On She Goes

More Than Bunk Beds: Guide to Hostels

Budget friendly & a great way to travel.

Jennifer Osias
Jennifer Osias
January 25, 2018
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It doesn’t help that an entire horror film franchise is named after a type of budget accommodation or that bunk beds can seem juvenile and uncomfortable—but hostels have an unfair reputation amongst some travelers. That’s not to say there aren’t bad hostels, but like any accommodation, they fall along a spectrum. Some travelers prefer to splurge on a fancy meal at a highly acclaimed restaurant or save their money for a shopping spree, and they’re willing to stay at a hostel to help make this possible. Hostels can be safe and clean, and they are a great way to meet fellow travelers and learn about the city you’re staying in. But deciding on where to book a bed can be intimidating. This guide to hostels outlines how to find a great place to lay your head.

One of the clocks at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
photo by Jennifer Osias

By the book
New travel sites keep popping up, and it has never been easier to find a hostel. My go-to is Hostelworld. I’ve used them since I was in high school, and now they have an app that makes it even easier to book! Hostels.com and Booking.com are also great options.

Make sure you read the reviews, where verified guests spill the tea and give you more perspective. Did the owners forget to mention the hostel is located on top of a steep hill or that they don’t clean the bathrooms daily? TripAdvisor is also a great place to check for reviews from travelers.

Know thyself
Think about who you are as a traveler and what kind of experience you want. Are you a solo traveler hoping to meet new friends? Then you might want to look for a hostel that has common areas where you can strike up a conversation. Do you want privacy? Then look for a place with either private rooms or group rooms with a smaller number of beds. Are you looking to party? Then look for a hostel located near the nightlife or one that is known for late-night get-togethers in its common spaces. Most hostels are very open about whether they have a more social or quiet atmosphere. Some even have age minimums. Others will prohibit alcohol, while some will offer a free shot at check-in. For more information, read the reviews. For example, if several travelers complain about lots of late-night noise or how there were no places to grab a drink, you’ll know what you’re in for.

Rickshaw in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
photo by Jennifer Osias

Make a list and check it twice
Like hotels, hostels offer extra services that vary by location, so make sure to check before you book. Hostels may offer same-sex dorms, free breakfast, and convenient airport pickup and drop-off. Are you planning on posting vacation pictures on Instagram? You’re going to need Wi-Fi, which might be free or come with a charge.

If you have a flight that gets in at an odd hour, you’ll want to ensure someone will be there to check you in, so make sure you ask about early or late check-in. If you have time for sightseeing after you check out, ask about luggage storage so you don’t have to lug your suitcase around. Hostels have many of the same perks as hotels; prioritize your wish list and search away.

The iconic Sydney Opera House.
photo by Jennifer Osias

Pick your ’hood
Location is always an important factor when picking where you’ll be staying. I try to stay close to main attractions to cut down on traveling—all those minutes in cabs, trains, and buses add up. But maybe you’re seeking a less touristy experience and want to stay in smaller neighborhoods away from the must-see sites.

Pack it up
A little planning goes a long way, and you should always come prepared for hostels. By now, you’ve realized that saving a few dollars means DIY-ing some parts of your hostel stay. No worries! As a veteran hostel user, I always pack these items for a comfortable stay.

  • Eye mask – Not everyone in your shared room will have the same sleeping pattern as you. Block out the bright lights with a sleeping mask.
  • Earplugs – There’s always one person who’s snoring in the dorm (and if you can’t hear them, then it’s you).
  • Towels – Some hostels have towel rentals, which are worth the money if you’re trying to save space. If the thought of renting a towel grosses you out, there’s always a Turkish towel.
  • Blanket scarf or sweatshirt – For the cool nights, when you need an extra layer.
  • Shower sandals – Bring a pair of cheap flip-flops that you can leave behind, because they’re a must in hostel showers! There are many souvenirs you want to take home. Foot fungus is not one of them.
  • Surge protector – Want to be the hostel-room hero? Bring a travel surge protector. Hostels are notorious for not having enough plugs. This way, you can charge your items without worrying about blowing a fuse.

Don’t sleep on hostels! They’re a great way to cut down your travel budget without having to sleep on the streets.