Some tips for staying in hostels for all those weary travelers…
Before I left on my trip, I realized that whenever I had mentioned hostels, it seemed to conjure up a negative connotation with people. I also realized that a lot of these people probably hadn’t stayed in a hostel before and from there, you could understand perhaps why so many had misconceptions. So I figured, with some firsthand experience in more than 100 hostels, I could offer some beneficial tips on staying in hostels.
I’m not really sure why ‘hostels’ had developed such a bad rap with the general population. Maybe it was that crazy movie ‘Hostel’ that had come out back in 2005 (which I’ve never seen nor care to). Or maybe it was the fact that some older hostels, in years past, had been less friendly, unclean, unsafe and maybe had nothing but word of mouth recommendations to go on. Well, things have changed over the years and thousands of other travelers would agree… hostels can be a great place to meet friends, save money and add greatly to your experience in a country when compared to staying in hotels and even guesthouses. After staying in countless hostels across 20+ countries, I thought I’d share some helpful advice and tips to those travelers that may be a bit skeptical of them as well as those newbies that just don’t know what to expect…
5 Tips for Staying in Hostels
Be considerate – Unless you really want to be ‘that guy’ that everyone has labeled as rude, loud and/or obnoxious, try to be as considerate as possible to your fellow travelers and bunk mates. We all know there may come a time when you come back from a late night partying and just can’t help but wake up your entire room as you fumble for your stuff, knock your head on the top bunk and forget to turn off your alarm as it goes off at 6AM while you’re sleeping right through it. But thanks to Karma, for every time you caused the ruckus, this will come back to haunt you on those nights when you really need some solid sleep yourself as you toss and turn trying to get in 4 hours of sleep before heading to the airport for your early morning flight… I’ve been there… in both scenarios:) If you want to go the extra mile on the considerate scale, for all those early morning wake ups, please, bring your bag outside your room before digging through it on your bed which, at 6AM, can sound the equivalent to a herd of raging bulls to those sleeping around you. Your hostel mates will appreciate you. I can remember when a fellow bunk mate obviously got too drunk the night before and came in late. Of course he had his alarm set for an early AM wake up call and clearly he was sleeping right through it for almost 20 minutes while waking up the entire 10 person room. Eventually a boot got thrown across the room, hit the guy in the head and finally… that alarm got turned off. It was perhaps the funniest moment I’d ever experienced while in a dorm room. No grudges were held… he woke up in a stupor and asked “Did you just throw your shoe at me?” In came the responsive “Yes” and on the reply, he said, “OK”, turned off the alarm and went back to sleep. Awesome. Point taken. Don’t be that guy… and try to opt for a flip-flop instead of a hiking boot in these situations:)
Be friendly – If you want to meet people and have a great experience, be outgoing (even if you’re not). You’ll find many people are always traveling solo and want to meet others and even those that travel in a pack are often social and looking to meet others as well. For the introverts… Start with a smile and go from there. The easiest conversation starter is simply inquiring where someone is from or where they have just recently traveled. You’ll be surprised at how easy it is to make new friends while also adding to your travel experience and time spent at your hostel.
Be Prepared – Don’t expect your hostel to supply that which you may be accustomed to in a hotel. Most places will advertise what they offer for ‘free’ or what’s included but if you’re on a tight budget, it’s better to find out what you’ll need to bring yourself before you end up paying a lot more for things you hadn’t planned on. In an effort for hostels to compete for your business, many will have in-house food and drinks, some even bars and lounge areas that may in fact offer cheaper drinks than competing business and this can be a big plus for saving money. What most of them don’t include for free are towels, locks for their lockers, bottled water, soap, and breakfast however most will offer free wi-fi, computers in their lounge area, coffee, maps, and sheets (most but not all).
Be smart– Although I have personally never had an issue with theft after staying in more than a hundred hostels, I’ve met a few fellow travelers that have unfortunately. If you travel with things of high value and/or things that aren’t easily replaced, be smart with them.
Most hostels offer lockers separate from where you are able to store your bag or clothes and its good practice to use them. Personally, I’m a very trusting person and rarely felt that others I shared a room with were out to steal from me. However, there were times when I opted to just sleep with my stuff when no lockers were available. I’m not implying I slept with my backpack! But I would keep my most important items close by on the bed and under the covers. Often, the best way to prevent theft is not to draw attention to the items you don’t want stolen so try to keep them out of sight if possible. A few options out there that can help are money belts, travel belts, combo locks, and backpack nets. One of the things I would do for really sketchy places (including trains and buses) would be to lock my bag and then tie a strap to it attaching it to either my arm or leg while sleeping. This may not be necessary for you but I was traveling with a computer, an iPad and a camera and didn’t want to find any of them missing when I woke up. The Ol’ better safe than sorry right?!? Again, I’m not implying hostels aren’t safe… I’d guess that 98-99% of all travelers wouldn’t steal from you. It’s the 1% that you need to be aware of…
Do your research– Hostels vary widely in quality, atmosphere, location, cleanliness and overall fun. I’ve stayed in some hostels that were nicer than some hotels I’ve stayed in while on the flip side, I’ve stayed in hostels that I’d have been more comfortable sleeping on the forest floor with nothing but a blanket. Some are amazingly fun and have bars or club atmospheres built right in while others may be bland and boring. Some have some amazing food in their in-house restaurants while others may not even offer bottled water for sale. Luckily, there are fantastic websites out there that rate hostels and offer firsthand reviews by travelers themselves. Some of these include Hostelworld, Hostels.com and Hostelbookers.
These really help paint the picture of how well the hostel is before you commit to staying a night. However, it’s not always the case that you can research a hostel prior to showing up. In this case, just go in and check out the dorm rooms, bathrooms and lounge area before you pay. If the place seems shady, unclean, unsafe, expensive, etc. move on to the next one. Typically, most hostels cluster together in town as they aim to draw in travelers in common place areas. The next nearest hostel probably isn’t more than a block away so its worth trying to scope out the best deal when you don’t have the luxury of researching places online in advance. And don’t forget… getting recommendations and advice on hostels from other travelers along the way is probably the best way to go.
I hope these tips on hostels will help you on the travel road and also help to improve your travel experiences along the way. Many of the travelers I’ve met so far have been in hostels and a lot of those had formed into some great lasting friendships. They are truly a great way to get your bearings in town, make new friends and help make your travel experience richer while also saving you a lot of money over guesthouses and hotels. If anyone has any other tips or stories they want to share, please leave your comments below!!