Staying in a hostel for the first time: what you need to know

Staying in a hostel for the first time: what you need to know

So you’re staying in a hostel for the first time. Bravo! Perhaps you’re a seasoned traveller used to hotels, it’s your first time outside of the country, or maybe you want a social travelling experience. For whatever reason, you’ve decided to forego the traditional hotel route. And you know what? You’ll have the best time. But maybe you’re unsure as to the proper etiquette or general atmosphere of staying in a hostel. We’ve got you covered with some helpful hostel tips so you can #MeetTheWorld!

1. Making friends when staying in a hostel alone

Maya Papaya, Antigua Guatemala

You might think… You’re only here for a night. And that guy reading your favourite book probably doesn’t want to be bothered.

The reality: Don’t assume anything. Introduce yourself. Suggest lunch or dinner together. Ask them about their travels. I’ve met some of the most interesting people during my stays in hostels. There was that girl who lived in New Zealand and was travelling all over the world for two (TWO!) years, and the guy who just got left at the altar and took all of his wedding money to travel around Europe. Staying in a hostel brings so many people with similar interests together. Chances are, you’ll have a lot in common. I’ve made great friends all over the world, simply by saying, “Hi, I’m Amanda.”

Extra tips:

  • Take a chance and put yourself out there, because this is crucial to the hostel experience. You might find a life-long friend (or partner!)
  • Introduce yourself to whoever is there, as soon as you walk into your dorm. Then there’s no time for awkward silence!
  • See what social events your hostel runs. We’re talking family dinners, pub crawls and yoga classes! It really is that good.

Maya Papaya is a social hostel in Antigua, Guatemala. They have an onsite bar and plenty of activities like dinner nights for you to meet as many other backpackers as possible!

2. Staying out late

Bodega Chiang Mai Party Hostel, Chiang Mai Thailand

You might think… You’re away from home. That pub crawl or nightclub looks fun. Everyone will be sound asleep, so who cares, right? You will probably stay out all night anyways.

The reality: Yes, go out. Have fun. But be considerate. Sure, you might have had one to many bevvies, but if you were asleep you probably wouldn’t want some loud, drunk person waking you up. Turn your phone light on to find your bed and try to avoid falling over anything. Being mindful (even when plastered) could save you in the morning!

Extra tips:

  • If you’re coming home late from a fun night out, avoid turning on the light. Instead use a phone light so you don’t wake everyone up in your dorm!
  • If you feel too drunk to reach the top bunk or even to get into your dorm, have a friend or even a staff member help you. We’ve all been there. We get it.
  • If you’re planning to have a big night, get your clothes/PJs and a bottle of water ready on your bed for when you get back.

Why not stay in a party hostel with likeminded party animals? Bodega Chiang Mai Party Hostel in Thailand specialises in a chaotic party atmosphere. With a massive legendary pub crawl and an onsite bar, you can unleash your wild side without having to worry about your bunkmates!

3. Staying up late

Galaxy Pod Hostel, Reykjavik Iceland

You might think… You have headphones. You can whisper to your boyfriend via Skype at 1 a.m. You think you’re being quiet. This is a hostel. People can deal.

The reality: Like passing out on the dorm room floor, this is a great way to make everyone in the room annoyed. Although you’re all adults and can choose your own bedtime, I’ve learned that most hostels have an unspoken “midnight” clause. At midnight, the lights generally go out, and if you do need to stay up and do something, just make sure you’re being considerate. There are usually book lights that can be used for this purpose, but also consider going into the common room. I tend to stay at outdoorsy-adventurous-type hostels, where the majority of people go to bed fairly early and get up fairly early to see the sights. Obviously, this rule may not apply to party hostels.

Extra tip:

  • Tell your family and friends the time zone you’re in, so you can organise an appropriate time to chat.

If you want to avoid noisy roommates altogether, why not try a pod hostel? They’re growing in popularity and they assure a luxurious and private night’s sleep. Galaxy Pod Hostel in Reykjavik Iceland, offers a stay that’s out of this world, with space themed sleeping pods!

4. Getting up early

Yeah Hostel Barcelona, Barcelona Spain

You might think… You have a 6 a.m. flight. You need to snooze a few times to feel rested like you do when you’re at home, in your own room. You must pack the morning of, and turn the lights on at 4 a.m. Just for a minute. You have to fit everything into this noisy, plastic bag. It’ll just be a minute. It’s OK, you are being quiet. This is a hostel. People can deal.

The reality: We’ve all experienced the early flight conundrum. Getting up early is unavoidable. But do your roommates a favour. Pack the night before and try not to turn any overhead lights on – that’s what flashlights and book lights are for. Avoid plastic bags if you can, and make sure you wake up to your alarm the first time. No one needs to hear your “waves” alarm more than once.

Extra tip:

  • Say your goodbyes and add your new friends on Facebook the night before. No matter how much they like you, they might not love being woken up at 4am…

If you’re the noisy type all day long, look into staying in a private room if your budget can take it. Yeah Hostel Barcelona has stylish private rooms, but their dorms also have curtains so you’re less likely to wake anyone up!

5. Showering in hostels

Jo&Joe Paris, Paris France

You might think… Hostel showers are probably just like home, you’re sure you can leave your toiletries for the next night. Plus it’s only a short walk back to the dorm, you doubt you’ll need a change of clothes. Showering with sandals is weird. Why should you wear them?

The reality: You’re sharing bathrooms with a lot of people, so it’s best to be as respectable as you would be at home. Keep your belongings with you and tidy up before you leave. It’s probably best not to wear your towel back to your room as there’s a good chance you’ll run into someone else and might make them uncomfortable. You should always try and wear sandals in the shower just as a general caution. But almost all hostels have top quality cleaning staff!

Extra tips:

  • Take a waterproof bag to keep your belongings with you while you shower. Some shower cubicles don’t have hooks or a place for you to keep your stuff, so it might get wet!
  • Check if the hostel offers free towels when booking. Otherwise, invest in a small micro-fibre towel. It dries really quickly and it’s easy to fit in your backpack!
  • Double check: It’s super easy to leave toiletries behind and they might not be there when you get back.

If you’ve never had the pleasure of using a hostel bathroom, you might be in for a surprise. There are some really luxe ones, like at Jo&Joe Paris in the city of love!

6. The kitchens

Selina San Jose, Costa Rica

You might think… Sweet! A kitchen. You’re going to make a five-course meal and leave all of your dishes in the sink for the maids to clean up.

The reality: There are no maids. This is not a hotel. You are expected to clean everything. And dry it. And put it back. Please be thorough – no one wants to have to scrub hardened quinoa off a plate! As hostel kitchens are shared, bear in mind the amount of dishes you really need to use. No one likes a pot-hogger. Hostel kitchens are the heart of the hostel, so it’s a great place mingle and share food with new friends!

Extra tips:

  • Before checking out of the hostel, take a second look in the kitchen to see if you’ve left any food behind. It takes the staff ages to clean out the food on a regular basis. Plus, it’s super wasteful! If you’ve got some food to spare, see if anyone in your dorm wants some freebies, or check for a shared shelf where you can leave it for the next hungry backpacker.
  • There are lots of people constantly cooking, so don’t be shy to have a chat and get to know the people you’re staying with!

Boy have hostel kitchens had an upgrade. Forget about the one you had in your student halls, there are some that really ooze style. Selina San Jose’s hostel kitchen has a rustic charm and will have you cooking up a storm!

7. Other people’s stuff

Jo&Joe Paris, Paris France

You might think… You’re drunk, and those muffins in the communal fridge look really good. You doubt they’ll notice if you take one. Oh, that’s a cute dress…

The reality: If someone leaves their belongings out in the open, leave it. Always. Food is off limits. Belongings strewn on the floor are off limits. I once had a gal, who was super sweet but probably a little too forward, try on my shoes when I was in the shower. That was an awkward situation. As fun as she probably thought she was being, don’t do that. It’s weird. Respect other people’s stuff.

Extra tip:

  • Lock up your stuff when you’re not in the room – this is probably a given, but even if it’s just for a few minutes, it can deter those nosy types!

8. If you snore…

Nomads Hotel Hostel & Bar, Cancun Mexico

You might think… You will just sleep on your side. Besides, everyone is probably wearing ear plugs.

The reality: You probably sound like a freight train coming through the room. The walls are probably shaking. But… you can’t help it. People understand that. So, if you’re unable to book a private room, be sure to let your roommates know. They’ll appreciate the warning. Don’t forget to give them permission to throw a pillow at you if it becomes unbearable!

Extra tip:

  • Earplugs are really handy for this situation. A lot of hostels keep these at their reception, pass these around to your roommates as party favours!

Tell us your tips for first-timers in the comments… 

9. Staying Safe

ONCE in Cape Town, Cape Town South Africa

You might think… Everyone is super friendly, and this hostel feels more like a home! I’ve got nothing to be worried about.

The reality: This is definitely true – hostels are super friendly! But it’s important to take care, especially if you’re a solo traveller. Keep all your belongings locked away when you’re not using them, and make sure your phone is well charged when going out.

Extra tips:

  • If something doesn’t feel right, no matter how small, tell a staff member at the hostel as they’ll be equipped to deal with the situation.
  • Tell whoever you can when you are heading out at night, and when you expect to be back.
  • If you’re a female staying in a hostel for the first time, think about staying in a female-only dorm. Lots of hostels offer this, and it’s a great way to adjust yourself into hostel life.
  • Invest in a portable battery charger. These are great when your phone is running low and you need to find your way home!

If you’re a female solo traveller and wary about the hostel experience, try a female only dorm, or even a female only hostel! Hostelle in Amsterdam is somewhere you’ll feel safe and at home, even if it’s your first time.

10. Checking in

Wombats City Hostel Budapest, Budapest Hungary

You might think… The hostel will have my booking on file and I’m sure I can pay for my stay on debit/credit card. I’m arriving in the middle of the night, but I’m sure they have 24hr reception…

The reality: While hostels have your booking on file, its much more convenient if you can show them your booking number. It doesn’t even have to be printed out, the Hostelworld app holds all this info! Some hostels, particularly small ones, take cash only, and if you’re travelling to multiple countries you might not always have the local currency. Plan ahead and take it out at a currency exchange before you arrive if you can, otherwise schedule some time before check-in for this specific task.

There are some hostels that don’t have 24hr reception, so this is something you really need to find out before you plan your trip. They’ll often make you estimate your arrival time so they can organise someone to check you in. With all this, preparation is key!

Extra tips:

  • Think about getting a travel wallet. They’re the perfect size for holding all the important stuff like boarding passes, passports and booking confirmations. It can really save you some time and stress of having to pull everything out of your backpack when you’re tired and in a rush.
  • Make sure you have a driving license or some form of ID with you, as some hostels will ask for this to hold as a deposit during your stay.

11. What to bring

Room007 Chueca Hostel, Madrid Spain

You might think… Well, I’m going for two weeks so I need two weeks’ worth of clothes!

The reality: In hostels you’re in backpacker territory, where only the essentials are allowed! If you’re travelling around multiple places then you definitely don’t have the room for a lot of stuff. Plus, most hostels have a laundry or can recommend one nearby, so detergent is something you should bring!

Useful things to bring when staying in a hostel for the first time:

  • Booking confirmation
  • Travel wallet with valuables
  • Locks (more than one is useful)
  • Small amount of clothes
  • Earplugs and eye mask
  • Toiletries in a waterproof bag
  • Microfibre towel
  • Washing detergent
  • Portable charger

Now that you know some of the things to expect when staying in a hostel for the first time, hopefully these hostel tips can help you to go out and conquer the world! Oh, and yes, those books on the shelf are fair game. You can take them. Just be sure to leave them for someone else at your next hostel.

Tell us your tips for first-timers in the comments…

Keep reading:

🌟 Hostel love stories: 5 couples who fell in love while travelling

🌟 Hostel life: how I made friends from all over the world and how you can do the same!

🌟 Hostel life: find your travel tribe

About the author

Amanda Richardson is a fiction and travel writer based in Los Angeles. She is currently writing her second novel. She is a recent recipient of the 2014 World Nomads Travel Writing Scholarship. When she’s not writing, editing, or drinking wine, she can be found snuggling with her fiancé and her two black cats. You can read more about her writing adventures here.

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