Welcome to my declassified hostel survival guide. As you may have gathered from my past adventures, O is in charge of flights and I book the hostels as the plane pushes back from the gate so I tend to be pretty pressed for time as I make my decision. The thing about picking a hostel is that it isn’t a science. It’s a balance of what you are vs. are not willing to give up, and skimming the reviews.
Hosteling in your 20’s
I’ve heard varying opinions but I think every 20-something year old should put some time in at a hostel. Squeaky bunk beds and communal showers aside, hostels tend to have free breakfasts and activities, cheap rentals, awesome bars and sweet lounge areas. You get to know SO many people and see the world on a budget. Not every hostel experience is going to be a walk in the park, but most of them are seriously worth it. Unfortunately, hostels tend to have a bad rep for being gross. That’s literally not true. So far I have only had one less than exemplary hostel experience (but ironically the most aesthetically pleasing one) which was only because I booked merely on the recommendation of a fellow traveler without reading any reviews or questioning the unnaturally low price.
Hostel vs Hotel
There is a time and a place for each. Traveling with a group with your own plans, book a hotel room. Traveling solo or with one or two people and you need your space but also low-key interested in meeting people, book a private room in a hostel. Traveling alone on a very low budget and interested in meeting people, book a bunk bed in a hostel dorm. How many beds before it’s too much? The best number is six. Four is almost a private room, eight to ten you are pushing a terrible night’s sleep.
Hostel packing essentials
Every hostel is going to be just a little different. Bigger cities and pricier countries tend to include a towel but no breakfast. Sometimes the lockers fit a passport and wallet while other times they fit your whole backpack. I even stayed in a room with a mini fridge the other weekend in New York with my friend E. Traveling in Asia taught me the importance of bringing a roll of toilet paper and being in larger dorms made me grateful for an external charger pack because there were few outlets and far from my bed. However, these are my invariable essentials:
- sleep mask
- wet wipes
- hand sanitizer
I’ve learned to take these with a grain of salt because everyone has different standards. Check for specific pros and cons and draw conclusions from several reviews in the same season, preferably the most recent ones for best accuracy. If there is one specific bad review in an ocean of overall good vibes, just move on. That person might not be used to hostel travel or just had a particularly bad experience. Reviews can also be super helpful in outlining some cool hostel features that may not have been listed in the amenities.
I’ve had the most success with the average price. Too high and you might as well book a hotel room and too low is usually missing a key component which is usually either cleanliness or proximity to destination highlights.