As an American, motels, hotels, and AirBnB reign supreme, hostels have been slowly emerging in major tourist destinations, but most Americans stigmatize hostels as being sketchy and dirty. After living alone for nearly 14 years and planning my travels, I was filled with doubt and hesitations, “Am I too old?” “Are they safe?” “Are they clean?” “Will people go through my stuff?”
What Makes A Great Hostel Experience.
How to Choose the RIGHT Hostel For You
There are party hostels, chill hostels, cheap ones, expensive ones, hostel chains, hostels run by volunteers and you’re never sure who works there, hostels with private rooms, hostels with 20 beds in a room.
So the questions you should ask yourself are what do you want out of it?
Are you jetlagged and need to sleep? Are you partying and want a bar crawl every night? Are you working and need a motivating workplace? Are you wanting to get fit with yoga each morning and surfing each afternoon? The idea is communal accommodation, a social environment, at an affordable price. So, with this many options, it is important to FILTER.
Filter. Location. Price. Women’s only. Men’s only. Mixed. Number of beds per room. Private rooms. Check-in times. Stored luggage. Wifi. Kitchen. All things to consider when booking.
Read the reviews and look at the pictures. I cannot emphasize this enough, and on the other hand, I also take these with a grain of salt (remember mood and perspective).
Have you ever had a terrible roommate?
The one who hoarded dirty plates in their bedroom, let laundry pile up until it emanated a musky, putrid smell. The one who would miss the toilet and piss on the floor? Firstly, DON’T BE THAT PERSON.
While moving from place to place you never know if you will end up with THAT person as your next roommate. Emily Post may not have addressed this, but 21st-century travel requires some common decency, respect, and hygiene that can sometimes be overlooked.
In the Bedroom
You are renting the bed. ONE BED. Don’t expand your suitcase to the next bed over. The bag you just rolled through the filthy streets of Paris should not be laying on someone else’s clean sleeping space. Same goes for bunks – If you are on the top bunk, don’t step on the bottom bunks bed, Respect others’ beds.
Be respectful of the communal space, a bag left wide open with all its contents laying around takes away shelf space, floor space, closet space, or bathroom space from others.
Alarm clocks. Catching a train, plane, or taxi early in the morning is part of travel, and setting an alarm is fine. But make sure you respond to it, turn it off, and get up. Don’t put it on snooze every 10 minutes. Don’t have it sound like a bomb siren or U2’s “Beautiful Morning” and have it run for an hour. Be an adult and wake the fuck up.
If you have an early morning carry your belongings outside the dorm room to pack them up. Your early departure should not affect other people’s sleep.
If you have a late night, the same rule applies. People are already in bed, don’t turn on the overhead light. Quietly fumble through your stuff, get your water, and go to bed.
In the Bathroom
Hygiene. Please shower, brush your furry teeth, and leave your stinky shoes to air outside the door.
Everybody poops. Then there is Delhi Belly, Montezuma’s Revenge, travelers’ diarrhea, funny tummy, any way you phrase it, -shit happens. When it does, make sure to flush it down. Brush the bowl and wipe the seat.
Light a match. Total urban legend. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t, but after having a movement, I feel much more confident walking out of a bathroom believing the smell of sulfur has completely covered up my smell of poop and left it nice for the next person. If you do this make sure to run the match under the faucet before throwing it in the bin.
Be mindful that older pipes can get clogged and destroyed. If there is a sign for paper in the bin, put paper in the bin. Tampons, feminine napkins, and condoms. Wrap them up properly with toilet tissue and throw them in the bin. Not next to, not near, they go IN THE BIN.
Replace the toilet paper roll. If there is none, find an employee to replace it. Don’t be the asshole who makes the next person suffer.
In the Shower
Keep it short. Water is a valuable commodity in many places. 15 minutes is not a short shower. If there are only a few showers, be mindful that others may want to get clean as well.
If there is limited hot water, be considerate. Get wet, turn the water off, lather up, and rinse.
Collect your hair. If you have long luxurious hair, make sure to keep it out of the drain, off the walls, and generally out of the shower when you leave, this also includes the vanity counter or sink basin.
If the hostel provides soap and shampoo, then use it, but if it’s not yours, hands off.
Going out? Make space at the sink and mirror for others.
In the Kitchen
If you are leaving food, label it as free. Maybe it’s a liter of milk or a jar of mustard. If it is marked free it will get used. If not, considerate people might leave it alone, and then it could stay around for weeks before someone notices that rancid smell.
Consolidate. If you cook a big pot of pasta and eat half, put the second half into something smaller. First, someone may want to use that pot, and second, it takes up unnecessary and usually needed space (this practice comes from years of working in a professional kitchen).
Fridge space is coveted real estate — be reasonable about what you store in the fridge, if it can be left out, find a shelf or space.
Clean your dishes, the sink, and your prep space. Do not make others clean up after you. This includes when you are getting ready to sit down and eat. Spend 5 minutes washing your pans before sitting down. If you wash them, someone else can use them. If you leave them on the stove or in the sink that means others have to work around your dirty dishes.. Wash them, rinse them, dry them, and put them away, this includes coffee percolators and presses. When you are done, clean out the dish drainer. Others should not have to clean out the sink catcher with your wet scrambled eggs.
Wash your dishes with dish soap, don’t rinse them only. Germs people (see the previous reference to Delhi Belly, etc.) Gross!
When cooking something pungent, put the hood exhaust fan on, open a window, or something to air out the space, especially when bedrooms are near kitchens.
Smoke in designated spaces.
If there is a limited number of outlets, don’t have three devices charging at once when someone else may need a battery boost, be accommodating and remove one of yours.
Crash pads. Yes, it is common to find someone asleep on a sofa or floor poofs if they arrived before check-in or have a late transport and not paying for a full night’s sleep in a bed. Usually, I let them lay and work my way around them.
Sex, Drugs, and Other Stuff
If you bring someone back with you, they are entirely your responsibility. Be wise and don’t bring sketchy people back with you.
If you are planning to have sex, book a private room, take it to the shower, or at very least close the privacy curtains. Try not to have an all-night romp and know that everyone in that room will hear what you’re doing. While sex is relatively accepted, masturbation is a big NO NO. Yes, its totally healthy and most people do it, but if urge comes, take it to the private bathroom, someplace you are all alone.
NO MEANS NO. If you had an incredible night with someone from your hostel filled with talking, partying, and exploring, and feel there is a connection, if there is no invitation, then drop it and see them in the morning. Do not offer a massage, do not offer a cuddle, go to your bed. END OF STORY.
Never feel obligated to do anything you are not interested in and don’t feel safe doing. Reading the reviews before booking can give you an idea of the vibe.
Traveling can be rough on your system. Partying late, change in environment, blasting aircon when it’s a million degrees outside, COVID. If you are sick, get a private room, an AirBnB, or a hotel. The price may affect your budget, but keep others healthy and your germs to yourself.
This can happen anywhere- the whole city of Paris had an outbreak. NOT ONLY HOSTELS.
Take apart your bedding and check your seams and hems, and check for blood or dark spots on your sheets. Do your due diligence.
You don’t want these nasty little critters that take up residency in your stuff.
Here is how to identify them, and how to get rid of them.
Also, if you do get them, this doesn’t mean you are dirty. It can happen to anyone.
Now, PLEASE don’t let these things deter you from staying in a hostel. Yes, I have pulled some very specific examples of problems that have occured in my experience. And yes, any of these can sour a hostel experience.
However, if more people follow these basic courtesies, it will make better stays for everyone. After years of traveling, I still very much love the environment. So…
When It's Time to Go
Great, you made friends!
Don’t hesitate to get their contact info., their socials, emails, whatever it is to stay in touch. Make the world a smaller place. You may end up in another part of the world and have an entirely new adventure.
Travel romances are incredibly special, it’s okay to feel all the feelings when you are leaving someplace special.
Check all the spaces. Bathroom, bedroom, kitchen, are you forgetting anything?
If you booked through a site, do the next traveler a favor and LEAVE A REVIEW. The good, the bad, the ugly. If something was wrong, best to tell the management directly, but don’t be afraid to write your honest opinion of a place. Feedback is a great way for places to make improvements and isn’t that what got you there in the first place? Complete the cycle.
My Go-To Hostel Gear
- Compression bags. They turn into little drawer systems while you are away. My two favorite brands have been Sea to Summit and Eagle Creek. Durable and solid warranties.
- Flexible cable travel lock– the small wire makes it possible to fit most closures.
- Sleep liner. It’s lightweight and compact and ensures that you are always sleeping in your own sheets. It’s ideal for places that are not the cleanest and it can keep you cool in the summer or an extra layer in winter.
- Turkish Towel. If the privacy curtains aren’t available, there may be a way to hang this up. It is my preferred towel of choice while traveling. It’s quick drying, can be used a wrap, sturdier than a pashmina, light enough to carry to the beach. They are great. (I’ve tried the microfiber and prefer this better).
- Sink stopper. Small and light and makes handwashing essentials easy-peasy.
- Head torch. Great for reading, finding the toilet, and anytime you need a light without blinding your roomies with overhead lighting.
- Ear plugs. I always carry them, and I rarely use them. I have found a Swedish company called Happy Ears that makes sustainably sourced reusable ear plugs. If you buy these, I would love some feedback about them.
- Headphones. Probably why I don’t use the ear plugs. If there is a snorer in the room, I will often plug in a meditation or some chill music to help relax.
- Playing cards. Great for entertainment and making friends.
- Books. Once read and ready to be traded.
If hostel travel is still something you are curious about, but still feel hesitant or nervous about, reach out and book a one-on-one travel coaching call. If this is something you are considering, best to go in with confidence.