Hostels are not only an affordable way to find lodging, but also a great way to meet other travelers! Although hostels are generally not part of American culture, they are commonplace in most other countries around the world. In fact, I would say that it is more common for European young adults to stay in hostels than hotels while traveling.
Unfortunately, when most Americans think of hostels the 2005 horror movie comes to mind. Let me assure you that the movie couldn’t be further from the truth; hostels in general are quite safe places with a variety of security measures in place.
All misunderstandings aside, lets start with the basics. What is a hostel?
A hostel is a place which offers shared accommodation for guests. Usually hostels have both private rooms and dorms, as well as ensuite rooms which have their own bathrooms and shared bathrooms which are split between rooms, so you can pick what fits best with your situation.
Regardless of which room you stay in, you will have access to the hostel’s shared facilities, where you can go to interact with and meet other travelers if you choose. Most hostels have a common room where people can go to hang out, play games, or just relax and read a book. Nearly all hostels have a shared kitchen where you can store food in the fridge, cook your own meals, or sometimes eat a free basic breakfast provided by the hostel in the morning. Larger hostels might even have more shared facilities, like a rooftop terrace, a courtyard, a movie room, a bar, or even (in the case of my Tokyo hostel) a room stocked full of comic books and bean bag chairs.
Generally, hostels also have laundry facilities and luggage storage rooms for storing bags for the rest of the day after you check out.
Finding And Booking Hostels
Hostel experiences can vary quite a bit depending on things like:
- Size of the hostel
- How well the hostel is managed
- Region of the world
- Typical age range of the guests
- Whether or not the hostel has a party atmosphere
Its important to choose a hostel which has the characteristics you are looking for, or you could be in for a surprise. The best way to search for hostels and know what they are like, from personal experience, is by using Hostelworld. Hostelworld provides a short description of each hostel; breaks down its room rates, facilities, and policies; shows the hostel’s location on a map; and perhaps most importantly shows plenty of reviews for the hostel.
Hostelworld allows you to book hostels directly from their website as well. I generally compare prices on Hostelworld to those on the hostel’s own website and book whichever is cheaper.
- Read the reviews. They will help you know what to expect and avoid badly managed hostels. A rating of 8.5/10 or better on Hostelworld is generally pretty good. I have stayed in places as low as 7.0/10 under certain circumstances. If its lower than that- forget it!
- Bring these things: your own toiletries, flip flops for hostel showers, a flashlight in case you come back to the room late and people are sleeping, ear plugs and an eye mask to help you sleep, a watch with an alarm to wake you up in the morning, and a small padlock to lock any valuables inside lockers. A retractable lock may also prove useful. These are all included in my packing list.
- Towels can usually be rented at the reception, but you can save some money if you bring your own travel towel.
- Bed linens are included at most hostels, but I have found that hostels in Scandinavia charge extra for them. You can get around this by bringing a sleep sheet and pillowcase.
- Get to know the people in your room! They are probably just as friendly as you are and have some great travel stories.
- Take advantage of any social events put on by the hostel. Some hostels have city tours, open mic nights, pub crawls, or outdoor expeditions.
- Ask the hostel staff any questions you may have, like what the best restaurants are in the area or where the closest supermarket is.
I hope reading this page helped you prepare for your own hostel experience. Feel free to leave feedback or questions below!