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Now that we know what not to do in hostels, here are some tips for first timers or people new to the hostel world. Speaking of, that’s how I usually find where I want to stay. This is all stuff I’ve learned on the road from my own hostel experiences and I hope it helps you in some way.
Pick a bottom bunk
This is mostly for the sake of convenience. As a kid, top bunk was the coolest! But, when you were six, you didn’t have to worry about where to charge your phone, or forgetting your book in your backpack, or forgetting your headphones in your locker, or well, anything else you forget, which is a lot more when you’re on the top bunk instead of the bottom.
Choose a bed close to outlets
Along with the previous advice, if you can choose the bed you want, some are assigned, pick the one close to outlets. It can be a pain to search for outlets when you’re in dire need of one. If you’re stuck far from one, either charge stuff in the middle of the day when less people are around, or out in the common area. I would also get a portable charger, for this reason and for long travel days.
Bring a towel
Some hostels provide them for free, others charge a rental fee. I would recommend bringing a turkish towel. They’re compact, giant, and dry fast. They can also be used as blankets or pillows on long bus rides! They’re also much cuter than icky feeling microfiber towels.
Choose one centrally located
This can be really important. If there are certain things you know you want to see in a specific area, try and find a hostel close to them. You don’t have to book ahead, but get an idea of where it is and the name. Maybe jot down the address if you get lost or need directions. English and the local language are super helpful.
Book ahead of time if you’re arriving late
If you’re on your own especially, find a hostel and book at least one night if you’re getting somewhere after it’s dark out. I got to Antigua after dark with nothing booked, but I attached myself to a group with one person I met somewhere before to find somewhere to stay.
I hung out with them the next day then we parted ways. Booking one night ahead of time allows flexibility. You can stay longer if you like it (and they have availability) or you can look for somewhere you like more the next day. I would also recommend booking at least your first night or two when you land.
Research ahead of time to find the atmosphere you want
This is more for the type of hostel. If you’re not into partying, check to see what the reviews say about it. If you do like party hostels, avoid the ones known to be quiet. You get the idea. I don’t love partying all the time, but I like staying at party hostels more than not because I think it’s easier to meet people.
Pick one with lockers if possible
If you can, choose one with lockers. Even small ones for cameras, passports, laptops, that kind of thing is better than none. Some have backpack sized lockers which can be nice, but also a little inconvenient if you want stuff out of it a lot. In that case, just lock up valuables. If they don’t have one and you’re really worried about someone stealing stuff, I’d invest in one of these. I never used mine, but I still bring it with just in case I end up somewhere pretty seedy, which is always a possibility.
Hang out in the common area
This is a really easy way to meet people, as is striking up conversation with dorm mates. Even if you’re sitting and reading, chances are someone will come up and talk to you. This isn’t always the case, so don’t count on it, but you can always start talking to people, too. Just try to be aware if they aren’t in a talking mood. Short answers are a good indication of this.
Go to the hostel bar, even if you don’t drink, to meet people
This is a great place to meet people. Just hang out at the bar and chat with people. If your hostel doesn’t have one, ask at reception for another one close by. I spent an afternoon drinking margaritas at my hostel in Antigua and met a local guy that gave me a couple awesome watercolor paintings he did then went out with some people that came in for dinner. It was an awesome night.
Avoid eating at the restaurants unless it’s the only option
Yes, the food may be delicious, but it may not be. It’s usually a little more pricey than going out to find something else. I am guilty of this though on occasion for convenience. Sometimes you just don’t feel like going out in search of food. My hostel in Semuc Champey was it. I had no option but to eat there and the food was just alright. If you’re nervous about finding somewhere else to eat, I feel you, find someone from your hostel to go eat with. It’s easier than you’d think.
The more beds in a room, the cheaper they are
A room with 12 beds will be less than one with four. That’s just how it is. Location can be a factor in deciding this, though. My second hostel in Tokyo had 32 beds in it. 32! I booked it anyways because the room with less was $45 instead of $30. Turns out the beds were like little capsules and I saw maybe four other people in the time I stayed there. Don’t be afraid to splurge on a private room on occasion. Sometimes it’s what you need.
Women, consider female only dorms
If you’re traveling alone for the first time and are worried about sharing a room with a bunch of strange guys, find somewhere with female only dorms. I did this in Kyoto, but it was really the only option. I’ve never been bothered by mixed dorms or had bad experiences, either. You can always go for female only and try mixed later.
Don’t be afraid to socialize
I sort of touched on this before, but really, don’t be afraid to socialize. I’m actually pretty shy and horrible at group conversation and avoid it at all costs, especially going out to eat in groups. I prefer small groups, think less than five. Anything more than that is hard to make decisions and intimidating for me. But look at all those pictures! Most of them were taken by other people or with other people and I was able to make friends even though I’m really shy!
Wait, back to the point, strike up conversation with people. Ask what they’re reading. Or the usual questions: where they’re from, where they’ve been, where they’re going. Ask someone if they want to get food. Or a drink. Or just wander around. The worst they can say is no. If that’s the case, ask someone else or say ok, well let me know if you want to later. Or would you want to go to the beach together tomorrow? Or the Jesus statue? Or the night market? I think yo get the idea.
Some of my favorite hostels:
- Hostel Orquedias – Cancun, Mexico
- Bellas Backpackers – San Ignacio, Belize
- Los Amigos – Flores, Guatemala
- Bigfoot Hostel – Antigua, Guatemala
- Mr. Mullets – San Pedro, Guatemala
- Bigfoot hostel – Leon, Nicaragua
- Casa del Oro – San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
- Casa Yoses – San Jose, Costa Rica
- Costa Rica Backpackers – San Jose, Costa Rica
- Meander Taipei – Taipei, Taiwan
- Villa Sandra – Malapascua, Philippines
- Casa Isabel – Bantayan, Philippines
- Our Melting Pot (OMP) – El Nido, Philippines
- Bunka Hostel – Tokyo, Japan
- Kyoto Khaosan Theater – Kyoto, Japan
- Khaosan Tokyo Kabuki – Tokyo, Japan
Have you ever stayed in a hostel before? How was it? What would you add to this list?