How to Survive a Hostel

That might be a bit dramatic. For the most part I’ve had really positive experiences int he hostels I’ve stayed in across Europe and (less extensively) in the US. Having said that, there are definitely some things that I have learned that I take into account before booking a hostel now.


Boys are stinky

Solution: All female dorms (if you’re a female, that is)


This was the view from the front door of Castle Rock Hostel in Edinburgh, where I first discovered female only dorms.

Sorry, guys, but it’s true. Most hostels offer both mixed dorms (men and women) and female only dorms. The first few hostels I stayed in, my friends and I opted for the slightly cheaper mixed dorm option.

But when I started venturing out on my own, I felt much more comfortable staying in a females only room.

Immediately that $2-5 a night difference in price was so incredibly worth not having to sleep in a room that stank of dirty socks and BO. I’ve slept much better since switching over to the female only rooms.


Germs are everywhere

Solution: Emergen-C, lots of water, hand sanitizer, etc.  

It makes sense. Hostel rooms can have anywhere from four to 32 beds in a room and each of those beds could potentially have a different guest each night. That means as many as 28 to 224 people could be staying in the same room over the course of a week.

I don’t care how much Lysol you use, you’re never going to kill all those germs.

About half the time I’ve stayed in a hostel I’ve ended up returning home sick.

Now, I’m not about to pin all of this on hostels. There are plenty of other factors in travel that assault your immune system. But it just make sense that staying in the same room with so many other people would contribute to this.


Hostels usually provide the bare minimum

Solution: Bring your own towel, lock, pillow, etc.

Again, this completely makes sense. Hostels are a budget option, not a luxury one. And while I’ve come to love the freedom of packing as little as possible and traveling light, I have on more than one occasion wished I packed that one extra thing to make my stay more comfortable.

A towel is the first thing that comes to mind. Most hostels I’ve stayed at will lend you a towel for a small deposit or fee (anywhere from $1 to $5, in my experience). Which is all good and fine.

Until you get out of the shower and realize you forgot to stop by the front desk on your way to the bathroom and now you’re using your sweatshirt to dry yourself off.

But what I was really left wanting for during my last stay at a hostel was a halfway decent pillow. I had forgone packing my usual travel pillow as my bag was stuffed to the brink with jackets. Unfortunately even when I folded the hostel provided pillow in half, it wasn’t as thick at my folded towel. So I ended up sleeping on my jacket more often than not.


Bathrooms are common areas

Solution: Plan to spend as little time in them as possible 

The vast majority of the hostels I’ve stayed in have been clean and well stocked with toilet paper.

But there’s still something unsettling about taking a shower and knowing that a dozen other people have already stood in that stall that day.

While I’ve watched lots of fellow hostel guests come and go from the bathrooms barefooted, I have taken to bringing a cheap pair of plastic flip-flops with me. I can still wash my feet and all that jazz, but I don’t have to stand on the wet tile and wonder who was there before me.

I also make sure to bring an extra plastic bag or something to keep my shampoo, conditioner, and soap on while showering.

Ladies, I recommend packing a compact mirror and doing your makeup in bed instead of trying to hold your makeup bag and apply your eyeliner at the same time. Also, if you’re not spending so much time in the bathroom, that means someone else can use it. And I’m sure they’re very appreciative.


Food tends to go missing from the community fridge

Solution: Travel with nonperishable food and keep it (in a sealed container) in your luggage  

The key words here are “nonperishable” and “sealed container.” Even if those crackers probably won’t go stale overnight, it isn’t going to take the ants that long to find your food.

Which is exactly why most hostels have a rule against keeping food in your room.

Still, I’ve never had an issue with keeping snacks buried at the bottom of my backpack. I just make sure everything is closed up tight and then I’ve got breakfast or a snack on the fly without having to worry about checking the fridge every hour to make sure it hasn’t gone missing.

Dry water or Gatorade bottles can make a great storage container for small snacks like mini cookies or gold fish crackers and also help keep them from getting smashed. Of course, you can always go with a zip-lock bag or small Tupperware container too.


What other tricks do you have to make staying in a hostel a more enjoyable part of your trip?


2 thoughts on “How to Survive a Hostel

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