Everything You Need to Know About Hostels
I recently backpacked my way through Peru and for the first time ever I gave you guys a glimpse into my budget traveler life. One of the most frequently asked questions I get when it comes to traveling is: How do you afford it? Well, surprise! This is one of the biggest money savers and one of the easiest ways I make my trips so affordable and possible.
Surprisingly, the majority of you were very surprised (and some very concerned) about my living conditions and the fact that this was my accomodation when I traveled. Truth is hosteling and backpacking is how I learned to travel both alone and with friends, so it is what I am most comfortable with and where I feel safest. I could easily opt to rent out an airbnb private room or a hotel room, but I always opt for hostels because it is the best way to save money AND meet people! Read my post on reasons why you need to stay in a hostel now here.
So what exactly is a hostel?
By dictionary definition, a hostel is an establishment that provides inexpensive food and lodging for a specific group of people, such as students, workers, or travelers.
My definition: Simply put, it is a shared accommodation. The concept is, instead of staying in a private room with a private bathroom (such as a hotel or Airbnb would be), you stay in a dorm room sharing the room with other people (dorm rooms can range anywhere from 4 to 24 people--I have stayed in rooms of both sizes and everything in between).
Yes, this also means the bathrooms are communal and often times gender neutral.
Some bathrooms have gender specific bathrooms, but there are few and far in between.
In summary, it is where you can go to sleep on a budget.
Booking/How does it work?
One of the reasons why hostels are so safe, is because they are all managed through secure hostel booking websites packed with reviews, detailed information about what you are booking, ratings, a map, photos of the space and the exact price you are paying.
Just like a hotel, you book on the platform and pay a deposit. Typically it is ~10% of your total payment. Unlike hotels, you pay the full amount when you arrive at the hostel. Some hostel owners are very trusting and give you the option of paying at the end of your stay. You can either pay in your currency or the currency of the country you are in.
Check in times typically vary anywhere from noon-4pm depending on the size of the hostel. Smaller hostels that are run by the owner themselves typically let you check in when you arrive (whether it is at 5 am or 6 pm) if the rooms are empty.
When you arrive you are given a room key, your bed, a locker (some hostels have lockers big enough to fit your small suitcase/backpack) and sometimes a tour of the space.
After your stay, you are able to leave a review for future guests!
How about showering?
As I have said above, hostels are a shared space, meaning the bathrooms follow suit. Each hostel is different in the way that their showers work. Some have 4-5 showers in one room and a common sink area. Some have a gender specific bathrooms (most don’t). Some have private one person showers (sink and toilet included), but it is for communal/public use.
Is it anything like the Hostel Movie?
If I had a dollar for everytime I got asked this question, I can probably afford to stay in a fancy hotel room. Long story short, No. Not at all. I’ve been staying in hostels since 2016, and I still stand by my statement that that movie is nothing but a mere exaggeration. While others may have encountered creepy and less than desirable experiences, I have yet to come across it and certainly hope I never will. Knock on wood.
Since it is a shared space, does it get too loud?
Yes and no. Because it is a shared space and because most people living at hostels are traveling, you are all coming back home at the end of the night (or morning--looking at you Barcelona) or leaving in the morning at different times, you can expect some noise and ruffling as people try to find their way back to their beds or wake up to their alarms.
You can also be extra selective about the kind of hostel you stay in. There are “party hostels” that are for youngins’ who plan to party and stay out (these hostels often have humongous common areas or a bar/club are for people to party till dawn in). There are also “quiet hostels” in which it there sometimes is not a common area at all and most people just come in and leave.
Are they clean?
Again this is a yes and no. Purely dependent on the hostel/the housekeeper that day. I’ve stayed in some super clean hostels, and I have stayed in some that were not exactly a best. Hey it’s part of the experience!
Side Note: When reading reviews do a specific search and search the word “clean” and it will give you an idea of how clean the space it. Hostelworld also has a ranking scale for cleanliness.
How do I find one?
There are many booking sites to find one. The one I personally use and have been using for the last 2 years is www.Hostelworld.com (this is not sponsored).
Do they do background checks on people?
Unfortunately, no. Though this would be a great safety measure, most hostel dwellers are on the road and book their stays as they go meaning no time for background checks. Just as long as you can book online and have a form of payment you are able to book!
Do people steal?
There are cases and situations, but from my personal experience, I’ve never gotten anything stolen. Again, knock on wood! If it makes you feel better, the majority of the hostel dwellers are backpackers just like you trying to save money, so they are generally very nice and very honest people who wouldn’t really think to steal your things. All hostels also provide you with locker space where you can store all your valuables (just make sure to bring your own locks)!
My Personal Tips
-Book hostels that offer free breakfast
This is an absolute must in my book. I think of it as an extra way to save and cutting the cost of getting my own breakfast on my own dime. Though hostel breakfasts are infamous for being just bread and butter... talk about a traveler’s diet!
-Invest in a travel towel
Often times hostels charge an extra fee for a towel, save money by bringing your own!
-If you are really on a budget, find a hostel with a kitchen and cook your own meals instead of eating out all the time
-Bring shower slippers
Showers are communal and why I know I keep my feet clean, I’m not too sure about everyone else lol. This is a must for me!
-Thoroughly read reviews as this is the best way to making sure that where you are staying is safe and what you are looking for.
-Try to ONLY book hostels with reviews of 9 stars and above (if all else fails, nothing below 8!)
-Pay attention to HOW MANY reviews a place has. A place with 9.5 stars and 500 reviews is more reliable than a place with 10 stars and 1 review
-Purchase a cable lock and have at least 2 (place all your valuables in the lockers, especially before you go to sleep at night!)
-MAKE NEW FRIENDS!!! This is one of the biggest reasons why I stay at hostels!
-Lastly, while I find it completely safe. It is still a shared space, so make sure to lock away your valuables and don’t just leave it laying around!
I hope this helps! Feel free to leave a comment below if you have any other questions.
Til' Next Time,