The hostel is the budget traveler’s favourite form of accommodation, but that doesn’t mean it’s only for budget travelers. In addition to being cheaper than other types of accommodation, the hostel is also a great way to meet other people traveling.
Most hostels are characterized by dorm rooms where you sleep with others in the same room, but a lot of people don’t know that many hostels also offer private rooms, letting you get the best of both worlds!
I love the whole experience of staying in hostels and if you’re interested in booking one for your next trip, read on to learn what to expect when staying in hostels, including how to book them!
P.S. don’t confuse the hostel with the hostal. A hostal is a type of accommodation found in Spain and Latin America which is similar to a hotel or guesthouse and has nothing to do with hostels!
With that being said, here are the top 6 things you need to know about staying in hostels:
1. There are lots of different room options
Most people assume that hostels only have mixed dorm rooms available, but most hostels actually have a variety of different room types.
In addition to dorm rooms, many hostels also offer private rooms in which you can book a single bed if you want a room to yourself, a queen sized bed if you want more space or you’re traveling with a +1, two twin beds if you want separate beds, and more! And if you’re traveling with a big group, you can also often book a whole dorm room for yourselves to essentially create a private room for your group.
Dorm rooms also come in many shapes and sizes. Most dorm rooms have twin bunk beds, but some might have double beds or beds on the floor. When it comes to privacy, some beds might come with curtains whereas others might be in capsules. And if you don’t want to be in a mixed dorm, many hostels will also offer female or male-only dorms which you can choose from!
As for size, the smallest dorm room possible is 3 beds, but dorm rooms can even go up to 30+ beds! In general, the more beds in a room, the cheaper the price. I’ve found the perfect size for me is 6-8 beds.
When it comes to bathrooms, some private rooms will come with an ensuite bathroom, but others will only give you access to the shared bathroom. Most dorm rooms won’t have ensuite bathrooms, but some might! Regardless, you’d be sharing it with the others in your room.
In general, the more privacy and amenities you want, the higher the price of the room will be. Sometimes, a private room in a hostel will be more expensive than an Airbnb/Vrbo or hotel so it’s important to compare your options.
But all that being said, keep in mind that you aren’t just paying for a room when you’re staying in a hostel…
2. It's more than just a place to sleep
A lot of people make the mistake of assuming that a hostel is only for sleeping on the cheap, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. While there are some hostels out there that don’t offer more than a bed, most hostels also offer so much more than that.
For one, most hostels have kitchens and common rooms in which you can cook your own food (another money-saver) and meet many other travelers. If you’re traveling solo or just feeling sociable, strike up a conversation with someone else in the common room and you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to make friends in hostels while traveling. You can get some good travel tips and sometimes you can find someone to explore the city with or even spend the rest of your trip with!
This becomes even more likely when a hostel has a bar, which many of them do. I always try to stay at hostels that have a bar when I travel because in addition to being a fun place to drink, a hostel bar gives you a chance to meet a bunch of other travelers looking to have a good time. People at hotel bars or other local bars are never as sociable as people at hostel bars!
Many hostels also offer daily and weekly activities which can be fun things to do on your trip. From walking tours, to guided excursions, to pub crawls, to trivia nights, there is something for everyone at hostels that host events. Staying in a hostel like this can be a good way to save time on planning what you’re going to do in a destination since you can just join whatever activities the hostel has scheduled for your time there!
Some hostels might even come with hotel-level amenities such as free wifi, a swimming pool, restaurant, laundry service, free breakfast, and complimentary towels and toiletries!
So don’t write off the hostel as only being a place to sleep for cheap because there is often so much more to them!
3. Most people in hostels are young
In general hostels are geared more towards solo travelers and groups of friends and less towards families or older couples. Children don’t really fit in to the hostel vibe and in general, the average age of someone staying in a hostel is between 18-30. This is why many hostels are considered to be party hostels.
That being said, I have also seen and met older people staying in hostels too and they were awesome! As long as you are young at heart, you will fit right in.
Most hostels won’t turn you away if you’re older than the average age, but be aware that some hostels might have policies that limit the maximum age of their guests to 35 so make sure you check this before booking yours!
4. You're not guaranteed perfect sleep
When sharing any room with other people, you will never be guaranteed the same quality of sleep that you would get in a private room. From snorers, to people checking in late/checking out early, to people using the bathroom in the middle of the night, to people coming back after a drunken night out, there are all sorts of ways that you could be awoken during your sleep.
Most people will try to be considerate and keep the noise to a minimum, but that’s never a guarantee. There will always be that one person who turns on the light and won’t care about others so you need to be aware of it.
Staying in a private room avoids many of these potential situations, but even then, you might not be guaranteed perfect sleep. If you’re staying in a party hostel or if the hostel is located next to a busy street, your sleep might be impacted by the loud music in the hostel bar or the traffic outside your window.
In any case, if you’re a light sleeper, the best thing you can do to avoid getting woken up in a hostel is to pack earplugs! Some hostels will also sell them to you for a small fee if you forget to bring some.
5. Security and safety will vary by hostel
One of the main concerns that people have with regards to hostels has to do with their safety and the security that the hostel provides. Everyone staying at a hostel has to provide identification when they check in which helps keep you safe.
In addition, most hostels will keep the front door locked, especially at night, and will also have locks on every room so only people staying in those rooms will be able to enter them.
And if you don’t feel comfortable sharing a room with people of the opposite sex, you can also often choose to stay in a female or male-only dorm.
When it comes to your personal belongings, a lot of hostels will also offer safes and lockers for you to keep your valuables and other belongings in. Locks may not always be included so it’s a good idea to pack a small lock with you on your travels. Most hostels will also sell you locks if you forget yours, but usually at a higher price. If there aren’t any lockers in the rooms, your valuables can also sometimes be kept in a safe at reception.
However, none of these are guarantees. Some hostels will not provide any of these features so it’s important to check what your hostel provides before you make a booking.
I generally try to pick hostels that have good security and that offer lockers in the rooms so that I have a place to keep my stuff safe because while I personally have never run into any issues with my security or safety in hostels, I have heard of other people having issues, so it’s important to stay safe.
6. The process to book your hostel is a little different
While hostels can be found by using the process I outline in my Guide to Booking Your Accommodation, you won’t find all the hostels available by only using Booking.com. Instead, there is another website you should be using called Hostelworld.
Hostelworld is the largest hostel booking website and has hostels from all over the world on it. Simply enter your destination, dates, and number of guests, and click search to see all the hostels available! Use the filters to filter out hostels you’re not interested in and sort them by price to see the cheapest options for your trip.
Avoid hostels that have a rating of less than 8 as well as hostels that are in a bad location or that don’t have the room types or features and amenities that you are looking for. Look at the photos and read the reviews to get an idea for what previous guests have thought of the hostel and take note of what’s included so you know what to expect for your stay!
Compare all the best options and pick the hostel which you are most interested in booking.
Before you book it though, check Booking.com to see if that hostel is also available there for a cheaper price as well as to see if there are any other hostels that might be even better than the one you found on Hostelworld.
In addition, check to see if the hostel has a website where you can make an online booking for cheaper or if not, a phone number or email address you can use to contact them and ask if they offer a cheaper price for booking directly.
Being a Hosteling International (HI) member can also get you a discount at select hostels around the world.
And that’s all you need to know!
If you’ve never stayed in a hostel before, you gotta try it at least once. You can’t knock it ’till you try it! And even if you would still prefer staying in a hotel or Airbnb/Vrbo, it doesn’t mean you can’t still take advantage of some of the other things that hostels have to offer. Most hostels will still let you drink at their bar and join in on their activities so don’t be afraid to drop by even if you’re staying somewhere else!
Let me know about your hostel experiences in the comments down below and if you’re looking for an even cheaper form of accommodation or you’d just prefer getting to know locals instead of other travelers, check out my Guide to Couchsurfing!