by Liberty Stembridge, Lifestyle Columnist
Published in Lifestyle on 23rd October, 2019
Why stay in a hostel? If you're completely new to the hostel world, you might wonder why one would choose to share a room, kitchen and bathroom space with sometimes upwards of 20 other people?
The first, and most obvious reason is price - hostels will nearly always be cheaper than a hotel room or a room on airbnb. Unless you're camping or couchsurfing, there simply isn't a cheaper way to travel than by staying in a hostel.
Everyone needs to sleep, and a bed in a hostel can keep you going whilst you travel, without the high price tag. For young backpackers, choosing hostels over private accommodation can be the difference between being able to afford traveling for a week and traveling for a month.
For solo travelers, hostels are likely the best way to make friends whilst traveling. Many a friendship has started in a hostel dorm, so if you're looking to socialize and meet new people whilst you're travelling (which you probably are) hostels are the way to go.
The first point of contact will usually be your hostel dorm room but don't worry if you don't "click" with any of your dorm mates, there's still plenty of opportunities to socialize in the hostel kitchens, bar or games room. Many hostels also run free or cheap tours and social nights to help you find new friends and explore the area you're in.
If you're looking to get right into the thick of things and get to know the city you're in, without paying extortionate prices for an inner-city hotel, a hostel is the way to go.
Many hostels are situated in key areas of major cities, so you have easy access to public transport and the rest of the city, making your trip and travel experience a lot easier.
There is often a huge variety in prices of hostels, even within one city, and deciding which one to go with and how much to pay can be tricky. Some hostels can be as cheap as $7 a night and still have great facilities, an active social scene and generally be a lot of fun. Others might not be.
Your main indicator of how good or bad a hostel is should be the reviews. Sites like hostelworld allow hostel goers to rate and review a hostel after their stay, and a quick flick through some of the reviews should tell you what you need to know to decide whether this is the hostel for you.
Browse through some of the hostels within your price range and decide which one looks best for you, depending on your priorities. Some hostels will suit party-goers better, whilst others will suit more laid-back types.
As a general rule, going for a mid-range hostel will provide you with a decent experience whilst keeping you safe and sound. Always do your research first, however.
When booking your hostel room, you'll likely have a choice between a mixed room, or a single-gender dorm room.
If you're just looking to make friends and don't care who they are, a mixed dorm should work perfectly fine for you. If you're a bit nervous, especially if you're a solo female traveler, an all-female dorm might be the option for you.
Picking the size of your dorm room will have a big impact on your hostel experience. Truly there is no right answer, however. If you're looking to save as much money as possible, the bigger rooms will likely be the cheapest.
Some hostels have rooms with 20+ backpackers in them at a time. If you choose to stay in one of these rooms, you may be more likely to make friends, but keep in mind that there will probably be a lot more disturbances at night and a lot less privacy.
The quality of hostel beds and lockers varies dramatically depending on where you are and how much you've paid. Some hostels have rickety wooden bunk beds that are only long enough for a child, whilst others have large, stable beds with privacy curtains, power points, lights, and personal lockers.
Most hostel dorms will have lockers available to lock up your valuables, however, you should always bring your own lock as many hostels don't provide them.
Whether you're solo backpacking or with some friends, hostels can be a great place to meet other travelers and make friends. However, you should be prepared that this may not always be the case.
Some hostels may be quiet in certain seasons, or you may simply find that the people you meet aren't that friendly, and that's okay. You're not always going to meet your next best friend. However, you may well find that you get to know some interesting people and have some fun - be prepared for both outcomes.
One of the main concerns of a hostel newbie is the prospect of sharing a bathroom with potentially hundreds of other people. If you're squeamish or a germaphobe, this may not be your cup of tea, but it is perfectly manageable. Some hostels will do a better job of keeping their bathrooms cleaner than others (look at the reviews to check on this).
Unfortunately, this is an aspect of hostel life that you will just have to come to terms with. If you're particularly put off by the idea, try to find a hostel that offers smaller dorm room sizes, each with their own private bathrooms, so you only have to share with a few other people.
When you're on the go every day, backpacking, meeting new people, going out and having fun, it's natural for your personal hygiene to fall slightly to the wayside, especially when you're sharing bathrooms and showers with other people and need to work around their schedules. Nevertheless, it is possible to stay clean and presentable whilst living in a hostel.
Try to find the times when the bathrooms are most quiet to take care of yourself, go for a shower etc and make sure to make it a priority. If you want to avoid the infamous "backpacker stink" you will probably be needing to take showers daily, especially if you're in a hot country, so keep this in mind.
Not all hostels will have washing facilities for your clothes, and you may find that you need to haul all of your dirty laundry to the nearest laundromat. This is pretty much every backpacker's least favorite thing about backpacking, but it has to be done. Try and find a hostel that isn't too far from a laundromat if you can and find a few friends to go with so it's not such a chore.
Hostel kitchens can be an intimidating place, but if you approach them with confidence, they can also be a great place to make friends and socialize.
Most hostel kitchens are communal, meaning they will have several stoves, microwaves and sinks for the residents to share. Depending on the size of your hostel, you may find that the kitchen is very spacious, or quite cramped. Some will have a good system already worked out, with plenty of space, tools, and equipment, whereas others can be pretty basic.
Don't expect to be able to make 5-star meals in a hostel kitchen, so it's best to plan for some simple, easy to make meals that don't require an oven.
There are certainly some backpackers in hostels who go all out and make themselves a 3-course meal whilst cooking, but as a general rule, you want to keep it as simple and easy as possible, whilst also cramming in some nutrition. Backpacker food is notoriously unhealthy, so any extra vitamins and minerals you can cram in is a plus.
The god-tier backpacker meal to make in a hostel. You'll need a maximum of two pots, some pasta, some sauce and any added extras you'd like to include. It can be extremely simple or more complex depending on your preferences. Plus, pretty much everyone knows how to make it, and it can easily be stored in a fridge to be heated up for later.
If your hostel kitchen has a toaster, then you've got a ticket to the easiest meal ever. Baked beans on toast, mushrooms on toast, peanut butter on toast, avocado on toast, jam on toast. Toast is quite possibly one of the most versatile dishes on the planet - you can eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
A great way to save money, save space in the fridge and save time in the kitchen is to simply buy canned meals. This could be canned soup, dhal, baked beans - anything really.
As a backpacker, you're not going to want to spend a lot of money on food or waste extra space in your already crammed backpack to accommodate it. Therefore, you need to think creatively when it comes to your food.
If you are traveling with friends, this may make it easier to buy ingredients and share across bags, however, if you're traveling solo, you'll simply have to make do.
Try and only buy for what you need whilst staying at a particular destination. For example, if you're only at hostel X for 3 days, only buy what you need for those three days, and try to use all of it up. A bit of meal-planning can go a long way in these situations.
Bear in mind that most hostel kitchens will have a "free food" section - an area of the kitchen where previous backpackers have left their food that they no longer need. You'll often find oil, sugar, salt, and other kitchen staples here, and there may well be some unexpected treats in there too, so don't go out carrying around an entire bottle of oil when you don't need to.
Many hostels will have a hostel bar, especially in big cities. If you haven't already had luck making friends and your hostel, here's your next chance.
Although it can be pretty nerve-wracking to enter a bar by yourself and start chatting to people, you'll often find you have the most luck in a hostel bar, because everyone there is looking for people to meet too! Go and grab a drink, and start chatting to whoever's next to you.
If it's not clicking, move onto the next person. Very often there will be some sort of activity, dancing or games night going on, so get involved and start socializing.
Backpacking drinking culture can be quiet overwhelming, especially in cities that are known for their party scene. It's normal to want to have fun, have a few drinks and enjoy yourself whilst traveling, but safety should also remain a priority.
Hostel friends might not always be the most trustworthy, so it's best to stay on the safe side and remain sober enough to get yourself home safely. Look out for your fellow travelers, and don't be afraid to say no if you're feeling pressured into drinking more than you should.
If you haven't already decided on a destination, but know you want to go backpacking, you're probably wondering where are the best places to go. Not every country or city has a lively backpacker scene, in fact, some won't have hostels at all, so with that being said - here are some of the most backpacker-friendly places to visit:
South East Asian countries such as Thailand, The Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia and more are all very popular backpacking destinations.
With cheap hostels, cheap food, incredible culture and lot's to do and see - these places are essentially a mecca for backpackers from all over the world. As such, you'll find a lively hostel scene with plenty of young travelers looking to have fun and explore.
Although not the cheapest country to travel, Australia is an incredible country to visit and an extremely popular destination for backpackers.
There are cheap hostels available in many of the big cities, and with beaches that stretch for miles and some of the friendliest people in the world, what's not to love?
It's many backpackers dreams to travel around Europe, and there are plenty of hostels to accommodate that dream. Although Europe is notoriously expensive, it's worth it for the diverse cultures, incredible food, and amazing people. Popular destinations with a lively hostel scene include Amsterdam, Berlin, Hamburg, Lisbon, Greece and Croatia.
Unfortunately, America isn't the most backpacker-friendly destination, especially if you're a solo traveler. Hostels aren't very common, at least not outside of the major cities such as New York, and even where they are, they're pretty expensive and many backpackers report struggling to make friends.
Don't worry though, if you've got your heart set on the USA, why not take a road trip and camp for cheap instead?
Although some places in Europe do make it into the "backpacker-friendly" list, many parts do not. Some cities, as beautiful and tourist-laden as they may be, are simply not that popular with the hostel crowd.