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A Newbie’s Guide to Staying in Hostels

guide to staying in hostels

Staying in hostels is intimidating for those who haven’t done it before. Sleeping in the same room as strangers?! If you put too much emphasis on movies like Hostel, it can seem downright scary (note: do not watch before hosteling for the first time). But don’t let these stereotypes stop you from staying in these budget accommodations that can save you money and introduce you to fellow travelers.

Hostels have been places where I’ve met good travel friends, and where Brooke met her now boyfriend of over 6 years!

Types of Hostels

Hostels can run the gamut from your basic dorms that resemble what you stayed in at university to luxurious shared rooms that could be a hotel for all the amenities they offer. You can find hostels in most parts of the world through guidebooks, booking websites like Hostelworld and through just walking up when you arrive at your destination.

guide to staying in hostels
A hostel dorm room in Melbourne.

There are even chains of hostels that have different loyalty programs. YHA and Hostelling International are found worldwide, but especially in Europe, Australia and the United States. Nomads and Base are found in Australia and New Zealand while PLUS is a favorite chain in western Europe. USA Hostels are big in, you guessed it, the United States.

Amenities to Look For

Before booking your first hostel stay, consider what amenities you’ll want to look for:

  • Do you want WiFi so you can check in with friends and family back home?
  • How about a kitchen to cook meals to cut down on food costs?
  • Do you want breakfast to be included (less common nowadays) or would you rather dine on your own?
  • Would you rather have a hostel bar to meet other travelers or rather not to keep peace and quiet?
  • Would you be interested in a hostel that puts on social activities like group dinners or bar crawls, making it easier to meet new travel friends?
  • Laundry facilities will help you to keep your minimal travel wardrobe clean.
  • Lockers are important when staying in shared rooms.
guide to staying in hostels
An example of a hostel kitchen.

Room Options to Consider

If this is your first time staying in a hostel, the first thing you should consider is if you prefer dorm rooms or private rooms.

Dorm Rooms: The number of bunks per dorm could range from 2 to 20, so it totally depends on how many people you want to share your space with. Obviously, the more beds per room, the lower your nightly cost, but I find that the smaller number of beds, the quieter it is at night. You can also choose between mixed dorms and female only dorms. Annoying and messy roommates are a possibility either way (it’s really luck of the draw) so it’s a matter of comfort.

Private Rooms: When it comes to private rooms, the main benefit is that you don’t have to share your space, yet you still get the benefit of being in an accommodation where people are generally more receptive to hanging out in common rooms together. Many still feature hallway/shared bathrooms, but some private rooms feel more like serviced apartments or budget hotel rooms- some with their own TVs!

guide to staying in hostels
A hostel’s private room in Sydney.

Dorm Room Etiquette

If you’ve never stayed in a dorm room before, there are a few things you should know to make sure you get along with your roommates.

Firstly, if you’re going to be coming in late, don’t turn on the light when you get in. Use your phone or headlamp to find your way or else your fellow travelers may just hate you. The same goes for early risers. If you have to leave early for the airport, pack your bag in advance. No one likes to hear rustling bags at 4 am!

Secondly, keep smelly items out of the room- things like food and perfumes.

To make your stay more comfortable, whichever type of room you choose, I recommend packing a headlamp for reading, a sarong for modesty, earplugs (to tune out snorers and loud guests), an eye mask and, most importantly, a lock for any lockers your hostel provides. You can also bring a reusable tote to store your groceries.

first timer's guide to staying in hostels
A small hostel dorm room in Istanbul.

FAQ on Shared Bathrooms

One of the main aspects that sets hostels apart from other forms of accommodation is shared bathrooms. They might be coed or single gender bathrooms, depending on the hostel setup. To make things easier, bring a toiletry bag that is easy to transport from your room to the bathroom. If it has a hook, that’s even better. I also highly recommend packing a pair of flip flops to wear in the shower.

Depending on your hostel, they may or may not provide a towel for your stay. Some rent towels out. Since you may not know in advance, we recommend packing a travel towel or Turkish towel instead.

Hostel Concerns

While hostels can bring about new and amazing travel experiences, and the meeting of new friends from around the world, there can sometimes be not-so-pleasant experiences you should be aware of. Whenever you stay in a place with so many different types of people, there’s bound to be a few rotten eggs in the bunch. Everything from drunken displays of debauchery to guests with sticky fingers can and does happen.

Just be prepared for anything and you’ll be good to go!

Guide to Staying in Hostels

Written by Caroline

Caroline Eubanks is a native of Atlanta, Georgia, but has also called Charleston, South Carolina and Sydney, Australia home. After college graduation and a series of useless part-time jobs, she went to Australia for a working holiday. In that time, she worked as a bartender, bungee jumped, scuba dived, pet kangaroos, held koalas and drank hundreds of cups of tea. You can find Caroline at Caroline in the City.

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Reader Interactions


  1. ZIXIC says

    Hi! Just want to know if it’s recommended to bring a backpack or suitcase for hostels? With the possibility of doing some inter country train travel as well?

    Is it worth bringing a bag that can carry 20kg (max allowance for flight)? Or should I just stick to the minimal?

    • Brooke says

      Minimal always! 🙂 I also like smaller bags for hostels because some have lockers for your backpack, and if it’s too big, you have to leave it out in the open.

  2. Jennifer says

    I am almost 40, single, and poor. I am looking to do some cheap traveling and am considering staying in a hostel but I worry that I may be too old for a hostel. I tend to get along with everyone and figured it wouldn’t be much different than summer camp but I don’t if my presence would be strange or awkward.

    • Brooke says

      Hi Jennifer! I’ve stayed in hostels with people of all ages! While hostels tend to gather younger people, it’s really more about mindset- people who are out trying to experience the world, meet new people, and save some money in the process. If you’re flexible and friendly, I don’t think it would be awkward. There’s always the chance you’d end up in a place with some unfavorable travelers, but that’s the fun of hostels! 🙂

  3. Grace says

    Hi! I will be studying abroad for the next four months & I was wondering what you recommend as far as linens vs. sleeping bags go? One of my friends brought her own sheets and a fleece blanket, which is what I’m planning on doing now, but I’m still looking for advice and suggestions! Thanks(:

    • Brooke says

      Will you be using the linens/sleeping bag as your bedding in your apartment/dorm. Or is this for staying in hostels? Many hostels don’t allow the use of sleeping bags in the beds these days.

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