If you’re a long-term traveller, backpacker or general budget traveller, chances are you might have stayed in a fair few hostels, or you might be considering one for your next trip. Hostels are a great option for low-cost travel, as they are generally stripped back to just the essentials, with an affordable price to match – and are generally the most affordable option for accommodation in any city (with the exception of couchsurfing or camping).
Hostels obviously have a lot of benefits…
They’re in almost every city
No need to book far in advance
Usually they have extra facilities like a kitchen so you can cook your own meals
If you read a lot of travel blogs, you’ll also have heard a lot about the other big draw of hostels, which is the social side. You might hear travellers proclaiming how great a certain place was because of all the friends from all over the world they made in their hostel, or how great the nightlife and party scene was. Which is great! Unless, however, you’re not such a sociable person.
Now, I’m not saying I’m a people-hating psycho, but some might say I’m a little on the loner side. Unlike the majority of backpackers and digital nomads, sometimes when I travel I don’t really want to ‘meet loads of new friends’, join in or be the soul of the party. Sometimes I just want to check in, sleep and go. Who knows, but maybe I’m not the only one. Maybe you have to get up early for a flight, or you want to reserve energy for sightseeing, outdoor activities, work or making it to the next destination.
So can you still stay in hostels if you don’t want to party, socialise or be kept awake all night by those that do? Of course! Just follow my tips learned from years of loner travel and you’ll be just fine!
1 – Research
Now, I just said that even if you want a good night’s sleep you can still stay in a hostel. But that doesn’t necessarily apply to every hostel. Some are more or less party oriented, and some are so full of young, drunk people bashing and shouting all night that you’d have to suffer from narcolepsy to be able to sleep there.
The best idea is to check out some reviews beforehand to see what you’re getting yourself into. Head to HostelWorld, Booking.com, Trip Advisor or your website of choice, and read as many reviews as you can before you book. Get an idea of what facilities are available, the location, cleanliness etc, so you can see whether or not you’re checking into a flea-bag, and also try to assess the level of noise and general annoyance you might face. If the hostel has its own bar, is renowned as a party spot or people complain that it’s very noisy, try to avoid and find another one that’s a bit calmer – plenty do exist.
2 – Get a private room
Did you know hostels almost always offer private rooms as well as dorms? I can’t handle dorms because I can’t sleep with other people anywhere near me, let alone with lights on and people wandering about or chatting. Maybe you can – in which case jump on to the next tip, but if the idea of sharing a room, potentially having stuff nicked and having drunken people accidentally bumping into your bed doesn’t appeal, you can try the option of a private room, or a 2-3 person room shared with your chosen companions. They are obviously more expensive, but still cheaper than a regular hotel, and much more ‘luxurious’ as you’ll have all your own space.
Alternatively, you can try to choose the smallest available dorm, the emptiest dorm, or a single-sex dorm (especially female only), which tend to be quieter.
3 – Be prepared
My motto is always ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail’, and never does that apply more than when travelling. There is some basic kit you should always take with you when you might be staying somewhere less than fantastic.
Earplugs – I never travel without earplugs. They are a life saver in many situations such as camping, festivals, planes, overnight buses and of course hostels. If you’re easily kept awake by chatter or street noise, then these will help you get to sleep. Some other ideas include creating white noise with air con or soft music. If you forgot to bring them, you can surely by some at your destination.
Eye mask – This is another essential in my bag wherever I go. Eye masks are ideal in all the above situations for blocking out annoying light from the street or from other guests. In a pinch, you can use a scarf or bandana around your eyes. In my last hostel experience, the doors were made from glass (great design work there), so if one person turned on a light, everyone would be kept awake. We found a ‘clever’ solution here: we loosened 2/3 of the lightbulbs to massively reduce how much light pollution was created by people switching the light on and off in the middle of the night. Sneaky, but it works.
Basic wash kit – Hostels don’t always have the best facilities, so it’s best to bring your own basic kit to avoid either being short of washing items, paying for overpriced towel rental, or sharing manky stuff. The key though is to bring the bare minimum – shampoo, soap, toothbrush and paste, and a small towel. Large bulky suitcases full of stuff are just a hassle when you travel a lot. I always recommend having your own towel, as not all hostels have them, or they charge for them. Occasionally they also charge for sheets, although I don’t recommend lugging those with you! You might wish to bring flip flops and/or slippers in case the floors or bathroom are particularly gross.
Anything else that helps you sleep or relax – some people like to bring something that reminds them of home or makes them feel cosy and at home. I personally don’t do that because like the Metallica song, ‘where I lay my head is home’, but if you take time to settle in somewhere new, it might help. If you’re a particularly light sleeper like me, sleeping pills might help in extreme situations, or just some herbal remedies for relaxation. You can also try alcohol – although I obviously don’t recommend that 🙂 In the least relaxing situations I’ve been in (such as trying to go to bed at 6 am during Untold Festival with bands still playing until 7 am), I find that eye mask, earplugs and a decent sleeping pill gets me a few hours of sleep.
4 – Use facilities at off-peak times
If you don’t fancy wrestling past a group of rowdy Polish guys, three French vegans and a Macedonian hippy who’s dying to engage you in conversation about the best kind of magic mushrooms, just to cook a pot noodle or make a cup of tea, you might consider cooking your meals at ‘off peak’ times, either earlier or later than the main rush for the kitchen. If the facilities are really terrible, or you really don’t want to jostle for space at that moment, you might even consider some basic non-perishable supplies in your room for quick meals. This also applies if there is no kitchen.
Some foods you can keep in your room without a fridge (learned from hard experience) are:
Fruit like apples and bananas
Crisps, nuts and similar snacks
Bread and spreads like peanut butter or jam
Non-dairy milk like oat milk (you can keep it for a few days out of the fridge) or powdered milk
Canned foods (any)
It’s great if you keep a portable knife and fork/spork with you, plus maybe cloth napkins and a flask or bottle. This covers you for all possible impromptu meals, along with a bottle opener if required.
If there’s a kettle you can expand your repertoire to include powdered soups, noodles and couscous. Sorted.
The same applies to the bathroom. If you’re an early bird like me, just go before everyone gets up and makes the place wet and gross. Or if not, wait until after the popular times and shower late at night or during the day. If you need to set an alarm just to be sure you get some hot water, I reckon it’s worth it.
Does anyone else do some of these things? Or do you have other tips for making the hostel experience as comfy and convenient as possible? Comment below!