Are you traveling to Europe on a budget, but feeling a bit uneasy about staying in a hostel? Don’t worry! There’s a first time for everything, and if you go in prepared and knowing what to expect, you’ll come out having enjoyed or even loved staying in a hostel!
In Europe, it is super common for people (especially young people) to stay in hostels – it is simply one of the cheapest options. Sometimes you’ll even find entire families travelling together in this way! But if you’re from America or another country where hostels aren’t as common, it is natural to have fears and feel uncomfortable about staying in a room with a bunch of strangers.
However, there is nothing to be afraid of. Fellow travelers are generally kind and trustworthy – they’re in the same situation as you, after all. You might even find yourself making some new friends!
Before deciding whether or not to stay in a hostel, you have to ask yourself a couple of questions, and be honest with yourself:
1. Are you a super light sleeper?
Hostels can be noisier than other accommodations for a lot of reasons, and if you’re the type of person who needs complete silence in order to sleep well, you might have some difficulties. But, if you’re the average person, it is nothing some ear plugs (& general travel exhaustion) can’t solve! See Tip #8.
2. Do you require a high level of comfort?
Since hostels are cheap to stay in, you can’t expect a world-class mattress or bathroom. Sometimes the beds aren’t the comfiest, and perhaps the bathrooms aren’t as nice or as spacious as you’d like. For many travelers, this isn’t a problem, especially since they won’t be spending a lot of time in the hostel itself. But if you’re used to a certain level of comfort or style, perhaps you should opt for an Airbnb or hotel.
3. Are you super messy?
Since you’re sharing a room and bathroom with other people, it is important to keep your things tidy. Don’t leave your clothes and towels all over the place, don’t leave your suitcase in the middle of the floor, don’t leave trash out, clean up after yourself, and don’t leave your toiletries or personal items in the common areas. If you don’t think this is possible for you, a hotel might be a better option.
If you answered yes to any of these questions, perhaps you’d be better off spending a little bit more money on an Airbnb or hotel. Read more about your other options here.
Did you say no to the 3 questions? Well, great! That means you’re a good candidate for having a pleasurable experience in a hostel! Follow these tips to make your first experience a pleasant one:
1. Bring the bare minimum.
Travel light, and don’t bring valuables with you. Most people who stay in hostels are super respectful and trustworthy (they’re in the same situation as you, after all), but you never know who you will find. Also, there’s generally not a lot of space in the rooms, so don’t be a typical American traveler with a giant suitcase (I failed on this one my first time round – read about it on my old blog, here).
Always carry your passport and money with you, even to bed. I’d recommend buying one of those under-the-shirt pouches that you can wear around your neck and underneath your pajamas. It might seem a little extreme, but it is well worth it for the comfort of mind. I wasn’t as prepared my first time at a hostel, and I ended up sleeping while hugging my purse like a n00b.
2. Find a room with the least # of people/beds possible.
Some hostels have rooms with upwards of 16 beds, which can be quite overwhelming to walk into on your first time. If possible, choose a room with 2-4 beds. Even better – if you’re traveling with friends, find a room in which all of you can fit and you won’t have to deal with strangers in your room!
Also, pay attention to whether the room is male/female only, or if it is co-ed. This information should be shown clearly before you reserve. One option isn’t better than the other, but if it is your first time, you might feel more comfortable in a single-sex room.
3. Bring shower essentials.
Find out if the hostel provides towels, and whether it is free or for an extra charge. Sometimes it is only 1-2 euros to rent a towel, and it can be worth it so that you don’t have to find room in your luggage for a space-consuming towel. My first time at a hostel I had no idea about this, and I ended up having to air dry – talk about unpleasant!
Also bring with you some travel-sized bottles of shampoo, conditioner, soap, etc. You can generally find these at any beauty or drug store for cheap. Some hostels provide at least soap, but not of very good quality. Along the same lines, if you generally use a hair-dryer, it is a good idea to find out if the hostel provides these for you so that you don’t have to bring your own.
Last but not least, bring sandals to use in the shower!
4. Find out if they provide breakfast, and what hours it is served.
Sometimes they’ll charge you a little extra, but it can be worth it if they provide a good breakfast (check the reviews on the hostel, there are usually comments about it). It is also a good way to meet fellow travelers if you’re on you’re own or just looking to meet new people. However, if the reviews for breakfast are so-so or meh, and they charge you over 5 euros for it, sometimes it is better just to find a nearby cafe (not to mention more authentic!).
5. Ask reception if they have any events.
It is super common, especially in bigger cities, for hostels to organize trivia nights, pub crawls, city tours, or provide dinner on certain nights. These aren’t always worth checking out, but sometimes they can be fun and informative. Many times when I was travelling alone I would go on the pub crawls or city tours so that I could meet other people.
6. See if they provide lockers and, if so, if they provide the locks.
It can be worth it for your peace of mind to invest in a lock so that you can keep some of your things safely locked in the room while you’re off exploring the city.
7. Understand kitchen and common room etiquette.
If you cook or eat in either of these areas, make sure to clean up after yourself. This should be common sense, but some people can be super rude and leave their dirty dishes and trash all over the place. It isn’t a hotel, so you have to clean up after yourself. Also, if you see food or drinks in the cupboards or fridge, do not take it unless it is clear that the hostel is providing it for all guests! And if you bring your own food/drinks, be sure to write your name on them before leaving them in the common areas.
8. Bring earplugs if you’re a light sleeper.
Staying in a hostel is a little like a lottery in that you don’t know who you’ll be rooming with (unless you have a room to yourself with friends). People snore, toss and turn in their sleep, or come back to the room late after a night of partying. For some people, this is no problem – they can sleep through an earthquake. But for others like me, especially when in a new environment, it can be difficult to sleep with all of those foreign noises.
In order to get a good (or at least decent) night’s sleep, invest in some quality earplugs so you don’t wake up every 10 minutes. Just be sure that you have a reliable method to wake up in the morning in case you don’t hear your alarm!
9. Find out if they provide sheets, or if you need to bring your own.
Many hostels have the beds already made up with sheets, pillows and whatnot, but other hostels expect you to bring your own or rent them. Be sure to find out this information beforehand to be safe. Sometimes people prefer to bring their own sheets anyways so that they know for sure that everything is clean to their liking, but this can take up precious space in your luggage.
Also, upon check-in, find out if the hostel has any special requirements for check-out. Sometimes they expect you to remove the sheets from the bed yourself and put them in the laundry room, for instance.
10. If possible, reserve a bottom bunk.
When reserving your space in a hostel, sometimes they give you the option of choosing top or bottom bunk. Being on the top bunk can be kind of fun, helping you relive childhood memories, but it can also be a sad reminder of the fact that you’re just not as young as you used to be. Sometimes the bunks aren’t very well constructed and it can be quite difficult to maneuver your way up the ladder, and also quite loud. If you’re planning to stay out having some drinks late into the night, it can be quite a challenge to try to quietly and gracefully make your way up to your bunk. Proceed with caution.
Also, when on the bottom bunk, you have the space underneath the bed to keep some of your things (non-valuable) so that they are out of sight and out of people’s way. And perhaps most importantly, bottom bunks are generally closer to outlets so that you can charge your phone, camera, etc – especially important while traveling! In some hostels outlets can be a rare commodity, which leads me to Tip #11.
11. Bring an external charger for your electronic devices.
This is not only good advice for staying in a hostel, but for traveling in general. We all rely on our electronics these days, and especially when traveling (never miss another photo!). Having an external charger gives you the peace of mind that even if you don’t find a much-needed outlet, you have a Plan B. As I mentioned in Tip #10, outlets can be a hot commodity in hostels – everyone needs them, and some of the older buildings don’t offer more than 1-2 per room. There was more than one occasion where I couldn’t charge my phone overnight because all outlets were in use, and I had to stay more time than intended in the morning to make sure my electronics could fully charge for the adventures ahead.
12. Be prepared for hot and cold.
Maybe it’s just me, but I have temperature issues. In the summer, I die of heat. In the winter, I continue to die of heat because everyone is blasting their heaters and I’m wearing winter attire because it’s 0 degrees outside. I remember one time in particular when I was in Berlin, my husband and I went into a restaurant to escape the cold and have a snack. The heat felt good at first, but within 10 minutes turned into torture. I was wearing big boots, thick socks, thick pants, and a sweatshirt because it was freezing outside. I took off everything I could without being inappropriate and I was still ridiculously uncomfortable.
The same thing happened when we were staying at a hostel in Prague. One of our roommates kept turning up the heat, and we had both come with warm pajamas and were sweating bullets. Bring layers, even if you’re traveling in winter, so that you can be comfortable no matter the temperature!
Do you have any other advice or experiences you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you! Good luck on your journey!
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