Hostels. The dreaded part of travelling that for some can be a massive worry! Before my first hostel stay, I had only ever shared a room on holiday with my sibling or friends, or shared a room with a partner. Sharing a room with strangers? I must be crazy!
Where I used to be a solely ’boutique hotel’ kinda girl, I soon learnt that solo travel and wanting to stay in fancy hotels don’t go hand in hand. And after the first few hostels, I started to enjoy it. It taught me to be more open and outgoing, to approach people and start conversations and just generally come out of my shell a bit. The more I stayed in hostels, the more I learnt these tips for a happy hostel stay.
– Make sure there’s a locker –
Seems obvious, right? But some places just don’t have them, or only have really small ones. Check whether the hostel has large lockers that are big enough for your bag, or whether they are small gym-like lockers that you can just fit your valuables in. If you’re looking for more comfort and ease, those hostels that have rollaway lockers that go under the bed are the absolute best! It’s nice to be able to unpack a little and not have to unpack/repack every time you put your bag away in the locker.
– Opt for as few beds in a room as possible –
Private rooms are, of course, the ideal. But in a world where we try to balance comfort with travelling for as long as possible, sometimes private rooms are just too pricey. Especially for solo travellers! In this case, try and book a room with as few beds in it as possible. This means there are less people coming and going, less chance of you being woken up in the middle of the night and if it’s a quiet enough time you might also get the room to yourself. Perfect for a happy hostel stay!
– Don’t book an en suite –
It sounds like a good idea to start with. Less people to share with, easy access because it’s just off your room. But then you realise that because it’s attached to your room, everyone can usually hear when you’re in there and what you’re doing. Because there’s usually just one bathroom per room – unless you’re in a big dorm – if someone is in there, you have to wait. And some people can take a long time in the bathroom! Nothing like not being able to start your day because someone is taking their sweet time in the bathroom.
Although shared bathrooms mean more people using it, decent hostels will clean them more often. It also means more facilities available at once. Even in hostels where there have been 2 toilets & showers for girls, same again for boys, I haven’t had to wait for long, if at all, to use whichever I need. Plus the showers and toilets are separate, so if someone is using the shower it doesn’t take the toilet out of action too.
– Have earplugs –
People snore. People chat. People are just noisy sometimes. If you’re a light sleeper, then earplugs are a godsend for a decent nights sleep and an overall happy hostel stay. As a heavy sleeper, I never had much trouble with noise in a hostel, until I met my match – my snoring nemesis. No-one in the room could sleep, apart from him, and we eventually moved rooms for the night in the hopes of getting some sleep.
– Comfy common area –
Not so important if you’re just on a weekend break, but if you’re travelling for a long time then you’ll probably travel a little slower than the weekend breakers and crave the comfort of a sofa. There’s still life admin that needs to be done, and it’s nice to have a place to do that outside of your bunk bed. Common areas are also a great way to meet people who aren’t staying in your dorm room, or to enjoy pre-drinks if you’re getting ready for a night out.
– Pack smart! –
If you’re arriving at the hostel late in the evening, or know that you’ll be making an early exit, make sure you pack the things you need near the top of your bag. There’s nothing as unwelcome as lots of noise as someone digs around in their bag when people are trying to sleep. If there’s one thing for sure, grumpy dorm mates = not so happy hostel stay.
– Air-con –
Imagine all those bodies in one room, in a hot country. It gets hotter than the average room would, and you will be so thankful for air-conditioning. Having stayed in a hostel with no air-con in the middle of a heatwave and not being able to open the windows, I can say without a doubt – never again!
– Pack a padlock –
Absolute essential! If you don’t have one before arriving, most large hostels will sell you one at reception. You’ll need it to lock your locker in most hostels, and when moving from place to place it’s a good idea to lock your bag shut, just to slow down any cheeky thieves who want to unzip it and take something. Small locks usually won’t fit the larger lockers, and large ones will be too bulky or also won’t fit through the locker holes. Those with keys are best, but if you’re the kind to misplace the key then a combination padlock is a great shout!
I usually carry two – one that needs a key and then another that needs a combination. I’ve never needed two, but it’s handy to have two different sizes and also…I lose things and wouldn’t want to be left without a padlock.
– Bring a USB plug or extension lead –
Most hostel beds have a plug point in the bunk. Chances are you might have more than one thing you want to charge overnight – phone, tablet, camera? – and so just one plug isn’t enough. It’s a good idea to grab either a USB plug where you can plug multiple cables in at once, or to bring some kind of extension lead. This also means you don’t need converters for all of your appliances, just the one for your extension lead. If there’s one thing that makes for a happy hostel stay and for a great trip, it’s having everything charged and able to be used!
– Request the bunk you prefer –
Some hostels don’t have bunk beds, but this is quite rare. Instead, you’ll be faced with either top or bottom bunk. Or if you’re really (un)lucky, middle bunk. Oh yes, there are triple bunk beds. Some people prefer the top bunk so it’s unlikely that someone else will sit on their bed or accidentally climb in with them, while others prefer the bottom bunk so they can sit on their bed while they put on their shoes and don’t have to tackle the ladder.
I’m personally a bottom bunk kind of person, and usually request a bottom bunk when I book a hostel. One place misunderstood my request and actually moved someone from the bottom bunk to free it up because they thought I had something wrong with my legs and couldn’t use a top bunk. That was an awkward conversation…
– Microfibre towels –
Lightweight, fast drying and wrap up really small, microfibre towels are a travellers best friend! They take up hardly any space in your backpack, and the fact they dry so quickly is great for use as a towel in the hostel or as a beach towel. You don’t get the same soft and fluffy drying experience that you might at home, but they’re a great alternative for travel.
You can pick up microfibre towels in most sports shops, or online.
– Flip flops –
Grab yourself a pair to leave next to your bed so if you’re walking around, nipping to the bathroom or taking a shower – yes, in the shower – you have something to put on your feet.
– Check if there’s a 24 hour reception –
We can’t always time our arrival to coincide with check in unfortunately. The info page should tell you when you’re booking the hostel if the reception has specific opening times, but some will charge if you arrive outside of certain hours. No one wants to have to pay extra just to check in, and it’s also no fun having to hang around with a backpack waiting for a reception to open even just to leave your bag there until you can check in.
– Curtains or Pod – yay! –
Yes, you’re sharing a room, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have any privacy. Pod hostels are becoming more and more popular, and it’s perfect for people who want to be able to have some alone time while still saving money and sleeping in a dorm. Some of the nicest hostels I’ve stayed in were pod hostels, I actually loved it and had a very happy hostel stay! If it can’t be a pod, a curtain is a great alternative. Nothing like closing the curtain at the end of the day and having your own little bubble to chill out in.
Check out my favourite pod hostel stay so far at Bunk!
– Check the reviews –
Some hostels have a real party vibe, while others are more laid back with nights out organised for those who want it. Others still just offer a bed in a room, real ‘no frills’ accommodation. If you’re going to make the most of the nightlife and meet like minded people, check for the reviews that talk about a social vibe. For those trips where you want an early start to make the most of a day trip, it’s probably best to find a place that is a bit quieter and you’re less likely to be woken at 4am by people coming back to the room.
Aside from checking the reviews for the vibe of the hostel, you’ll also want to check whether there are enough bathroom facilities – it’s no fun queuing for the bathroom that has one toilet for twenty people to share. I once stayed somewhere where the showers were the kind you’d have at home, partly shaded but in the main bathroom with no privacy. Won’t make that mistake again!
If you’re travelling long term, you might find take out or eating out is getting a bit boring, or maybe you just fancy checking out the supermarket and rustling up some things you find there. In this case, you’ll want to see if there are cooking facilities available. Word of warning – check what they actually mean by ‘kitchen’. Some places consider this the same as a home kitchen, for others it’s just a microwave. And last but definitely by no means least – cleanliness. Do other people comment on the stains on the sheets, or the constant smell in the dorm? It’s not going to be The Ritz, but you don’t need to stay in a dirty hovel.
– Change rooms –
Unless you & your friends book a whole dorm, you’ll never know who else you can be sharing with. If you find that you really can’t sleep, or really don’t get on with the people in your room, just head to reception and ask to change. If there are beds available that cover your stay, they’ll usually have no problems allowing you to move. Although a room isn’t everything, if I can sleep well and enjoy a happy hostel stay, I’m usually more refreshed and ready to explore where I’m visiting.
– Chat to the receptionist –
Well, of course you’ll speak to the receptionist during your stay. But, if you want to find the best places the locals enjoy, or the beaches that tourists don’t tend to venture to, you’ll want to have a chat with the receptionist. Usually they live in the same town, and they’ll have the best recommendations.
– Put toiletries in a bag –
One of the worst bits of staying in a hostel is having to carry your toiletries to the bathroom every time. And then having to go back to the room, dig around in your bag because you forgot the toothpaste. If you keep all of your toiletries in a plastic bag or toiletries bag, it’s easy to carry it all to the bathroom each time or at least grab everything you need in one go rather than digging around in your bag each time.
Do you have any extra tips to share for a happy hostel stay?
Did you know you can book hostels on both hostelworld.com and booking.com?