8 Tips For The Best Hostel Experience
So you are heading off on your exchange adventure.
You arrive a few days before you can move into your permanent accommodation.
The first question that comes to your mind – Where am I going to stay?
You are in a foreign land now.
“Crashing” someone’s couch for the night would most likely be out of the question.
Hotels are too expensive.
And so, there are Hostels!
My perception of hostels growing up is basically a cramped, smelly and loud location for those wishing to have a cheap, soft place to crash each night. Moreover, when you think of hostels, you might typically think that it is only a place for foreigners. But wait, you are, or will be, a foreigner in your new home country. Perfect!
Having experienced hostel living, let me share with you guys 8 tips in having the best hostel experience! Whether you are a complete newbie to hostel life like I was or an experienced veteran, there will definitely be something in here for you!
Tip 1: Plan Ahead!
Firstly, to obtain the best hostel experience for yourself, make the effort to plan ahead! While there is a sense of freedom and adventure in arriving at a new place and having nothing planned out, it pays to plan ahead most of the time. Hostels, especially cheap ones, can fill up tremendously fast especially during the holiday season and in popular locations. Imagine booking transport to a place, and deciding to worry about accommodations at a later time, only to find the cheapest available rooms being 3-4 times more expensive than what it would have been had you booked earlier. So book early!
The two best sites for researching and booking that most exchange students use are:
Tip 2: Read Reviews!
This is typically the most time-consuming part of travel planning but it will be worth it. The time you put into searching for information about a hostel will never go to waste! A bad hostel can ruin a trip while a great one will give you the best hostel experience!
The two sites in (Tip 1) have comprehensive rating and review systems, so do look through the comments from past visitors! Never let your initial perceptions by the look or photos of a hostel dictate your decisions, as typically they are far from the truth, good and bad! The travellers who have written reviews on these sites are in the exact same situation as you – they are generally looking for a cheap, comfortable place for the night. Their feedback will provide the best indicator of whether the hostel is worth booking. You can also google X hostel reviews to get a wider selection of feedback than just on those initial two sites.
However, be prepared for anything! For example when I turned up to a hostel in Estonia and there was a (hopefully fake) AK47 sitting behind the reception desk!
Tip 3: Know What Type of Traveller You Are!
The best hostel experience differs from each traveller to the next, so understand what you are looking for. Some people travel to a city for the nightlife every night, only exploring a few key areas once they are out of bed well after mid-day. Others are up at the crack of dawn determined to conquer anything and everything. Both travel styles are perfectly fine, you need to take living arrangements into account.
Look through the ratings and facilities offered at a hostel; the bigger the bar and size of hostel, the louder and more nocturnal the people will be. Some hostels are known for hosting parties, while others are known for having quiet, relaxed atmospheres. Both types of hostels are great places to meet new people, so choose one that fits your travel style!
Tip 4: Decide on Facilities Needed!
The best hostel doesn’t exist. A big part of finding accommodation is making trade-offs. Do you want to be close to the nightlife, have big bathrooms; free breakfast or excellent wifi? It all come down to who you are, what you like, how much planning you have done (how much wifi do you need?) and yet again how you want to travel. Some of the key considerations to make (excluding room size as that will be covered later on) are:
Personally, this is my first criteria. I like my hostel to be in the central area of the main attractions so that I don’t have to bother with foreign transport too often. I could then stroll around the city during the day without worrying about it being too far to get back. You should also consider the distance from the train/bus station or airport, but this is a lesser priority as 99% of the hostels I stayed at had directions to and from the major transport hubs.
A modern necessity for the younger generation and ill planned alike. Fortunately, most hostels have wifi (quality differs but see reviews for that) so it shouldn’t be a worry.
This was another key aspect for me, not a deal breaker like Location, but a free breakfast was well looked upon. Many hostels offer a basic but filling breakfast which not only means that you can reduce cost but you can also roll out of bed to the kitchen and get a feed. NOTE: the earlier you wake up, the more food you can get (especially the better foods).
It will take some time to get used to this aspect of hostels. Typically, rooms are locked and only those who booked the rooms can enter. However, when it comes to a 10-person room, strangers will definitely be around your belongings. Check if hostels provide lockers in the room or in the common space, as this would put you mind at ease. If not, look forward to carrying your valuables around all day!
For some, this is an important aspect, but you can never really know what you will get. Most beds will give you a good nights’ sleep as travelling tends to leave you exhausted anyway, but if you are a very sensitive sleeper, consider looking at feedback on beds! However, most beds will be bunk beds, so getting bottom bunk is recommended when you are creeping in after a big night or heading off early in the morning.
This is often overlooked but crucial for those travelling light or long term. Hostels that have washing machines and dryers mean that you can have a steady supply of clothes to keep going, and not repel those around you with a repugnant odour.
Hostels that are tidier, cleaner, and have more facilities would also mean a higher price and demand. Hence, always ask yourself if the nicer showers are worth that extra money, or if you are willing to make do with a quick scrub down under a dribbling shower.
Tip 5: Choose A Suitable Room Size!
Hostels offer different room sizes, with the larger rooms costing less than the smaller, cosier rooms. Sometimes, the price difference can be so huge that the large rooms may be the only option for you. Otherwise, you may want to experience both.
Large rooms are typically louder and less secure but are sometimes far cheaper. It also allows for interaction with far more people than you might do otherwise. You never know, your soul mate might just be in the bed next to you.
Conversely, small rooms are more expensive, but more secure and quiet. If you are one who prefers an retiring to an early night, small rooms may be the one for you. If you are travelling with a group, you may even be able to book the entire small room for you and your buddies!
I recommend large rooms for the money saving, but every 4th or 5th night, it won’t hurt to book a smaller room and get a really good nights’ sleep! It will make a world of difference to your trip, as there are few things worse than getting limited sleep every night and trying to explore a new place.
Tip 6: Meet Lots of People!
Whether you are travelling alone or in a group, there is no better way to meet diverse and like-minded people than in a hostel. The common areas, as well as your rooms, are great places to strike up a conversation with a fellow traveller. You will find that the people there are some of the most welcoming, friendly and energetic people you will meet. It is common for people to meet each other in the hostels, and then proceed to spend the rest of their travels together. It is always nice to share new experiences with people and you are quite likely to make some good friends out of it.
To have the best hostel experience, don’t be afraid of sitting down by that person or asking how someone’s day is, it’ll definitely make your hostel life richer. Plus, others tend to know the best hidden places to visit, the bars and clubs ‘everyone’ goes to, as well as general travel tips!
Tip 7: Make Friends With The Staff!
Making friends with the staff is one of the best hostel experiences. The front desk staff at the hostel are more valuable than any travel book, internet guide or information centre you could find. Thinking about what to see/do/eat/drink/party in that area you are staying? Approach the staff! Their experience in the area will be your best source of information, so use them to your full advantage! They will be able to provide you all sorts of travel tips, and there will not be a question that they haven’t answered before! After all, it is part of their job is to share their knowledge with you, so I can’t recommend this enough!!!
Tip 8: Bring These Essential Items!
Here is a list of some things that I found useful for the best hostel experience:
- Ear plugs – For your beauty sleep and to block out excessive noise from others that are returning late, possibly with a plus one (which does happen and is horrible for the rest of the room’ don’t be that person).
- Padlocks – Some hostels make you pay for a lock for the locker, so having your own would save money!
- Towel – Hostels charge you for the use of their towels.
- Pillowcase – If you are like me and prefer a stack of pillows the height of Everest, having a pillow case would allow you to make an easy makeshift pillow (by stuffing tons of cloth in it). It can also act as a laundry bag if need be.
- Torch – For if you need to pee, early morning or late night. Your roommates will appreciate you much more for not turning the lights on during your (dark) expedition to the bathroom.
The Hostel Experience – Collecting Moments, Not Things
So now, I hope you will be more prepared for what the amazing world of hostel accommodation has in store for you! The hostel experience, whether good or bad, would definitely provide memories that will last a lifetime, and to me it represents a key part of any travel. However, if you feel that hostels are not the thing for you, another possibility for accommodation would be Airbnb, which is basically a short term rental of someone’ apartment or room. More information can be found at www.airbnb.com
However, if you want to experience what living in a hostel feels like, the main thing is to be prepared, be flexible, be laid-back, and ultimately have heaps of fun!