7 essential hostel tips learnt the hard way


1. When you’re heading to a big city, book your hostel in advance

Arrivals hall at airport

I learned this lesson the hard way when I took a train to Copenhagen without having anything booked.

It’s a big city, I thought, things will work themselves out.

Besides, I was travelling alone and only needed two nights. What could go wrong?

Well as it turns out, everything could go wrong.

It was marathon weekend, and every hostel in town was booked up.

I walked into the one I’d hoped to book and put myself at their mercy.

Luckily someone cancelled last minute and I got the final bunk.

The receptionist told me when people phoned she was sending people not to the next town (because it was booked up too), but to the next next town!

When staying in a big city, don’t take any chances with your booking.

Image credit: Skitterphoto 

2. Don’t book too many nights sight unseen

Pool in Chiang Mai, Thailand

On the other hand, be careful not to book a huge number of nights before you arrive.

When I arrived in Chiang Mai I had booked a few nights at a place, just to meet an old friend from Canada while I was there.

He was at another hostel that was cheaper, and had a swimming pool.

But I was already paid up so I had to stick it out at my hostel.

I find the healthy middle-ground is to book the first couple days of a visit and then leave my options open after that.

Image credit: SUTTIPONG SURAK. Pool in Chiang Mai, Thailand 

3. Hostel cleanliness may vary

Hostel beds

Okay, let’s get one thing straight. Hostels aren’t nearly as dirty as people think they are.

I’ve stayed in hostels across four continents and I’ve never had bug beds or a rat running around the room or anything like that.

Still… hostel cleanliness may vary. It’s not usually the hostel that’s to blame either – it’s the guests.

When I stayed in San Diego, the Irish guests I bunked with would make your college dorm room look clean.

Another time, I shared a room with a girl from San Francisco who had just spent a month on a farm in Mongolia, and… how to put this nicely… well, she smelt like it.

Once again, hostels aren’t that dirty. Most of the time. Just expect the occasion smell or sight that you could have lived without.

Image credit: Hans Braxmeier  

5. Don’t fall asleep in the wrong bed!

Woman sleeping

In Bangkok, my friend found a guy sleeping in her bed.

Just to wake him and find out that he moved there because someone was sleeping in his bed.

So we had to wake the hostel receptionist, who had to wake the guy again, who had to wake the guy in the first bed.

Choosing to sleep in the wrong bed, is like choosing not to shower. It’s a choice the affects not only you, but the whole hostel. Don’t make that choice!

Image credit: Pexels 

6. You don’t always get what you pay for

Old hostel

Don’t be tricked into thinking a really cheap must have problems – I’ve found this not to be true at all.

Most of the really memorable experiences I had in hostels were in rooms that cost less than $10 a night.

They are the ones that have character, and attract the people with character too.

The long-term travellers with a thousand stories to tell aren’t doing it by booking expensive private rooms every night.

For a fun and social experience, try something on the lower-end of the price range.

Image credit: Greg Lilly 

7. The hostel you return to is not always the hostel you remember

Hostel check in

You know that feeling when you revisit a city that you really enjoyed, but it just doesn’t feel the same?

You find more people and less charm, and somehow it can’t live up to the hype of the first time.

I’ve found that this can be true with hostels, too. I had a great time at a Canadian hostel, but when I returned there two years later there was a jerk working the front desk and everyone was stuck socializing in their own little groups.

Another time I returned to a hostel and the place was virtually booked up by a school group. If anything is the kiss of death for having a good time at a hostel it’s that.

As much as we travelers can get nostalgic for cities we’ve already visited, it’s usually best to continue on to some place new. My experience has taught me that the same holds true for hostels.

Image credit: Fiona Cullinan 

Dan Vineberg is a long-term budget traveller from Canada. He’s also a freelance writer, vlogger, and founder of thenewtravelblog.com.

What are your friendly tips? Don’t be shy. Let us know by leaving a comment below.

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