When I travel alone, everyone is curious to know what my accommodations are and how I am able to afford them. When I mention a hostel stay, most people have this look on their face of shock or worry. This is usually followed up with an “are you scared?” question, to which I answer no. I would recommend hostel stays to anybody. If you haven't stayed in, or heard of, a hostel before the general consensus is that they are unsafe, dirty and unglamorous. A hostel is essentially a dorm style accommodation that often sleeps 2 or more people in the same room, to maximize space and minimize accommodation costs. They are often associated with being affordable to target backpackers and younger travelers. Some might specify an age demographic in their listing, but for the most part they are for anyone. People assume it's only for travelers between 18-24, but I have seen families, and older travelers enjoy a hostel experience.
The one thing you'll find when searching for travel tips is influencers and bloggers telling you to do your research. While this is true, because everywhere is going to be different, they won't tell you what to look for in your research.
First things first, let's find out if a hostel stay is for you.
The cost of a bed is not going to break the bank. Hostel accommodations are super affordable and offer a variety of amenities.
Solo travel can be lonely at times, but there are a surprising amount of ways to socialize with travelers like yourself within the hostels. You'll have roommates from all over the world, and a great hostel will have hangout rooms and spots all throughout the property to get social, play a game, or relax with friends.
I find that hostel staff can be more welcoming and kind than some hotel staff (in my personal opinion). Their job is to make sure you are getting the most out of your stay and help improve your travels. I have found that many of the hostel workers are travelers or former travelers, so they know exactly what you need and what it is like to be in your situation. Almost every hostel I have stayed at, the staff would give me a complete tour of the property and made great first impressions.
Since hostels are shared accommodations, there is a lack of privacy. You will be sharing a room and communal bathrooms with multiple people. There was a time where the bathroom in our room didn't have shower curtains and a door! I wore my bathing suit, but the floor was completely soaked. If you are a sensitive sleeper, bring your ear plugs, sleeping mask and/or headphones to listen to white noise, and block out any unwanted sounds that may disrupt your sleep.
Now that you've weighed the pros and cons, are you ready to stay in a hostel for the first time? Yay! Here is what you need to know.
My go to source to find accommodations is through hostelworld. Their rating scales, transparent reviews and pictures make them a trustworthy site for listings. I have used booking.com to find and book hostels in the past, but sorting for a good listing usually takes longer, since they are overly saturated with hotel accommodations.
Staying safe should be your number one priority. If you don't feel comfortable rooming with other people, or people of the opposite gender there are options. As a female, I feel safe rooming in both female and coed dorms, and haven't noticed any differences. If you want to have your own room, but don't want to pay a hotel premium, some hostels will offer privates, but will be priced higher than a shared space.
I have always stuck to 4 or 6 bed dorms and have never stayed in an 8 bed dorm before. However, my friend told me that 8 is the max you should book for the sake of privacy and sleep quality. I have seen some dorms with 32 beds before, which is laughable to say the least.
Room rates will start at the lowest cost, unlike the rack rate of a hotel where the price is standard. A hostel property might list the price as $10/night, but more often than not, it will be the cost of a dorm with the most amount of beds in one single room. The price will go up when there are fewer beds in a dorm and will be reduced when there are greater beds in a dorm.
“Location, location, location”, is THE key phrase used in the hospitality and tourism industry. Location is an asset to a property, which is why you can be paying a mint for some accommodations. Weigh your transportation and accommodation costs to find the best deal. If a 6/10 location hostel with nearby access to a transit station is significantly cheaper than a 10/10 location hostel without transit, I would opt for that. On the contrary, some cities have ridiculous prices for city transit (I'm looking at you Norway), so in this case it is worth it to find a property with a prime location and walk everywhere you go.
Try and get the biggest bang for your buck, and look for hostels that will offer additional amenities, such as free breakfast, wi-fi and onsite laundry. Take advantage of any activities they are offering as this is another opportunity to meet new people. During one of my solo adventures, I told myself there was no way I was leaving my hostel to explore the city, simply because I didn't feel safe. However, when I arrived, the kindest lady at the front desk gave me the rundown on the activities they had running that day. One of these activities was a free walking tour with other travelers in the hostel, and a local guide who knew the norms. These walking tours are free but are tip based, meaning you would pay what you think the tour was worth at the end. It was the best decision I made, I felt safe, got to see the city and met a couple of curious, but super nice people.
During the off season, there are less people travelling so the accommodation costs are significantly less to entice travelers to visit. More often than not, hostels won't fill during the off season, so it might be worth it to take the risk of paying a lower price for a larger dorm, and potentially only having half the people show.
Select a hostel room that checks all the boxes you are looking for. Pay attention to some of the listings, as they may appear identical but one option will include a free cancellation and another won't.
There might be a “payable now” amount that needs to be paid upfront online as a deposit and rest is paid at the property you are booking with. Hostelworld accepts a variety of payment methods when you book (see their website), but payment at the property will vary. Make sure you look at which payment types they accept, and what currency the amount is in.
Once your booking is complete, you'll get a confirmation of your reservation and receive a copy in your email, remember to bring this when you check in.
Hostels can help book day or multi day tours, but keep in mind they might have a relationship with specific tour companies, so they could be biased.
Lastly, remember to stay open minded and have a blast. I tell all my friends who are too afraid to travel, that if you can find your way through an airport, you can make it anywhere ;)