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Backpacking – 10 Things to Know About Staying in Hostels

Backpacking at the incredible Selina Hostel in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Backpacking and hostels go together like Haaland and De Bruyne. You can’t really go backpacking without staying in a hostel. To those who have never travelled before, the hostel can seem like a jarring experience. Hostels have a reputation of being dirty and uncomfortable, however 90% of my experiences of staying at these places have been positive.

1. What is a Hostel?

For those who are thinking about making the move for your first backpacking trip, you might not even know what a hostel is. I would explain that a hostel is like a hotel, but for a different kind of market. Unlike hotels, hostels tend to have a much more rustic and laidback atmosphere. Moreover, staying in a hostel entails staying in a dorm room. That means sharing the room you’re sleeping in. The minimum of beds in a hostel room tends to be 4 and some rooms can even have 15.

Staying in a hostel also means that you have to share the bathroom with the other people in your room. Hostels also have common room areas where you can hang out and meet other travellers.

2. Booking.com or Hostelworld?

These days, booking your accommodation online has become an essential part of planning your travels. Moreover, there are two main websites for finding hostels in the place you’re heading to. Hostelworld is exclusively for finding hostels and is very easy to use. Booking.com is for all types of accommodation, however it is very easy to find affordable hostels with a quick search.

I think that both websites are ideal for finding hostels. However, I mostly use Booking.com because of the Genius loyalty programme. The more you use the website for booking hostels the cheaper deals you can get.

3. Is it Safe to Stay in a Hostel When Backpacking?

From my experience of staying in over 50 hostels in over 30 countries in the last 5 years, I would say yes. A very big yes even. It sounds daunting to be sleeping in a room with 6 other strangers. For those who have never done it, it seems like a quick way to get kidnapped or anything else your family goes on about. I was going on a trip with one of my friends and he refused to stay in a dorm room because he thought it was too dangerous. Well I can say that from my experience of staying in them all over the world, I have never been in any sort of danger.

I’m not in danger, I am the danger

Ask yourself this, is it dangerous to be on a sleeper train? Is it dangerous to be a passenger on a plane? Is it dangerous to use the library? I would say that staying in a hostel is no different to these places. Remember that fear mongering of travel is often over exaggerated and the world is more friendly than you think. The fear mongering of travel is often done by people who don’t go further than their local pub and parrot whatever the news says.

4. Is There a Risk of Theft in Hostels?

Another concern people have is that it’s easy for thieves to steal your stuff when you’re staying in a dorm room. Once again, not once have I ever had anything stolen while staying in hostels. I have even left my MacBook visibly on my bed before in places like Bogotá and Guatemala. Getting robbed in a hostel isn’t as common as you might think. Remember that hostels are just places full of backpackers like me or you and not criminals.

Of course, I recommend using common sense and not making yourself a target for thieves. If you’re concerned about getting robbed, I recommend buying padlocks for your backpack. Most hostels also have lockers for every guest and if you have anything super valuable, you can also ask the staff to look after it.

5. Location isn’t Everything

One of the things you have to think about when booking a hostel is the location with the city you want to visit. A misconception is that it’s essential to stay as close to the city centre as possible. I would say it might even be better to stay somewhere a little bit outside of the centre as the prices will be significantly lower.

Moreover, if you’re going to a big city, I recommend doing a little research into which neighbourhoods are cool to stay in. For example, when I lived in Mexico City, I thought the neighbourhood of La Condesa was much more authentic and awesome than the historical centre where most of the hostels are.

6. You don’t Always Have to Share a Room

If you’re feeling nervous about sharing a room, you don’t have to completely disregard the hostel experience. There are times when you get to your room and it turns out that there isn’t anyone else staying there. That means you can sometimes get a whole room to yourself and not have to pay an arm and a leg for it.

Moreover, a lot of hostels also have private rooms, although you have to pay a little bit more for them. However, I would say there’s no better feeling than arriving at your hostel after a long day of travel. Then you realise you’re the only person in your room and you can watch Netflix in peace.

7. Check the Reviews Before you go Backpacking

This one is incredibly important as a bad hostel experience can seriously knock your trip. It’s really important to take a quick look at the reviews on Google or the website you booked through. It will give you an impression of where you’re going to stay is like and what to watch out for. If in doubt, I would always recommend trying to find another hostel.

There was a time when I was backpacking in China and stayed in a miserable excuse for a hostel. I felt like I was the only one staying there who was a tourist and when I arrived, I wasn’t sure where the place actually was. It was located inside of a high rise apartment and I was so confused when I arrived there. The beds looked like something I made in first year wood work from school. It was in general a dirty and unwelcoming place. Had I look at some reviews, I would have found somewhere better.

8. It’s a Great Place to Meet Fellow Travellers When Backpacking

A huge concern of prospective solo travellers is that they’ll get lonely when they visit somewhere they’ve always wanted to. However, hostels are full of both solo travellers and groups of friends who might have a lot in common with you. In reality, you get to know more people when you are travelling solo if you do it right. When I was backpacking in Bucharest, I ended up meeting a few Italians and spent my evenings playing FIFA with them. One of them even came to Edinburgh last summer and I took him to a Hearts game.

9. You Won’t get on With Everyone

The travel crowd is certainly a one of oddballs. Hostels can sometimes be places that attract weirdos and you can get into conversations with people who seem a bit crazy. It’s a fact of life that you won’t become instant friends with everyone you meet. You might even meet people who say that absolutely disgust you or are just plain obnoxious.

At the same hostel I played FIFA with those Italian guys, I also met a complete weirdo who went into a homophobic rant not even 5 minutes of knowing him. When I firmly told him what he said was absolute drivel, I didn’t see him ever again. When my new Italian friends left for Sofia, I also had the unfortunate experience of meeting someone who openly told me he was a pickup artist. I was glad that I would also be leaving for Sofia.

10. Feel Scared About Staying a Hostel? Consider this:

I understand the fear of staying in hostels, when I had not stayed in too many hostels I also felt quite intimidated by them. However, after staying in quite a few of them, I started to enjoy it. Moreover, if you have a fear of staying in hostels, the I overcame that fear was actually simple. Ask yourself this, does your desire to travel eclipse your desire to occasionally have your own space?

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