Having been a world traveller for the past 10 years, I have to tell you… Whether you are travelling solo, travelling as a couple, travelling in a group, or anything in between, you need to experience staying in a hostel.
Experiencing hostel life is far and away one of the best ways to travel the world on a budget. There’s not even a competition and here’s exactly why.
Hostels enable you to have the two most important things a traveller could ever want:
- Staying in a hostel allows you to save a ton of money.
- Staying in hostels also allows you to meet other awesome, like-minded travellers.
These two huge reasons (combined with tons of other smaller reasons) are why staying in a hostel is a mandatory experience for any and every type of traveller. And this guide to hostels will show you exactly why.
In this epic guide to the hostel life – the knockout 101 on all things backpacker accommodation – I’m going to explain to you all of the reasons why staying and living in hostels is a must-do for all types of travellers. By the end of this article, you’ll know exactly what a hostel is, why they are so damn awesome, and how to set off hostelling around the world on your own adventures!
Then to top it off, I’ll give you some of my most important hacks and tips for living the hostel life in 2020!
What is a Hostel?
Or, in other words, what does hostel mean?
A hostel is a business that provides inexpensive accommodation. Simple as that. Hostels are typically able to provide lower prices because of one thing – dorms!
Dorms are exactly what they sound like. Think college-life but with bigger backpacks. By putting 16 people in a room, hostels are able to significantly lower their prices; they’re a key tool in the arsenal of tricks for budget travellers to save money. Easy as that!
But here’s the deal – all hostels are different. Hostels range dramatically in size, quality, and overall vibe. No two hostels are the same, and each hostel has its own niche of travellers they are marketing to.
This means that the ‘hostel life’ greatly varies depending on what kind of hostels you stay at!
Different Types of Hostels
Obviously, this is a huge topic and one that I could devote a completely different article to. Different types of hostels all carry unique vibes and functions appealing to different styles of travellers. But this is a hostel guide so allow me to cover a few of the big ones.
I’ve also thrown in a few choice picks of my favourite hostels scattered around the globe. They’re just sample tastings of the epic roundup that you’ll find in our best hostels in the world post!
Ok, so you know I had to mention ‘party hostels’. These bad boys attract and market to a party crowd. Party people float in, get extremely loose, and then float out again (when their tepid head allows).
Expect these hostels to be big, loud, and loaded with tons of alcohol-related activities. It’s basically a huge party in another country – but loaded with backpackers!
Most Off-the-Hook Party Hostels in Europe: Flying Pig Chain, Amsterdam
While Europe is stacked with crazy party hostels, the Flying Pig chain in Amsterdam frequents the top of our lists pretty regularly. There’s an Uptown, Downtown, and By-the-Beach offering all well and truly doing the Amsterdam thing!
However, I’m always going to recommend the Flying Pig Beach because you get to undo the night’s damage with brekky and a morning swim! (That said, the Uptown and Downtown hostels go off.)
That’s not the official name, but I like it. Contrasting to party hostels, chiller hostels are much more laid-back and market themselves to travellers who want a nice homey-atmosphere and a comfortable and quiet place to sleep.
These are more ‘living hostels’ geared towards long-term travellers. They’re usually nicely decorated, have very cosy vibes, and will ask everyone to turn the lights off and be quiet after a certain time. Coincidentally, they also tend to attract the smokers more than party hostels do.
We like our hostels chill.
A Bucket List Hostel in Peru: Wolf Totem Guesthouse
I stumbled on this gem while researching hostels in South America and it’s become a something of a dream stay should I ever end up back in Peru.
It’s a den built for aspiring digital nomads and long-term travellers who are feeling the burn of always bouncing between different hostels and destinations. Between exquisitely modern BoHo stylings, luxury trimmings (the sauna is a strong favourite, and it’s divine placement in the Peruvian countryside, it’s a place to slow down for however long feels right.
Some hostels have a more retreat-y feel. These types of hostels are usually built out in nature and allow you to unplug for a bit and be one with Mother Earth. These are very common in parts of the world with warmer climates (like Southeast Asia and Central America).
A Bombshell Hostel in Vietnam: Green Mountain Homestay
Mountains are the best, and Vietnam’s mountains are special. Lucious towering titans of all shades of green.
Not only is Green Mountain Homestay in a killer spot perched amongst Vietnam’s highlands, but the amenities are on point too: brekky, beds, and the pool with a view. Prepare to sigh… a lot.
And there are tons of other kinds of hostels too. From budget to boutique, hostels come in all shapes and sizes!
Some hostels are for everyone, while some hostels are just for women. Some are intended for digital nomads and working types, while others are for party fiends and some just for surfies. Some hostels are huge chains, and others independently owned. Some hostels have bars, some pools, some have private rooms, hammocks, free walking tours, kitchens – it truly varies from property to property!
I’ve stayed in places that defy categorisation and just have a magical ‘sticky’ quality about them. Often, it’s the people that make the pad.
This is why hostels (and hostel life) are so awesome! No matter what kind of hostel vibe you are looking for, there are hundreds of hostels out there for you and your style of travel.
There’s One More Type of Hostel… Mine!
That’s right, a hostel brought to you by the Broke Backpacker himself (i.e. me)!
I’ve been travelling for a long time. Ten years or so… give or take… you stop counting after a certain point.
And at some point in that long-ass passage of time – probably on a cold, lonely night while sleeping under a bridge – I had a spark. A dream. A yearning… a yearning to build my own hostel. Introducing Tribal Bali!
It’s a dream that I’m working on now while living my entrepreneurial lifestyle down in blissful Bali. We’re now officially open, and it’s gonna blow your goddamn socks off! It’s a home for travellers everywhere, and you’re all more than invited, amigos.
I want it to be everything I dreamt of for those many years doggin’ it dirtbag-style. A refuge for digital nomads where they can get some work done but still a haven for the young-and-dumb so that after the sun goes down, the gloves can come off!
It’s a place of acceptance, love, and soft-as-marshmallows pillows. A place where veteran vagabonds and brand-spanking-new backpackers alike can meet each other. And best of all, a place where I can finally see all your lovely faces!
Mingle, share inspiration and find your tribe whilst working in the TREMENDOUSLY FUCKING HUGE co-working space and shooting a game of pool on Tribal’s electric pink billiards table. There’s a gigantic pool as well so it’s always time for a refreshing dip to break up the day’s hustle, brainstorming, work, and games…
With epic food, legendary coffee, awesome cocktails (Tribal Tonics are the best signature cocktails you’ve ever had in a hostel – I guarantee you that!) and a dedicated co-working space, this is the place where you want to be when visiting Bali.
I’ll see you there. For a beer, a joint, or just a chat, I’m fucking keen.
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Are Hostels Safe?
Let me guess – you’ve heard that hostels are dangerous? You may have heard that hostels are where young travellers get murdered by machete-wielding maniacs or sold into slavery by East European mafia syndicates.
Sorry to burst your bubble, Liam Neeson…. but the truth of hostel living is far less thrilling. The truth is that hostels are safe – extremely safe.
Hostels are easily one of the safest ways to travel. Most hostels have lockers to lock up your goods and a lot have late-night security too.
Even more so, hostels are safe because of their social nature: they tend to be good vibes only. It’s super easy to meet friends and travel buddies when staying in hostels, and due to that social nature, you are always around other people. The more people that are around, the more people will be aware of their surroundings and the less likely it is that bad things are going to happen.
Havings stayed in hundreds of hostels and having met hundreds of travellers who have stayed in hundreds of more hostels, I can confidently say that hostels are extremely safe. The spiciest pickle I’ve seen was when my 18-year-old sister got her iPod stolen at a hostel in Barcelona. But it was her fault – she left it on her dorm-bed pillow all day for God’s sake.
Ultimately, hostels are one of the safest ways to travel. If you use your wits and keep your valuables safe, not only will you have the time of your life, but you’ll be doing it in a super safe environment. Full stop.
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Staying Safe in Hostels All the Same
Right, so I just covered how staying in hostels is totally 100% safe and nothing ever goes wrong ever (except for my dumbhead sis’) but, all the same, you’re a traveller. Shit still goes wrong, and sometimes, it also hits the fan too.
So what’s the best thing you can do? Educate yourself on how to travel safely and prepare for the worst! Get your ass insured.
Have fun on your backpacking adventure, but please do get insurance. Take it from someone who has racked up tens of thousands of bucks on an insurance claim before, you need it.
Travelling without insurance is risky and just an all-round dick move to your mum. Don’t make her worry: get insured. I’ve been using World Nomads Travel Insurance for years now and they are my go-to provider.
Getting an estimate from World Nomads is simple – just click the button or image below, fill out the necessary info, and you’re on your way!
If World Nomads doesn’t seem like the provider for you, then check out our in-depth comparison of the market’s top travel insurance companies. Just make sure you get insured before setting off.
The Nitty-Gritty of Hostel Life: An FAQ
Right, now that you’ve got a gist of the hostel experience, I reckon you’ve probably got a handful more questions. Luckily, this is a full-power guide to hostel life with all the answers you’ll need.
That means I’m gonna answer your burning questions! So chill your beans, sit down what yo’ mama gave you, and listen up!
Who can stay in hostels?
Anyone can stay in hostels!
Or at least 95% of the time. Some hostels (typically, a lot of the famous hostels in Europe) do impose age restrictions (typically, 40 and under), but, typically, anyone can stay in a hostel.
But, having said that, just because anyone can stay in a hostel, doesn’t mean that hostels are populated with people of all ages.
Having travelled to hostels around the world, I’d say 90% of all people I’ve met in hostels are under the age of 35. This is because the use of hostels is very popular with Millenials and Gen Y, so the crowds are typically young travellers going solo or with friends.
This is one of the coolest parts about staying in hostels! This isn’t some sanitary hotel experience, half-filled with families and screaming kids while the other half is filled with retirees sunning by the pool talking about cribbage and conspicuously glaring at your tattoos.
People who stay at hostels are generally young, open-minded world-travellers, which is perfect because chances are that you’re also a young, open-minded world-traveller! The hostel experience allows like-minded, awesome people to easily meet, so you can then chill, frolic, and craft friendship bracelets for those life-long relationships that are definitely going to stick once you’ve both been evicted from the dorm room.
Just be sure to be a good guest & ALWAYS respect hostel etiquette.
How much are hostels?
This is a difficult number to calculate because the cost of everything varies as you travel. Some countries are cheap to travel, some are not.
A good rule of thumb is that a night in a decent hostel dorm room will cost you half as much as it would for a night in a room at a decent hotel. Some hostels can definitely be cheaper, and some can absolutely be more expensive, but it’s generally true that staying in hostels will enable you to cut your lodging costs in half.
This is easily the biggest draw for hostel living – the low cost! Accommodation is without a doubt one of the biggest financial burdens while travelling, so staying with other travellers in dorm rooms is one of the best ways to save an enormous amount of money.
And seriously – hostels can be cheap! I’ve paid less than $8 for dorm beds in Siem Reap, Chiang Mai, El Nido, and Mexico City.
This doesn’t mean you should always go for the cheapest option. Sometimes spending the extra $2-$3 means a HUGE increase in facilities, but we’ll cover that a bit further down the line with our tips for staying in hostels.
Can I stay in hostels alone?
Hells to the yes!
In fact, I believe that if you are backpacking solo, you should stay at hostels as often as possible.
Because of their nature; hostels are far and away the easiest way to meet other awesome travellers! It’s not even a competition. If you are looking to meet other people while travelling, even in the best places to travel alone, hostels should be your first, second, third, and fourth choice.
This is because of the way that hostels are designed.
- First – You’ll have your dorm room. In your dorm room will be anywhere from 3 to 30 other travellers. Picking up a conversation with your dorm-neighbour is easy as hostel pie.
- Second – You’ll have the common area. All good hostels have some sort of lounge area. Maybe it’s a cool indoor lounge-couch area (like you’ll see in European hostels) or maybe an outdoor hammock-grove with picnic tables (common in Central America) or even a kickass rooftop bar (a mainstay of Southeast Asia’s backpacking scene). Whatever the common area is, this is the easiest place in the world to talk to other travellers.
- Third – The hostel will most likely offer activities. Whether it’s a rowdy pub crawl or a free walking history tour, these are an amazing way to socialize and meet other backpackers.
I could go on and on, but you get the idea.
To recap – travelling to a hostel as a solo traveller isn’t just awesome… it’s almost mandatory. Even these days, though I’m no longer travelling without much money, I still prefer to stay in hostels when I travel alone. Majority of the travel friends I’ve made, I’ve met in hostels and I always prefer to put myself in a situation to make more travel friends.
Does staying in a hostel dorm suck?
Here’s the deal: sometimes staying in a hostel dorm room absolutely sucks.
Is it often? Hell no. Most of the time hostel dorm rooms are great! But I’m not going to sugar coat anything, and I’d be doing a disservice if I wasn’t 100% honest – hostels (like everything in life) aren’t perfect.
But you have to understand – it’s all a part of the process! If you are staying in a dorm, you are doing so to:
- Save money.
- To meet other awesome travellers.
Here’s what you are probably scared of…
The Common Fears of Hostel Life:
- Getting murdered – Sorry Eli Roth fans. While the movie ‘Hostel’ was insanely insane… it’s just not true.
- Theft – Let’s face it – theft can happen anywhere (case in point, my dumbhead sister – that one’s on you, mate). If you are smart and aware, the chances of theft in a hostel are very low. The best way to combat theft in a hostel is to keep your valuables in your bag and to keep your backpack locked up with a killer travel padlock.
- Bedbugs – Having stayed at well over 100 hostels, I’ve only ever seen bed bugs ONCE! I’ve seen more bedbugs in apartments then I have in hosels that I’ve stayed at. You have to understand, hostels are not cesspools: they rely on their reviews just like any business does.
What happened the one time I did see bedbugs in my bed? I told the front desk and they moved me to a different bedbug-free bed. I then swam in the pool, made friends, drank beers, and had the time of my life.
- Noise at night – This is by far the most annoying part about staying in hostels. Noise. If you wake up in the middle of a 15 person dorm at 3 am… there’s a good chance that you’ll hear a symphony of snores, yawns, music blaring through headphones, and a crew of drunk travellers ploughing back from the pub in the next dorm room (or just generally ploughing).
But dude… whatever! This is just part of the game and this ‘problem’ has a super easy solution – sleek and sexy travel headphones!
Yes, young padawan, there are a few essential items that you’ll need to pack for a hostel and a pair of headphones is one of them. Because between headphones and earplugs, you’ll be sleeping soundly, wondering to yourself…. ‘what noise?’
Things DO go missing sometimes…
Can I stay in a private room in a hostel?
This is one of the coolest parts of hostel living. You can still get all the socializing perks of staying in a hostel but also get some privacy on top of it.
I’ve stayed in hostel private rooms many times though usually when I am either travelling as a couple or sick as shit. Private rooms are great for either situation or even for when you just need to be away, get some alone time, and Netflix and chill.
And to top it all off? Hostel costs for private rooms are typically the same price as a low budget hotel – if not, then they’re usually a little bit cheaper – so you can still save money and get some social time in while getting some much-needed privacy.
Can I eat in hostels?
Another amazing aspect of hostel living is that most of them have kitchens!
Hostel-kitchens are a godsend for the budget traveller, especially in expensive backpacking regions like Western Europe, East Asia, North America, or Australasia. A hostel kitchen will enable you to stock up on local produce and bulk-cook a week’s worth of food. Feeding yourself this way will save you an astronomical amount of money which wouldn’t otherwise be possible.
Having said that, be sure to eat in the designated areas (kitchen or common areas) and not in the places you blatantly shouldn’t be (your dorm bed at 3 A.M.). Hostel life is all about common courtesy!
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Isn’t hostel life just a big drinking and hookup fest?
I’m going to be real here – some hostels are absolutely like that. They are typically referred to as party hostels (previously outlined), and if you are looking for some debauchery… look no further. Booze, drugs, and sex in the hostel (and often the dorm) is the expectation at these houses of hedonism.
But the good thing about party hostels is that they are clearly labelled as party hostels. This means that when you feel like getting bent with a bunch of other awesome travellers, you can!
I highly recommend staying a few nights at a party hostel – it’s so much fun. Liquid confidence goes a long way and some of the best travel-friends I’ve made have been at party-hostel pub crawls.
And the good thing is that if you don’t want to party-hard, just make sure it’s not a party hostel! If you are super picky about your environment, read the hostel’s online reviews to get an overall vibe. The best sites for booking hostels will give you all the direction you’ll need.
Can you live in a hostel?
That depends on the hostel. Some hostels have a maximum amount of time you can stay. Some have a minimum amount of time you can stay. It all varies from hostel to hostel.
Something that is very common is that travellers will work at a hostel, and in return, they’ll be given a free bed. This is ubiquitous in hostels around the world and is a great way to save some money. Often these gigs can lead to long-term paying work and make for pretty fantastic travel jobs.
If you are staying somewhere long term though – it might make more financial sense to stay in an apartment.
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Tips and Tricks for Hostel Stays
As any seasoned hostel traveller knows, when it comes to booking a great hostel, there are a few things you should keep an eye out for…
How to Book a Hostel (Excellently): Free Stuff!
Free stuff rocks and if you are smart about your hostel bookings, you can get some free things that will really add up over the course of your travels. Not all hostels offer freebies but if you keep an eye out for a few of these things, your savings account will thank you.
- Breakfast – I’d say about 60% of hostels provide free breakfast and depending on where you are travelling, this could by far the most important freebie on the list. Free breakfast gives you the most bang for your buck in expensive countries where it can save you $10+ per day!
Pro Tip – Read the reviews on Hostelworld – one of the best hostel booking sites – to see what the hostel serves for breakfast. Sometimes ‘free breakfast’ means a gourmet meal… other times ‘free breakfast’ means a piece of toast.
- Beverages – Free coffee and tea aren’t game-changers but it’s always nice to have. I’d say about 75% of hostels provide free hot beverages.
- Towels – Free towels are always an awesome perk. It is possible to travel around the world with no towel and only use hostel towels… but I wouldn’t recommend it. And if you are travelling with your own towel (hopefully a quick-dry microfibre travel towel) you can use the free hostel towel and not have to worry about drying your own towel.
- Lockers – Free lockers are becoming more and more of a thing – and thank god! While hostels are generally safe, it’s nice to have the peace of mind that a locker provides.
Pro tip – While I’d say that 75%+ of hostels provide free lockers, very few of them provide a free LOCK. Do yourself a favour and get a padlock.
Tips for Staying in a Hostel and Booking a Hostel
Aside from the freebies, here are some other super important things to keep in mind when booking a hostel.
- Price – For some travellers, the price of the hostel is the ONLY factor that matters. If so, no matter the booking service you use (I prefer Hostelworld) you can easily filter hostels by lowest price. A fair warning though – you usually get what you pay for so be sure to keep an eye out for the hostel’s reviews
- Reviews – Reading the hostel reviews is very important, especially with the cheaper hostels. Personally, I never book at a hostel with a crap rating. I’ve done it in the past and have always ended up regretting it. Either spend the extra few bucks to upgrade to a nicer hostel or try and find a different cheap hostel with decent ratings.
- Facilities – What do you like? Pools, bars, gyms, instruments, mountain views and joints: whatever you are into, you can definitely find a hostel that has it.
- Location – Often, cheaper hostels can be wayyyy on the outskirts of the action (hence the cheaper price). While the cheaper hostel price is nice, the savings could be negated by travel costs to and from town. Do yourself a favour and think about what you want to do, then you can figure out where you want to be.
- Type of property – Very important! Many hostel booking sites are not exclusive to hostels. This means that hotels, bed and breakfasts, and other types of accommodation can advertise their property. Make sure to double-check that the property is a hostel usually marked by the presence of a dorm.
- Bedside Outlet – These things are so goddamn kickass Charging all your electronics while you sleep from the comfort of your own dorm-bed is a definite win!
Best Hostels from Around the World
There are literally thousands of hostels spread around the world. Here are some of the countries that I think have the best hostel scenes on the planet.
Final Thoughts on Hostel Life
There you have it! This is everything you need to know about hostel life and about staying in hostels.
With the help of this guide, you’ll be equipped with everything you need to know to book an awesome hostel, make great friends, and travel around the world all the while saving on your dollaridoos!
Hostels are amazing, but it’s important to find the right one for your vibe. Book the wrong hostel and there’s a good chance that you’ll end up with the wrong people doing the wrong thing and stuck right in a backpacker trap.
But at the right hostel? Well, the right hostel is a home. And everybody needs a home – wayward travellers more than anyone.
Is there anything about hostel life that I missed? Let me know in the comments below. Otherwise, get out there, go neck some beers with some other dope travellers, and bang someone in the shared kitchen*!
*That was a joke. Please, for the love of God, do not bang someone in the shared kitchen.
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