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Sleeping in hostels is one of the things I love when traveling solo around the world.

I tend to select some special accommodation at least once per trip, such as specific dude ranches when in America or pretty ryokan in Japan or castles and monasteries in Europe and Asia, but I mostly stay in hostels cause they’re really cool.

Sleeping in a hostel

I mean, usually much cooler than hotels, and I run one, and I’m sure I’m doing a pretty good job with it, but still, hostels are different, and I prefer the experience they offer.

Ok, not all hostels are cool and well run, of course, but I learned how to select them and what to expect, and this post is all about these details and tips.

What’s a hostel

Well, hostels are no-frills, low-cost accommodation, renting beds (usually bunk beds) in more or less big shared dorms. They usually are super friendly, funny, and guest-oriented places.

As with hotels, there’s a wide range of hostels and quality, prices and services may really go from heaven to hell…

You can get upscale hostels with amazing services, smaller dorms, usually providing mix, male and female options, with en-suite bathroom and even private rooms that can be more expensive than those of an average hotel, or you can get very cheap hostels with huge 30-beds mix dorms with shared bathrooms and showers at the end of the corridor, basic old furnishing and pretty sad decoration.

So, you need to make your research and carefully filter according to your own needs.

First of all, you usually are welcomed by young, friendly staff, giving you info regarding the hostel life, the services and asking you to settle the bill right away.

Unless you book a private room, you’ll get a bed in a shared dorm, and you can opt for a cheaper option for sleeping in mixed dorms or a more expensive one for a female-only one. You can also decide wether you prefer a lower or an upper bed. I prefer the upper option providing a bit more privacy.

The new trend is having sheets and towels included in the rate, so you’ll find everything on your bed. I love when the bed is ready upon arrival, and check-out only consists of collecting the sheets and place them in a laundry basket in the corridor or, more often, at the front desk. Still, sometimes you have to make the bed yourself, and in that case, the lower one is obviously a more practical choice. Do ask when booking!

In older or not-so-well run hostels, you might have to pay a rental fee for bed linen and towels, and in those cases, I usually use my silk sleeping bag and microfiber towel, which I always pack just in case…

All beds are equipped with reading light, plugs (lately USB only at Generator), and usually you even get a tiny bedside table. Almost all hostels also provide safe and big suitcase drawers with a lock or a standard vertical locker. Well, locks most of the time imply an extra fee, and I, therefore, recommend you pack at least one.

Cool hostels offer dorms with en-suite bathrooms with showers, but you still have to share it with at least other 3 people, and sometimes those in the corridor are bigger, and you don’t have to line up as long. Soap and other fancy accessories aren’t always provided, but you can easily check before your trip and pack what you need.

As said earlier, most hostels also have private rooms, more expensive but perfect for couples traveling on a budget or even families.

I booked one once, in Takayama. I wasn’t feeling that well and was desperately looking for a quiet night’s sleep. The room was actually the bed’s size plus 10cm on one side and maybe 30cm at the bottom… smaller than a capsule hostel!

Just like a hotel, almost every hostel locks the doors at night and has keys, cards, or codes required to access both the hostel and your room.

Most hostels include continental self-service breakfast, but the very cool ones have great common spaces with 24h bar/pub and even restaurants—the best place to meet people and share happy moments. At hostel bars, I made perfect long-lasting friendships!

Just like other tourist accommodation, hostels have specific review and booking websites to help you find where to stay, such as Hostelworld and Hostelz. Still, they’re also listed on main OTAs such as Booking, Expedia, and even Airbnb.

I recommend you check the amenities description furnished by the management and recent reviews and guest’s pics. That gives you an idea of what you’ll be finding onsite, even as per the atmosphere.

Take note of what people complain about and if they mention bed bugs simply stay away!

Details I recommend you check, beside the rate:

  • the location, as it better fits your plans
  • what’s included, pack as light and smart as possible (linen, towel, locks, shampoo, shower gel…)
  • provided services ( I need free high-speed wifi, bar, 24h front desk and prefer horizontal luggage lockers)
  • the rating, as below 7.5/8 it might get nightmarish…
  • the size of bunkbeds and dorms
  • the type of bathroom and where it’s located
  • the social area amenities, to select the best hostel for you as you might want to meet people and have fun or stay in a quiet place…

As always, once the hostel selected, I recommend you check their official website for more insight and book directly for better deals and service. For more details, I wrote this post regarding when and how to book an accommodation.

What to pack

I already wrote a particular and detailed post with packing tips, but staying in a hostel implies something extra:

  • two locks, one for the luggage locker and one in case you get a separate safe box behind your pillow (it happened to me in many hostels in Japan and the US)
  • a silk sleeping bag and a microfiber towel as mentioned before (you might want to use them even when the provided ones don’t look that clean and inspiring…)
  • a set of earplugs and, if you’re a light sleeper, even an eye mask
  • shower shoes and even a shower tote, especially if the shared bathroom is far away from your dorm and you don’t want to the jungle with a bunch of stuff, you’ll need to drag around

How to behave

Down to the basics: say hello, smile and introduce yourself as most people staying in hostels are traveling by themselves… you might make new long-lasting friends. I sure have.

Avoid talking on the phone, FaceTime, or listen to music without headphones in the dorm. I know, this sounds pretty logical, but trust me, lots of people seem to forget.

Don’t pack plastic and paper bags for shoes and laundry as moving/touching them really is noisy and might increase your roommate’s stress… no problem when you do that during the day, of course, but you might have to check in/out when others are sleeping.

Even if at home you are, don’t be messy… you might bother other people and you also might inspire some thefts.

Avoid eating smelly food in the dorm. It smells!

My favorite hostels

I stayed in many hostels in the last ten years, some stunning and some awful places, but those are some of my favorites around the world:

  • The Lemon Rock Bar & Hostel in Granada. Worth a flight there!
  • The Freehand Downtown LA, for the coolest experience
  • Les Piaules in Paris. J’adore…
  • The YuYu guesthouse in Sapporo. I already wrote about it and they actually inspired a life dream: running a pod hostel!
  • Casa Garcia downtown Barcelona. So cool!
  • The WE Hostel Design in Sao Paulo, perfect for female solo travelers
  • The Quisby in New Orleans. Impossible not to make friends!
  • The Hostel Ebi downtown Kyoto
  • The Benita in Buenos Aires
  • Capsule Ostelzzz downtown Milan. The deluxe capsule is super comfy
  • Generator Hostels are always cool

Have you already stayed in a hostel? Did you enjoy the experience? Let me know!

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Silvia's Trips

Hi there! My name is Silvia and after 15 years between the Paris Opera and the Palau de les Arts in Valencia I now run a boutique hotel in Cinque Terre, deal with tourism management and blogging, sail, horse-ride, play guitar and write about my solo trips around the world. For more info about me and my travel blog check my full bio.

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