Hostel Tips and Tricks: Staying in a Hostel for the First Time

by Sojourner

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Finding the best hostel tips and tricks can be difficult when so many people are scared of them! I have stayed in over 30  in the US, Europe, and Mexico. Through those travels, I have experienced the good, the bad, and the questionable in hostels. 

But I still stay because I love the hostel atmosphere as a solo traveler. So if you’re reading this, I’m assuming you are ready to find the hostel travel tips for your next solo travel adventure too!  And there are some things you should know before booking. So here are my best hostel tips and tricks for those who are not scared and willing to do it solo.

What is a hostel?

Before getting into hostel tips and tricks, let’s break down what a hostel is and is not. Because if you are staying in a hostel for the first time, you probably want to know what it is, right? Well, to put it simply, a hostel is an accommodation that provides a cheap and social alternative to a hotel. Solo travelers commonly use them, but families and couples stay in them too. Unlike a hotel or motel, hostels provide:

  1. Shared spaces for travelers to sleep and coexist (i.e., lounges, common areas, bathrooms, and dorms)
  2. Social activities and outings for travelers to connect
  3. Kitchen, laundry, and other amenities for short-term and long-term stays

How to pick the right hostel

Understanding how to find a hostel while traveling is not difficult! First for hostel tips and tricks, list the things you are looking for in a hostel. For example, if Wi-Fi is important, you must ensure that it is listed under the facilities on the hostel booking.

If you want to save money, look for a hostel with breakfast. For flashpackers traveling solo, look for a private room instead of a dorm one. Picking the right hostel means knowing how you want to travel. 

What luxuries, or lack thereof, are you willing to work with on your solo trip? That is the question you need to ask yourself when booking a hostel. They are not all created equal.

There is a little trick for solo travelers looking for party hostels. Whether on Hostelworld’s website or the hostel’s independent website, you can determine it’s a party hostel based on the photos. As you scroll, if a lot of people are partying in the images they use on their social media or website, it is probably a party hostel.

How to find safe hostels

As I say in my solo travel blog posts, the word “safe“ is relative. In my experience, hostels have been safe. You need a key card to enter hostels to get through the front door. Then you use that same key card to get into your room. 

You can also read the reviews on the hostel if you book on Hostelworld to know how other travelers rank the safety. Different hostels have 24-hour reception and security to monitor guests and visitors. All of this information should be listed on the hostel website. If it’s not, do not book that hostel.

“Do hostels have lockers?” is another popular question for hostel safety. Even the most rugged backpackers carry something of value. You can typically find whether or not a hostel offers lockers under the FAQs on their website. But, of course, remember to bring a lock too.

Hostel travel tips: understanding hostel types

Boutique hostels 

A boutique hostel should be your pick if you are a flashpacker instead of a backpacker. They still offer you the same atmosphere as a regular hostel. However, they are a bit more “aesthetic“ and can feel like a homey hotel more than a hostel. Some even have themes.

Boutique hostels are also more likely to serve remote workers and digital nomads. They offer co-working spaces and are a bit more luxurious than the average hostel. Boutique hostels can also be cleaner than party hostels or youth hostels.

Chain hostels

Hostel chains are the more prominent name hostels. You are more likely to find multiple locations for these hostels worldwide. Examples of hostel chains are HI USA, Hostelling International, Selina, Green Tortoise, Samesun, and Freehand. Hostel chains can also vary by continent!

Chain hostels can also be party hostels or any other type of hostel. For example, Selina Hostels are considered boutique hostels. On the other hand, Samesun Hostels lean more toward the party/super social hostels. Regardless, they are still chain hostels due to the number of locations. 

Youth hostels 

Most hostels began as youth hostels because they were geared towards younger travelers. They are meant for less experienced travelers who are exploring on a budget. Some youth hostels have it in their name for easy identification.  

There is a more apparent distinction between regular and youth hostels on continents such as Europe. However, this kind of distinction between hostels does not happen everywhere. For example, in the U.S, this is uncommon because hostel culture is not the norm. In other countries, you may need to do additional research to determine if there is an age limit between regular and youth hostels.

Party hostels 

These are what people think are the most traditional hostels. Party hostels are originally why people chose hostels to stay in as solo travelers. They are known for showing you a good time and having the liveliest atmosphere. Many youth hostels also double as party hostels.

Tips for staying in a hostel for the first time

Do not expect hotel quality 

Remember, these are hostel tips and tricks – not hotel tips! Though the quality of hostel amenities can vary, some being better than others, overall, do not expect hotel quality. For example, the sheets may not be Egyptian cotton, but fingers crossed they are comfortable. Set realistic expectations for yourself when you travel to a hostel for the first time.

Always bring a lock 

A hostel safety tip for your belongings is to bring a lock. If you are staying in a dorm, you must put your backpack in a locker. The best way to keep your valuables safe is by locking them. Hostels also sell locks at their front desk and other items that travelers often forget. 

Check to see if towels are included 

One of the first hostel travel tips I learned on my trip to London in 2015 was to bring a towel. Now, some hostels provide you with a towel. However, I would pack a microfiber towel just in case. Some hostel towels are not that soft, and a microfiber one always does the trick.

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Pack ear plugs and a sleep mask

Ear plugs and a sleeping mask are hostel tips and tricks essentials. Hostel walls are thin and can even be loud, even if you are not staying at a party hostel. And not everyone is courteous about turning the light off and on when in a shared dorm. So both ear plugs and a sleeping mask are necessary for your stay. 

Be considerate of others 

When you book a hostel, you are committed to sharing space. As a solo traveler, you must be considerate of your mess and clean it up. Also, when entering and exiting a dorm room late at night or early in the morning, it is customary to not turn on the light if other hostelliers are sleeping.

Understand the different room types 

There are also other types of rooms and different kinds of hostels. A private room is for travelers who want space to themselves. A dorm room is a shared space of bunk beds with a shared bathroom nearby. Private rooms can also have shared or ensuite bathrooms.

With dorms, it is crucial to know how those rooms vary too. All-female and all-male dorms are standard options. Mixed dorms are also for those who do not mind a blend of sexes.

Ask about hostel discounts 

Hostels such as HIUSA have a membership that gives you discounts at their hostels. Other hostels offer you discounts at neighboring bars and restaurants affiliated with the hostel itself. Always ask about hostel discounts upfront on arrival! 

Read the most recent reviews

Hostels ownership can change often. Sometimes hostels transition ownership when it needs to be run better. Other times it just gets old, so who owns the hostel can also impact the quality. Therefore, reading the most recent reviews is necessary to prepare for your stay. The fresher the review, the better.

Communicate your check-in time 

When checking into your hostel, it is crucial to let the hostel staff know your arrival time. Some hostels have a 24-hour reception. Others need to see if you will be arriving super early in the morning or late at night.

They aren’t trying to control when you arrive. But instead, hostels want to ensure someone is there to check you in. However, it is becoming more and more popular to have a self-check-in system set up.

Hostel tips and tricks for solo travelers

Be open to talking to strangers 

One of my best hostel tips and tricks is to be social. You must be open to talking to new people when traveling solo and in hostels. No one says you have to be BFFs with them. But, if you don’t want to be alone during your solo trip, you will need to talk to someone you don’t know.

I’ve made many cool short-term friends from staying in hostels. For example, when I went on a solo trip to Mexico, I traveled with two of the girls from my hostel to Chichen Itza. And in Houston, I befriended the receptionist who gave me the best recommendations. 

Be approachable and genuine. You never know where your friendships will take you while traveling. So travel with an open mind to make friends with strangers! If you’re staying in hostels for the first time, this is the main tip to take into practice.

Participate in the hostel activities 

Hostel activities are there to bring the hostel community together. Do not be afraid to participate in said activities. They are free (most of the time) and a great way to get over your solo travel nerves. Putting yourself out there is the first step. You already booked the hostel, so why not?

Hang out in the lounge areas 

In hostels, you need to show people you are available to be friended! Sit casually in the lounges and common areas. If you are listening to music, have one headphone in and one out to hear what is happening. You have to show people you are open to talking to people. I’m also a big fan of eavesdropping on people’s conversations nearby or jumping in. 

For example, let’s say you are hanging out in the lounge area. You overhear an exciting conversation that seems cool but not too personal or private. So instead of waiting for them to invite you over, join them by saying, “Hey y’all, I hope you don’t mind, but I overheard you all talking, and it seems interesting. Can I sit here and join you?” If they say yes, you’re in!

Become friends with the receptionist 

Travelers should always be friendly to those around us, especially locals whose homes we visit and hostel staff. They are not just meant to serve us. Nevertheless, I’ve befriended many of the receptionists at my hostels. 

I also find that as a Black solo female traveler, I see many more people who look like me working in hostels rather than staying in them. Sometimes we went out to a bar or restaurant they recommended. Other times they have given me great tips on where to eat and what to do.

Just make sure you are genuine with your connections. Hostel staff has a job to do. You don’t want to get in the way of their work! But if they are open to befriending you, then go for it.

Hostels aren’t only for young people 

Even though youth hostels exist, hostels themselves are not just for young people. I stayed in a hostel where there were people older than me. While youth hostels are geared towards younger travelers, not every hostel is the same. You do not have to be in your 20s to stay in a hostel.

Benefits of staying in a hostel: hostels vs. Airbnbs & hotels

Hostels are cheaper 

The most significant benefit of staying in a hostel is that they are cheaper than hotels. When booking a shared dorm room, you can pay as little as $10 or $15. You get a bed, and that is essentially it. You may also get a locker to hold your stuff as well.

In the U.S, a dorm can cost more due to the cost of living and maintenance. Prices depend on the country and the hostel. Private rooms in U.S hostels can rival those of hotels.

The atmosphere is more welcoming

Due to the events and activities that hostels offer, I think they are better for social travelers. Some hostels are quieter and not party hostels. However, a part of the hostel experience is providing more community-style living and traveling. I think that adds to the more inviting and open atmosphere.

Co-working spaces are in hostels 

Even though hotels have desks in their rooms, hostels are more likely to have complete co-working spaces. Hotels seem more sterile and uncomfortable in this regard. Having a co-working space in a hostel is great for solo travelers working remotely.

For most hostels, you rent a hot desk in the hostel to co-work. Co-Live programs such as Selina include these options. Though it is unconfirmed, I am pretty sure this is one of the ways hostels make money to balance out the price of rooms.

The amenities rival hotels and Airbnbs

Hostels and their amenities have improved significantly over the years. While there are hostels that lean more backpacker than flashpacker, many have changed. For example, many hostels are now built with adjoining bars or cafes similar to hotels. They also offer laundry rooms, kitchens, and working areas similar to Airbnbs. 

If you book boutique hostels such as Selina, I’d argue that they feel more like hotels. For example, on my solo trip to New Orleans, I stayed in a Selina hostel and one through HIUSA. Both felt more like hotels because 1) I booked the private rooms, and 2) they seemed to care more about cleanliness. 

Hostels are more equipped for long-term stays 

Though many gravitate towards Airbnbs for long-term stays, hostels are slowly creeping up on the game. So if you are staying for a few weeks or months in a destination, consider a hostel. Not only can you opt for a private room, but lots of hostels also provide in-house laundry, gym or yoga mats, and a kitchen. Hotels don’t offer that, and Airbnbs can, but their fees make it more expensive.

Do keep in mind that some hostels have a 14 to the 21-day-a-year limit. Therefore, if you stay in one hostel for that long within a calendar year, you may have to wait for a calendar to return. Consider doing the Selina Co-Live Program, which is more equipped for long-term hostel travel within their network.

Hostel discounts and free activities 

Hostels love hosting activities for solo travelers to meet each other. Hostels often organize events compared to hotels that may set you up with a tour operator. They can be elaborate as day trips or small get-to-know-you events like ice cream socials. Bar crawls are one of the most common hostel activities. 

Some hostels have hookups with other tour operators. I would recommend asking your hostel receptionist for tour guides and activities if they did not organize any. Hostels can also have discounts for these tours and even restaurants.  

Easy to meet people as a solo traveler

The main reason solo travelers stay in hostels is to meet other people on their trip. As a Black solo female traveler, I find it easier to mingle in a hostel than in an Airbnb or hotel. I think hotels lack the community of hostels, and Airbnbs can be outright isolating if you do not mingle naturally.

As someone who can be socially awkward, hostels are ideal for solo travelers like me. Hostels are curated spaces to meet people as you travel solo. Hostels provide you with that community if you want social interaction on a solo trip with the activities, events, and hosted dinners.

Disadvantages of staying in a hostel

Cleanliness can vary 

Sometimes a lower price point means lower quality of cleanliness. Hostels, in my opinion, have changed drastically over the past few years for the better. But this is where reading the reviews is very important to hear what other travelers have to say! 

There are no hostel rewards programs 

I’m all for saving money! But one of the most significant disadvantages of staying in hostels is the lack of rewards programs like hotels. Though the payoff is that hostels are typically cheaper than hotels, it would be nice to rack up points in the ways you can rack up miles. Maybe one day, right?

Hostels can get loud for light sleepers

The walls can be thin in hostels. For those solo travelers who are light sleepers, you will need earplugs. Many hostels do have quiet hours. But sometimes, they are not as enforced as they should be. So get prepared and pack what you need.

Dorm life is not for everyone 

Hostels are known for offering dorms. Depending on the hostel, you can be in a four- to ten-person (or more) dorm. But they are not for every type of traveler, which is ok.

This is where private rooms come in! If you want to stay in a hostel but do not want to stay in a dorm, then choose a hostel with private rooms. You get the best of hostel life without sharing sleeping space. However, do be advised that some private rooms still have shared bathrooms.

The final dos and don’ts of hostels

Staying in a hostel for the first time is a learning experience no matter how many hostel tips and tricks you read. The more you do it, the more you learn about yourself and others. If you remember nothing from this post, hold these dos and don’ts of hostels as a solo female traveler: 

  • Do be social and adventurous but always trust your gut
  • Do not touch what is not yours (food, people, things, or otherwise)
  • Do be courteous to everyone in the space (staff and roommates in dorms), especially if you get in early in the morning or late at night
  • Do not leave a mess in your room or the common areas for someone else to clean up
  • Do communicate with your hostel about check-in and check-out times

I can give you all the hostel tips and tricks in the world. But I promise you there is nothing like experiencing one for yourself. So take these hostel travel tips and book your adventure! I promise your first time staying in a hostel will be memorable regardless. Report back and let me know how it went in the comments below!


Ready to book a hostel? Here is a list of things you need to know when booking.

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