As a world traveler for the past 10 years, I have to tell you… Whether you are traveling solo, traveling as a couple, traveling in a group, or anything in between, you need to experience staying in a hostel.
Experiencing hostel life is far and away one of the best ways to travel the world on a budget. It’s not even a competition and here’s why.
Hostels enable you to have the two most important things a traveler could ever want.
- Staying in a hostel allows you to save a ton of money.
- Staying in hostels also allows you to meet other awesome, like-minded travelers.
These two huge reasons (combined with tons of other smaller reasons) are why staying in a hostel is a mandatory experience for any and every type of traveler. And this guide to hostels will show you exactly why.
In this epic hostel life guide, I’m going to explain to you all of the reasons why staying and living in hostels is a must-do for all types of travelers. By the end of this article, you’ll know exactly what a hostel is and why they are so awesome.
Then to top it off, I’ll give you some of my most important hacks and tips for staying in hostels in 2020!
Table of Contents
What is a Hostel?
Or, in other words, what does hostel mean?
A hostel is a business that provides inexpensive accommodation. Simple as that. Hostels are typically able to provide lower prices because of one thing – dorms!
Dorms are exactly what they sound like. Think college-life but with bigger backpacks. By putting 16 people in a room, hostels are able to significantly lower their prices, which enables travelers to save a ton of money. Easy as that!
But here’s the deal – all hostels are different. Hostels range dramatically in size, quality, and overall vibe. No two hostels are the same, and each hostel has its own niche of travelers they are marketing to.
This means that ‘hostel life’ greatly varies depending on what kind of hostels you stay at!
Different Types of Hostels
Obviously, this is a huge topic and one I could devote another article to. Different types of hostels all carry unique vibes and functions appealing to different styles of travelers. But this is a hostel guide so allow me to cover a few:
- Party Hostels: Ok, so you know I had to mention ‘party hostels‘. These bad boys attract and market to a party crowd. Expect these hostels to be big, loud, and loaded with tons of alcohol-related activities. It’s basically a huge party in another country – but loaded with backpackers!
- Chiller Hostels: Not the official name but I like it. Contrasting to party hostels, chiller hostels are much more laid-back and market themselves to travelers who want a nice homey-atmosphere and a comfortable and quiet place to sleep. These more ‘living hostels’ are usually nicely decorated, have very cozy vibes, and will ask everyone to turn the lights off and be quiet after a certain time. Coincidentally, they also tend to attract the smokers more than party hostels.
- Nature Hostels – Some hostels have a more retreat-y feel. These types of hostels are usually built out in nature and allow you to unplug for a bit and be one with Mother Earth. These are very common in parts of the world with warmer climates (like SE Asia and Central America).
And there are tons of other kinds of hostels. Some hostels are intended for Digital Nomads and other hostels just for surfers. Some hostels are huge chains, and others independently owned. Some hostels have bars, some hostels have pools, some have private rooms, hammocks, free walking tours, kitchens – it truly varies from property to property!
This is why hostels (and hostel life) are so awesome! No matter what kind of hostel life you are looking for, there are hundreds of hostels out there for you and your style of travel.
I’ll show you exactly how to book a hostel perfect for your vibe real soon. But first, the big, big, big question I often get asked…
Are Hostels Safe?
Let me guess – you’ve heard that hostels are dangerous? You may have heard that hostels are where young travelers get murdered by machetes or sold into slavery by the mafia.
Sorry to burst your bubble Liam Neeson…. but the truth of hostel living is far less thrilling.
If you are wondering ‘are hostels safe?’ – here’s the truth.
Hostels are easily one of the safest ways to travel. Many hostels have lockers to lock up your goods and lots have late-night security.
Are hostels 100% safe? No. But then again, you could choke on spider in your sleep while in your own (that’s a lovely image). Bad things are just as likely to happen to you staying at a hostel as at a hotel or Airbnb.
In fact – out of all the options, I think hostels are the safest of all accommodation options (especially if you are traveling solo).
Why is hostel life so safe?
Hostels are great because of their social nature. It’s super easy to meet people when staying in hostels, and due to that social nature, you are always around other people. The more people that are around, the more people will be aware of their surroundings and the less likely it is that bad things are going to happen.
Plus you can easily make friends, which means if you go missing someone is going to notice.
Havings stayed in hundreds of hostels and having met hundreds of travelers who have stayed in hundreds of more hostels, I can confidently say that hostels are extremely safe. I’ve never had anything bad happen to me, nor have I ever met anyone that has had something terrible happen to them. It simply isn’t a thing.
The worst pickle I got into was when my 18-year-old sister got her iPod stolen at a hostel in Barcelona. But it was her fault – she left it on her dorm-bed pillow all day for god’s sake.
Ultimately, hostels are one of the safest ways to travel. If you use your wits, not only will you have the time of your life, but you’ll be doing it in a super safe environment. Full stop.
Staying Safe in Hostels All the Same
Right, so I just covered how staying in hostels is totally 100% safe and nothing ever goes wrong ever (except for my dumbhead sister) but, all the same, you’re a traveler. Shit still goes wrong and sometimes it also hits the fan too.
So what’s the best thing you can do: educate and prepare!
This pertains more to travel life than hostel life but it still pays to cover your ass for the things that can happen.
Shoutout from Will – The OG Broke Backpacker: Have fun on your backpacking adventure, but please do get insurance – take it from someone who has racked up tens of thousands of bucks on an insurance claim before, you need it.
A wise man once said that if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t really afford to travel – so do consider backpacker insurance sorted before you head off on an adventure! Traveling without insurance would be risky. I highly recommend World Nomads.
Find out why we recommend World Nomads, check out our World Nomads Insurance review.
The Nitty-Gritty of Hostel Life
Right now you’ve got a jist of the hostel experience. I reckon you’ve probably a handful more questions though. Luckily, this is a guide to hostel life!
That means I’m gonna answer your burning questions so chill your beans, sit what yo’ mama gave you down, and listen up!
Who can stay in hostels?
Anyone can stay in hostels!
Or at least 95% of the time. Some hostels (typically in Europe) do impose age restrictions (typically 40 and under), but typically, anyone can stay in a hostel.
But, having said that, just because anyone can stay in a hostel, doesn’t mean that hostels are populated with people of all ages.
Having traveled to hostels around the world, I’d say 90% of all people I’ve met in hostels are under the age of 35. This is because the use of hostels is very popular with Millenials and Gen Y, so the crowds are typically young travelers going solo or with friends.
This is one of the coolest parts about staying in hostels! This isn’t some hotel half-filled with families that have screaming kids and half-filled with retirees sunning by the pool talking about cribbage.
People who stay at hostels are typically young, open-minded, world-travelers, which is amazing because chances are that you are a young, open-minded, world-traveler. The hostel experience allows like-minded, awesome people to easily meet, so you can then chill, frolick, and craft friendship bracelets for those life-long relationships that are definitely going to stick once you’ve both evicted from the dorm room.
How much are hostels?
This is a difficult number to calculate because the cost of everything varies from country to country.
A good rule of thumb is that a night in a decent hostel dorm room will cost you half as much as it would for a night in a room at a decent hotel. Some hostels can definitely be cheaper, and some can absolutely be more expensive, but it’s generally true that staying in hostels will enable you to cut your lodging cost in half.
This is easily the biggest draw for hostel living – the low cost! Accommodation is without a doubt one of the biggest financial burdens while traveling, so staying with other travelers in dorm rooms is one of the best ways to save an enormous amount of money.
And seriously – hostels can be cheap! I’ve paid less than $8 for dorm beds in Siem Reap, Chiang Mai, El Nido, and Mexico City.
This doesn’t mean you should always go for the cheapest option. Sometimes spending the extra $2-$3 means a HUGE increase in facilities, but we’ll cover that a bit further down the line with our tips for staying in hostels.
Can I stay in hostels alone?
Hells to the yes!
In fact, I believe that if you are backpacking solo, you should stay at hostels as often as possible.
Because of their nature – hostels are far and away the easiest way to meet other awesome travelers! It’s not even a competition. If you are looking to meet other people while traveling, hostels should be your first, second, third, and fourth choice.
This is because of the way that hostels are designed.
- First – You’ll have your dorm room. In your dorm room will be anywhere from 3 to 30 other travelers. Picking up a conversation with your dorm-neighbor is easy as hostel pie.
- Second – You’ll have the common area. All good hostels have some sort of lounge area. Maybe it’s a cool indoor lounge-couch area (like you’ll see in European hostels) or maybe an outdoor hammock-grove with picnic tables (common in Central America) or even a kickass rooftop bar (all over SE Asia). Whatever the common area is, this is the easiest place in the world to talk to other travelers.
- Third – The hostel will most likely offer activities. Whether it’s a rowdy pub crawl or a free walking history tour, these are an amazing way to socialize and meet other backpackers.
I could go on and on, but you get the jist.
To recap – traveling to a hostel as a solo traveler isn’t just awesome… it’s almost mandatory. Even these days I no longer need to pinch a penny to travel but I still prefer to stay in hostels when I travel alone. Majority of the travel friends I’ve made, I’ve met in hostels and I always prefer to put myself in a situation to make more travel friends.
Does staying in a hostel dorm suck? (Brutally honest answer!)
Here’s the deal.
Sometimes staying in a hostel dorm room absolutely sucks.
Is it often? Hell no. Most of the time hostel dorm rooms are great! But I’m not going to sugar coat anything, and I’d be doing a disservice if I wasn’t 100% honest – hostels (like everything in life) aren’t perfect.
But you have to understand – it’s all a part of the process! If you are staying in a dorm, you are doing so to:
- Save money
- To meet other awesome travelers.
Here’s what you are probably scared of…
The common fears of hostel life:
- Getting murdered – Sorry Eli Roth fans. While the movie ‘Hostel’ was insanely insane… it’s just not true.
- Theft – Let’s face it – theft can happen anywhere (case in point, my dumbhead sister – that one’s on you, mate). If you are smart and aware, the chances of theft in a hostel are very low. The best way to combat theft in a hostel (and anywhere when traveling) is to keep your valuables in your bag and to keep your backpack locked one of the best travel locks for hostels.
- Bedbugs – Having stayed at well over 100 hostels, I’ve only ever seen bed bugs ONCE! I’ve seen more bedbugs in apartments I have in hosels that I’ve stayed at. You have to understand, hostels are not cesspools: they rely on their reviews just like any accommodation-business does.
What happened the one time I did see bedbugs in my bed? I told the front desk and they moved me to a different bedbug-free bed. I then swam in the pool, made friends, drank beers, and had the time of my life.
- Noise at night – This is by far the most annoying part about staying in hostels. Noise. If you wake up in the middle of a 15 person dorm at 3 am… there’s a good chance that you’ll hear a symphony of snores, yawns, music blaring through headphones, and a crew of drunk travelers ploughing back from the pub in the next dorm room (or just ploughing).
But dude… whatever! This is just part of the game and this ‘problem’ has a super easy solution – headphones!
Yes, young padawan, there are a few things you’ll need in a hostel and a pair of headphones is one of them. Because between headphones and earplugs, you’ll be sleeping soundly, wondering to yourself…. ‘what noise?’
Besides, if you are a terribly fragile sleeper and are genuinely worried about the hostel dorms being noisy, then check this out…
Can I stay in a private room in a hostel?
This is one of the coolest parts of hostel living. You can still get all the socializing perks of staying in a hostel – but also get some privacy on top of it.
I’ve stayed in hostel private rooms many times though usually when I am either traveling as a couple or sick as shit. Private rooms are great for either situation or even for when you just need to be away, get some alone time, and Netflix and chill.
And to top it all off? Hostel costs for private rooms are typically the same price as a low budget hotel – if not, then they’re usually a little bit cheaper – so you can still save money and get some social time in while getting some much-needed privacy.
Can I eat in hostels?
Another amazing aspect of hostel living is that most of them have kitchens!
Hostel-kitchens can be a godsend for the budget traveler, especially in regions like Western Europe, Brazil, Japan, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand. A hostel kitchen will enable you to stock up on local produce and bulk-cook a week’s worth of food. Feeding yourself this way will save you an astronomical amount of money which wouldn’t otherwise be possible.
Having said that, be sure to eat in the designated areas (kitchen or common areas) and not in the places you blatantly shouldn’t be (your dorm bed at 3 A.M.). Hostel life is all about common courtesy!
Isn’t hostel life just a big drinking and hookup fest?
I’m going to be real here – some hostels are absolutely like that. They are typically referred to as party hostels (previously outlined), and if you are looking for some debauchery… look no further.
But the good thing about party hostels is that they are clearly labelled as party hostels. This means that when you feel like getting bent with a bunch of other awesome travelers – you can!
I highly recommend staying a few nights at a party hostel – it’s so much fun. Liquid confidence goes a long way and some of the best travel-friends I’ve made have been at party-hostel pub crawls.
And the good thing is that if you don’t want to party-hardy – just make sure it’s not a party hostel! If you are super picky about your environment, read the hostel’s online reviews to get an overall vibe. The best hostel sites will give you all the direction you’ll need.
Can you live in a hostel?
That depends on the hostel. Some hostels have a maximum amount of time you can stay. Some have a minimum amount of time you can stay. It all varies from hostel to hostel.
Something that is very common is that travelers will work at a hostel, and in return, they’ll be given a free bed. This is ubiquitous in hostels around the world and is a great way to save some money. Often these gigs can lead to long-term paying work.
If you are staying somewhere long term though – it might make more financial sense to stay in an apartment.
As any seasoned hostel traveler knows, when it comes to booking a great hostel, there are a few things you should keep an eye out for…
How to Book a Hostel (Excellently): Free Stuff!
Free stuff rocks and if you are smart about your hostel bookings, you can get some free things that will really add up over the course of your travels. Not all hostels offer freebies but if you keep an eye out for a few of these things, your savings account will thank you.
- Breakfast – I’d say about 60% of hostels provide free breakfast, and depending on where you are traveling, this could by far the most important freebie on the list. Free breakfast gives you the most bang for your buck in expensive countries like Western Europe and Australia, where it can save you $10+ per day!
Pro Tip – Read the reviews on Hostelworld – one of the best hostel booking sites – to see what the hostel serves for breakfast. Sometimes ‘free breakfast’ means a gourmet meal… other times ‘free breakfast’ means a piece of toast.
- Beverages – Free coffee and tea aren’t game-changers but it’s always nice to have. I’d say about 75% of hostels provide free hot beverages.
- Towels – Free towels are always an awesome perk. It is possible to travel around the world with no towel and only use hostel towels… but I wouldn’t recommend it. And if you are traveling with your own towel (hopefully a quick dry microfibre towel) you can use the free hostel towel and not have to worry about drying your own towel.
- Lockers – Free lockers are becoming more and more of a thing – and thank god! While hostels are generally safe, it’s nice to have the peace of mind that a locker provides.
Pro tip – While I’d say that 75%+ of hostels provide free lockers, very few of them provide a free LOCK. Do yourself a favor and get a padlock.
Tips for Staying in a Hostel and Booking a Hostel
Aside from the freebies, here are some other super important things to keep in mind when booking a hostel.
- Price – For some travelers, the price of the hostel is the ONLY factor that matters. If so, no matter the booking service (we prefer Hostelworld) you can easily filter hostels by lowest price. A fair warning though – you usually get what you pay for so be sure to keep an eye out for the hostel’s reviews
- Reviews – Reading the hostel reviews is very important, especially with the cheaper hostels. Personally, I never book at a hostel with a crap rating. I’ve done it in the past and have always ended up regretting it. Either spend the extra few bucks to upgrade to a nicer hostel or try and find a different cheap hostel with decent ratings.
- Facilities – What do you like? Pools, bars, gyms, instruments, mountain views and joints: whatever you are into, you can definitely find a hostel that has it.
- Location – Often, cheaper hostels can be wayyyy on the outskirts of the action (hence the cheaper price). While the cheaper hostel price is nice, the savings could be negated by travel costs to and from town. Do yourself a favor and think about what you want to do, then you can figure out where you want to be.
- Type of property – Very important! Many hostel booking sites are not exclusive to hostels. This means that hotels, bed and breakfasts, and other types of accommodation can advertise their property. Make sure to double check that the property is a hostel usually marked by the presence of a dorm.
- Bedside Outlet – These things are so goddamn kickass Charging all your electronics while you sleep from the comfort of your own dorm-bed is a definite win!
Best Hostels from Around the World
There are literally thousands of hostels spread around the world. Here are some of the cities that I think have the best hostel scenes on the planet.
|North America||Central America||South America||Western Europe||Eastern Europe||Southeast and East Asia||South Asia||Oceania||Middle East & Africa|
|New York||Mexico City (still counts)||Rio De Janeiro||Amsterdam||Belgrade||Bangkok||Kathmandu||Sydney||Istanbul|
|Los Angeles||Antigua||Santiago||London||Zagreb||Tokyo||Delhi||Melbourne||Tel Aviv|
|Denver||San Jose||Medellin||Barcelona||Budapest||Kuala Lumpur||Colombo||Cairns||Dubai|
Final Thoughts on Hostel Life 101
There you have it! This is everything you need to know about hostel life and about staying in hostels.
With the help of this guide, you’ll be equipped with everything you need to know to book an awesome hostel, make great friends, and travel around the world al the while saving on your dollaridoos!
If you are interested in learning more about hostel life and tips and tricks about traveling the world, check out The Backpacker Bible – How to Travel the World on $10 a Day.
Is there anything about hostel life that I missed? Let me know in the comments below. Otherwise, get out there, go neck some beers with some other dope travelers, and bang someone in the shared kitchen!
That was a joke. Please, for the love of God, do not bang someone in the shared kitchen.
Updated: October 2019 by Ziggy Samuels at Zigz Writes Things.
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A man who appreciates the simple things in life: free food from trash cans, nights out under the stars, and befriending street animals. He goes on ridiculous adventures and then writes about those adventures so you can also go on ridiculous adventures! Ziggy has minor fame status throughout Asia for his incessant ukulele playing.