Living Out Of Lockers: Hostel Travel 101

My first hostel experience was last December. I’m far from being a travel guru, but I’m thankful for all of the unique experiences that I’ve had so far. I met a Brazilian guy in Bratislava who sold his house and quit his job just to spend his life hostel-hopping. And, here I am, a teenage Brit using her student loan to finance European mini-breaks, preaching the word on hostels.

You can meet the most interesting people in hostels.

However, since my first taste of hostel life in Paris, I have been slowly but surely hostel-ing my way through Europe in Slovakia, Spain, and Austria. I have ultimately come to understand a thing or two about making the most of my time in shared dormitories.
Of course, not all youth hostels are created equal, but these basic items and mindsets have seen me right on all my adventures so far.

Keep your ear to the ground for free stuff!

As soon as I arrive at a new hostel, I always scout out the bar and communal areas. Whether you’re travelling solo or in a group, the communal areas and bar will help you get in the spirit of collective living. These are also great places to get to know your fellow travellers.
It’s also not uncommon for hostels to give you a voucher for a free drink in the bar when you check in. This gives more introverted travellers the perfect excuse to head down to the common area to meet new people.

Using communal areas to meet people.

During my recent trips around Europe, I’ve been able to share a beer with an Australian-Slovak pilot, eat breakfast with Spanish students, and play giant Jenga with an Italian graffiti artist and a Bosnian postgraduate. Between making a new international Facebook friend and learning how to avoid the Viennese police if I ever wanted to deface some public property, making the effort with the people in my dorm meant I got shown new parts of the city.
I also brushed up on my (very limited) Italian. In addition, I received a spontaneous, if somewhat alcohol induced, invite to Tuscany. I haven’t booked my flight, and I’ve barely spoken to this Mediterranean Banksy since I got home, but these encounters have been some of the highlights of my travels and one of my favourite aspects of staying in hostels.  You never know whom you’re going to meet or how they’re going to impact your life.
So, cash in that tiny free local beer and get to know your hostel companions.

There’s the “dormitory compromise.”

Hostels are cheap because you’re swapping privacy for low prices. While this is one of the main appeals for travellers, especially students like myself, it does mean having to deal with alarms going off at varying times. Earplugs and headphones will become your best friends. Unfortunately, it also means dealing with differing travel schedules amongst you and your roommates.
Generally speaking, the people you find in hostels will be fairly laid back and prepared for the compromises of hostel living. Otherwise, why would they opt to share a bedroom with 10 total strangers? So, there’s not usually much need to alter your personal itinerary too much. However, basic courtesies such as being quiet when you return from the local nightlife, keeping the shared areas tidy and not hogging the shower are all unspoken rules for a peaceful dorm. They’re unspoken, but you should absolutely follow them! The golden rule is to treat your “hostelmates” like your roommates. 
If you have an early start for a plane, a train, an automobile, or just so you can fit in a full day of sightseeing, don’t be afraid to set an alarm on your phone – chances are your fellow travellers have done the same thing before.

Achieving comfort with your travel essentials.

When I stay in hostels, it’s usually just me, a piece of hand luggage, and a lot of travelling. However, there are a few suitcase staples that I bring to make life as hassle-free as possible. Although they may seem like common sense items, I managed to forget a few of these things in the past.
A lot of hostels will provide clean towels along with your bed sheets, but I always like to pack a small beach towel just in case. Not only does it come in handy if you aren’t provided with a towel, but it’s useful as a hair towel if you’re washing your hair, or if there’s a pool or beach nearby where you’re staying.

Flip-flops are such an important bathroom item.

Definitely bring these to avoid stepping in any gross wet patches and dirtying up your sheets. The bathroom in the last hostel I stayed in used to flood every time anyone took a shower, making my flip-flops my most prized possession for those few days. Accidentally stepping in a puddle of stagnant shower water is a small price to pay for cheap and social accommodation, but why even take the risk of a nasty foot fungus when you can just slip a pair of flip-flops in your bag?

Another one of my beloved travel essentials is an eye mask.

I always sleep in an eye mask anyway, but they really are the perfect travel companion. They are especially great when you need to get an early night’s sleep and your roommates still need the lights on. I’m always thankful for when I’m cozy and can fall asleep regardless of other light in the room. 
It doesn’t matter if your hostel is in Poland or Portugal, a hoodie and thick socks are always good things to pack for extra coziness and comfort. Even in hot climates, dorm rooms can be cold with open windows or air conditioning, so I always prefer to pack shorter pajamas in case of heat and then layer up if I need to. Plus, when I can’t quite bring myself to get changed before breakfast, a giant hoodie is all I need to hide my pajama t-shirt and braless-ness (although if I’m sleeping in a Lou Reed tee, is it technically a crime to hide it from the world?).

A travel adapter for whichever country you’re staying in is a no-brainer!

My previous Venezuelan hostel roommate introduced me to the winning idea of also bringing an extension lead/ extension chord in my country’s socket type. This amazing device allows you to charge all your devices at the same time, without fear of filling all the available sockets in the room. This is especially useful if you’re bringing a camera and laptop on your travels as well as your usual phone, hair appliances and portable charger (another must-have for me).

Your choice of luggage is super important.

Until I can get myself some more practical luggage, I’ve been bringing a small hand-luggage style suitcase on my travels. Although it is spacious enough to fit my things inside, it is usually too big to fit in the hostel lockers. In this case, a padlock is doubly essential for me. Having a padlock allows me to leave my suitcase under or behind my bed with things still inside it in the knowledge that it’s secure. However, I would always recommend keeping your most valuable possessions in the locker and use your luggage mainly for dirty clothes and toiletries.

Depending on what “kind” of traveller you are, here are my top picks for luggage:

“The Backpacker”
“The Carry-on Lover”
“The Extra Protective Traveller”

Just throw yourself in!

Before ever staying in a hostel, I never spoke to anyone outside of my travel group. However, what once was the scariest part about sharing a room with strangers is now the most exciting. Sure, you can pack all the essentials and have the most militarily precise itinerary. But, without being prepared to socialise and meet new people, you won’t be making the most of your hostel experience.
I’ve ended up on a spontaneous night out in Vienna with a group of former strangers and been invited on a bar crawl in Bratislava by a guy I met in Austria – experiences I wouldn’t have had and places I wouldn’t have seen if I would have kept to myself and stuck to my plans. It might sound cliché, but wandering the frozen streets of Vienna at midnight as a group of over-zealous international travellers gives you the sort of opportunity to appreciate life that you just don’t get otherwise.
It was liberating to be the only people on the street, strolling and dancing underneath the European streetlights. These moments of bonding bring clarity into my life.

Overall, I stay in hostels because I want travel to be a bigger part of my life.

Moments like these made me realise how important travelling and human connection are to me.
There is a lot of truth behind these travel clichés. Though I will say, I’ve learned that a tactically packed suitcase and a willingness to explore is everything you need for an unforgettable trip.

“I’m Harriet, a British university student hoping to eat my way around the world and pick up as many languages as I can along the way. I keep track of all my adventures on The Ginger Ambition”

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