I don’t know about you but on the lead up to my departure date for a year of travelling Australia, it wasn’t so much the sharks and spiders worrying me – it was the hostels. It was one of those things that people asked me about before I left home and I would reply most of the time by making an ‘Ehhhhh‘ noise and pulling quite an unattractive face. I dreaded it. The pure thought of it! Ugh.
BUT it’s also one of those things that you just have to do! If you want to travel long-term, while saving money AND having the chance to socialise, then hostels is your answer. As much as I dreaded it back at the beginning… by the end I was an expert! I stayed in over 40 hostels in the space of a year, including one where I lived for a total of 5 months!
From picking the most suitable hostel to getting to grips with sharing communal areas and knowing how to strike up conversation, I feel it’s safe to say I’ve had quite the insight! And now I want to share it all with you. If your departure date is looming and like me, you’re also dreading hostel life or you’ve stayed in a few but can’t quite get to grips with them OR you’re simply curious and have some questions about this weird and wonderful part of travel lifestyle, you’ll find all the answers you need below.
First things first, how do you find the RIGHT hostel for you?
There was a time where hostels were thought of as pretty grim places; dirty, messy, unhygienic. But it’s a HUGE misconception nowadays as there’s heaps of really cool hostels dotted all around the globe. Some are SO modern, you could easily believe you’re staying in a small, boutique hotel. Obviously, there’s still a few, shall we say… less clean hostels listed on booking sites and hopefully you’ll know by reading the reviews, checking out the photos and spotting some extremely cheap prices for dorm rooms. The more facilities, the cleaner the building, the more social events on offer and the proximity to local action is all going to determine how popular a hostel is and just how much they will be prepared to price their dorms at.
So, what do hostels cost?
As well as popularity having an effect on rates, the amount you pay per night to stay in a hostel will also depend on: the time of year you’re staying, the booking site you use and also the type of dorm you book. The more beds, the cheaper the cost! You can sleep in dorm rooms at some hostels with as many as 30 other beds. I know, insane. OR you can choose to go down the minimalist route while still maintaining a fairly low budget and book yourself into dorms sleeping anywhere between 4 and 8 people. On top of just sleeping numbers, a lot of hostels (but not all) give a choice between mixed dorms and female-only, with the latter being slightly more pricey. The lowest I paid for a night in a hostel in Australia was $20 (roughly £10.50) and the highest I paid was $46 (about £24). I almost always opted for female-only dorms and varied between 6, 8 and 4-beds (if I reallyyy wanted to treat myself).
What type of dorm should you choose to stay in?
This all depends on you as a person, what you feel comfortable with and what you feel you can tolerate. It can be a bit of a gamble that is sometimes worth taking. Follow the old ‘if you don’t try, you’ll never know‘ motto and experiment with dorm rooms. Get a feel for what you like and if by chance you experience a horrendous nights sleep thanks to rude or noisy roommates, put it down as part of the experience and change the type of room you go for next time! Some people literally do not care an ounce and are happy to pay for the cheapest dorm in the cheapest hostel just for somewhere to rest their head after a long day exploring or a night on the town. If you’re on the shy side (and particularly if you’re on the solo, shy side) think about easing yourself in with smaller dorms first.
What should you look out for when picking a hostel on a booking site?
A high-ish rating is a good starting point, followed by some positive reviews and a selection of attractive photos. As you start reading the bio for the hostel, look for things that make them stand out from others. Do they offer free, unlimited Wi-Fi in ALL areas? Do they lay on a free breakfast? Do they organise social events each week or each night? Do they organise free walking tours or hire out free bikes? Do they have an on-site cafe or bar? If you’re looking for chill-time over partying, be cautious when choosing hostels with on-site bars. Some are just pretty easy, calm bars set on a cute rooftop, and some are CRAZY, MUSIC-THUMPING AT ALL HOURS OF THE NIGHT, ECHOING AROUND THE WHOLE BUILDING bars. I personally think it’s cool when you can find hostels that offer events like wine and cheese nights, dinner nights, maybe movie nights with free popcorn and if you’re in a big city and you’ve got a few pals, you’ll find that some hostels often organise pub crawls for something like $20 per person.
How exactly do hostels work?
You’ll check in at your hostel, much like you would in a hotel – perhaps a little more informally at some places. You should be told about the hostel facilities, what times the kitchen opens and closes, how you enter the hostel if reception isn’t available all night, what activities and events they offer – if any – and what to do with your bed sheets when you check out etc. In a lot of cases you’ll be handed a top sheet or it’ll already be provided on your bed for you. You’ll enter your dorm and pounce on the available bed (here’s hoping it’s a bottom bunk) before hopefully getting to know a few of your room-mates. There will usually be a locker per person for your luggage and if you’re exceptionally lucky, you’ll also get bed lamps and a plug socket per bed! When it comes time for food, assuming you’re staying a little while at the hostel and want to do some cooking, you’ll see that most kitchens have their own systems in regards to storing your own food. There will be labels and pens for you to mark your name, dorm and check-out date on and those will be placed on your bag. Don’t label your food and there’s a chance it could be thrown out… or eaten by someone else.
What sort of people stay in hostels?
There are several types of travellers staying in hostels. There’s those who are there for a party every night where as far as they’re concerned, absolutely everyone is invited. Then there’s those I mentioned before – exploring all day and returning by night to relax and have some time to themselves, they’re not adverse to socialising but they don’t always actively seek it like some others. And then there’s the silent types, very hard to converse with let alone get eye contact with. And actually, there’s probably another dozen types of travellers to meet in a hostel. That’s what becomes so interesting the more hostels you stay at and the more you adjust to the lifestyle.
Is it easy to make friends in hostels?
Again, this one is going to depend greatly on you as a person. We’ve already discussed those travellers who want to party a lot and want to socialise with as many people as they can while traveling and staying in hostels. It’s easier for some people than it is for others, which is why it’s always a good idea to find hostels that organise weekly activities and social events if you think you need a little bit of help with socialising and meeting people. It’s nothing to feel ashamed about or to worry about – striking up conversation with complete strangers can be bloody hard! Also, it’s not always about feeling the need to make hundreds of new friends in every hostel you stay at. Sometimes it’s just as lovely to have a nice chat with someone who might only be staying one night but your conversation just flows, or to meet people who can pass on tips about places they’ve been that are on your list, and vice versa.
How should you prepare for hostel life?
Living in hostels isn’t going to have the same level of comfort that you might be used to in your own home. Nearly everything that you experience is going to be a shared experience, from using communal bathrooms, kitchens and sleeping in dorms with multiple people. Sadly, some travellers don’t quite grasp the unwritten rules of hostel life and make it a little difficult for others, whether they’re being noisy late at night preventing you from sleep, switching on lights to pack a suitcase in the early hours of the morning or failing to clean up after themselves in the kitchen. It’s best to start off by lowering your standards and not setting your expectations so high… then you won’t be quite so disappointed when you realise you’re not living a life of complete luxury!
Is it a good idea to live long-term in a hostel?
If it works for you – yeah, why not? You’ll likely receive some weird expressions when people just don’t seem to understand how you can live in one hostel for an extended amount of time, but it’s your travels and your decision. One negative for me became loneliness because people come and go so often that it can be difficult at times to form friendships. But ultimately for me, after weighing up everything, I stuck with it because it was the cheapest option I’d found (compared to rentals), it was in a great location to the town and the beach (and my job) and it was a totally unique living experience that I will possibly never encounter again!
What are some of the negatives to hostel life?
- As already mentioned, there are the occasional traveller’s who don’t quite behave the same as most, which is a shame because when you’re constantly travelling and moving between hostels you crave the tiny bit of comfort that you can get.
- In the event you choose to stay long-term in a hostel, unless there are lots of other long-termers staying, it can become emotional and isolating having to make friends and watch them go so often.
- Although lots of hostels these days are well designed, there are still some that lack any design or colour or at times, cleanliness. Actually one of my worst hostels in Australia was my first one, which just shows how little I knew at the beginning about choosing a hostel – I did pick a 4-bed dorm to ease myself in but it was cramped and smelly with grey walls – very prison cell vibes. Luckily, it was only up from there!
- Another negative is simply not having enough of your own space but as you go along, you’ll get used to living in a much more compact style.
- There’s only so much you can cook in hostel kitchens because it’s very rare to find one equipped with an oven (sometimes they’re not equipped with much at all!) – this is why some popular backpacker meals night after night are pasta and noodles. But on the flipside, it can be fun to experiment with cooking and challenging yourself with creating new one-pot meals!
And what are some of the top benefits to staying in hostels?
- They’re cheap. And since nearly all travellers would much rather save their funds for more exciting things, hostels will always be a great solution for saving money.
- In fact, some hostels will even offer weekly deals or if you do decide to stay long-term at one hostel, you’ll find that most of them will discount your weekly rate or there may be opportunities for you to work part-time at the hostel and in return, you get to stay for free!
- A lot of hostels are extremely catered to traveller’s so expect to find heaps of information to help you on your journey and, some bigger city hostels even have on-site travel agencies so you don’t need to go far if you’d like help booking a tour!
- You will more than likely find hostels in very close proximity to a location’s most popular sights and activities.
- Larger hostel chains, like YHA and Nomads have good relationships with tourism companies so will usually be able to assist and offer discounts for popular activities – that’s not a given but is always worth asking!
- And of course an obvious bonus is the ability to socialise and meet people from all walks of life, each on their own journey – just like you.
Hostels really aren’t as daunting as many of us think. Worry less and accept them more for being exactly what they are; a place to sleep and be safe when travelling, to socialise if you want to and even to call one a temporary home that will most likely be more cost-efficient than staying in hotels or renting a place to live. Plus, I don’t think travelling would be travelling without the added experience of hostel life, because it’s an experience in itself! Hopefully this post has covered a lot of ground, but the scope of hostel talk is never-ending so if you have any other questions, feel free to drop me a comment below or get in touch via my contact page.