Well long story short, hostels are amazing. If you are budget traveling then you’re going to need to stay in hostels. I’ve found, however, that my fellow Americans have some reservations about these wonderful places. I blame the movie Hostel for about 75% of this and I blame the other 25% on the absence of hostels in most of the U.S. The rest of the world doesn’t have this hang up about hostels. So I’m here to help ya’ll out and give you all the information you could ever need.
Rule #1: Hostels are not dangerous (Curse, you, Hostel movie). Katelyn and I have stayed in hostels in about 20 different countries collectively and never once have either of us had a problem. I know how it sounds, sharing and sleeping in a room with strangers, but it just isn’t as weird as one would think. Everyone there is there for the same reason you are: they too are packed and penniless. Honestly, it’s a fantastic place to make friends because you always have that in common.
You find various types of people in hostels. The first person is our personal favorite person who we affectionately call, the dirty backpacker. Katelyn and I try very hard to blend into this group of people because we just want to be like the cool kids. Yes friends, the dirty backpackers are the cool kids. How do you spot this person? (1). They will have a travel backpack, it will have patches or pins on it and it will look worn. (2) They will also have unfashionable, bright, or odd pieces of clothing. The backpacker rule is to pick up unusual clothes from wherever you travel and use that clothing to signal to other backpackers that you’re the real deal. (3). Their first question to you will be, “How long have you been traveling?” This is a pivotal moment because if you say anything less than a month, they will know you aren’t one of them. If you explain that you have, however, traveled a lot and can impress them with your knowledge of other countries, sometimes all is not lost. (4). Dirty backpackers will always have giant bottles of water with them. I’m talking 2 liters. (5). They will be talking about the cheapest food you can find in the area and assume you also are only there to eat the cheapest food in the area. You can get good travel tips and often they know the coolest things to do in the area because they have been hanging out in that current city for at least 2 weeks.
The second type of person you find is the group of American or European girls. These come in 2 categories: The Solo Travelers and The 2 Person Adventurers. There’s this movement that every girl should solo travel to find themselves or whatever, so they set off into Europe or South America to travel and take insta pics. Well, most girls don’t actually like to be alone so they end up clumping into larger groups that travel together. So they are solo traveling…together. They are usually very nice people and will definitely let you join in their group and hang out with them if you want. Very inclusive. I know what you’re thinking, that second category sounds a lot like Katelyn and you. NO WE ARE BACKPACKERS OK? WE ARE SUPER COOL TRAVELERS THAT ARENT AFRAID TO GET DIRTY AND WE HAVE BACKPACKS…..ok fine maybe a little. So like I said, girls don’t really like to travel alone, so they do it in pairs. These people are probably traveling for a week or two, more of a vacation than “Traveling”. They can fall either way, they may keep to themselves and do their own thing or they may venture into hostel society. It depends.
Now you’re asking, “Are there any boys in these hostels?” Yes, they are either dirty backpackers, part of a couple, or Australians. Another interesting fact about hostels? There is an Australian in every single one of them at any given time. Not sure if the country itself came together to make this happen or it’s just one of those weird scientific phenomenons, but it’s true.
The last important person in the hostel is the hostel workers! These are usually young people that are traveling and ended up working there to get free room and board. Again, penniless, so just our type of people. They are super cool humans that will help you get a deal on some cool activities or take you on a tour of the city or will introduce you to hilarious British tv shows. Their job is to hang out with you and pour you a tequila shot when your team loses a round of trivia. Be nice to these people and they will be nice to you. They know what’s up.
Yes you are sharing a room with strangers, but you pay for how private your room is, so there is anywhere from 4 bed dorms to 25 bed dorms. The smaller your room, the quieter it is. Smaller room = better night sleep. However, smaller room = more $$$. We usually look for a 6 or 8 person room. Sometimes a 4 bed room can be awkward cause you’re just too alone with these 2 other people and you are forced to talk to them. It can feel more like a sleepover with strangers than it might in a slightly larger room, but to each their own. If you are female and it would make you feel more comfortable, there are also female only dorms you can book in most hostels. Dorms are just rooms with bunk beds in them. When booking online, it will specify “mixed” or “female only” dorms.
An average hostel has an outlet and a light for each bed. Good hostels add a locker for each bed and a great hostel has a curtain or pod for each bed. Don’t worry, you will know what your hostel has when you book it, but remember to check what kind of amenities your hostel has before you book. Another important part of the hostel is its kitchen. The backpackers cook as many meals as they can because #penniless. Some kitchens are well equipped and some are definitely not, so check that out if that’s something you want to participate in.
Before you decide to stay in a hostel, you should also try to find out if it’s a party hostel or not. A party hostel is pretty self explanatory. The inmates of the hostel in question go out every night and are very social beings, the hostel probably has its own bar, and the hostel probably has an age limit. Anyone over 35 need not apply. Depending on what type of trip you are going on, you need to decide if this is the place for you. You will be able to tell from their website what kind of vibe they are going for. There are very chill hostels out there too that I’ve seen families staying in. Some hostels are even child friendly, so there’s a hostel for everyone!
Booking a hostel
Hostelworld.com is where we do most of our travel planning. My advice? Check out the ratings! Read all the information provided, look at all the pictures, and read a good number of the reviews. Someday we may make a ranking of the hostels we’ve stayed in over the years, but until that day the more research the better! Look and see if there is a free breakfast, might be worth paying a few extra dollars to stay there. If it has its own pool, might be worth a few extra dollars. If it’s close to the city center… you catch my drift? Check all the fine print, like when you can check in and out and if the hostel has a curfew. These things can effect if you want to stay there or not. Even with all that, you have to keep in mind that this is a HOSTEL not a HOTEL. I have found that hostels work their angles when taking these pictures and things can look very different than they did online.
Kah’beh Hostel in Cancun was a good party hostel and Banana’s Adventure in Huacachina, Peru had it’s own pool!
Tips and Tricks
- Eyemask and headphones- make it easier on yourself to sleep. People will be coming in and out at weird times and not everyone will go to sleep at a reasonable hour, so the lights might be on when you want to go to bed. I’m a light sleeper so I sleep with my headphones in, listening to white noise.
- Shower shoes- Did I mention that you are also probably sharing a bathroom? Bring some flip-flops because it’s the hygienic thing to do.
- Renting towels- If you are traveling in a backpack, a bulky towel is the last thing you want to give space to. Many hostels will let you rent a towel for a reasonable rate or even just a deposit. This is another thing to look for before you book. If you do not want to spend the money to rent a towel and are only staying at the hostel for a night, you can always dry off with the sheet you slept on… you wouldn’t be the first to do so. 🙂
- Be social- This is a perk of hostels that you should take advantage of. Don’t just hang out in your bed with your one friend (no offense, Katelyn). Check out the common spaces and start conversation with all the interesting, international people around you. If you’re reading this, you speak English, lucky you! So you will more than likely be able to find other English speaking people around.
- Valuables- Like I said, hostels are pretty safe places, but also don’t be dumb. Katelyn and I both sleep with our purses in our beds. I put my nice camera, my passport and my wallet in it. More than likely, no one was going to take your stuff, but it’s best to just remove the temptation. If you’re going to leave your bag in the hostel when you go out and it won’t be in a locker, I put a travel lock on my bag. Again, more than likely no one is going to take your bag, but it’s a lot more tempting just sitting there without a lock. Remove that temptation for them. Again, I’ve never once had anything stolen from me, but better to be safe than sorry.
All that to say, go into it with an open mind. You are budget traveling, not staying at the Ritz Carlton. There’s nothing worse than someone being snobby at a hostel; this is not the place. Hostels aren’t for everyone, so make sure you’re willing to embrace the experience before you go. You will be getting a taste of culture you wouldn’t otherwise get, meeting interesting people, and saving a lot of money!