Hostel Survival for Beginners: 5 Keys to a Good Experience

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Whether you’re backpacking across Europe or trekking to another city in America, your travels, preferences or budget might require you to stay in a hostel. If hostel life is new terrain for you, let us help to navigate these foreign waters with honest hostel tips and tricks for newbies.

Hostel activities with a bunch of new people, sketchy bathroom conditions, shared dorms and community kitchens… there are a lot of rumors and myths about hostel life. Anyone who has stayed in a hostel probably remembers how funny they felt in this new environment.

If you’ve not yet ventured into a hostel but are planning to, here are some tips for a first-time hostel stay to ensure your hostel experience is happy, not horrendous.

Here are our top 5 essential hostel tips and tricks.

5.) Participate in Hostel Activities

Hostel Tips: Participate in Activities

Many hostels offer tours, parties, and other activities for guests. At the very least, you are likely to find some sort of common room with a TV or a dining area. Check it out. Even if you’re traveling with friends, step outside that social bubble and interact with the people who are staying with you, at least a little. Your fellow travelers are fonts of information. They can give you their own hostel tips or insider information about where they’ve been.

Organizing a potluck dinner is a beautiful way to get to know your fellow roommates and the other hostel guests. The idea is quite simple: Every participant prepares one dish that is to be shared with the whole group at the communal dinner table. Cooking everything together in the kitchen brings extra fun! Shared meals are part of what makes life in hostels so great.

4.) Wear Flip-Flops

One of the best hostel tips is to always wear flipflops in the shower

You will see this hostel tip in every single guidebook and pamphlet about hostels. There’s a reason it appears over and over again. A lot of feet walk across those communal shower tiles and bedroom floors. Those feet have varying degrees of hygiene and health conditions, and you don’t need souvenirs, such as fungus or warts, from them.

The first time you get athlete’s foot or step on a pin, you’ll stop thinking this is a silly suggestion.

3.) Watch Your Stuff

Important Hostel Tips: Keep Your Stuff Safe

You’re sharing a room with people you don’t know. That’s the bottom line. As nice as they might be, and as much as you might have in common, you have no idea who they really are. Stay safe by keeping an eye on your belongings. If the hostel issued you a locker or cubby, use it and secure it with a quality padlock, not one from the dollar store. If your suitcase doesn’t have a small lock, get one. Some people sleep with their valuables in bed with them, and this is another of the hostel tips that we recommend.

You can easily put your small purse or travel backpack under your pillow or the covers at the top of your bed, close to the wall. The idea is that someone would have to climb over you to get to your stuff and would invariably wake you up. It’s not paranoia; it’s taking that extra step to ensure you don’t get ripped off. Most people aren’t victims of theft at hostels, but “most” is not “all,” and you don’t want to be the exception. Having to replace documents, money, clothes, shoes, cameras or other belongings really sucks.

No matter how hard you try, you should always factor in the possibility of losing valuable items. Be smart and take copies of important documents (and store them in a cloud!), and make sure to get insurance for expensive gadgets such as cameras, laptops and phones.  Have coverage for any items that may be lost or stolen on your travels.

2.) Don’t Be a Jerk

woman sitting on hostel bed with MacBook on lap

One of the complications of sharing a room with numerous strangers is that you’re all on different schedules that may or may not be compatible. Maybe your flight leaves early in the morning. Maybe you stayed out late and you’re only getting back to the hostel at 5 a.m. You do what you have to do. However, there are certain areas where you can show consideration for others and avoid being a jerk.

If you’re having a rollicking conversation at 3 a.m., for instance, do it in the common room, not in your bedroom where five other people might be trying to sleep. If you’re playing a game on your phone, use headphones or keep the volume down. When you’re preparing for that early morning flight, try to be quiet. Common courtesy goes a long way. This is one of the hostel tips that make your stay better for everyone, not just you.

The golden rule stays the same: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

1.) Do Your Homework

Hostel Tips Will Make All The Difference On Your Next Trip

The best thing you can do to make sure your hostel stay is pleasant is to research well before you even make your reservation. Just as some hotels are nice and others are miserable hellholes, hostels can be a mixed bag. Different hostels also cater to different populations. If you just want a quiet, clean place to sleep where you won’t be bothered by anyone, you’re probably not going to want to stay at that party hostel by the beach.

How do you research? If you’re reading this, you have access to the Internet – check out the reviews on Yelp, Tripadvisor and Pay particular attention to the ones posted within the last year or six months, because the character of a hostel can and does change. Let’s Go and Lonely Planet’s guidebooks and websites also have candid, unbiased reviews and more hostel tips for the specific places you’re looking at.

Hosteling is something that every traveler should try at least once. Follow these top five tips to ensure that your hostel experience is a positive one!