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Staying in a Hostel For the First Time: What to Expect

Staying in a hostel for the first time can be a little bit anxiety-inducing. Maybe you’re anxious about sleeping in the same room with strangers. Maybe you’re worried that you won’t meet anyone. You might be concerned about security. Maybe you’re just worried about feeling awkward. These are all valid concerns. 

In this guide, I’ll outline what to expect when you stay in a hostel for the first time. I’ll cover how to book hostels, how to choose a hostel, room types, common areas, bathrooms, hostel culture, costs, making friends and more. I’ll also share a few helpful tips for first-timers and share some hostel etiquette. Hopefully, this guide makes your first hostel experience a little bit smoother and easier. 

The first time I stayed in a hostel, I was 18 years old on my first solo trip to Europe. I’m naturally kind of an anxious person so I tried to prepare the best I could by picking a well-reviewed hostel. My biggest fear was that I would feel awkward and have trouble meeting people.

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My first couple of hostel stays were kind of rough. I had trouble making friends and was lonely. I felt kind of awkward like I didn’t belong. After I learned how to pick the right hostels and started chatting to some other travelers, that feeling went away. It took a bit of time to get used to the dorm lifestyle.

After I got used to it, I ended up loving hostel culture. Staying in hostels makes it so much easier to meet people while traveling. Hostels are great for saving money. I almost always stay in hostels while traveling. At this point, I have stayed in hundreds of hostels while traveling in 66 countries over the past 12 years. In this guide, I’ll share my experience.

A hostel dorm room
A typical dorm room in a hostel

What is a Hostel?

A hostel is a type of shared accommodation. At a hostel, you sleep in a dorm room on a bunk bed. Hostels are designed for those traveling on a tight budget. A typical hostel dorm has 4-12 beds (2-6 bunk beds). Most hostels offer both mixed and female-only dorms.

In addition to dorms, hostels also have common areas where you can hang out and meet other guests. Many hostels also offer a shared kitchen where you can cook your own meals. Some hostels have a bar and restaurant. There are also shared bathrooms. Hostels are social places. There are often events and tours. These are great ways to meet other travelers. 

Hostels are designed for budget travelers. A bed in a hostel dorm is cheaper than a hotel room. Prices vary by region and the number of people in the dorm. Most hostels cater to younger travelers but anyone is welcome.

How to Book a Hostel

The easiest way to book a hostel is online. I use either or Before booking, I usually check both sites. Some properties only advertise on one or the other. Sometimes the prices are slightly different as well. 

Sometimes you can also book directly with the hostel. Some hostels have their own website. This is usually cheaper than booking through a booking site. Sometimes, if I’m planning a long stay, I’ll check to see if I can book directly.

On the booking website, you can find all of the information you need about the hostel including the price, amenities, room types, whether they offer breakfast, whether they offer laundry, etc. You’ll also find reviews and information about the location. 

A hostel dorm room

What to Look For When Booking a Hostel

When choosing a hostel, don’t just book the cheapest one or you’ll end up having a bad experience most of the time. You should consider the location, price, amenities, security, reviews, and more. In this section, I’ll outline what to look for before booking a hostel. For more in-depth info, check out my guide: How to Choose a Hostel.


Hostels are generally centrally located but not always. Try to book a hostel near the places you want to visit. Check the map before booking. If you don’t, you could accidentally book a hostel that’s far outside the city center or in a dangerous area.

You don’t want to stay in a cheap hostel on the edge of the city. It might take an hour every day to commute to the city to go sightseeing. You’ll waste a lot of time on transport and spend more. You won’t see and do as much because it will be a hassle to get to the city. 

Sometimes, there may be a particular area you want to stay in. For example, if you’re arriving late at night, you might want to book a hostel near the airport or train station so you can get to sleep quickly when you arrive. Maybe there is a particular neighborhood you want to stay in. Maybe you want to stay by the beach.

When I went to Paris on my first solo trip, I stayed in a cheap hostel on the edge of the city. It took 45 minutes to get to every attraction. It was such a hassle that I skipped some sites. The cost of riding the metro every day added up as well. I would have been much better off paying a little more for a hostel in a better location. 


Of course, you’ll want to make sure the hostel is within your budget. Hostel prices vary quite a bit. Generally, it’s best to book a hostel that is in the middle of the price range of the city or higher-end, if you can afford it. Paying an extra $2 per night is usually worth it to stay in a better hostel.

When researching the price, check what’s included and what’s not. Sometimes breakfast is included and sometimes it’s not. Some hostels charge extra for a towel. Once, I actually stayed in hostels that charged extra for linens, believe it or not. I told them that I would just use my sleeping bag instead but they told me that’s not allowed. They gave me linens for free after I complained. 

I recommend you don’t just book the cheapest hostel, unless it gets great reviews. You probably won’t have a good experience. Cheap hostels usually have poor quality mattresses. They’re often dirty. The staff might not speak English. The location may be bad. They cut corners to get the price down. They are cheap for a reason. 

Amenities and Facilities

Check which amenities and facilities are offered. Common hostel amenities include a kitchen, Wifi, 24-hour reception, a laundry room, a bar, and a restaurant. Think about which amenities you actually care about. 

Personally, I try to always choose a hostel that includes breakfast. It saves me time not having to go out or cook something. I also like staying at a hostel with a kitchen so I can cook some of my own meals. This is a big money saver. Staying in a hostel with a bar is nice because it’s often easier to meet people. Other than that, I don’t really care about any other amenities.


These days, most of us travel with valuables, like a laptop and camera. You’ll also have cash and important documents like your passport. It’s important to choose a secure property that will keep your stuff safe while you’re out and about. 

Try to choose a hostel with lockers in the dorms. Look at the photos to get an idea of how big the lockers are. The best hostels have lockers that are big enough to store all of your luggage inside. Some hostels just have small lockers for electronics and documents. Be sure to pack your own lock. Locks usually aren’t supplied. 

Hostel lockers
Small hostel lockers

Some hostels are really laid back about security. Anybody could walk right in. There are no locks on the rooms. Other hostels take security very seriously. They may have keycards or a wristband that you have to show to enter. 


These days, it’s becoming increasingly common for hostels to have curtains on the beds. This is nice for privacy. Some hostels also offer pod-style beds. These also offer more privacy.


Of course, it’s always a good idea to read the reviews. There are a few things to look for in reviews. Make sure there aren’t any red flags. If people complain about theft, filth, bed bugs, or excessive noise, it’s best to keep looking. 

Look for reviews that mention whether or not the hostel is social. At some hostels, people tend to keep to themselves. Other hostels have a bar or events to bring people together. 

Also, read about the staff. If a hostel has friendly and helpful staff, people will usually mention it.  Also, look for comments about the location. 

Look at the Pictures

You can get a good idea of the hostel layout and quality based on the pictures. Look at the pictures of the dorms, bathrooms, kitchen, and common areas. This will give you an idea of the size of the rooms and bathrooms and how they’re laid out. If it looks new and modern and nice in the pictures, there’s a good chance it’s a decent hostel. 

What to Pack

My travel backpack and clothes

There are a few things you need to pack when you stay at a hostel that you don’t really need when staying in a hotel. A few important items include:

  • Padlock- You need to bring your own lock for your locker. Some hostel lockers have a lock built in but in most cases, you need to bring your own. Some hostels rent locks. I recommend a combination lock so you don’t have to worry about losing the key. Some people prefer a lock with a key because it’s easier to open in the dark. Choose a lock that has a relatively thin shackle. If it’s too thick, it won’t fit on some lockers.  
  • Shower sandals- Bring some waterproof sandals that you can wear while showering. This is important because the showers aren’t cleaned between uses. Sandals can protect you from catching a foot fungus.
  • Earplugs- If you’re a light sleeper, bring earplugs to block the noise. Hostel dorms can get noisy. People will come and go in the night. People will talk in the dorm. Alarms will go off in the morning. Earplugs will help you sleep better. 
  • Sleep mask- If you’re a light sleeper, consider packing a mask to block the light. People will come in and turn the light on in the middle of the night. Having a mask can help you sleep better. 
  • Outlet adapter- Different countries use different types of plugs. Some hostels have universal plugs installed but many just use the standard plug for whichever country they’re in. Bring the appropriate adapter or a universal adapter so you can charge your devices. 
  • Travel towel- Some hostels give you a towel. Sometimes you have to pay to rent a towel. It’s best to have your own. I recommend you buy a microfiber travel towel. They are compact and quick-drying. Avoid bringing a regular cotton towel. They are too bulky and they take too long to dry. If you pack your towel when it’s wet, it will start to smell. 
  • Laundry bag- It’s a good idea to bring a laundry bag for your dirty laundry. This will help prevent it from stinking up the dorm. You can also use a regular plastic bag.
  • Portable power bank- When staying in a hostel, sometimes there are a limited number of outlets. If your phone battery is low, you can charge it from your power bank instead. Sometimes, there won’t be an outlet near your bed. Rather than leaving your phone unattended, you can charge the power bank then charge your phone. If the power bank is stolen, it’s not a big deal. If your phone is stolen, it’s a major hassle and expense to replace. 

Types of Hostels

A hostel dorm room

Party Hostels

At these hostels, the focus is on partying, not sleeping. There will be a bar. There will be drinking games and themed parties. Oftentimes, there are bar crawls as well. You can go out with the other guests.

The main benefit of staying in party hostels is that they are extremely social. It’s easy to meet people while you’re drinking. The party brings people together. Staying in party hostels can be a lot of fun. 

The drawback of these places is that they are noisy. They usually have loud music playing late into the night. There will be lots of drunk people around as well. If you want to have a quiet night and go to bed early, it may not be possible. 

I used to enjoy staying in party hostels when I was in my early 20s. These days, I avoid them. Mostly because they’re too noisy. It’s also hard to get a good night’s sleep in a party hostel. I also find that I don’t get to see as much when I stay in a party hostel because I end up staying up late then sleeping in. 

Boutique Hostels

A dorm room in a boutique hostel

These are high-end hostels. Boutique hostels look kind of like hotels. They have higher-end furnishings than your average hostel. They may have larger beds with higher-quality mattresses, premium linens, and privacy curtains. Some have fancy fixtures and furniture. Usually, the staff is a little more professional. The location may also be better. Boutique hostels are often located in upper class neighborhoods. These also tend to be smaller hostels. Of course, the price is higher as well. A dorm bed might cost as much as a budget hotel room. 

I like staying in boutique hostels. I find that they offer better value than budget hotels. They’re quiet and comfortable. The other guests are usually of higher quality as well. The higher price keeps the rif raf out. The price is usually only around 10% higher than a regular hostel.  

Homey Hostels

Some hostels are built in a large home. The bedrooms are the dorms. The living room is the common room. There may be 2-3 regular residential bathrooms. The kitchen is a regular home kitchen. These are small hostels with 10-25 beds. Usually, the owner lives at the hostel in one of the bedrooms. Oftentimes, these properties are run by a family. The owner’s spouse and kids may help run the place. These hostels can feel a little informal. Sometimes the location isn’t great because they are located in residential areas.

I love staying in this type of hostel because they are usually really friendly and hospitable. It’s like being part of the family. It’s also easy to meet people. Everyone gets to know everyone else because these are small hostels. Sometimes the owner will cook or show guests around. 

Themed Hostels

These are hostels that focus on a particular activity. For example, there are surf hostels, yoga hostels, ski hostels, hiking hostels, and diving hostels. Everyone staying at the hostel is there to participate in the same activity. There are also group activities or classes available.

These hostels are usually very social. It’s easy to make friends when everyone shares a similar interest. You always have something to talk about. Usually, there are organized events as well. If you’re staying at a surf hostel, there may be daily lessons. If you’re staying at a yoga hostel, there will be daily classes. 

I have stayed at a couple of these types of hostels. When I learned to Scuba dive in Thailand, I stayed in a diving hostel. It was a lot of fun learning and diving with the other guests during the day and then hanging out in the evening. I also stayed in a hiking hostel in South America last year. I met a couple of hiking buddies basically the moment I arrived. 

 Co-Working Hostels

These are hostels with co-working spaces. They are designed for those who are working while they travel, such as digital nomads. They have a quiet office space where you can work without too many distractions. 

These are usually calm and quiet hostels. They aren’t too social. Most people are working during the day. These properties are a bit more expensive than regular hostels because they include access to the coworking space. The other guests tend to be older.

I have stayed at a few of these places while living as a digital nomad. Oftentimes, it’s hard to get work done at hostels because they can get noisy. Co-working hostels make it much easier to get work done. 

Chill Out Hostels

These are hostels that are designed for relaxation and just chilling out. There is usually a bar that serves cheap drinks. These hostels sometimes have a pool. There might be hammocks and comfy seating. It’s usually pretty easy to meet people at these properties.

These can be similar to party hostels but they’re more relaxed. There won’t be loud music playing all night. They’re really laid back. I love this type of hostel.

Hostel Room Types

Most hostels offer several different types of rooms. There are usually different sized dorms. Small dorms have 4-6 beds. Large dorms have 8-20+ beds. A bed in a smaller dorm is slightly more expensive than a bed in a large dorm. 

Most dorms are mixed. Men and women stay in the same dorm. Most hostels also offer female-only dorms. In some parts of the world, there are male-only dorms as well. This is nice if you feel more comfortable staying with other people of the same sex. Some women may feel safer staying in a room with other women. 

These days, some hostels offer capsules. These are like private little cubicles with a bed. They have a shade or door that closes to give you more privacy. It’s like a room within a room.

Many hostels also offer private rooms. These are like hotel rooms. Sometimes there is a private bathroom and sometimes the bathroom is shared. These are great for those who want some privacy but also want to enjoy the social aspect of hostels. Private rooms at hostels are significantly more expensive than dorm beds. They often cost as much as a hotel room. 

If you’re nervous about staying in a dorm for your first hostel stay, consider booking a private room. It’s a good way to get your feet wet. If you enjoy the experience, you can stay in the dorm next time. 

When I stay in a hostel, I try to book a bed in a smaller dorm. It’s usually only a dollar or two more expensive than a large dorm. Small dorms are quieter. When there are fewer people, there is less noise. 

I rarely stay in private rooms in hostels because they are usually a poor value. I would rather just stay in a regular hotel or  Airbnb if I’m going to spend money on a private room.  

Dorm Bed Costs

Hostel prices vary by region. In cheaper parts of the world, such as Southeast Asia, South America, Central America, or Eastern Europe, you can still get a bed for $10-$15 per night in most cities. You might spend closer to $20 per night in a large city.

In expensive parts of the world, such as Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, or the U.S. or Canada, expect to pay closer to $30-$50 per night. During peak season in some extremely popular cities, you might spend closer to $60-$80 per night.  

Hostel prices have increased substantially since I started traveling. When I took my first solo trip to Europe in 2011, the most expensive hostel I stayed in cost $20 per night in Stockholm. In most places, I was paying $10-$15 per night in Europe.

A hostel dorm room

How to Choose a Dorm

Most hostels have multiple dorm options. You’ll have to choose between a large dorm and a small dorm. You’ll also have to choose between a mixed or same-sex dorm. 

Single Gender Vs Mixed Dorms

The choice between gendered or same-sex dorms really comes down to personal preference. I prefer mixed dorms when I have an option. They’re a bit more fun because you get to meet a wider range of people. Mixed dorms are often cheaper as well. 

Same sex dorms can be more laid-back. There may be less drama. For example, it’s less likely for people to have sex in the dorm. Some female travelers may feel safer in same-sex dorms.

Big Dorms Vs Small Dorms

When there are more people in the dorm, you have a better chance of making friends. There are just more people to chat with. Larger dorms are also cheaper. 

The drawback is that big dorms get noisy. When there are 20 people sleeping in the same room, there is always someone coming and going. People will get up in the night to go to the bathroom. People will wake up early to catch a flight. There will be alarms going off every morning. Sometimes, people will come in drunk late at night and turn the light on.

Small dorms are quieter. You can chill in the dorm. You might have the room to yourself for part of the day. If you’re a light sleeper, you’re better off choosing a smaller dorm. One drawback is that you could end up in a dorm with a group of friends traveling together. In this case, you’ll be the odd one out. Chances are, the other people will be friendly. They just won’t be as open to making friends as other solo travelers. 

Tip: Try to choose a room with a window. A window allows natural light to get in. This helps you wake up in the morning. If the dorm doesn’t have a window, it will be pitch black until someone turns the light on. It’s easy to oversleep if the room is always dark. 

When to Book Hostels

When to book really depends on where you’re traveling and the season. If you’re traveling to a major event like Carnival in Rio, Full Moon Party in Thailand, or Oktoberfest in Munich, you’ll have to book well in advance. You might have to book 3+ months in advance to get a decent room. 

If you’re traveling during peak tourist season, you’ll have to book in advance. For example, if you’re visiting Western Europe during the summer hostels fill up. You may have to book at least a couple of weeks in advance to get a decent room. I learned this the hard way. I arrived in Amsterdam during the summer without a room booked and ended up spending a night on the street. 

If you’re traveling in the shoulder season or during the off-season, you can wait and book a day or two in advance. Most hostels will have availability. You can also take your chances and just turn up. This is nice because you can be more spontaneous. 

I try to book at least a week in advance because I get anxious when I don’t know where I’ll be sleeping. Sometimes I book at the last minute when I’m traveling during the off-season. 

Arriving at the Hostel

When you arrive at the hostel, the first thing you’ll do is check-in. There will be a reception desk where you can check-in. Checking into a hostel is pretty much the same as checking into a hotel. 

Usually, the receptionist will ask your name and ask to see your passport. They may make a copy or take a photo of your passport. This is normal. 

At most hostels, you pay when you arrive. You’ll pay for your whole stay upfront. At some hostels, you pay when you check out. Sometimes you pay in full when you book. 

Most hostels accept cash and credit cards. Some hostels are cash only but this is pretty rare these days. Many hostels charge an extra fee if you pay by card. This is usually around 2%. They do this to cover the credit card fees. It’s annoying but this is pretty common. 

Make sure you know where the hostel is located. Hostels can be hard to find. Oftentimes, they are small. They may be located in multi-purpose buildings. Often, there is only a small sign. I recommend you download the map and mark the hostel’s location so you can use GPS when you’re not online. 

A hostel sign

Late Check In

Most larger hostels have 24 hour reception. You can check in when you arrive late at night. Many smaller hostels do not have 24 hour reception. If you’re arriving late, you will have to notify them beforehand. Someone will stay up to let you in.

If you plan to check in late, it’s a good idea to let the hostel know so they don’t give your bed away. Usually, you can specify the check-in time when you book online. 

Early Check In

At most hostels, the check-in time is around 2:00 pm. If you arrive early, you’ll have to wait until check in. You can hang out in the common area or leave your luggage come back at the check in time.

Sometimes you can check in early. Good hostels will let you check in whenever your bed is ready. Bad hostels will make you wait until check-in time.

Top Bunk or Bottom Bunk?

Sometimes you’ll get to choose between the top and bottom bunk. Some hostels don’t assign beds. They just assign rooms. You can choose whichever bed is available. Sometimes the receptionist checking you in asks you if you prefer a top or bottom bunk. You can also request the bed you prefer when checking in. If the hostel is full, you might not get to choose. You get what you get.

Most people prefer the bottom bunk. It’s easier to get in and out of bed. You can also store your bag right next to you. It’s easier to get your stuff. It’s also nice being able to sit on your bed and organize your gear. Some people prefer the top bunk. I don’t know why. It comes down to personal preference. 

Say Hello to Your Roommates When You Arrive

When you first enter the dorm, it’s nice to greet your new roommates. At least smile and say hello. Chances are, someone will greet you when you walk in. You don’t have to start a conversation if you don’t want to but it’s nice to acknowledge the other people in the room. 

If you walk in and nobody says anything, it can be kind of awkward. It’s easier to make friends and hang out with your dorm mates later if everyone is friendly from the start. 

When someone new arrives in your dorm, it’s also nice to say hello. Sometimes people are nervous. A simple greeting makes things less awkward.

Nighttime at the Hostel

Most hostels have quiet hours between 10 or 11 pm and 7 or 8 am. During these times, you’re expected to stay quiet so people can sleep. Music in the hostel will be shut off during quiet hours. You should avoid talking in the dorms during these hours. You should also try to keep the noise down in the common areas. Some hostels close the common area but this is pretty rare. 

If you’re planning on going out and coming back late, try to be considerate of the other people sleeping when you come back. Make sure your toothbrush is easily accessible so you don’t have to dig through your stuff and make noise. Don’t turn on the main light in the room. Instead, use your phone’s light. Don’t talk in the dorm late at night.

You should not have sex in the dorm. It’s rude to the other guests. People don’t want to walk in on you or hear it during the night. If you want to have sex, just rent a privte room or go to a hotel. 

If you stay in enough hostels, you will hear someone having sex in the dorm. It’s pretty rare, unless you’re staying in lots of party hostels. If it bothers you, try making some sound. Most people will stop if they know someone else is in the room. You could also ask them to stop if it really bothers you. Of course, you could just put some headphones in and try to ignore it. Chances are, it won’t last long. They are probably really drunk. 

Morning in the Hostel

You can set an alarm to wake up in the morning. This may be necessary if you have to catch an early flight or if you have an activity planned early in the morning. People will understand if you need to set an alarm. You will be woken up by other people’s alarms while you’re staying in hostels. You can’t avoid it. 

Try to be considerate of other people. When your alarm goes off in the morning, try to turn it off quickly. Don’t let it ring 20 times. Don’t use the sleep timer. Just shut it off as soon as you’re awake. Also, be sure to turn your alarm off before you go to the bathroom to brush your teeth. If you forget, it could go off in the dorm while you’re out. 

If you know you have to get up early and leave, try to gather your stuff and pack the night before. This way, you don’t have to wake other people up by rustling through your bags and zipping and unzipping zippers. You can just leave quietly. 

When you’re getting ready early in the morning, don’t turn the main light on in the room if others are sleeping. After around 9 or 10 am, it is okay to turn the light on if you have to. 

Be sure to get up in time for breakfast if breakfast is included. Usually, breakfast is served early. It might start at 6 or 7 am and end around 9 or 10. 

Using Hostel Bathrooms

The bathroom situation can vary. Some hostels have a bathroom in every dorm. This is called an ensuite. Sometimes there are large bathrooms that you access from the halls. Sometimes there are separate bathrooms and shower rooms. At most hostels, you have to bring your own toiletries. At higher-end hostels, there is soap and shampoo in the showers.

Don’t Leave Your Belongings in the Bathroom

Take your toothpaste, soap, and shampoo back to the dorm with you when you’re done in the bathroom. If you leave your stuff in there, other people will also use it. They will just assume it’s for everyone. Alternatively, the staff will just throw it away. 

Don’t Take a Long Shower

If you’re staying in a dorm with an ensuite, there may only be one bathroom for everyone in the dorm. Some hostels only have a few showers for everyone. In this case, try to take a quick shower. Don’t hog the bathroom. When you’re staying in a large hostel with lots of shower stalls, you can take your time. 

It’s also a good idea to wear flip-flops in the shower. Hostels aren’t the cleanest places. Flip-flops can protect you from foot fungus. 

Using Hostel Kitchens

Most hostels have a kitchen. Sometimes there is a big kitchen with multiple stoves, sinks, and commercial refrigerators. Other times, there is just a simple home kitchen. Sometimes, there is just a hot plate and a fridge.

The main rule here is to clean up after yourself when cooking. When you use the kitchen, you have to do your own dishes. Try to wash your pots, pans, and utensils right after you’re done with them so others can use them. Don’t wait until after you’re done eating. Most hostels only have a few good pans. Also, be sure to wash your dishes after you’re done. 

Using the Common Areas

All hostels have a common area. This is a room where you can sit down, chat with other travelers, read, use your laptop, eat, drink, and just chill. Larger hostels may have multiple common spaces. There could be a main common room as well as a dining room, a TV room, and an outdoor common space. Sometimes, there are little nooks with seating. 

The common areas are for everyone to use. The vibe is different at different hostels. Sometimes the common area is quiet with people sitting around on their laptopst. Sometimes they get noisy with people drinking, talking, and listening to music. At some hostels, non-guests may be allowed in the common areas. This is often the case if the hostel has a bar or restaurant. 

A hostel common area

Try to keep the common area tidy. If you eat or play a board game, clean up after yourself. Also, try to read the room. If everyone is sitting around working on their laptops, it would be rude to start playing your guitar. If people are drinking and chatting and listening to music, you can be noisier.  

Check Out

At most hostels, the check-out time is 11 or noon. Some hostels have an earlier or later checkout. It’s a good idea to check the check-out time when you book. Be sure to check out on time or you could be charged for another night.

Most hostels have luggage storage. You can leave your luggage for the day after you check out. This is nice if you have a late flight or train. You can go sightseeing then come back and pick up your bag. Usually, luggage storage is free. I have stayed in hostels that charge for it.

A Few Hostel Etiquette Tips

A hostel sign

Avoid Dressing and Undressing in the Dorm

When staying in hostels, it’s best to change in the bathroom. If you want to change in the dorm, you can. Just try to do so quickly. 

Don’t walk around in the dorm naked or in your underwear. It can make other guests uncomfortable, even if it doesn’t bother you. Try to be considerate of other guests. 

It’s also best to wear something to sleep in, even if you normally sleep naked. You could wear pajamas or just sleep in your underwear. 

Keep the Area Around Your Bed Tidy

Try to keep all of your belongings next to your bed, on your bed, or in your locker. Find a place that is out of the way to store your backpack or suitcase. You could put it in a corner of the room, next to your bed, in the locker, or under the bed. Keep your stuff out of other people’s way. Don’t spread your stuff all over the room. 

This is important because most dorm rooms are pretty cramped when they’re full. If you spread all of your stuff out or leave your backpack sitting in the middle of the room, people will have to walk over it. It’s also easier to lose stuff it’s scattered all over the place. 

Don’t Sit on Someone Else’s Bed

If you’re on the top bunk, don’t sit on the bottom bunk or place any belongings on it. Most people won’t care but some really don’t like it. If you want to sit on someone else’s bed, ask first. 

Bathe and Wash Your Clothes Regularly

Dorm rooms can get stinky. Sometimes you’ll walk into a dorm and the smell of BO and dirty laundry will hit you right in the face. It’s easy to get smelly while traveling. You’ll spend most of your day out in the sun sightseeing. You’ll sweat a lot. Your clothes can also get smelly if you don’t wash them frequently enough. 

Try not to contribute to the smell. Take a shower every day, change your socks and underwear regularly, and wash your clothes when they get dirty. Store your dirty laundry in a bag so it doesn’t stink up the place. If you can smell yourself, other people can smell you too. 

Go to the Common Area or Outside to Make Phone Calls

Nobody wants to hear your phone conversation in the dorm. If you need to make a phone call, go to the common area or find a private place in the hostel. Many hostels have outdoor areas, halls, and other seating areas where you could also make a call.

Avoid Using Plastic Bags

Plastic bags in your luggage are noisy. When you dig through your backpack, everyone can hear the plastic bags rustling around. It’s really annoying in the middle of the night. If possible, try to use quieter materials. Use packing cubes and a toiletries bag to organize your stuff instead of plastic bags. 

Don’t Eat or Drink in the Dorm

Most hostels have rules against eating and drinking in the dorm. Food can stink up the dorm. Nobody wants to smell your food while they’re trying to sleep. Food can also attract pests like cockroaches. You could also spill and make a mess. Food packages can also be noisy. People don’t want to hear your potato chip bag rustling around. If you want to eat, go to the common area or kitchen. 

Don’t Spray Aerosols in the Dorm and Don’t Wear Too Much Cologne or Perfume

You should wear some type of deodorant so you don’t stink up the room. At the same time, you shouldn’t wear too much. People don’t want to smell you all over the hostel. If you wear too much cologne or perfume, the whole dorm room will smell.

Also, if you need to spray an aerosol like deodorant, bug spray, sunblock, or hairspray, try to do it in the bathroom or somewhere outside the dorm. Some people are sensitive or even allergic to these sprays. 

Respect the Other People in the Hostel

It goes without saying but you should try to be respectful to everyone in the hostel. Even if you think they’re strange, unfriendly, or rude. You don’t have to be their friend or interact with them if you don’t wan to but you should try to be respectful. 

Some people might be extremely tired or jet lagged after spending a day in transit. Some people might have been out partying all night. Respect them by letting them get their rest. If someone is trying to sleep, try to keep the noise down in the dorm. 

You might also meet people who come off as rude. They may have had a rough day. Maybe they come from a different culture. Maybe they’re just nervous or stressed out. Try not to let it bother you. You won’t get along with everyone. That’s fine.

Sometimes people will do strange things. Someone might walk around barefoot or without a shirt. Someone might say or do something you think is odd. Maybe you meet someone with different beliefs than you. Try to just ignore it or brush it off. 

If someone is annoying you, remember, eithe they will be leaving in a couple of days or you will be leaving in a couple of days. Chances are, you’ll never see them again. 

Of course, you don’t have to be a pushover. If someone is annoying you, feel free to speak up. For example, maybe someone is being noisy in the middle of the night. It’s fine to ask them to keep the noise down. Most people you meet will be reasonable.

Types of Hostel Guests

You will meet a surprisingly wide range of people at hostels. You’ll meet budget backpackers, solo travelers, hippies, older travelers, students, groups of friends, couples, and even families. All types of people stay in hostels. In general, most travelers will be in their early 20s to mid 30s. 

Different types of hostels attract different crowds. Party hostels attract younger travelers. Most people will be in their late teens to mid 20s. Boutique hotels and co-working attract older travelers and even families. Most people will be in their late 20s to mid 40s. At eco hostels and yoga hostels, you’re more likely to meet hippy types. At surf hostels and hiking hostels, you’ll meet outdoorsy types. 

Making Friends

One of the main reasons people choose to stay in hostels is the social aspect. It’s easy to meet other travelers and make friends when you stay in a hostel. Hostels are designed to be social. You share all of the common areas and sleep in a dorm with other people. When you’re constantly surrounded by people, socializing is natural. 

That said, in some hostels, it’s easier to make friends than others. Unless you’re extremely extroverted, you won’t make friends in every hostel you stay in. Sometimes you just get unlucky. You might check into a hostel and realize that everyone is keeping to themselves. Sometimes, you’ll end up in a dorm with a group of people that are traveling together. They may not be interested in meeting anyone else. Sometimes, there may only be a few other people staying in the hostel. There may not be very many people to make friends with.

There are a few ways to maximize your chance of making friends. 

  • Book a social hostel- Read the reviews to see what people are saying. If there are reviews talking about how easy it is to meet people, that’s a good sign. Of course, party hostels are always social. 
  • Try to stay in a large dorm (8+ people)- In a large dorm, there are more people that you can meet. 
  • Have a drink in the hostel bar if there is one- It’s easy to start a conversation with other people at the bar. 
  • Participate in hostel activities- Some hostels have tours, pub crawls, or theme nights. These are great places to make friends.
  • Start a conversation with someone- Sometimes, you’ll have to make the first move. This can be difficult if you’re introverted. 
  • Cook in the hostel kitchen- It’s easy to start a conversation while you’re cooking with other people. Ask what they’re cooking.
  • Invite someone to do an activity with you- If you start chatting to someone, ask them if they want to join you for a meal or go sightseeing with you. 

For more ideas, check out my guide to meeting people while traveling.

My Experience

Zac in Rio de Janeiro

I left on my first solo trip about 2 weeks after my 18th birthday. I flew from Los Angeles to London and checked into my first hostel when I arrived. It wasn’t a great first hostel experience. 

First, the airline lost my luggage. For the first 3 days of my trip, I had to wear the same clothes. Luckily, the airline found my backpack and delivered it to my hostel. 

I also had trouble finding the hostel. This trip took place before smartphones were popular so I only had my written directions to rely on. It took me over an hour to find it. I had to ask around.  

I didn’t really meet anyone at that hostel. There were a couple of other guys in the dorm but I didn’t really talk to them. I was nervous and didn’t know how to behave so I just kept to myself. 

I spent the next couple of months backpacking around Europe through 20 countries. As the trip went on, I became more and more comfortable staying at hostels. By my 3rd hostel, I felt right at home. It became routine.

When I returned to London at the end of the trip, I stayed in the same hostel again. This time, it was a totally different experience because I was much more confident. I knew what to expect. I also knew how to behave and how hostels worked. Shortly after I arrived, I met a couple of interesting people in the common area and hung out with them for a couple of days before returning home.

At this point, I have stayed in hundreds of hostels across 66 countries on 6 continents. When I first start a trip, it takes me a few days to get comfortable staying in hostels. It takes some adjustment to get used to living with so many different people around. 

I have never had a really bad hostel experience. Really, I’ve only experienced minor annoyances. I have stayed in dorms with snorers. Sometimes, an inconsiderate person will turn the light on in the middle of the night. Some hostels aren’t as clean as I would like. Once, some drunk guy tried to climb in my bed thinking it was his. I have never experienced any scary or dangerous situations in hostels. Staying in a hostel is almost always a positive experience for me. 

Final Thoughts

Your first hostel experience will likely be a bit anxiety inducing. It takes some time to get used to sharing a space with so many strangers. Every hostel is also a bit different. After you’ve stayed in a few, you’ll start feeling right at home. Most people end up loving the hostel experience. Hostels have a social, young, fun, and international atmosphere. There are unique spaces. 

Hopefully, this guide makes your first hostel experience a little smoother and easier. 

What was your first hostel experience like? Share in the comments.

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