Hostelling 101 (Part 2): How to Survive and Enjoy a Hostel Stay

Curious about what it’s like to stay in a hostel? Not sure what to expect? Hostelling 101 gives you all the information you need to know about staying in hostels. 

As a follow on from Hostelling 101 (Part 1), this article provides advice on:

  • What to pack for a hostel stay
  • How to have the right attitude when staying in hostels
  • Pro-tips for staying in hostels
  • Hostel etiquette

As well as a list of my personal favourite hostels around the world.


What should I pack when staying in a hostel?

Along with your normal travel essentials, it’s important that you bring along the following:

  • Ear plugs – make sure you are prepared for snoring. Sometimes you can get lucky and not end up with a snorer, but it’s not worth taking the risk. You can get some great noise cancelling headphones or you can just use normal ear plugs or put on headphones and listen to music to drown out the sound.
  • Lock – hostels usually provider lockers to keep your valuables in (which is super handy). This is great because it puts your mind at ease that your most important possessions, such as camera gear and laptops are safe. Make sure you bring your own or else you’ll need to rent or buy one at the hostel.
  • Your own towel – often towels aren’t provided, especially in budget hostels, so make sure you bring a light-weight towel with you.
  • Reading light – good hostels often have individual reading lights but I would suggest packing your own just incase.
  • Thongs/flip flops for showers – while bathrooms are usually cleaned regularly, sometimes multiple times a day, it is always handy to have a pair of thongs to wear in the shower (just incase).
  • Toiletries – hostels aren’t hotels so you won’t find complimentary soap and shampoo in the bathrooms. Sometimes hostels will have a ‘free’ basket where people can leave items they no longer need. While this is great, you certainly can’t rely on it (or you could become a pretty stinky traveller).
  • Eye mask – people tend to come in and out of dorm rooms at all hours so if you’re a light sleeper, make sure you pack an eye mask to reduce the chance of being woken in the middle of the night by someone turning on the light (it happens all the time).


How can I have the right attitude when staying in hostels?

It’s super important to go in with the right attitude to have the best possible experience in hostels. Here are my top suggestions:

  • Don’t have high expectations and you won’t be disappointed.
  • Use the opportunity to network and meet people. Hostels are especially helpful for solo travellers that crave interaction. Hotels can certainly be lonely for a solo traveller (trust me, I’ve been there, done that) so I stay in hostels wherever possible.
  • Remember that you never know what will come of your connections. You may meet a future friend, colleague or even partner 😉


Pro-tips for staying in hostels

Here are my top pro-tips for staying in hostels:

  1. Lock up your stuff – don’t tempt people, just put all your valuables away and out-of-site.
  2. Keep hostel meals as simple as possible – it’s not a good time to show off your fine culinary skills. Just KISS (keep it simple silly) and stick to the basics. Pasta and rice dishes are the most common you’ll find in any hostel around the world.
  3. Cook at the ‘off-times’ – 7-9pm is a TERRIBLE time to cook in a hostel.. Trust me! I find cooking in the afternoon is usually the quietest as most people are out and about for the day.
  4. Check to see if there are hostel meals – often hostels such as India Backpackers Hostel in New Orleans, will have a cook up and you can just buy what they have made which is usually a much cheaper option.
  5. Carry basic food items with you where possible – olive oil, salt and pepper. Although sometimes these are provided at hostels leftover from past guests, I always like to carry these essentials just incase – there’s nothing worse than going to cook and realising you don’t have any oil to cook with. I actually carry around sachets of coconut oil – they are extremely diverse and amazing in cooking all sorts of foods. I also bring along honey, cinnamon and oats so that I can always make a bowl of porridge for breakfast to start the day well.
  6. Always label your food and keep it out of sight as much as possible (don’t tempt people to take it). Hostels usually ask you to put your name and checkout date on the label.
  7. Smile and say hi to people. Start up a conversation with someone in your dorm room or in the kitchen, these are the optimal places for chatting.
  8. Shower outside of “rush hours” e.g. 7am to 11am. This will allow you to have a much better shower experience rather than having to rush or wait to use the showers.


Hostel Etiquette

When you first stay in a hostel, it’s difficult to know how to act in a way that doesn’t annoy other people. Here are my guidelines for good hostel etiquette:

  • Use headphones – no one wants to hear your conversation or what you are listening to.
  • Don’t turn lights on at night – no one likes to be woken in the middle of the night by a bright light.
  • Don’t set a loud alarm and keep snoozing it – oh my gosh, please don’t be that person. Turn off your alarm straight away and get up before you doze off again (I admit that I really struggle with this).
  • Don’t spend an excessive amount of time in the bathroom – there’s nothing worse than waiting for someone to finish ‘washing themselves’ while you’re desperate to relieve yourself.
  • Keep your stuff together – don’t create a trail of your stuff throughout the dorm room. Keep everything together and out of the way.
  • Pack your stuff up the night before you are leaving and have everything ready to go so you’re not waking people. This is a must – just do it.
  • Leave intimate romance outside the hostel – it’s never pleasant to hear someone have intimate relations in the bed above you… don’t be that person.
  • Don’t walk around naked – you’d be surprised at the amount of people who will happily walk around naked. While some people won’t mind, others may feel extremely uncomfortable so save your nakedness for the privacy of your home.
  • Answer calls outside the room – other people don’t want to hear your phone conversations. Just leave the room and come back when you are finished.
  • Do your dishes (and put them away) – you will often see signs around telling your to wash your dishes when you’re done with them. Don’t be that person who leaves their dirty dishes sitting in the sink – it’s gross and unpleasant to look at.


Your first hostel experience

If you’ve never stayed in a hostel before, I highly recommend that you give it a try. Here are my suggestions for your first hostel experience.

  • Go with a friend – it is much easier when you go along with someone else to share the experience.
  • Go to a hostel with great reviews – even if it’s a little pricey, you don’t want to have a terrible first experience that will put you off forever
  • Start with a 4 bed dorm, or even a private room. This will ease you into the hostel experience rather than throw you in the deep end.
  • Go somewhere close-ish to home so you can always leave if need be. When I was travelling in Canada in 2016, I met a guy in my dorm room who was staying in a hostel only an hour and a half from his hometown (he was living in Calgary and stayed in a hostel in Banff). He had wanted to go backpacking in Thailand but wanted to experience a hostel in somewhere familiar first, rather than having his first experience in a foreign country.


Some of my favourite hostels

Here’s a list of some of my favourite hostels around the world and what I loved about them:

  • Bunk in Surfers Paradise – pool, newly renovated rooms, social, great location
Bunk Hostel in Surfers Paradise
  • United Backpackers in Melbourne – amazing location across from Flinders St Station, good facilities, extremely affordable
  • India House in New Orleans – cool facilities including pool and cooked meals every night for only $5, friendly guests, full of character
  • Metcalfe House – Phoenix – small and homely, friendly guests
  • Grand Canyon International Hostel – great location close to town, lovely staff, clean and comfortable  
  • HI Chicago – amazing facilities including pool table and huge kitchen, great location, modern rooms
  • HI New York – awesome activities including free drinks and live bands, great walking tours, modern rooms and facilities, perfect spots to hang out and chill
  • USA Hostels in San Francisco – great pub crawl, friendly vibe, great common areas and other facilities and handy location.
  • Kick Ass Hostel in Edinburgh – spacious and comfortable rooms, vibrant signs and coloured walls, amazing upstairs bar and cafe downstairs


So there you have it, the 411 on staying in hostels. I hope you found this information valuable and that you are brave and adventurous enough to give staying in hostels a try.

I could tell you a bunch of stories about the people I’ve meet and the cool things that have happened as a result of my hostel stays, but I’ll save them for another day.

Is there anything I’ve missed? Do you have any questions or ideas to add? Leave a reply below and I will get back to you as soon as I can.

Thank you very much for reading, I appreciate your support.

If you found this article useful, please share it via the social media channel(s) of your choice.

Thanks again and happy travels.

aLarkin Abroad


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