Booking a Hostel 101: All Your Questions Answered

by Sojourner

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Booking a hostel can seem like a tedious task if you don’t know where to start, or what to look for, during your search. Every time I mention staying in a hostel, I get side eyes and more questionable glances from friends and family about safety, cleanliness, etc.

Many in the U.S. are skeptical because hostels have a negative connotation. And if you haven’t traveled abroad the prices of hostels can seem too good to be true. However, when you know what you’re doing, booking a hostel is not as bad as it seems. I love them!

From safety concerns to the type of rooms available, I cover everything you need to know about hostel life. Here is how to book a hostel, as told with questions you should ask yourself before booking.

FAQs on how to book a hostel

Breakfast at Mama’s Home Tulum

Where can I find hostels in other countries?

The first step in booking a hostel is looking for the right one and the right website. Hostelworld is what I recommend for finding hostels. They are the only website I’ve been using since I started international traveling in 2015.  From Amsterdam to Santorini to Tulum, Hostelworld has not failed me yet. With over 36,000 properties in 170 countries, I have yet to find a better database when booking a hostel. 

Which types of rooms are available? Mixed, female, and male dorms, or private suites?

Hostels offer private or shared rooms. The shared rooms are referred to as dorms and defined by sex: female or male. There is also a “mixed” dorm option, which means if you choose this accommodation, there will be people of the opposite sex sharing the dorm (and bathroom) with you. Most offer single, double, etc. private suite options too. If you survived college dorms, these shared rooms are a walk in the park. 

Tip: If you are a solo traveler or even with a group, when booking a hostel I recommend doing a shared dorm! It’s a great way to connect with people who are traveling just like you, whether you are backpacking or just somewhere for the weekend. 

Lolo Pass in Portland, Oregon

If I’m booking a hostel with my friends, will we all be in the same room?

Yes…if one person books the room for everyone. I’ve had experiences on group trips where we all booked the same room individually, but still ended up separated. To avoid this happening to you, have one person collect everyone’s money and book the hostel that way. If you all want to meet more people, splitting up could be a great choice to force everyone to socialize.

Are hostels clean? Do I have to share a bathroom?

Cleanliness is a big one. When booking a hostel, be sure to read the ratings and reviews. Prior visitors rank the cleanliness online. The higher the ranking, the better. And if you book a hostel you will have to share a bathroom with multiple people. Bring shower shoes! I normally go for flip flops. It’s like summer camp all over again.

What to look for when booking a hostel

Mayan Monkey Hostel rooftop in Cancun

Are there events and activities I can buy through the hostel?

So now that you know how to book a hostel, what happens when you get there? Traveling in Europe, I went through my fair share of bar crawls and hostel-hosted tours. Ask the front desk about these events because they are perfect for sight-seeing and meeting new people. Solo travelers love it! Hostels are known for their ability to connect new people, and create lifelong friendships or relationships. Anything can happen…

Tip: If there are no scheduled activities, hang out in the lounge area of your hostel. You are bound to meet someone who is looking to explore like you.

Is there free wifi?

Wifi is a hot commodity because it keeps us connected with family and friends. Always check to see if it’s free, but that does not mean it is always good. The password information is most commonly found at the front desk/reception area. Check the reviews when booking a hostel for more information.

If I arrive earlier than check-in time, or need to leave later than check-out time, can I store my belongings at the hostel?

Due to early flights or delays, you may arrive to your hostel before the official check-in time. Some hostels have 24 hour receptions, others have concrete times to check-in. Email the hostel ahead of time or ask upon arrival.

If you are checking out, be respectful and be ready to store your stuff in the hostel storage by that time. This makes it better for them to prepare for the next guest. Hostels understand the ups and downs of travel times, and many are very accommodating. Either way, it’s probably best to pack light anyway!

Is there a pick-up and drop-off hostel car service to and from the airport?

Depending on the city, there are hostels that offer a shuttle to pick you up and drop you off from the airport. In Greece, my hostel in Santorini did this for free, while my hostel in Rome had a flat 30 euro airport drop off rate coordinated with a car service. Depending on location, you may be able to walk or take public transportation straight to your hostel. If you aren’t a fan of relying on public transportation in time sensitive situations, consider this during your search.

Mayan Monkey hostel in Cancun

Are towels and linens included in the bed price?

No linens, no booking!! I’ve never heard of anyone packing twin bed sheets in their carry-on or checked bag. If you have more space for that, maybe pack more underwear, socks, or another towel. Hostels can be hit or miss with towels, but it’s not a deal-breaker like linens. I always bring a body towel and face towel just in case, but linens should always be provided. 

What season is it in my destination? Will my hostel have air conditioning and/or heat?

When planning your trip, be sure to double check the average temperature so you can pack and plan your hostel attire accordingly. Most places without air compensate with fans. If you’re worried about being too hot or too cold at night, bring a pair of long and short pajamas to sleep in.

Though this tip may sound dumb, it is for sure underrated! The presence of air conditioning or heat can determine when you visit. Depending on your location, this can be a deal breaker if you visit a place with seasons opposite of you.

Hostel Candelaria

Are the lockers free in the rooms? Do I need to bring a lock?

Safety is a big issue when booking a hostel. Some may be free, but not work properly. I remember one hostel had multiple keys work for the same locker. Bring your own lock to be safe, though I’ve never had anything stolen while staying at a hostel.

Are meals included in the bed price when booking a hostel?

Normally, meals are not included when booking a hostel. However, more and more places are at least including breakfast. In all of my Mexican hostels, breakfast was included and it was freshly homemade.  I’ve had continental breakfasts at some, and full-on crepes and eggs at others (shoutout to Living Lounge Hostel in Lisbon)!

Lockers in Hostel Candelaria dorm room

Other tips to remember when booking a hostel

  • With most hostels, you are buying beds, not rooms or suites. Check the wording carefully before booking.
  • More beds in a room means less money, but more people in one space.
  • Most hostels are dorm-style, meaning you will be sleeping in bunk beds.
  • Read multiple reviews on Hostelworld prior to booking so you get a better idea of where you’re staying.

I think everyone should try a hostel at least once! It may seem daunting at first, but if you ask yourself these questions when booking a hostel you should find the perfect one for you. Take the time to research the best hostels in your destination and the reviews on hostel websites. Bloggers, like myself, want the best experience for you! So take these tips and go explore.

(This post was originally published on June 27, 2018 and updated on June 21, 2022)

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Christine King July 14, 2018 - 12:12 pm

Hostels are such a great way to meet other travelers and share experiences! I wouldn’t stay anywhere else! Good tips to follow to avoid the shady ones! Definitely read the reviews!

Sojourner July 14, 2018 - 12:23 pm

They are! I love them. I’ll be staying in them for as long as my body can withstand bunk beds!

Emma Walmsley July 14, 2018 - 12:17 pm

Great post! Hostels seem quite scary for many travellers who haven’t booked one before, so this is great to answer all of the common questions and make it less daunting!

Sojourner July 14, 2018 - 12:19 pm

I agree!! Hopefully this can help a few people out to alleviate the stress haha

Andrea Mayfield July 15, 2018 - 12:08 am

Great post! I have never stayed in a hostel before, but this is great insight in staying in one!

Sojourner July 15, 2018 - 7:11 pm

Thank you! You should try it out once to see what happens!

Jenny Ventura July 15, 2018 - 2:00 pm

Some great tips for a way of travek that can be so daunting or confusing for many travelers!

Sojourner July 15, 2018 - 7:11 pm

Thank you! I agree!

Kiana December 12, 2022 - 2:32 pm

if one person books a hostel stay for their group at checkin is everyone required to individually check in or can one person check the entire group in? asking because i am looking to travel with two other friends and we want to do shared dorms so we can meet other travelers but also stick together in the same rooms. one also turns 18 while on the trip and prior to being of age i know hostels require private rooms but we are trying to avoid doing that because we feel it takes away from the backpacking experience

Sojourner December 21, 2022 - 8:39 pm

Normally you book together! So however many beds you book online is how many beds you have. Most check everyone’s passports so people will need to be there, but tbh that varies based on the hostel sometimes.


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