If you’re trying to travel the world on a budget, hostels can be your best friend. They’re typically a fraction of the cost of hotels, but there are definite pros and cons to staying in hostels.
Hostels are more like college dorms than traditional hotels. You can find them in pretty much every country, especially in popular tourist destinations.
Although they cater to younger travelers and backpackers, most hostels don’t have an age restriction for guests. That having been said, hostels are often lively–even rowdy–places full of international guests. They’re great if you want to meet new people, but they don’t offer much in the way of luxury or privacy.
Most hostels have separate dorms for men and women, as well as mixed-gender rooms. The beds are almost always some style of bunk bed, and dorms typically sleep anywhere from 4 to 20 people.
Bathrooms at hostels are shared, with at least one per floor. Most have multiple toilets and shower stalls, but you may find yourself having to wait for your turn.
You’ll usually have access to a shared kitchen as well, which is great if you want to bring home leftovers or save money by cooking meals. In addition, most hostels will offer some kind of coin-op laundry facilities.
Finally, you’ll almost always find a lively, if shabby, common area. Expect to meet fellow travelers from all over the world here–and to hear conversations in many different languages. If someone is hanging out in the common area, consider it an invitation to strike up a conversation.
The main downside to staying in a hostel is the lack of privacy. Most reputable hostels will offer some kind of locker for any valuables–although you will have to bring or buy a lock.
If you don’t have access to a locker or would prefer not to use one, your best bet is to keep your wallet and passport on your person at all times. You should also reconsider bringing any especially valuable or irreplaceable items on your trip. Better safe than sorry!
Hostels sometimes have curfews, so make sure you know when the doors get locked at night. Even if they don’t have a curfew, there will be someone at the front desk overnight.
Did I mention that you shouldn’t expect luxury? Hostels typically don’t offer much beyond the basics. If you want super-soft sheets, bring your own. Worried about noise? Wear headphones or earplugs.
Always read the online reviews before booking. Some hostels are much nicer than others! Those run by Hostels International (HI) are reliably clean and professional, but you should still look closely at online photos and reviews left by former guests.
Getting changed is a hassle at hostels. Some of your roommates will have zero modesty. Others will insist on changing in the bathrooms. Where you fall on that spectrum is a personal preference.
If you can, secure a bottom bunk. Not only will it be easier to get in and out, but you’ll also be able to stow your gear underneath the bed. While many hostels provide sheets, it doesn’t hurt to bring your own sleep sheet. You can make one fairly easily by folding a king-sized flat sheet in half and sewing up the long side. You should definitely bring your own towel and washcloth.
Speaking of showers, don’t expect the mini bottles of toiletries you find at hotels. Make sure to bring your own shampoo and soap. It’s a good idea to have shower shoes, too. A cheap pair of rubber flipflops will make showering in a communal space much more pleasant.
Staying in hostels is a great option for budget-conscious travelers. It’s also good for people exploring solo who want to meet other travelers, as well as groups who want to crash for a few nights without booking multiple hotel rooms.