The complete guide to hostelling

Why do I love hostelling?

Well, to tell you the truth, I really started hostelling by accident.

A group of friends I met while studying abroad in Dublin decided on a weekend trip to Belfast. Somebody booked our Air BnB wrong, so we found ourselves there, at night, with no sleeping accommodations.

We called around and the first place with an open room was the Belfast International Youth Hostel.

I’ll be honest… Back then, I thought it was weird. The hostel was so unlike the accommodations I was accustomed to, from the obvious (metal-framed bunk beds) to the aspects that were just different (access to a shared kitchen, communal bathrooms). But hostels have been my go-to accommodation ever since.

Hostels are no longer weird to me. In fact, they’re my new normal. It quickly became clear that they are the cheapest, and maybe even the best way, to stay during a backpacking adventure. I’ve stayed in hostels in Paris, Amerstdam, Berlin, Chicago, New Orleans, etc. and I hope to visit many more.

There are five reasons I stay in hostels whenever I can:

    1. Price
      The low cost is such an obvious factor but it’s still worth mentioning. I’ve stayed in dorm rooms shared with 10 people for as little as $12 a night. I’ve also splurged on a gorgeous $80 per night room with a king-sized bed on my birthday in Seattle (still so much more reasonably priced than a hotel)! With hostels, accommodations are customizable in many ways, so all you need to do is make your reservation accordingly.
    2. Eco-friendliness
      The biggie: when you visit a hostel, you usually need to bring your own shampoo, conditioner, and lotion. (There is also usually a bin in the bathroom filled with bathroom products other travelers left behind and I’m always scavenging stuff out of those.) At some hostels, you need to bring your own sheets and towels or pay a small extra charge (around $2) for them to provide a set. Others have timed showers where you need to continuously push a button every 30 seconds to run the water.

      And, of course, it’s also super eco-friendly because you’re sharing a dorm room with anywhere from 1-20 people (depending on the size and price of the room you book).

      Hostel with green roof in Portland, Oregon
      HI Portland Hawthorne in Portland, Oregon had a green roof and many, many other eco-friendly features that blew my mind.

      On top of these common eco-friendly hostel features, I’ve also run into lots of hostels with automatic lights, great recycling options, and even composting. I’ve stayed at specially-focused eco-hostels in Portland, Oregon (HI Portland-Hawthorne) and in Amsterdam (Ecomama). The HI hostel in Portland had a green roof that collected water that was used to flush the toilets. The one in Amsterdam had gorgeous hallway lights that turned on as you walked by and was heated with waste heat energy from a nearby factory. Both experiences were absolutely incredible and eye-opening.

    3. Central locations
      With a hostel, you’re going to get much closer to the action without paying the hotel prices. In Paris, I chose to stay at this hostel, which was a 3-minute walk from The Louvre. Because I was so close, I was able to wake up at a reasonable time and still get in line half an hour before security opened. I saw the Mona Lisa without a crowd in the middle of July! Even if you aren’t right downtown, your hostel will likely be very close to public transportation and the people at the front desk will be able to help you get where you want to go.
    4. Open kitchen
      If you travel a lot, you’re going to get sick of going out to eat for every meal every single day. Prepping your meals in the hostel kitchen is a great way to save money, time, and your health. If a hostel’s online listing says it has a communal kitchen, you can generally expect that there will be a shared refrigerator where you can store stuff throughout your stay, some cupboard space, dishes, a stove, and a sink—everything you need to make a good meal before you go out.
    5. Special amenities for backpackers
      Hostels will usually let you keep your luggage in a locker if you arrive in town before your room is ready for check-in. They usually allow late check-in with some notice. And usually, after you make a booking, they email you instructions about how to get there from the most common public transportation routes. Similarly, you can usually leave your luggage after checkout until you’re able to get to your next hostel.
Ecomama hostel kitchen in Amsterdam
The beautiful open kitchen I used to cook homemade budget meals at Ecomama while hostelling in Amsterdam.
Ecomama lounge
Lounge at Ecomama hostel in Amsterdam.


Hostels are the ideal place to stay for people traveling alone

Now, a lot of people will ask if hostels are safe for people who are traveling alone. After all—depending on how much money you’re willing to pay—you will likely be staying in a room with 4-10 other people that you don’t know. (There are usually options to stay in a private room for a price much cheaper than you would pay at a conventional hotel, but dorm rooms are still the most common and affordable option.)

I don’t know about you, but after that first blissful night all alone, I hate staying alone in a hotel room. It’s just so, well, lonely. 

When you decide to stay in a hostel, you’re pretty much signing yourself up to socialize with other guests—especially if you are sharing a dorm with them.

I traveled alone for the first time in Europe during the summer of 2016.

When I was traveling in Dublin alone, during my second-ever hostel stay, someone approached me, asked me if I was traveling alone, and if so, whether I would like to go with them to the Guinness Brewery.

Likewise, in Paris, during my third hostel stay, two girls sharing my dorm asked if I wanted to visit the Eiffel Tower with them. At first, I found this a bit strange, but a quickly discovered that invites to explore the city together are just another wonderful, beautiful part of hostel culture.

Most people at hostels are going to be similar to you in a few core ways: they love to travel, aren’t afraid to explore alone, are looking for adventure, and don’t want to spend all their savings doing it. AND they’re from all over the world, so you’re bound to learn a lot!

In other words, when you stay in hostels, you never have to go sightseeing alone if you don’t want to!

But there are so many other great reasons to stay in hostels.

Above all, I choose hostels because they’re fun. Here’s why.

Awesome front desk people
I like to show up in a new city with a loose itinerary, but I can almost always rely on the friendly people at the front desk to help me fill in the gaps once I get there. Whether they’re locals or fellow travelers passing through and working to pay their way, they always have great (usually budget-friendly) ideas!

Wombats hostel front desk in Berlin
Quirky lounge area in Wombats City Hostel in Berlin, Germany.

Free walking tours
Lots of hostels host free and low-cost walking tours during the day. Some lead drinking tours at night. At Auberge NOLA Hostel in New Orleans, I went on a nightlife tour that kicked off with a pregaming party at the hostel—$10 for all-you-care-to-drink keg beer—before we walked to the coolest bars downtown. Similarly, for $10 at Ecomama in Amsterdam, tour participants enjoyed a shot of Jenever (Dutch gin) at the hostel, then a couple other shots at the bars in the city center.

Of course, it’s not really about the liquor. It’s about the knowledgeable guides (usually people who double as those awesome front desk workers).

Cool in-house bars

Rooftop bar in Berlin overlooking Fernsehturm (TV tower)
Evening view from the rooftop bar at Wombats City Hostel in Berlin, Germany.

Beautiful buildings, interesting lounges
Tons of hostels are beautifully repurposed historical buildings. Others are more modern. But they all have their unique and wonderful quirks.

New Orleans hostel stairs
We stayed in the attic of this beautiful historic building at Auberge NOLA Hostel in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Let’s talk about hostelling etiquette

Full disclosure: it’s not that complicated. 

Here are my most basic tips for staying in hostels:

    • Expect to get what you paid for.
      If you picked the cheapest hostel in town, you probably won’t have the nicest amenities or be in the most central location. That’s okay! If you need more, then you have to increase your budget—there’s no way around it.


    • Introduce yourself when you arrive.
      If you’re tired, just sharing your name and home country is plenty.


    • If you’re an American, don’t assume everyone knows English.
      I’m an American too and although you’ll run into a lot of hostelers that speak English, not everyone will. Be mindful of that and don’t be afraid to ask others what languages they speak during introductions.


    • Try to be quiet. 
      Sharing a room with others means being considerate and respectful whenever you’re in the room. Of course, everyone is there to have fun, but remember that some people might have just arrived from a long-haul flight. Or, conversely, they’re trying to sleep at 6 p.m. because they need to be on a plane by 3 a.m. Try to leave the main lights off and use a flashlight if others are sleeping in your room. Many hostels will have small reading lights installed near your bunk.


    • Utilize the lounges
      Hostels do a great job of maintaining spacious lounge setups and shared bathrooms. If you need to make noise to type on your computer, call a friend, or dry your hair, there will likely be a space outside your sleeping quarters that will suit that need. Use them as much as you can, but if there’s really nowhere else for you do go, just do it and get it over with. After all, everyone in your room understands noise is part of staying in a shared room.


    • Don’t steal.
      The potential for theft is a major factor holding some people back from hostelling. Don’t contribute to that issue. Lock your stuff up even if you’re at a hostel where it will cost a small amount of money. Peace of mind is worth it! And never, ever steal from your roommates if you expect the same courtesy in return.


    • Don’t be ageist.
      Unless you’re staying in a youth hostel with age restrictions, then older adults have every right to stay in a dorm room with you. Be respectful instead of resentful and hope that you will still be traveling all your life like them!


    • Don’t worry about changing your clothes in front of people.
      If you’re uncomfortable changing in front of your roommates, just change in the bathroom stall instead. It’s really that simple. If you’re only comfortable in a same-sex room, then be sure your reservation is “female/male-only” instead of mixed.


    • Follow the house rules.
      If the hostel asks that you bring your sheets downstairs the day you leave, then do that. Doing the little things that keep the hostel running keeps things cheap and easy for everyone! If you aren’t supposed to drink in the hostel, then drink off-site (you’ll see more that way anyway!)



Whew, you made it! That’s really it. I hope you found what you needed to know about hostel life.

I could write an even longer post, but the truth is, you’ll just have to experience hostelling for yourself. Take a risk and say in a hostel for the first time, maybe even by yourself. I promise; it’s probably much easier than you think.

Who knows? You might even end up loving it!

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Are you ready to plan your next adventure?

I believe one of the biggest barriers to travel is fear of the unknown. Do I have enough money? Will I need a visa? 

The truth is, if you don’t do your research now, you’ll never know.

This workbook—5 steps to your next vacation—will help you get your ideas in writing so you can turn them into reality! 

In this editable PDF, you will record and take action on the following:

  • The cost of transportation
  • Restrictions like time, money, passports/visas
  • An estimated daily budget
  • How much you will need to save by when
  • Your bookings
  • Your itinerary including accommodations and activities
  • And much more!

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