Confessions of a Hostel Virgin: A First Timer’s Guide to Staying in a Hostel

If this is your first time staying in a hostel, fear not! Everyone has been there before. I remember some anxiety before my first solo hosteling experience. Questions raced through my head. Would it be hygienic? Would anyone speak English? What if my roommate wants to murder me? These are all normal worries (or so I told myself), so I’m here to give you the low down on what to expect, how to choose your hostel, and items to bring…essentially, this is the ultimate guide to your first time staying in a hostel!

First time staying in a hostel? Find out what to expect, how to choose your hostel, etiquette tips, and what to pack for the hostel!

What to Expect in a Hostel:

Previously, I had always traveled with friends or family and was used to hotels or vacation rentals like VRBO. What could a hostel possibly offer that a hotel couldn’t, aside from a slightly improved bank statement?  Turns out a lot…

Hostels are fabulous! You’ll meet people from around the world and from all walks of life. I’m always the incredibly boring one sneaking away from my corporate job whenever I can, but you’ll see a little bit of everything. There’s the guy that dropped everything to explore the world for a year, the girl figuring out to do with her life, and of course, the resident hostel workers that never fail to make me laugh and feel right at home.

As far as what to expect, hostels usually offer both dorm rooms and private rooms, and you can opt for a shared or ensuite bathroom. Most hostels have kitchen spaces, where you can cook to keep your costs down. In addition to the kitchen, common rooms and bars are pretty typical, and a great way to make friends. Hostels are incredibly social places, and one of my favorite things is partaking in hostel activities. They’ll range from free walking tours to beer tastings to cooking classes! As a solo traveler, it’s the easiest way to meet your new BFFs. Honestly, the social atmosphere is what sold me on staying in hostels when I’m traveling solo!

First time staying in a hostel? Find out what to expect, how to choose your hostel, etiquette tips, and what to pack for the hostel!

How to Choose Your Hostel:

Hostels are like shoes…there are so many different kinds, but you want to choose one that makes your feel comfortable. When I’m scouting out my hostel choice (I use Hostelworld), I first check out the atmosphere. Is it a party atmosphere, low key social, family friendly, etc.? Choose what makes you happy! You can usually get a feel for the place by checking out the reviews.

Next up is safety. If there’s anything sketchy sounding, definitely going to avoid that. As a female traveling solo, I’m probably overly cautious about where I’m staying, but the worst thing you can do is get into an uncomfortable situation in a foreign country where you know nobody. I’ll usually check how it’s rated for safety, as well as read through the reviews.

Another important factor is location (duh!) Do you want to be walking distance to the main attractions? A metro ride away? How close is it to the train station? The airport? Are there restaurants nearby? Figure out what’s important to you.

First time staying in a hostel? Find out what to expect, how to choose your hostel, etiquette tips, and what to pack for the hostel!

Another factor I’ll usually consider is whether the hostel is frequented by English speakers. Again, you can see everyone’s locations in the reviews, so that will give you a pretty good sense. Hostel confession: For my very first hostel, I picked a place that had only German speakers, so it was a bit of a challenge to make friends…

Lastly, make sure the facilities fit what you’re seeking. Are there personal lockers? Female only dorms? Towels and linen included? A breakfast buffet? Laundry facilities? Does the hostel offer tours? For your first time staying in a hostel, it’s important to figure out what your main criteria are and plan around that.

First time staying in a hostel? Find out what to expect, how to choose your hostel, etiquette tips, and what to pack for the hostel!

Hostel Tips:

Next up are tips and tricks for your first time staying in a hostel! There’s definitely hostel etiquette, and you don’t want to be the awkward one that doesn’t know what’s up. To fit in with the cool kids, follow these tips:

  • For your first trip, book your hostel ahead of time. If this is your first time staying in a hostel, you don’t need the added pressure of finding last minute accommodations.
  • Don’t be that person that snoozes their alarm 5 times in the morning. In fact, just don’t snooze your alarm at all. If you’re in a dorm, your roomies will want to murder you.
  • Similarly, quiet down at a reasonable time. Usually, lights go off around midnight; be courteous and use a small light (like on your phone) to find something if you need it.
  • I shouldn’t need to say this, but don’t puke on the dorm room floor…or the bathroom floor…or the hall floor. Don’t be gross. I’ve seen this a few times, and it’s completely unnecessary.
First time staying in a hostel? Find out what to expect, how to choose your hostel, etiquette tips, and what to pack for the hostel!

What to Pack:

This is by no means going to be an exhaustive list, but I did want to include items I wouldn’t have previously considered when going to a hotel.

  • Ear Plugs: People are loud, and everyone knows beauty rest is important.
  • Locks – I’ll usually bring a padlock for lockers, as well as a small lock for my backpack. It gives me piece of mind while I’m out of the room for the day.
  • Travel Towel: Some hostels will provide towels, but many of them won’t, so my recommendation is to invest in a good travel towel. These roll up nicely and dry out very quickly!
  • Shower shoes – You don’t want foot fungus…an old pair of waterproof flip flops definitely come in handy here.
  • Portable Battery Pack: Plugs aren’t always conveniently located in the rooms, so I always travel with an extra battery pack. Yes, you still have to charge your battery pack, but it gives me so much more flexibility!
  • Last but not least, patience! Sharing a small space with strangers can be a trying experience. Just remember to be respectful, and everyone should enjoy their time!

Now you’re all set for your first hostel experience! Tell me—have you stayed in a hostel before? Do you have any funny stories or tips for travelers’ first time staying in a hostel?

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  1. This is a post I WISH I read when I first started traveling! So informative with such great tips! 🙂 You go, girl!

    -Ressa (@ressamazing)

  2. Interesting. Only stayed in a hostel once when I was in my 20s. I’ve never imagined doing it now, as Im so used to hotels and AirBnBs, but maybe I will having read this, sounds like fun and really social. Great tips thanks for sharing!

  3. Location and type of hostel are the two things that I always look at. Reviews are so great for that.
    And for me eyeplugs and eyemasks are a must!

  4. Being a girl scout leader, I’ve had my share of sleeping in “dorm-style” accommodations. I’ve never stayed in a hostel before, but if there are a variety of types, I’d be more open to it.

  5. Spot on with so much of this advice – shower shoes are always a great bet! I never stay in hotels and am using AirBNB for the first time abroad next week – I only ever really stay in hostels and find it so normal but it’s a great post for those that have not experienced them. Hopefully you help people take the plunge – hostels are awesome!

  6. We have never stayed in a hostel. But some hostels that we have considered have a better location than AirBnBs and resorts. Thank you for the tips. Shower shoes, that’s a good tip and something you usually don’t carry for other kinds of accommodation.

    1. I’ve done private rooms in hostels that have ended up nicer than a lot of hotels! If you’re worried about privacy in shared rooms, private rooms are a good bet

  7. Melissa is a close friend, and convinced me to book my first solo trip, hostel and all! I’ve been wanting to travel for years and after her telling me time and time again, “just book it!”, I finally did. Melissa your blogs have helped me so much in planning my solo trip, safe to say I may be just reliving all your traveling adventures. Thank you!!

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