Hostel life is part 1 of Forever Roaming the World’s traveling realisms series
So, you’re about to stay in a backpacker hostel for the first time but…
The question is, do you know what hostel life is really like?
I ask you this question because as a long-term hosteller who’s stayed in countless hostels all over the world both as a short-termer (passing through) and a long-termer (practically living in them) I’ve met so many people who haven’t had a clue but through no fault of their own.
I’m sure there are questions floating around in your mind about them like: “What’s my hostel going to be like?”, – “Will it be safe?”, – “What are the people going to be like?”, – “Will it be clean?”, -“Will I get along with my Roommates?”, but is, “What the hell actually happens in them?” one of your questions?
Of course, you can read reviews, read the information about them or look at pictures of the hostel on booking sites but are you really getting accurate information. Hostel descriptions are written by owners or managers and just describe the building and amenities, reviews; well you have to read between the lines with them. There’s nothing really that gives you an insight into hostel life or what to expect from it.
More than just a place to sleep.
You’ll learn first hand how hostels are actually more than just a place to sleep. Believe it or not but hostels can play an integral part of your journey and in some cases could have the power to make or break your trip.
They are communal places, a place to meet and interact with other travelers, life-long friendships can be born, they can offer comfort, and for long-term backpackers offer a hub a sense of home. And, that’s why even with the influx of other backpacker accommodation options, hostels remain popular.
There have been times and places over the years where I’ve had a better experience and time in the hostel than the actual destination itself, now I know that must sound ridiculous but it happens.
Stepping into the unknown can be daunting for some
Stepping into a hostel for the first time can be quite a daunting experience for some people, it could be from fear, not knowing what to expect, not being socially confident, sometimes it could be from other guests being intimidating.
It would be easy for me to say they are not as scary or daunting as they first seem. I can tell you everybody wants to be your friend, that everything will be easy, or that every hostel you walk into will be clean and have no problems. But, that would be grossly unfair to say that.
What I can do though, is give you an idea of what to expect and offer some insight into hostel life
This post is not intended to over-glamorize hostels, nor is it to suggest hostels are perfect in any way. It’s to help prepare you in what to expect in general.
Remember though, until you step through the doors of the hostel for the first time you really won’t know what to expect. Hostel vibes and atmospheres change with the crowd that’s there at the time, if you’re going off reviews remember two people can have opposite experiences of the same hostel, even if they are there during the same period.
Experiencing hostel life for the first time
The best way to describe stepping into a hostel for the first time, especially as a solo traveler is like starting a new school. You might be excited and full of beans, might be confident, you might have butterflies, might be nervous, or it might even be a little overwhelming at first. There might be some initial uncertainty, feel a little out-of-place and even awkward but don’t worry it’s completely normal to feel like this.
As soon as you arrive, your brain will take snapshots, your eyes will try and process everything around you.
I’ll paint a picture for you:
You arrive at your hostel, the first thing you’ll do is find reception to check in, as you do you’ll try and gage an idea of the place. You’ll try to work out if is it big, small, social, clean, appealing? You’ll find yourself watching other backpackers; how they interact with each other, if they are friendly with each other, what the atmosphere is like and if you’ll fit in here. All of this will happen within the first few minutes and you might just find yourself in a bit of a daze.
At the same time, any guests already there will be doing the same back to you, wondering who you are, working out very quickly that you’re a newbie. Like I said, it’s just like the first day at school, some will approach you and make you feel welcome, some might want you to make the first move.
Once you’ve checked in, you might get a quick tour of the hostel or things might get pointed out to you but your first destination will be your dorm room.
It’s fair to say dorm rooms if you’ve never stayed in them before can take some getting used to. It’s even possible to have one type of experience in the hostel and a completely different one in your dorm.
One thing to note, remember in a hostel you are paying for your bed, not the actual room. So any snobbery you may have needs to be left at the door as there are a lot of variables that go on inside a dorm room and things to take into consideration.
First, your initial reaction will be to figure out who your new roommates are and how many there are and deny it if you want but you will make snap judgments on all them. You’ll also notice the level of cleanliness in the room; if it smells or not. YES, dorm rooms can smell; some worse than others! But, in saying that rooms are generally cleaned every day unless you chose to stay in a very basic budget hostel.
Dorms are also great places to make friends. In most cases the people in your room will be the first people you meet, so don’t be afraid to say hi. You might find one of your roommates could turn into your guide for your first few days, they might introduce you to other backpackers, help you get settled and used to the place. However, if there’s somebody who doesn’t want to talk, don’t take it to heart, they might just be having a bad day.
Personal space/room etiquette
You will also instinctively seek out the power outlets and how many are free and how far away from your bed/bunk it is.
Your bunk will take your attention next, you’ll check out the thickness of the mattress, the pillows, how thick is the frame of the bunk, is is sturdy or fragile like it’s gonna fall apart anytime you move.
Then there’s the personal space; some people do not understand it! You should always remember, you have paid for the bed, not the room. The room is communal, so there is some hostel etiquette to bear in mind. Around your bunk, find a space to call your own (NOT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROOM) for your bags and belongings, that space is where everything comes out your bag and doesn’t go back in until the day you leave.
Even though hostels are generally safe places, your own items are your responsibility, so keep them safe. Respect others in your room, if somebody is sleeping through the day, keep your noise down.
NOTE: If you are leaving in the middle of the night to head to your next destination or to go home, make sure you pack your bags during the day not while others are sleeping!
Hostels are not hotels, they are communal and that means you’ll be sharing all facets, areas, and amenities in the hostel; this part of hostel life takes some getting used to for some people.
This does mean you’ll be sharing bathrooms and showers which is not always fun but generally, bathrooms are cleaned on a regular basis. However, in saying that, there will be times you come across some that are not well kept, this is just one of those things about traveling you have to deal with (unless you want to clean it yourself).
The crime scene!
Most hostels come equipped with a kitchen; the place where most arguments and theft happens in a hostel. Sharing a kitchen can be one of the most frustrating parts of hostel life. If you choose to buy your own food or drinks to store it in the kitchen, clearly label them. The general rule of thumb in the kitchen is; if you use it, clean it.
Also even though the kitchen and utensils are communal, an individual’s food is not; don’t just help yourself to things that are not yours! If you want to borrow something, just ask.
You will also have to get used to cooking around each other, there will be times you want to cook and you walk in to find the kitchen full, you just have to bide your time. The longer you stay in the hostel, you’ll start to learn when quiet and busy periods are.
There’s likely to be a lounge of some kind in your hostel and communal areas for people to hang out and relax. Within lounge rooms, you’re most likely to find movies playing throughout the day and night. If there are any long-termers in the hostel they will rule the roost with the TV schedule, in most cases as they watch programs at a regular time. That’s not to say if you want to watch something, in particular, you can’t request to change the channel.
A lot of hostels these days come equipped with some sort of games entertainment too, that could be a games console (don’t be surprised to see FIFA tournaments going on), a pool table, dart board, air hockey, table tennis, board games, card games and a backpackers favourite pass time – Drinking!
In general, hostels are very social places, there are different types of hostel’s that attract specific backpackers. You’ll know what type of backpacker you are, and what type of hostel you’re looking for, whether it’s a quiet place, small and homelike, or if you want a party hostel.
It doesn’t matter what type you feel most comfortable in, there will always be a social aspect to it, some will just be in communal areas where you can meet and talk to other travelers. In others, you just have to share a beer with another traveler to make friends.
There are plenty of hostels that organize events, trips, tours, nights out and even things like BBQ’s, pizza and movie nights at the hostel, these are great when your new to meet other backpackers. If you choose to stay in a party hostel you’re most likely to find a bar attached to it and it doesn’t matter what time of day or night there’s a party going on.
Don’t be afraid.
Sometimes it can feel daunting to walk into a new environment and make friends with people, especially if others have been there a long time. And yes, some hostel friend groups can be quite clicky but don’t be afraid to try to make friends.
Something I learned a very long time ago, the easiest way to make friends in a hostel is to share a beer and talk about general things. Backpackers hate being asked the same recycled questions; How long are you traveling for? What’s your route? Where have you been? …Blah, blah, blah… See to you these are all new questions, you want to know and find out so much as you’re new but to other travelers, these are the same questions that get asked day in and day out. You will be in the same position one day, you’ll get used to it.
Things happen in hostels – be open minded
How much you enjoy your hostel experience will sometimes come down to how open-minded you are. Without a doubt at some point, you will be exposed to things you are not used to seeing, things you may not find acceptable or things that will shock you. If that does happen while there is no obligation for you to join in, simply turn a blind eye and don’t judge others for doing things they enjoy.
Yes, that does mean there might be times you come across people drinking and getting drunk from morning till night. There will be hostels where drugs are taken openly (or in secret), people will be having sex in dorms or in bathrooms; sorry but in some hostels, anything and everything can happen.
You might even stay in a hostel that has long-term, people who seemingly do nothing but lounge around the hostel all day. You shouldn’t judge or think less of them, maybe they have already done their travels and just want to relax now, or they simply just don’t want to travel anymore but at the same time, they don’t want to go home. Everybody has their own story and own reasons to why they are there.
Sometimes hostels can become a vortex, you kind of forget about anything going on outside, and you even forget that you are there to travel.
Traveling realism of hostel life
The realism of hostel life is that although they are great places to meet people and they can be the cornerstone of your travels there can be times when they are tough. There may come a time when you start running out of money and need to look at the bottom of the barrel places. There is a chance you could end up in a place that is falsely advertised and in-fact turns out to be roach infested or covered in bedbugs, these things do happen and unfortunately a part of backpacking life.
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Did you find this hostel life post helpful? Let me know in the comments below if there is anything else you would like to know about hostels.
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