Oliver Lynch

Oliver Lynch

Content writer, language nerd and aspiring screenwriter. Usually found wandering old European towns or trying to snowboard.

A Guide To Hostels For First Timers Or Solo Travellers

If you’re travelling on a budget, you’ll likely end up in a hostel at some point. Embrace it!

As they’re usually the cheapest option for accommodation, most budget travellers will end up visiting a hostel at some point, especially in more expensive destinations. They are great fun and a great place to meet fellow travellers. However, if it’s your first time in a hostel, I can totally understand why the idea might freak you out.

Is it safe? Is it noisy? Will I have any privacy? What about snoring? Can I keep my stuff safe…?

All reasonable questions to ask before you check in. Well, let me put your mind at rest. Here’s our tips for staying in hostels for solo travellers or first timers.

Finding a hostel is relatively easy. Sites like Hostelworld and Booking.com have many backpackers hostels listed on their sites. It is often better to book in advance, especially in popular backpacker destinations, although in many places turning up and finding a room is still possible.


The Good

The very high end ICON Hostel in Moscow – pic: ICON Hostel
  • Staying in a dorm room is a great way to meet people, especially if you’re travelling alone. Wherever you are in the world, staying in a dorm means you’re going to meet an interesting cross section of people, all of whom are in the same boat as you Travelling on a budget. This often means you can hook up with a buddy for a few days.
  • Hostels are normally the cheapest option in any town. You’ll often find a bed in a dorm room for at least half the price of a hotel or AirBnB – sometimes even less.
  • And, some hostels are pretty high end these days. You’ll usually find a recreation room, or at least a pool table or games console; some even have bars and nightclubs, swimming pools, roof gardens, free city tours, cheap bicycle rental and a free lost/found shelf. There’s often free food (or very cheap) which can be a lifesaver when funds are low.
  • Most hostels are quite well located and as they are traveller hot spots, they are well set up for people who don’t know what to do or where to go. There is often someone to offer suggestions or guide books you can pick up that have been discarded by previous wanderers.
  • Usually there is a shared kitchen which means you can keep the costs down and cook your own food. This can be very valuable especially in more expensive destinations like Western Europe or Australia. Many also offer a cheap (or included) breakfast option which is great if you’re trying to keep costs down.

The Bad

pic: Hans (Pixabay)
  • Sharing a dorm room does mean that someone in your room will probably be a snorer. Or a bit inconsiderate. You may find people come in making noise and fiddling around or talking to their buddy loudly at 3am – it’s kinda part of the experience. Get some ear plugs.
  • Of the many dorms and hostels I’ve stayed in, I’ve only known dodgy security in one (in Kuala Lumpur). Most hostels involve walking in past reception so thieving is usually rare. However, your stuff is easy pickings for thieves if you’re not careful. Padlock your bag and use the lockers you should be provided with.
  • Quite a few of the hostels I’ve stayed in have not had the best levels of hygiene. Some of the bathrooms have been quite grimy around the edges and a couple of the cooking areas have not been particularly appealing. This isn’t the general rule though as a lot of the places I’ve stayed have been as clean a hotel.

The Ugly

pic: James Antrobus (Flickr)
  • You know sometimes you want to tell people to get a room… Yeah. Sometimes amorous couples start getting it on. You might think, yeah fine, but really… No.
  • Smelly shoes, flatulence, messy people leaving their stuff everywhere, long term residents who think they own the place, slightly shady people hanging around because they know the owner… Yeah, sometimes you’ll be straight onto Booking.com looking for a private room.

What You Should Bring To Survive A Hostel

Many hostels provide all the bits you need. But, if you’re going to be in a dorm room for any amount of time you’ll probably appreciate a few of the following:

  • Ear plugs.
  • Eye patch.
  • Padlock for your bag.
  • Spare padlock for lockers.
  • A compact (microfibre) towel. Most hostels provide them but it can be useful to have your own.
  • Loose fitting clothes in layers (kinda pyjamas for when you’re lazing around).
  • Slip on shoes/flip flops. Sometimes the bathroom floor is a bit grimy…

How To Be A Good Hostel User

Pic: kokorowa shinjin (Flickr)

You yourself can make the hostel experience better for all, simply by being the awesome traveller you are already. Here’s some simple tips that most hostel dwellers will appreciate.

  • Keep the noise down when possible. If you stagger in drunk, arrive on a late train or receive a phone call then bear in mind that others are sleeping. Keep from disturbing people as often as possible.
  • Bright screens and lights can be disturbing to peoples sleep, so if you’re watching something on your tablet/phone/laptop try and keep the brightness down.
  • Don’t bring food into dorms. There is normally a shared kitchen area so try and eat and store your food there. If it isn’t smelly food, it’s noisy food and the sound of someone crunching or rustling away can be very irritating.
  • Leave it as you found it. This is particularly the case with bathrooms and kitchen areas. A quick wipe down makes all the difference.
  • Be friendly. Saying hello to your room mates is good manners and a good way to break the ice. If it goes no further than that, no problem. However…
  • Respect peoples privacy. If someone clearly doesn’t want to be bothered, let them be.
  • Keep your sprawl to a minimum. Yes, everyone is living out of a bag, but if you block the way with all your bits and bobs people are going to get annoyed. Also, it makes your stuff more of a target for opportunist thieves.

Put simply: be considerate and friendly and you will enjoy your hostel experience. Look up the hashtag #hostellife on Twitter for some amusing observations.

Check hostels and cheap accommodation using our hotel booking partners below.

Have you got any tips for hostel visitors, first timers or solo travellers? We’d love to hear your anecdotes, stories or observations so comment below…

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