One of the most intimidating factors for new backpackers is the looming necessity of staying at a hostel. While bus tours and groups of friends often have the opportunity to fill a small dorm, you haven’t truly experienced hostels until you’ve stayed in an over-crowed, sweaty, smelly, 32 bed-dorm. I stayed in my first in Rome at the age of 11.
While my case of travel bug may be labelled as extreme (and extremely contagious, just to warn you) most backpackers choose to ease their way into the dorm room experience. If you’re travelling solo, don’t fret—more experienced backpackers will take you under their wing. The following factors I’ve chosen to outline are central for most hostels.
- The Kitchen: Every good hostel will have a kitchen. Most hostels only have stove tops, so don’t prepare any roast dinners. In fact, before you go grocery shopping, you should search the kitchen for bottle openers, can openers, salt, spices, and any free food fellow backpackers may have left behind and alter your shopping list accordingly. There will generally be a fridge with a shelf dedicated to leftovers and a large cubby with labelled food. Stealing another backpacker’s food is not an intelligent way to make friends. That being said, the kitchen is an open, safe places to meet other travellers. Sit at a table with people you don’t know – just don’t forget to do your dishes before you eat!
- Common Areas: Hostels have a wide variety of common areas, from movie rooms to pool tables to pubs to swimming pools. These areas are where your foreign friendships will be made, cemented, and expanded. While it may be tempting to escape the hostel during the day and return only to sleep, becoming acquainted with the people and place you’re staying at will make you feel much more comfortable and at home.
- The Dorm Room: Ah, the illusive dorm room… while it sounds daunting, I actually feel more comfortable in large dorms than I do in three-bed rooms. The way I look at it, if one person in a 12 bed dorm decides to try something funny with me, I have 10 roommates that have my back. In all of the hostels I have stayed at around the world (approximately 100) I have only felt uncomfortable enough to change rooms once. In that instance, I went down to the 24/7 reception (a nice safety feature included by some hostels) and explained the situation. They immediately switched me to a single room free of charge.
- The Bunk Bed: After a long day of sight seeing, adventuring outdoors, and drinking profusely with your new hostel mates, you’ll be ready for a good nights sleep. Make sure you lock your bags in the provided locker or shove your belongings under your bunk bed. Lock the door when you leave, too. Never, ever, under any circumstance, leave valuables out and in sight. Even if you’re just going to shower. Even if you’re just leaving the room to pee! I don’t care how close you and your roommates are. Don’t be stupid. Once everything’s away and you crawl into bed, don’t be surprised if your bed sags and the metal frame starts shaking. Oh, the joys of communal living…
- Rates Per Night: The price of a hostel doesn’t always determine its quality, but it is a factor to consider. Ask if the price includes breakfast, towels, and linens. If you’re planning on staying in one place for awhile, ask about weekly rate, work for accom, or long term options. I lived in a fantastic hostel in Edinburgh for a month—most of the guests had been there for nearly a year. Read online reviews and get insider tips, but take everything with a grain of salt, remembering that everyone carries their own personal bias based on individual experience.
I hope these explanations have given you some insight as to how a hostel runs and works. No matter what, there will be exceptions to these factors. The first step to conquering your hostelling fears is to simply pick one, book it, and go!