Hostel Guide for Backpackers: How To Survive Your First Time

Staying in hostels is an inevitable thing for travelers and backpackers on a budget. Even for travelers that aren’t on a budget, many do choose to stay in hostels because it is much easier to meet other people and have fun.

After all, who wants to travel and not meet any people? For that reason, hostel life can be many travelers’ favorite part about traveling. Meeting new friends, learning about their cultures, doing crazy things together, and eventually forming ever-lasting friendships.

But for the first time solo backpackers, staying in a hostel might be intimidating. What if you have some weird people in your room? Where should you keep your valuables? How to even meet people? Is it weird if I just say hi? There are too many possibilities.

Don’t worry. The first time I was in a hostel, it was absolutely nerve-racking. I didn’t know the correct “hostel etiquette” or even what’s a hostel like. It felt like I was out of tune with the other people in the hostel.

This hostel guide for first-time solo backpackers will help you prepare for your exciting adventures. It will teach you how to love them for what they are, how to get the best out of your experience in hostels, and how to stay safe!

Hostel Life For Backpackers

Before You Stay In a Hostel

It is important that you make your reservation before you arrive, especially if it is your first time at a hostel. Though sometimes it is cheaper to book directly at the hostel, you run the risk of having the hostel be completely booked out.

Popular hostels tend to fill up quickly, especially during peak seasons (summer, popular vacation times). Until you get the groove and understand the way hostels are run, I would recommend booking your hostel in advance.

My favorite two websites to book hostels are HostelWorld and Booking. HostelWorld tends to have higher requirements for a hostel to list its property, resulting in higher quality choices. Booking, on the other hand, tends to be cheaper, especially if you have the genius discount (a discount on selected properties after you have made several reservations with

However, you might need to do a little bit of research to find good hostels. For the majority of the time, most hostels are both on HostelWorld and Booking. Compare the prices and book the one with the better deal!

When it comes to backpackers, most decide to book via HostelWorld. If you are someone that would like to meet a younger crowd, we recommend going with HostelWorld.

Selecting The Proper Hostel

Selecting the right hostel is the most important part of making sure you have a good time. That is why it is important to read the reviews of the hostel as well as the descriptions. I made the mistake of booking a night at the biggest “party” hostel in Bali when all I wanted to do was rest. Needless to say, it was one of my worst experiences in a hostel.

Some important things to look for when searching for a hostel are: Party hostel? If you want to party and meet tons of people, this is one thing you must look for in the reviews. Social atmosphere? Different people stay at hostels for different reasons. Some are not travelers like you are.

Make sure you select one with the same kind of guests as you. Read the reviews and check the atmosphere rating for the hostels.

Breakfast? Is there free breakfast? Is it included in the price? Kitchen? You can save a lot of money by cooking your own food. Laundry service? Does the hostel offer any laundry services? This is very important for long-term travelers.

If you are young and looking to meet people around your age, look for some that explicitly says “youth hostel”. This usually attracts a younger crowd, and some youth hostels even have an age restriction.

What To Pack For A Hostel?

A hostel is not a hotel. You will not find the comfort nor the complimentary items you expect. These are the things you should have before you arrive at the hostel.

  • Microfiber Towel – Microfiber towels are lighter and more compact than your regular towel. I would suggest having 2 so you can take one to the beach and have the other one clean!
  • Combination Locks – Hostels will usually provide you with a locker in your dorm room but they won’t always provide you with locks. Unless you plan on staying in only private rooms in your hostel experience, we recommend you bring 2 combination locks with you.
  • Blindfolds – If you want to go to bed early, you might want to consider one of these. Lights in the room are usually on until 11 PM or 12 AM most of the days.
  • Reusable Earplugs – For your noisy roommates and people that snore! Don’t skim out on these, they are hotel essentials!
  • Toiletries – Toothpaste, toothbrush, shampoo, body wash, none of those are provided in hostels. Bring your own! 

What Is Staying In A Hostel Like?

Check-In Checklist (What to Ask When Checking In)

When you check in at a hostel, the receptionist should make you feel comfortable and tell you all the features of the hostel. I have had incidences where I checked in the hostel and the receptionist gave me the key, told me to go up one floor, and that my room is the first on the right. 

When something like that happens, you have the right to ask for additional information. Your hostel is your number one resource.

Here are some things to ask when you are checking in:

  • What time is check-out?
  • Is there breakfast? And is it included?
  • Is there a curfew? What time does the door close? How do I get in late at night?
  • Any restaurant recommendations? Must-see attractions in the area?
  • Where are the showers? Toilets? Kitchen? Is there a refrigerator for our food? 
  • Are there any hostel activities? Events?
  • Do you have any drinkable water for guests? Any filtered water that guests are allowed to take?

How To Meet People In A Hostel

Meeting people is the best part of staying in a hostel. Every person has his or her own story and culture. It is like opening a new book every time you meet someone new.

On my recent solo trip to Romania, a girl I met in a hostel in Cluj-Napoca ended up going on a road trip with me for two weeks around Romania. All I did was say ask her about her day when I saw her sitting in the kitchen area.

It’s so simple and powerful. You don’t need to think of some crazy things to say. A simple “Hi, how was your day?” usually suffices. They are in hostels too because they want to meet people like you!

Bar crawls and other organized activities are great ways to get to explore the city and meet other people, though they could be quite costly. Most hostels will have organized activities which you can participate.

One of my favorite “free” ways to meet travelers is through the free walking tours that most big cities have. It is a great way to meet people while exploring the getting to know the city at the same time.

Hostel Security and Comfort

The scariest part of staying in a hostel is security. Well, in the end, you are sleeping with strangers in the same room. So many things could go wrong. What if someone steals something from the room? What if someone brings another person over? Anything could happen and it is just part of the experience.

But these undesired circumstances can be limited and prevented by choosing the right hostel and being careful.  The first thing I do when I’m checked in a hostel is to lock all my valuables in the locker or safe box. All the stuff that I leave in the open are things that I don’t mind losing or won’t expect anyone to take such as clothes.

Some things you want to consider storing in the lockers are electronics, passports, documents, money, and credit cards. Just use some common sense.

Don’t ever assume that just because you are “friends” with everyone in your room that it is safe to leave your valuables in the open. Cleaning staff, people from other rooms, or even strangers can enter the room and take things. Better be safe than sorry.

As far as other travelers go, my thinking is, “Who would travel thousands of miles to a foreign country just to take stuff from other travelers?” If they want to steal, they can do it in their own country without spending the money on a plane ticket.

Staying In A Hostel FAQs

Can Introverts Enjoy Staying In Hostels?

Both introverts and extroverts can enjoy their experience in a hostel. Introverts might want to choose hostels that provide a little bit more privacy, such as a capsule hostel or hostels that have curtains to the bed. That way they can recharge in private when they don’t want to be social.

Is Staying In A Hostel Safe?

Though the idea of sharing a room with strangers might put you on edge, staying in a hostel is usually safe. Just make sure you lock up your belongings and report any suspicious behavior that might make you uncomfortable to the staff.

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That sums up the hostel guide for first-time backpackers. I hope you now understand a little bit more about the hostel life. Did you find this guide helpful? Do you have your own tip? Let us know in the comments!

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