First time in a hostel? Here is your survival guide

I was 27 years old when I spent my first night in a hostel. I felt like the winner of the Survivors even though it was a private room in a clean, quiet YHA hostel in Merimbula, Australia. Over the years I have had my share of hostel living. I’ve spent nights outside on a campsite with wild dingos wandering around, I have shared 25-person dorm rooms, I have sneaked in hostels to sleep there for free and I have stayed in super nice flashpacker places with free wine and cheese. Now I think I can call myself a hostel dweller.  Here are some tips that might be useful to those who are new to hostel life.

Choose your hostel well

I’m happy to pay a couple of extra euros for a slightly nicer hostel that might have some other solo female travellers in their thirties. I totally understand if you want to go to a massive party hostel to be social but this is not my case. When travelling alone, the most important things for me are cleanness, security and easy access from the train station or city centre. Read my other tips here.

Pack the essentials

If you are in a hostel for the first time, it might difficult to know what you could need. I have found the following items useful:

  • A hammam towel that dries fast (towels are not often included in hostels)
  • Plastic flipflops to wear while showering
  • Own lock
  • Earplugs and an eyemask
  • Small plastic bags to use for your shower items, underwear etc
  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Comfortable clothes that are not too embarrassing to wear in common spaces. I have dark black loose pants and some basic t-shirt.
  • Coins to pay your coffee or laundry


Here are a couple of pro tips that can make your stay even better.

  • Pay extra for a nicer room (and a nicer hostel). I prefer the dorm rooms with 3–6 beds. Women can book female dorms, which can be a good option.
  • While making your reservation, you can often send a note to the hostel and ask for a bunk bed. I feel it is a much more comfortable option.
  • Cleaners are cleaning the hostel bathrooms at least once a day. Often they do this after they have tidied the rooms which means between 2 and 4 p.m. So the bathrooms are at their cleanest after that time.
  • Check the hostel’s free food shelf. You often find oats, eggs, bread, fruits and berries.
  • Hostels often have free coffee and tea for their guests. If not, I buy some instant coffee and some simple breakfast ingredients. If I cook food at hostels, I prefer something very easy and simple, like tuna pasta.
  • Some hostels have zero alcohol policy (then they might have their own bar). Check this out if you want to have your own bottle.

The hostel etiquette

An old photo from my first hostel night (Warrandah Lodge, Australia)

Before I had no idea how to behave in a hostel. This I have either learned from the hard way or by following others.

  • Keep your room key card with you at all times. Close the door every time you leave the room. Don’t keep the key card next to your phone.
  • I think it’s polite to greet and introduce yourself to the other people in the dorm. Usually, I have at least a quick small talk about our nationalities and travel plans.
  • Don’t scatter your things but keep then nice and tidy (in your bag or in a locker)
  • Ask others if you want to open the window, turn on or off the lights or ac. Don’t turn on the lights in the middle of the night.
  • Don’t eat anything in the room except candy or similar.
  • Clean after yourself when you have cooked and eaten. Wash the pots and pans right after you have finished cooking, not after you have eaten.
  • Take off your laundry right after the programme is finished.
  • Don’t hang your laundry to dry on someone else’s bed
  • Please don’t smoke or have sex in the dorm room (yes, I have seen both)
  • Put your food items in a bag and label it. Write your name, room number and check-out date on the tag. And yes, don’t help yourself with other people’s food.

Hostels can at their best be something between staying at a hotel and staying at someone’s home. You can have a nice amount of privacy and still be social if you feel like. I would encourage you to test hostels at least when you are travelling alone. The truth can be better than your expectations, and in the best case, you might make new friends.


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