9 Tips for Staying in Backpacker Hostels

The days when travel was only possible for the rich are long gone and it’s possible to travel the world on shoestring budget, in some of the cheapest places to travel, traveling can only cost $20 per day.

After flights, accommodation is the biggest cost when travelling so chances are that if you are planning long term budget travel and backpacking then you will be getting well acquainted with backpacker hostels.

Why Stay in a Backpacker Hostel?

airlie beach hostel
Not a resort – this is a hostel! In Airlie Beach, Australia

Backpacker hostels nowadays are a far cry from the dingy, dangerous backpacker hovels you might imagine! I’ve lost count of how many backpacker hostels I’ve stayed in and I’ve never had bedbugs, felt unsafe or had or any other problems.

Hostels come in all shapes and sizes, from modern, funky and purpose built to quirky or historical buildings with heaps of character and there are even hostel awards – find the  best hostels of 2014. Actually, there are many more reasons to choose to stay in a hostel than just being a cheap place to crash. See Why Staying in a Hostel is Awesome.

In some of the cheapest places to travel, like in India, staying in budget hotels and guest houses is still within the reach of a budget traveller, especially when you split the cost between 2 people.

Cute huts in Hampi, India for only $8 a night.
Cute huts in Hampi, India for only $8 a night.

But in more expensive countries, like in Australia and Europe, it’s simply not affordable to stay in hotels but luckily a dorm bed in a hostel is so much cheaper, making it possible to travel anywhere on a budget.

Hostel life can be really fun and friendly, although, staying in shared dorms can be tiring and getting a decent nights sleep here requires a little preparation.

So here are my 9 Tips to surviving and making the most out of hostel life

1. Pick your Hostel Wisely

young people in a youth hostel dormitory
Pick the right hostel for you whether you want a quiet nights sleep or want to party all night

Hostels come in all shapes and sizes so depending on what you want, there is a hostel to suit you. If you are a solo traveler and want to met people go for a more sociable hostel with a bar or common room or find one that puts on events and activities. If you’re looking to party there are hostels for that or if your more into hiking, yoga or relaxing there are hostels for this too.

Youth Hostels are no longer just for young people either and many cater for families or older groups.  If all you want is a quiet nights sleep then avoid the party hostels with the raucous bars. For example, in Australia the YHA hostels are often clean and quiet while the Nomads ones are more party central. Both are good, it just depends on what you are looking for.

Hostels often have loads of facilities and freebies, so check if the hostel has free wifi, free breakfast, free walking tour, luggage storage or airport pickup – whatever is important to you. You can search, book and check out traveler reviews online at Hostelworld. 

2. Be Sociable

hostel beach party
Beach party in Australia with new friends from the hostel

You can say goodbye to your privacy when your staying in a hostel but at least you will not be lonely. Hostels are a great way to make new friends, get recommendations and learn from other travelers. Chances are, you will find some one with the same interests as you, or someone who is planning on heading the same way to travel onwards with.  You’ll be amazed at how quickly you can form a bond and make new friends at hostels.

Even if you feel lonely or homesick don’t be the person who lies in your dorm bed moping all day. Summon up the courage to get out there and talk to people. I guarantee you’ll feel better and forget the homesickness after you make some awesome new friends, most people have been in the same situation and will understand how you feel. Don’t suffer in silence.

4. Pack accordingly

Flashpacking light!

Hostels don’t always provide towels, bed sheets and toiletries so you need to bring your own. A quick drying travel towel is essential if you don’t want a heavy, wet towel weighing down your backpack. A light weight sleeping sheet or sleeping bag is also useful if the hostel does not provide sheets, if the sheets are dirty or scratchy or if the air con is turned up too high. A sarong can also work as a light weight towel, a sheet and also a cover up for temples or the beach. If you are on the bottom bunk you can hang a sarong from the bed above to give yourself a little more privacy.

Hostel dorms now are usually modern, clean and funky
Hostel dorms now are usually modern, clean and funky

Hostel Survival Packing List

Ear plugs
Eye mask
Travel towel
Mini toiletries
Small padlock
Sleeping sheet
Reading light
Flip flops for showers

Don’t pack too much though! This is the number 1 mistake made by first time travelers, just remember you have to carry it all around when you are panic packing everything you can ever think of the night before you leave home – they do have shops in the rest of the world and often they are cheaper than in your home country.

5.  Be prepared to be disturbed

woman sleeping wearing eye mask
An eye mask and ear plugs are essential to getting a decent nights sleep in a hostel dormitory

By far the most annoying thing about staying in hostels is being disturbed when you are just trying to get some sleep. When staying in a dorm with 4 to 20 other people there are often people coming and going all night making noise and turning the lights on. Getting the dorm room with the least number of beds as possible means less people and less possibilities for noise. People come in from late flights or drunken nights out, snore, talk, wake up in the early morning and rustle plastic bags as they are packing or even have sex in the dorm room! So ear plugs and an eye mask are essential items to ensure a decent nights sleep in a dorm room.

6. Think about security

people hanging out in the hostel
It’s fun staying with new friends but don’t take the risk of leaving your valuables lying around

If your traveling with your smartphone, laptop, ipod and DSLR camera ( and let’s face it who isn’t these days) then make sure you don’t just leave them lying around. Check if the hostel has lockers (most decent hostels will have) or if they have a safe behind reception. Remember to bring a small combination padlock to lock up the locker as not all hostels provide one and always split your cash and cards between two locations (one on you and one in the locker) so that if one stash gets stolen you have another set to fall back on. I’ve never felt unsafe or had a problem with mixed dorms but if your a female and feel uncomfortable sharing with men there are often female only dorms available.

7. Don’t expect to be master chef

stressed cook
Hostel kitchens can be stressful places to cook up complicated dishes

A great way to save money is to buy food from the supermarket and cook up your own meals in the hostel kitchen. But don’t try to do anything too complicated or buy expensive ingredients though as hostel kitchens are often dirty, crowded and ill equipped. Expect to have to have to wait for your turn on the hob, to have to wash up a pot every time you want to use one and to have your food stolen. Cooking in hostel kitchens is not the most pleasant experience. Keep it cheap and simple. Try cooking pasta, tinned food or one pot meals – its not the time to show off your cookery skills.

8. Make use of local knowledge

friends in thailand
Making local friends in Thailand

The hostel staff and other travelers are often a fountain of local knowledge and can give you tips and advice and suggest the best things to do, free walking tours and pub crawls, places to visit, give restaurant and bar recommendations, bus and train times etc etc. Ask for recommendations from other travelers too and be prepared to abandon your plans as you met some amazing people who suggest something that you hadn’t considered before.

9. Splash out on a private room sometimes

beach hut
Peace and quite in your own private room is priceless when you’re exhausted from your travels.

Hostel life and backpacking is awesome but it can be tiring. Navigating a foreign country and rushing around trying to fit everything in can be exhausting after a while, especially after a few sleepless nights. Everything often feels worse if you are tired so splashing out on a private room and getting a good nights sleep makes a big difference, plus you can still join in all the fun and use all the facilities of the hostel but have the comfort of a dark, quiet private room all to yourself for when you really need to get some sleep.

Are you a hostel fan? Do you have any more tips for staying in hostels?

By the way, this is an affiliate link, by booking here at no extra cost to yourself I earn a small commission to keep this site running 😉

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Aruna January 6, 2015 at 6:31 pm

Hi Anna
Have been reading all the articles in your website… Amazing things you did on travel.
Always wanted to be like the way you are doing , but could not as family , restrictions in India , will not allow . But what ever little i could I try to explore the place thoroughly.

Thanks so much ,I imagine a lot while reading through….. If you plan to travel to India – Hyderabad or anywhere in India , let me know. I can accompany you based on my availability.. Hyderabad is the place I stay .

I did travel to Singapore, Melbourne , Sydney , Zurich, London , Philipines, Jakarta, Hongkong ,Chicago, Atlanta , Italy – rome, venice , pisa , turin. All these were official trips and I squeezed time to see and explore / know few places somehow.


Anna Phipps April 19, 2015 at 9:47 pm

Thank you Aruna. Sorry you cannot travel as much as you want although it already looks like you have visited many beautiful places!

Priyam Patel July 28, 2015 at 6:45 am

Thank you so much for sharing this valuable information here. There are so many thinks that you need to be aware of when you live in hostels. Hostel gives opportunity to get out of our comfort zone and learn the life along the way.

Angela Larkin November 28, 2017 at 5:43 pm

Hi Anna,
Great article and tips for staying in hostels! I also suggest showering and cooking outside of “rush hours” as it will make your experience so much more positive. I would also recommend saying hi to everyone you see in the hostel (or at least smiling) as it can open the door for meeting people much easier.
Thanks again for the article.

Anna January 9, 2018 at 6:31 pm

Hi Angela

Thanks for the comment – you make a really good point about cooking outside of ‘rush hours’ and yes hostels are so great for meeting people.

Happy Travels 🙂


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