Peter Orsel

A Quick Guide to Your First Hostel Stay

In this quick guide I’m going to tell you all information you need before staying in your first hostel ever. Already got that experience? Well maybe you read something new if it’s going to be your second hostel as well! I’ve stayed in over 50 hostels during my travels. Some great ones, but some terrible as well. Staying at a hostel is pretty straight forward, but the first time can always be a bit daunting. That surely shouldn’t stop you, so here’s some information I wish I knew before staying in hostels for the first time.

In This Post

What makes a good hostel?

Before searching for a hostel, you want to know what you’re looking for, right? There are tons of options in basically every budget. I’ve seen hostels for €1,- a night in Nepal, but hostels starting from €50,- a night in Europe as well. If I’m travelling to a place with a wide range of hostels, this is my checklist. And yes, that’s a lot:

  • Comfortable beds

  • Privacy curtains, for both privacy and darkness at night

  • Electricity plug + individual light at the bed

  • Lockers with or without a padlock, big enough to fit a 40/50 liter backpack

  • A decent shower. It doesn’t always have to be a hot one, but if I pay more than 15 euros a night, I expect a hot one.

  • Mayor plus: Towel included. Unfortunately 9 out of 10 places ask a little payment for it.

  • Nice to have: Breakfast included

  • Wi-fi, preferably at least 5 Mbps. You don’t have the control over it, but it makes work easier if you have to.

  • Common area with places to study/work and to hang out with other people as well

  • Common kitchen with a refrigerator and basic amenities

  • A social vibe

  • Rating of 8,5 or higher on Hostelworld. This sounds high, but it’s generally known that a lower rating usually means that it’s bad.

That’s a big list, isn’t it? Well, let’s say this is my perfect hostel. If I had to create one, I would try to tick all these boxes. I do know it’s too much to ask for every destination and sometimes a small and old place can be the place with the best vibes. You can read more about that in my blog with my best hostel experiences ever.

Roy's Villa Hostel, one of my favourite hostels ever. Located in Sri Lanka.

Where to book your hostel?

The best place to find hostels is It has the biggest amount of hostels to choose from, there’s a social function in the app and the reviews are on point from other people traveling the world. The filter function helps you to check everything all the boxes you’re looking for and the booking process is very easy. Another place is I bet you heard about it before and it’s one of the biggest booking websites of the world, if you’re looking for an accommodation. There’s a filter on hostels as well

If you’re a budget traveller like me, my advice would be to check if the hostel has their own website. Many hostels have, especially the chains with locations throughout a country, continent or the world. Most of the hostels have a best price guarantee, guaranteeing you a better price than the price you see on Booking / Hostelworld. Check discount links as well, most hostel chains have newsletters. Sign up, use their discount codes and you save some easy money. I know that I should recommend you to use Hostelworld or Booking so I get a commission, but I do want to give you my real advice for budget travellers.

What to bring to a hostel?

There’s not a lot of special stuff you have to bring to an hostel, but there are some essentials I would always recommend. Here you go:

  • World adapter – some hostels have USB plugs, but if you travel a lot, you’re likely to find places where they don’t have and don’t use the plugs you have at home. It’s always good to have a world adapter in your backpack!

  • Padlock – Many hostels have lockers, not many have the padlocks included. I’ve been using this Decathlon one that isn’t sponsored, but just very good. Before this, I used regular locks, but they didn’t always fit the holes of the locker. This cable lock just always works.

  • Towel – I always carry a quick drying towel with me, from Decathlon as well. I try not to use it too often, but it’s very useful as a blanket, curtain and obviously as a towel. Personally I always rent towels at the hostels, but I could save loads of money if I didn’t.

  • Food! The good thing about hostels, you can prepare your own food. I don’t bring food from home, but I usually visit nearby supermarkets so I can. have some easy and cheap food if I want to. The thing I buy most is probably yoghurt and fresh fruits for breakfast, that’s why I hate it when a hostel doesn’t offer a fridge!

Youth Hostel Dobbiaco, by far the most beautiful hostel building I've slept in!

What kind of dorm and which bed should I choose?

This is a very personal question, so I’ll just give you my point of view on this. There are dorms ranging from 4 to 24 beds and maybe even more than that. If you go for a room for lots of people, the prices are likely to be lower. On the other hand, it will be a lot noisier as well. Imagine being the first one sleeping and 15 others arriving after you in a 16 bed dorm. If they all arrive separately, you’re likely to spend more minutes awake than you wished to. My ideal dorm has 6 beds and is a mixed dorm. I know quite some girls who prefer female only dorms, as it reduces the chances of someone snoring in the room. Let me be clear: girls snore too. I personally prefer to have a mix of people as it’s better for the vibe (and the smell). Booking a dorm with 4 reduces the chance of meeting nice people in your room, but most of the times you just meet them out of your room as well.

Some hostels will give you a certain bed number and some hostels will ask you to take just one that’s free. I love that last thing, as I always overthink the location of my bed. I don’t want to be in a straight line to the AC, as far as possible from the door/bathroom and I would always go for a lower bed. Pros of a lower bed: easy accessible, no climbing, always an option to create a curtain, even if the bunk doesn’t offer curtains. Just put your towel under the mattress of your upper neighbour. Cons of a lower bed : less privacy as people see you when there are no curtains. You’re also likely to wake up because someone is climbing your bed or jumping from it.

How to get in touch with fellow travellers?

You don’t have to introduce you to everyone in the hostel straight after arrival, but it’s always good to say hi to your roommates. Ask them where they’re from, what they do or how long they are staying. I always try to ask more than I talk about myself. If there are some good talks, you can ask if he or she has plans to do something later that day. Don’t feel offended when they say no. From my personal experience, I don’t always want to hang out with everyone I meet, sometimes I enjoy a movie night on my own as well. You can get tired of telling the same story over and over again and it might happen to you too. So if someone says no, just accept it and move on. Maybe there are some others who want to do something anyway! Nowadays, lots of hostels offer a WhatsApp group. The crew will keep you updated with activities you can do, while there are other solo travellers looking to meet up with some people as well.

How to behave in a hostel?

Hostels are places where cultures blend together and that’s the most unique thing about it. Everyone has their own habits and in hostels you try to make yourself home. I remember being in Malagá, Spain where an Asian couple was preparing a big rice dish for breakfast, a Bangladesh guy prepared a huge steak while an European girl was just casually baking her eggs. All at the same spot and if you’re lucky enough you can try a bite of their dishes and culture! But let’s talk about behaviour, here are some general unwritten (or sometimes written) rules of hostel stays:

  • Do respect the quiet hours, as most hostels (except some party ones) have them. If you want to talk, go to a common space. I’ve had people recording voice notes in a dorm at 1am, people doing video calls in a dorm at 6.30am, people talking for 45 minutes about their day at midnight. These people only think about themselves and don’t care about their roommates, if you ask me.

  • Do take short showers on peak hours. You don’t want to take the bathroom longer than necessary as there are other people in need of a shower as well. If you want to have a long session, do it at mid-day.

  • Don’t turn the light on if people are sleeping. This counts especially between let’s say 11pm and 8am.

  • Don’t steal people’s food. This happened way too often. If there’s a fridge, you usually put your stuff inside with a name tag on it. That doesn’t mean it’s free to use for others, it means it’s yours.

  • Don’t claim the whole kitchen. There could be others who want to cook as well.

  • Do use your locker. I never got my stuff stolen in a hostel, but there are countless stories about people who lost their possessions at hostels. You don’t want to be the next one. If there are no lockers or if they’re broken and you have valuables, ask the reception to store your valuable belongings.

That’s pretty much it! If you have any questions, feel free to let me know in the comments. For now, book that hostel and let’s go!

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