The idea of staying at a hostel may make you nervous. You've seen the horror movie and heard some weird stories about what happens to travelers who stay at hostels. Sleeping in the same room as a bunch of strangers may seem daunting, but it can also be tons of fun. I consider hostels to be one of the best aspects of travel, especially when I'm traveling alone. They are where I make friends and find useful tips and information about where I am. Still, trying something new, like staying at a hostel, can be difficult, so here's my guide for making the best of it.
- Hostels are for everyone! A few hostels have age limits, usually between 18 and 30. However, there are plenty open to everyone. Some hostels are even known to be good for traveling with a family or younger children. So just run a few Google searches and see what you can find. Treehouse hostels, eco-hostels, hostels in former jails--there's a hostel for every traveler.
- If your parents/friends/loved ones are worried, let them know that you are capable and there are safety measures. Most hostels are very safe, but be sure to choose one that has security cameras, locks on the dorm doors, and a 24 hour desk. Use your common sense and be aware of any possible danger.
- Choosing which hostel to stay at is simple and only requires one thing: research. Check out hostelworld.com, lonelyplanet.com, and hostelbookers.com. You should find out the cost of an average night wherever you want to go. For example, $8 a night for a hostel in northern Thailand is normal versus $25 a night for a dorm in western Europe. Also look at what neighborhoods are most central and safe. Use the search filters on the above sites to cross-examine the highest rated hostels and the cheaper hostels. When you've found a few make your decision off of the reviews. Because even if a hostel offers a lot of great amenities, it may be hard to meet people. Or if you don't want to stay at a party hostel, you will want to check out the vibe before you book. What I look for in a hostel: a competitive price, a common area to hang out and meet people, freebies (like breakfast or a pool), a good location near public transportation, safety measures, and cleanliness.
- Be social. When you arrive and move your stuff in, strike up conversation with people in the dorm, in the hallway, or even in line for the bathroom. I like to take my iPad or a book to the common area and sit for an hour or two, to meet new people. This is the best way to find someone to go to dinner with or get tips on what is worth visiting in the area.
- Take advantage of the everything the hostel has to offer. Some hostels have guides, free maps, snacks, etc. Most of the time they will hold your bags the day of arrival and departure, so you can explore or do activities without lugging around your worldly possessions. One hostel I visited in Siem Reap, Cambodia organized group outings on whiteboards to lower the cost of transportation and help travelers find friends. Another hostel I visited in Rome had free pasta nights and a complimentary nighttime tour of the city!
- If you don't like the hostel or are uncomfortable staying there, leave. Check to see the policy on leaving before the end of your booked stay, sometimes they will give you a full refund. This is also a reason to only book the first few nights if you are staying for a while. That way you can move if you don't like it or book a longer stay after a few days. But a traveler should never feel obligated to stay in a place they feel is unsafe. And if there is something wrong with your room or the people in it, speak to the management. A good hostel with take care of any problems for you.
So if you've never stayed in a hostel, give it a go. I find that some of the coolest people I meet are from hostels. Not to mention, it is one of the cheapest ways to have a secure and (usually) comfy bed while traveling.