cannot imagine that’s their favorite part of their job but it is somethnig they do to ensure the experience of all.
So those are some tips and advice I have for wary travelers nervous to stay at a hostel. Have you ever had a weird hostel experience? What is your favorite thing about staying at a hostel? Let me know below!