I have published some tips before on choosing a hotel when you travel solo. While I identify as a budget traveler, I don’t balk at staying in nice hotels occasionally, especially towards the end of a long trip.
However, when you are traveling long-term, staying in hotels all the time can be a big drain on your budget. I always choose either free (Couchsurfing or staying with friends) or budget (i.e., hostels).
Staying in hostels can be a challenge, though, for those who are not used to sleeping in a room with strangers. Most hostels also have mixed dorms (both men and women), so if you have any reservations about sharing your room with others, especially of the opposite sex, you’d be better off in a hotel.
That said, hostel stays have a lot of advantages especially for solo travelers: it is cheap, there’s usually one in a good location, and it’s a great place for meeting other travelers. I’ve met quite a lot of travel buddies in hostels!
To maximize your hostel stays, here are some tips I’ve learned from my travels (and shared by readers on my Facebook page).
How to Choose a Good Hostel
Back when I was a “newbie” international traveler, I always chose the cheapest hostel I could find. I learned pretty quickly that it isn’t a good idea to make budget the first priority. It should be location.
Location is a very important consideration in choosing a hostel, especially if you’re traveling solo. It can mean your safety. A hostel that’s not conveniently located (i.e., accessible to most attractions you’d want to see) can also mean additional expenses in transportation, among others. In my case, I usually choose one that’s walking distance from the bus or train station.
Hostel facilities. Some hostels offer bare-bones accommodations with beds, a modest kitchen, and a simple bathroom. Others offer more such as free linens (some hostels in Europe charge for this!) and toiletries, air conditioning, hot/cold shower, complimentary breakfast, WiFi, laundry service, organized activities, and so on. For me, WiFi is very important so I make sure the hostel has it.
Budget. Of course, this should also be considered. There are hostels (in Bangkok, in particular) which charge almost the same as a 1-star hotel, especially if you choose a private room. For me, it doesn’t make sense. If you wanted your own room, why not just stay in a hotel?
In any case, hostels have dorm rooms ranging in size, from having 4 beds up to 10 beds (or even more). There are mixed and same-sex rooms as well. You can choose which you want, depending on your level of comfort. I don’t like 10-bed dorms, especially in big cities. I would rather pay an extra dollar for a spot in a 4- or 6-bed dorm room. However, I always choose the mixed dorms since those are slightly cheaper.
What to Bring When You Stay in Hostels
Hostels charge less than hotels because of shared rooms and lack of amenities that are usually provided in hotels. When you choose to stay in hostels for your long-term travel, make sure to bring the following:
- A microfiber towel. Most hostels don’t provide one, and a microfiber towel is lightweight and dries easily. You can rent one in some hostels, but it is an unnecessary expense.
- Earplugs and face mask for sleeping if you can’t sleep in noisy rooms. I have no problem with noise so I don’t have these.
- A padlock. Most hostels have lockers, and it’s very important that you lock up your valuables. I had two of my credit cards stolen once in a hostel in Bangkok.
- Bring cash. Some hostels may not accept credit.
- Rubber slippers. Don’t go barefoot when you take a shower, you never know who’s been there. You don’t want to catch any skin infections when you travel, do you? (By the way, I love the Ipanema slippers I bought in Brazil. I can use it in the shower AND go around town in it!)
- Shampoo or body wash. While a lot of the hostels I’ve been to provide these, it’s better to be prepared, especially for women with sensitive hair (like me) who can’t use just any shampoo.
I also bring a very thin sheet with me (like a sarong) just in case the hostel won’t provide linens.
Safety (and Other) Tips for Staying in Hostels
Some of my readers (who are solo travelers or long-term travelers themselves), have shared tips for staying safe in hostels. Here’s what they said.
Forget hotels and choose a reputable hostel. It’s so easy to make friends and feel safe and comfortable in a good hostel, and I would choose that atmosphere even if money were no object. Don’t go for the cheapest, either. As a lone gal traveling alone, it is safer to pay slightly more for a better hostel. Some hostels are also party hostels; if you don’t like being awakened in the middle of the night by drunk revelers, stay out of those kinds of accommodations. (Valerie K. Narehood, Shankar Subramanian, Paul Elverstone)
Check the hostel’s entrance and exit. You will need this knowledge during emergencies. Also, if you’re not comfortable in mixed dorms, choose one that’s for women only. (Nathara Imenes, Fabi Enne)
Make friends with the reception staff and the maids (if available); you can be friendly to them, thank them (preferably in their own language), and just be pleasant overall. They will then keep an eye out for you and make your stay there more pleasant. (Vince Davis, Joan McKniff)
When I was in Bangkok, I learned that the cleaning ladies in our hostel were Vietnamese. I thanked them once in their own language (cam on), and they were very pleased. Whenever they saw me from that day forward, they would always smile at me.
Pick the upper bunk, close to an electric plug. You don’t want to be nearest the door, as late-night arrivals can easily disturb you. Thieves will also target the stuff placed on lower bunks. An exception is when the bunks are not well-made, in which case, choose the lower one but away from the door. You don’t want to wake up your roommate whenever you go to bed, just because the whole thing moves as soon as you step on the ladder (happened to me in Bangkok and Penang).
Pack the night before, if you’re leaving early the next day. You don’t want to wake everyone up at 4am to the sound of your packing! Remember, when you are staying in hostels, you share a living space with others. It means practicing basic courtesy while you’re there. (That means not having sex in hostel rooms either.)
While staying in hostels may not be for everybody, it is a great opportunity for solo travelers to save on accommodation and meet fellow travelers. I would definitely choose a hostel stay over a hotel any day!
How about you? What are your tips for staying in hostels?