Solo travel tips for staying in a hostel for the first time

Solo travel tips for staying in a hostel for the first time

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Last updated February 23, 2024.

Staying in a hostel for the first time? Or are you curious about what it’s like? You’d be surprised, not everyone is. Hostels aren’t known for being the most luxurious or glamorous of stays.

Times are changing for the better though. The hostel world has been redesigned and re-envisioned, and now some of them are really cool—some might even say posh.

I think a lot of travelers start as budget travelers and work their way up to nicer hotels and Airbnbs. It ended up being the opposite for me. I was afraid of solo travel initially, so I stayed in nice villas overlooking the ocean, multi-story townhomes, and higher end hotels to have the comforts I’m used to at home.

But guess what I learned? Traveling all the time can be incredibly expensive. And this is exactly one major reason why hostels are awesome—because they’re so cheap.

Hostels are great because they’re budget friendly and, if you can find one in a good location, close to everything you want to do in the city. They’re popular with budget travelers, backpackers, and anyone wanting to socialize. And hostels often have their own activities and events you can check out alone or with the new friends you’ll make.

The way I see it, sometimes you’re better off exploring town and socializing with new homies than splurging on a hotel or Airbnb you won’t always be in. There’s a time and place for them all of course, but today, we’re discussing hostels.

What is a hostel?

Hostel (n): A low-cost, short-term shared sociable lodging where guests can rent a bed, usually a bunk bed in a dormitory, with shared use of a lounge and sometimes a kitchen. Rooms can be mixed or single-sex and have private or shared bathrooms.

Simply put, it’s a cheap place to sleep.

In most cases, it’s shared dorm-style rooms, though you can find private rooms with ensuite bathrooms available, too, if that’s what you want. They’ll cost you a bit more though.

Hostels used to get a bad wrap, but now they’re pretty trendy with bar hops, concerts, and tours available to check out. And the cool thing is that there’s pretty much a type of hostel for everyone. If you want something super low cost, or maybe gender specific, those are available. If you want a capsule or pod-type of bunk (that’s me), you can find those, too.

The difference between hostels and hotels

Hostels and hotels are actually quite different. Hostels promise the social aspect and you’ll share common areas like bathrooms, sleeping areas (you get your own bed), and kitchens, but that also means less privacy.

Hotels, on the other hand, only offer private rooms, unless you get one of those conjoined or connected rooms that’s good for families. You pay a higher price, but it comes with more comforts in most cases, as well as privacy and more peace of mind.

If you want to stay at a hostel but need some more privacy, look for hostels with private rooms available, preferably one with an ensuite bathroom.

Is there a stigma against hostels? Why?

There are multiple things contributing to hostel stigma in my opinion:

  1. A lot of people in one room. We’re talking like 16 beds. This can be scary for a first-timer.
  2. Cleanliness factor.
  3. Noise from loud parties, drinking, and rowdy guests.

These are things that concerned me at first, too, I admit, but after doing plenty of research, and finally staying in a hostel for the first time—several now—, a lot of my fears were just that: fears.

  1. You can stay in rooms that have as few as 4 or 6 beds. If you want even more privacy, you can book a capsule or pod-style room, or get a private one for yourself.
  2. Most hostels maintain high cleaning standards and benefit from doing so. I also travel with my own cleaning wipes just in case.
  3. You can use headphones, earplugs, or read reviews to find a hostel on the quieter side. Or, embrace your new environment.

Who should stay in a hostel

Everyone. Seriously.

It’s true that hosteling is mostly popular with backpackers, solo travelers, and people on a budget, but I think everyone can benefit from a hostel experience.

There isn’t another type of accommodation that offers the benefits of a hostel—maybe a room in a shared Airbnb where you mingle with 1-2 other guests comes close, but there’s no guarantee of events and socializing with a variety of people like a hostel can offer.

Hostels of today are more than boring dorms in a lot of cases. You can find some really cool stays that are both budget friendly and out of this world.

Why you should stay in a hostel

It’s hella cheap

Not to harp on about the money factor, but this is a top reason travelers look for hostels in the first place. If you’re a backpacker going from place to place, staying at affordable accommodations is a great way to see lots of the world without breaking the bank. Now, while cheap is good, remember that sometimes you do in fact get what you pay for, and the quality of a $15 hostel may be just that.

It’s a great way to be social and make new friends

Did you know that the whole purpose of hostels was to encourage camaraderie amongst the youths? Even though you’ll find travelers of all ages in hostels today, including families, the encouragement of camaraderie and promotion of social interactions still remain true. If you want to meet new people during your adventures, a hostel is a good way to do that.

Traveling alone or for a long time can leave you longing for some connection. The good thing is you’re with folks likely feeling the same way. When you’re at the hostel, don’t be shy. Put yourself out there and say “hello” whenever you get the chance. At a minimum, you’ll have a new breakfast buddy or someone to help take photos of you.

You interact with people from different cultures and backgrounds

A cool thing about staying at a hostel is that you get to interact with people from all over the world. I’ve met students, opera singers, digital nomads like myself, and more, and everyone has an interesting story to share, including you! If you strike up a genuine connection with someone, make sure to exchange contact info and stay in touch—you’ll have a new friend to visit once they get home, and vice versa.

Activities, activities, activities

Want to do stuff but don’t know where to start? Your hostel may have just the answer for you. They often have social events like game nights and dinners or BBQs that everyone can participate in. If you’re staying in a central location or you’re near some attractions, look up tours you can do on TripAdvisor and Airbnb.

It’s like being an underground traveler

If you need more ideas on things to do, this is where staying in a hostel shines. Thankfully, you’re with a bunch of other travelers, many who have done plenty of research on what’s going on. If you participate in the convos, you can join others on tours, shows, museum visits, and everything else they’re doing. And because you’re going as a group, you might be able to find better rates. Either way, you never know what you’re going to get when you’re at a hostel, but go with the flow and you’ll see the town like you never expected.

Tips if you’re staying in a hostel for the first time

Safety, especially for women traveling solo

Even though hostels are known for socializing and community and happiness, it’s not unusual to have theft or personal safety concerns when you’re staying at one. The unfortunate truth is things happen, and as women, we have to take extra precautions… as usual.

A good and simple rule of thumb is to make sure your belongings and valuables are kept out of sight as much as you can. Don’t leave anything laying around—if you need to charge your phone or laptop, make sure you’re with them. Go out with a fully charged phone and keep a portable battery in your bag so you’ll always be online or able to charge just in case.

More ways to stay safe:

  • Some dorms have female-only rooms; consider booking one of these if it’ll help ease the apprehension. They’re my preference if a hostel has them available. There’s also a female-only hostel in Amsterdam, aptly named Hostelle. It’s another great option if you’re in the area and it’s your first time.
  • Bring your own combination lock. If you use one of the provided locks, make sure you enter your code without others being able to see.
  • Consider getting travel insurance for your trip in case your valuables are taken. Pickpocketing does and can happen.

Cleanliness

If you consider yourself a germaphobe (no judgment; I am one, too) or have a high standard of cleanliness, you might be terrified by the idea of staying in a hostel, especially in a world with coronavirus and, more recently, bedbugs. I was.

Just like with hotels and Airbnbs, you can alleviate some of this by reading through online reviews and staying at places that have higher ratings—I aim for 4.5 and above if and where possible. It doesn’t hurt to bring your own cleaning wipes, too, if that’ll help with any anxieties. Remember that hostels benefit from having clean quarters to stay just like any other lodging business and will do their best to be clean or address any issues immediately.

Tips for a nice, clean stay:

  • Bring cleaning or antibacterial wipes to wipe clean surfaces around you
  • Wear flip-flops in the shower. Lots of feet go into those showers and you wouldn’t want to pick up a foot fungus or infection. Eww.
  • If you see something gross, report it to staff immediately so they can take care of it for you.

Noise and lack of privacy

Hostels are communal, which is great for the most part. I won’t pretend there aren’t annoyances that come with it though, especially if you’re not used to sharing space or you’re around more people than you’re used to.

Maybe it’s noisy because your hostel is above a bar, has old, thin walls, or is in a busy part of town. Or you’re in a crowded sleeping area where you might hear snores and other bodily noises you’d prefer not to. If you’re unlucky, there might be an inconsiderate person being loud on the phone or playing loud music. I read about this happening and thought to myself “no way could this be”, and then it happened on my very first night in a hostel!

In most cases, there are quiet areas and outdoor spaces to get some privacy if and when you need it.

I find that the type of hostel you choose can help with the privacy and noise factors though. For instance, I’m a fan of capsule hostels because they make me feel like I’m in a cocoon and with my own space. They’re usually enclosed with their own walls and curtain, giving you some much needed privacy and personal space.

If the city you’re in has one, I highly suggest you give it a try. The capsule hostels in London at St. Christopher’s Inn, Bunk in Amsterdam, and in Hyve Hostel Basel are cozy examples of this.

Here are some more tips to help you make the most of your hostel stay:

  • Use earplugs and/or an sleep mask to make the most of your night
  • Wear headphones and listen to your own calming sounds
  • Take showers at odd times so you’re not crowded with others in the bathroom area
  • For even more privacy, book a private room with an ensuite bathroom just for you

Enjoy your hostel stay

I only recently started staying at hostels and must say, even at my big age, that they’re a worthwhile experience, especially for solo female travelers. Apart from the fact that it’s an easy and cheap way to see places, the social factor can make it priceless. You get to meet lots of cool people and create memories you might not have made otherwise. And if you’re staying in a cool hostel like some of the newer capsule ones, you’re bound to have an unforgettable, unique time.

Ready to book your hostel stay? Check out Hostelworld. They’re the ultimate booking website and app for hostels, and you can even connect with other travelers before you leave for your trip. Happy hosteling!

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