Backpacker hostels have always been one of the most popular accommodation options for travelers whether that’s: solo, budget, long term travelers, young or old, first timers or experienced, they choose to stay in them yet they divide so many opinions. There are those that hate them but others that love hostel life – But why?
In part one of the traveling realities series we are going to dive into it. We look into how hostel life can be important to your whole travel experience, what your first moments can be like, how your perception may change and what really goes on withing hostel walls
Nothing quite splits opinions like asking a traveler about backpacker hostels…There are those quick to dismiss them, quick to judge as being filthy cesspools full of horny young gap year travelers, there are those who swear they world never step foot in one. Yet, there are those who’s lives change because of the experience in a hostel.
To many hostel life is integral to their traveling lives, It’s more than a place to drop bags and sleep. So what’s the deal with backpacker hostels are they amazing experiences or are they what nightmares are made of?
Well that’s down to you and your mentality to decide.
Ask yourself some questions
There will be those that try to put off staying in a hostel, that might be because they had a bad experience themselves or it might be they’ve never been in one but have misconceptions about it.
On the other hand you will have those that swear by it but you have to make your own mind up and not let others’ opinions sway your choice.
You need to ask yourself:
- Are you comfortable with sharing with others
- Will you be ok to sleep with others in the room, in a dorm
- Why do you want to stay in a hostel?
- Can your budget stretch to stay in other types of accommodation?
- Are you able to walk in without pre-judging it
- Do you understand that they are hostels and not hotels? (You’ll be surprised at the amount of people that do not)
- Are you willing to open your mind?
Ask yourself these questions because it will help you adapt to hostel life.
Why backpacker hostels can be more than just a place to sleep
It doesn’t matter what type of traveler you see yourself as; a backpacker, a long term traveler, solo, budget, short break traveler if you walk into a hostel with a clean non-judgemental attitude they can become more than a place to just sleep.
- Generally speaking, a social place, so they provide a bigger opportunity to make friends rather than camping or staying in a hostel would
- They can provide comfort (When your thousands of miles away from home a little home comfort helps)
- They can be a central hub for your travels
- Have a communal feel
- Whatever your tastes and interests there is a hostel type for you
- A sense of home
- Help you learn to interact with others from all over the world
- Can help push you out of comfort zones
- The people you meet can turn into family
- Provide a secure enviroment
Hostel life can be easy to adapt to for some but much harder for others
Adapting to hostel life can be like a duck taking to water for some but for others It’s a daunting process. There can be hostels where It’s a bit like starting a new school or job; apprehension, nerves, anxiety, fear, overwhelming, uncertainty, excitement, confidence, feels natural – Whatever you feel, It’s perfectly natural.
A lot of the times those feelings, and emotions will dissipate within minute. But for some of you they will linger and even grow stronger but then that’s up to you to change it.
Take to hostel life naturally
For some, your first hostel experience will be easy, you will fit in easily, not get overwhelmed by it, feel like you belong, make friends and not see what the fuss is about.
You take to it because everything fits:
- The people around you are friendly and welcoming
- You are open and confident
- Your mind is open
- Your personality suits the enviroment around you
- You feel at home instantly.
- You may be a person who doesn’t find it hard to make friends
- You don’t mind sharing space,
- You’re more receptive to new experiences and
- You’re non-judgemental at the things going around you.
- You are able to adapt to different situations and circumstances easier
Don't take to hostel life instantly
Not everybody is going to have that easy welcoming settle into hostel life quickly experience though. For some of you it will be a daunting and overwhelming experience. Some of you may hate it, and vow never to stay in one again. Again It’s going to be your mentality that decides this.
Two people can walk into the same hostel at the same time and have completely different experiences because of the way they approach it. If you’re nervous or shy, just take your time and relax, you will settle.
Sorry to say this, but some of you will walk into a hostel with a closed-mind and pre judge it before giving it a chance.
- You compare hostels to hotels and and expect hotel quality
- Moan about the smallest infringements
- Do not, are not, and can’t adapt to sharing space
- Do not take in hostel etiquette
- Feel you are above hostels or the people in it
- Not willing to adapt or open your mind
- Find it hard to make friends
- Are rude and obnoxious
- Are being fake and others can see through it
- Cannot accept things that happen in hostels
If you are this type of person until you start opening your mind you will not adapt.
Your first moments or days in a hostel can be like...
No matter who you are, what type of personality, if you take to hostel life instantly or not, every body has questions flying through their mind the first time walking into a new hostel. It doesn’t matter if It’s your first or 100th those questions will be there. For the first time though they will be more prevalent.
- “What will my backpacker hostel be like?”
- “How many people and who will be in my room?”
- “What will the people be like?”
- “Will they be my nationality and speak my language”
- “Will my roommates be male, female, old, young, single, couples, friends?”
- “Will it be clean?”
- “Will the people here be friendly, what’s the atmosphere going to be like?”
- How will I make friends?”,
- “What will the dorms be like?”
Your first moments of your hostel life
Let’s go on a hypothetical yet likely journey then look at the different areas of a hostel and finish up with things you may witness in a hostel.
- Initial moments
- The obligatory tours
- First experience of dorm rooms
- Meeting your roommates
- Communal areas – Bathrooms/kitchen/communal areas
- Socialising in a hostel
- Stay away from the backpacker talk
- What really happens inside hostel walls
Stepping inside for the first time
The first time you step into a hostel, so many emotions can run through you, sometimes you’re not even aware of them feeling like you’re on auto-pilot.
It depends what type of person you are but walking in for the first time can be like:
- Your brain can run into hyperdrive – taking snapshots of everything around you without truly processing anything
- You try finding the reception desk, normally not difficult to find but your heart can be pounding not knowing what to expect
- Your eyes take in the unfamiliar surroundings, possibly noticing other guests (strangers to you) walking past
- The receptionist will try and make you feel at ease – At this point you have no idea that the receptionist could be fellow traveler, volunteer, local, manager, owner
- They talk up the hostel, provide information, local sights, events, things to see and do, tours, pub crawls, hostel socials, walking tours, things of importance
- Your eyes can be flickering around, trying to gage if the hostel is big or small, clean, well kept
- You may even find yourself watching other guests, how they interact, if they seem approachable, are they friendly with each other,
- You can try and gage what the atmosphere is like
Your obligatory tour
Your all checked in, you’re told about some basic hostel rules – Do’s and Don’t some are just guidelines. Next comes the standard hostel tour.
Depending on the hostel and the size you will be quickly shown
- The layout of the hostel
- The lounge/common/living room area/TV room
- The kitchen and where the amenities are
- You’ll have the bathrooms pointed out
- Shown the terrace/courtyard/garden or any other outdoor space
- The bar if there is one (you may even get a free drink token)
- Any other areas the hostel has – workspace, cafe, gym, pool area, games rooms
- Your final stop will be your dorm room
What you may not realise at the time, while you’re being taken on the tour, the guest you past, especially if It’s a smaller hostel will be curious about you. They will try and gage an idea of the type of person you are, if your friendly, will you fit in with the hostel dynamics, are you trustworthy, do you smell. You might be trying to figure the hostel out but the people in it will be doing the same back.
Hostel life starts in the dorm
It’s fair to say, if you’ve never stayed in a dorm, or had to share a room before they can take some getting used to. In most cases, the dorm dependant of what size you’ve chose will consist of:
- Bunk beds (some are comfier than others),
- Possibly en-suite bathrooms
- A window or even a balcony
- Most beds nowadays come with personal power points to charge your appliances
- Personal lamps
- A fan, heater, aircon
99% of the time the first thing you’ll do is scan the room, how big is it? Do the bunks look comfy? Does it smell? (yup some dorms do smell) Are there others in the room? You’ll find your bunk and try to settle. With it being your first hostel experience, guaranteed, you’ll lock up everything in your locker.
One thing to realise though you’re paying for the bed not the actual room. So keep your personal belongings in and around your bed and lockers. Don’t just dump your bags in the middle of the room, that’s a sure fire way to piss people off instantly and make your introduction to hostel life much more difficult. It’s good to know your hostel etiquette.
HUGE BAKCPAKCER HOSTEL TIP: If you’re leaving in the middle of the night, make sure you pack your bags before others go to sleep or take your belongings out of the dorm room DON’T PACK WHILE PEOPLE ARE SLEEPING!
Once you get over the initial whirlwind of where you are, putting you bag away or on your bunk you will start to realise there are people in the room.
Hostels are most of the time sociable places and very easy to make friends. You sometimes have to make the first move, nobody is obligated to approach you. However you may find within your dorm room somebody else does make the first move. Be friendly, be approachable and before you know it you have your first friend(s). If there is somebody who doesn’t want to talk to you instantly don’t take it personally, they might just not be in the mood to talk, having a bad day, hungover or another reason.
Hostel life: the dreaded bathrooms
When people think of hostels, the images and thoughts that automatically spring to mind are of horrible, disgusting and filthy bathrooms – But you will be shocked, bathrooms are normally the most well kept and cleanest part of the hostel.
What type of bathroom you have depends on the room you have chosen; weather that’s a en-suite or a shared bathroom. The size of the hostel also determines the type. A smaller hostel can likely have a bathroom akin to the one you have at home and may incude a bathtub as well as a shower. larger hostels tend to have more than one shower, toilets and sinks included.
Most larger hostels will have seperate male and female bathrooms
Typical hostels include:
- A row of sinks
- A number of toilets in seperate cubicles
- A number of showers in seperate cubicles
- Some come equipped with shampoos, soap, shower gel
A word of caution though, stealing in a hostel is obviously frowned upon, however it seems those rules do not apply in bathrooms. You can leave anything lying around a hostel and chances are nothing will be touched, however leave shower get, shampoo, soap in a bathroom it will be swiped in an instant.
Hostel kitchens: Stuff of knightmares
You might find your backpacker hostel comes with a shared kitchen. having a kitchen in a hostel can be great to cook for yourself and save money but also horrifying because some do not know how to clean up after themselves.
There are kitchens you just walk straight out of because of how messy they are. And they can become quite packed when everybody wants to cook at once. If you want to cook for yourself find a nice quiet time to do it.
Typical equipment in a hostel can range from very basic to feeling like you’re in a master chef kitchen but in general you get:
- Storage space for your own food (do label clearly though)
- Pots and pans
- Most of the time there is a FREE food shelf containing – oil, butter, salt, pepper, spices, herbs, rice, pasta or anything guests have left behind
You’ll find most hostels with signs plastered all over the kitchen to clean up after yourself.
Some hostels offer free breakfasts, It’s going to be basic but It’s free so don’t complain about itand there are those that offer free tea and coffee all day.
Lounge/TV room/common areas
There is likely to be a lounge space or common area of some sort in your backpacker hostel for people to hang out and relax. These are great places to meet and make friends with people outside of your dorm or just do unwind. Lounge and common areas make your hostel life much more comfortable.
You might find:
- A TV room, with movies, Netflix,
- A reading room or book shelf
- Games consoles,
- Gaming rooms, with pool tables or arcade machines.
- Quiet areas to just relax in
- Bean bags, hammocks, swings
- Playing cards, board games
- A bar
All these things are there to help you feel at home, give you some home comforts and make your hostel life feel easier. There are some hostels that go beyond to make your stay pleasant.
Don’t be surprised to see backpackers lounging around, playing cards, board games, on their phones, or seemingly doing nothing. While you might be staying in a hostel for the first time, but they may have been staying in a hostel for a while and become long termers, used to hostel life and just don’t want to do anything.
And, depending on the type of backpacker hostel your staying in, you might find some or a lot of backpackers drinking, getting drunk or high no matter what time of day or night. This is all part of hostel life & and you’ll get used to it, and possibly even join in.
Hostel life is built around socialising
One of the biggest draws and you’ll find this with your first hostel experience is the social aspect of hostel life. There are ample opportunities to hang out with people and to make friends, from your roommates, people you meet in and around the hostel or by organised events.
It’s common to find events like:
- Organised walking tours
- Organised tours and excursions
- Nights out
- Pub crawls
- BBQ nights
- Pizza and movie nights
- Dinner nights
- Games nights
There are plenty of ways to make friends and get to know people in hostels. It doesn’t matter what type of person you are, hostel guests come in all shapes and sizes, and personalities. Making friends in hostels is as easy or as hard as you make to be. making friends while traveling.
Adapt to hostel life stay away from The backpacker talk
One of the easiest ways is to share a beer or two (or ten). However a tip for you is to stay away from the typical backpacker talk. Experienced travelers hate it
What’s the backpacker talk? It’s recycled questions many first time backpackers ask when they first meet another backpacker. It usually goes like this:
- Where are you from?
- Is this your first trip?
- How long are you backpacking for?
- Where have you been?
- Where you heading next?
- What route you following?
- How long you been here for?
- Blah, blah, blah…
Those questions might not seem like there’s anything wrong with them but when those same questions are asked over and over they become tedious. What you want to do is drip feed them into a natural conversation, and you will get more out of it rather than just firing them as questions.
Anything and everything can happen in a hostel
A part of adapting to hostel life is keeping an open mind. Within hostel walls no matter what type there is a chance of seeing anything and everything you can imagine happen, more so in party hostels but it can happen in quieter ones too. You may be shocked at some of the things you witness, you may feel like you want to get involved, or you may want to stay clear. Either way It’s fine but It’s not your place to judge or to tell others to stop enjoying themselves unless they’re encroaching in your own personal space.
Things you may witness:
- People getting drunk and or high all hours of the day or night
- Some getting rowdy
- Sex (in bathrooms, in dorm rooms or public areas)
- People seemingly doing nothing
- Wild parties
- Dorm room parties
That’s not to say it happens all the time and in every hostel but be aware that it can happen.
Hostel life traveling reality
Do be careful though, the hostel life can be quite intense sometimes and you might find yourself sinking deep into the hostel backpacker trap. You know you’ve fallen in when you forget you’re even there to travel.
Hostel life can be fun and you can end up having a better time in the backpacker hostel than the actual destination but there will be times it’s hard. There will be times when you book a backpacker hostel that’s shit, dirty, smells, has no atmosphere or have bunks that could snap at any slight move. There are backpacker hostels that are falsely advertised, but overall and in general backpacker hostels can be the cornerstone of your backpacking life.
I hope your first hostel experience turns out a great as mine did.
Begin your hostel life here with hostelworld or Booking.com
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Stuart Forster · February 25, 2020 at 9:27 am
The hostels I’ve stayed in have been hit and miss. You certainly cover many of the bases about issues that travellers need to be aware of.
Stuart Fahy · February 22, 2020 at 9:52 am
Great article. Similar to you I’ve spent the vast majority of my travelling life staying in hostels and it’s generally an amazing experience. The people you meet there, whether in your room or just in the communal areas, can make your stay in that place so much better. A lot of people have a bad idea about hostels, but these are generally people who’ve never stayed in one. Even now, I still look at hostels first when looking for somewhere to stay. I usually travel alone on my longer trips, so it’s the perfect place to meet people and make your stay that much better.
Harini · January 14, 2018 at 1:11 pm
I live in a hostel.The hostel is my home.The pictures you have put up looked so cosy which paints a very rosy picture of hostel life.Even though hostel life is tough and requires a lot of adjustment,it can be great fun and it gives you friends and memories which will last for a lifetime
Alex · November 5, 2017 at 5:29 pm
I have to say I wasn’t very lucky with my backpacker hostel life when I stayed in Kings Cross, Sydney! Between the cockroaches everywhere and noisy fellow backpackers, it wasn’t easy and I missed the comfort of my home. But after a few days, I made great friends and things got much better when we left to go to Queensland!
Yesh Sewdayal · October 16, 2017 at 10:14 am
So I’ve only stayed in a hostel a handful of times and it was never solo, and we barely spent time in except to sleep. This post comes with the good, the bad and the low down nasty that goes on! I don’t know if I would be okay with giving up personal space to strangers but I guess you definitely adapt and at some point just go with the flow! I also get very anxious socializing (which hasn’t been an issue yet since I’ve barely traveled solo), it takes me a while or a few drinks!
beccajtalbot · August 5, 2017 at 9:44 pm
I’m actually the same as Medha above – I have never stayed in a hostel, and don’t like the idea of sharing a room. That said, I have got a room booked for a hostel in Iceland for December – so let’s see how I get on with that! x
foreverroamingtheworld · August 6, 2017 at 4:06 pm
Sharing rooms in hostels can go either way, a bit like marmite either love it or hate it haha. Saying that hostel experiences can be great, it’s more the vibe of the hostel, how social it is. In some countries I’ve had a better time in the hostel than with the actual place I’m in. I know it sounds weird. I hope you have a good experience in your hostel in Iceland 😀
Medha Verma · August 4, 2017 at 2:17 pm
I have actually never stayed in a hostel before and I’m, unfortunately, not one of those who likes to share a room ? Strangely, I’ve always had my own space, living at home with my parents or even after I started working and had to rent a house with a coworker. I’ve rarely travelled alone but now that I’ve started to, it’s something I have to consider, I cannot keep paying for a full room, it’s so much more economical to stay In a hostel. I am worried about adjusting to that sort of space sharing though, don’t know if I’ll manage. Your post will surely come in handy if I ever do !
hertraveltherapy · August 4, 2017 at 7:31 am
I don’t mind hostels for short bursts of time, but I always need to break it up with short stays in private rooms or else I go absolutely nuts! My least favourite things are there not being enough powerpoints for everyone to charge their devices, and how gross the bathrooms always are! I also think that bunks should always have curtains around them, it’s not that hard to install!
johnthewanderer · August 3, 2017 at 2:31 pm
I think the best thing about a hostel is the fact you can socialize with people in the lobby/living room or in the dorm room if you select that option. It is a great way of meeting like minded people who love to explore the world. I’ve found you can also pay a bit more and get a room for one or two people if you prefer sleeping on your own.
Sapna · May 20, 2017 at 7:53 am
All valid points. Once I stayed in hostel in India and wrote about it on my blog. Hostel stay is totally different from hotel. If I get a clean and safe hostel, I prefer it any day to hotel because you meet and interact with people. This is one of the best experience, while traveling.
foreverroamingtheworld · May 20, 2017 at 1:31 pm
Hi thanks for the comment, and, yeah you’re completely right, I think sometimes people don’t realize that sometimes you will have a better experience in a hostel and with the people you meet over the actual destination.