If you've never stayed in a hostel before, and all you are used to are hotels, then flying blind into a hostel stay can be a bit of a daunting prospect. It can be tough when you do not have a frame of reference.
The top 10 frequently asked questions about hostels can help illuminate what a hostel experience is like and how the rooming situation works. Hostels are great for travelers who want to keep to a tight budget and need a safe place to lay their head.
In general, they are not something you need to worry about. It can even make your travel experience more fun if you find fellow guests with similar interests.
What Is a Hostel?
A hostel is a cheap way to lodge safely with like-minded travelers around the world. Hostels are most well-known for having dormitory-style rooms, often with bunks, along with security, social events, shared bathrooms, a common area, and a kitchen. If you have some extra cash, you can splurge a little more money on a private room if you want to, and if the hostel has them.
Hostels are community-oriented lodgings—think college dorm. And, you will share everything but your bunk and a locker. It feels like summer camp without the counselors. Hostels can be found in practically every country in the world.
Prices of hostels vary around the world. In Western Europe or Australia in the middle of the high season, you could be looking at as much as $50 for a bed in a dorm and $80 for a decent private room. In affordable Southeast Asia, though, you can find a dorm bed for as little as 50 cents a night and $3 for a private room. In the middle of the spectrum, you'll find Eastern Europe and South America, where you can pay $10 for a dorm and $30 for a private room.
On average, you can expect to spend around $10 to $30 a night for a dorm room, and roughly double that if you want a private room.
Some hostels have age limits, but not many of them strictly enforce it. If a hostel has an age limit of 30 or 40, and you look young for your age, there should not be any problem with getting in.
Age limits often come with party hostels that have a bar inside—they'll limit people who are under 16 (or sometimes 18) from staying there. Some hostels that want to keep a younger vibe with similarly aged guests will restrict to under 30 or 40, but these are becoming rarer.
How do you know if a place has an age limit? It will say so either on the hostel's website or on a booking engine, like HostelBookers.
Do I Have to Share a Room With the Opposite Sex?
You do not have to share a room with the opposite sex if you do not want to.
Quite a lot of hostels have single-sex dorms for those of you who do not want to share a dorm room with the opposite sex. So if that's a priority for you, you should not have a problem finding a place to stay. It is worth mentioning that mixed dorms are more common, though. If you cannot find a same-sex dorm and do not want to stay in a mixed room, you will need to get a private room instead.
Although a co-ed dorm may sound a bit intimidating for solo women on the road, mixed dorms are safe. Backpackers understand how to respect one another's space and privacy. Especially if you are in a bunk with seven other people sleeping in your room, the sheer numbers help prevent anything untoward from happening.
In hostels, you should expect to share bathrooms, especially if you're going to be staying in a dorm. Private rooms will occasionally come with an en-suite bathroom, but these are still relatively rare.
Hostel bathrooms usually start the day clean, so if you're going to shower once a day, do so as soon as you wake up. You're going to be sharing these bathrooms with dozens of travelers, and not all of them will be as clean and respectful as you are. By the end of the day, you can end up with all types of stains and clutter in the bathroom.
Some important hostel bathroom tips include bringing flip-flops for the shower to ensure you don't get foot fungus, or so you do not end up standing in anything gross.
Is Breakfast Included?
Breakfast is often included in many hostels, but this often is not the bargain it sounds like. Be prepared for a continental breakfast in most parts of the world like buttered toast, an overcooked fried egg, and some coffee. It's rare to find a hostel breakfast that is well-prepared and fills you up. Read the reviews of the hostel before you book it if you're relying on provided food as a money-saver.
If, however, you luck out and find yourself with a fantastic breakfast, fill up with as much food as possible, and consider grabbing a bread roll to go for lunch. You can save a ton of money on food if you can score your breakfast and lunch for free.
If breakfast is not included, your hostel will likely have a large kitchen, food storage area, and dining room for you to prepare your own meals.
Bedbugs are far less common in hostels than you would think.
You might find some sketchy places with insects scuttling in corners. But, bedbugs and hostels do not mix. You are more likely to encounter bedbugs in posh hotels and budget motels.
Hostels work hard to keep the critters out; some won't allow sleeping bags or sleep sacks because they can harbor unwanted guests that stay behind. All it takes is for one bad review of a place with the mention of bedbugs for a hostel to lose its reputation and future guests.
Hostels take bedbugs very seriously. If a hostel is found to have bed bugs, they will likely have to replace all of their beds to fully get rid of the infestation. You can be sure that the staff will be doing all they can to prevent bedbugs from impacting their income.
You will find that many budget European and Latin American hostels, or hostels housed in older buildings with one entrance, close and lock the front door after a particular hour.
You may be able to get in with your room key if the front door is locked. But you will need to take special note whether the hostel curfew is the witching hour by which you must be in or be locked out for the night. You want to avoid being stuck out on the street.
Hostel curfews do exist in part to keep the place quiet and safer, but they can be a pain if you are someone who likes to explore the local nightlife. If you are not much of a party person and prefer waking early to see the sights, then you might even want to search out hostels with a curfew.
Hostels with a curfew are becoming rarer, however. When booking your hostel, a curfew is one thing you should check before making your reservation.
What About Hostel Lockouts?
Some places practice a custom of locking guests out in the middle of the day, like from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. ostensibly to clean. This may mean that you cannot get into your room during those hours, or it may mean that you cannot get into the building at all.
Avoid hostels with lockout policies. You may not want to be forced to leave your room if you're tired, relaxing, or feeling a little under the weather.
Where Are the Best Hostels?
The best hostels depend in part on your fellow guests. You will see them a lot. It is usually better to choose your accommodation based on amenities and location than party priority.
Pick a part of the city, find out whether the hostel meets your needs and won't lock you out, and see if you can make your own fun.
Most important of all: read the reviews. When searching for a hostel online, look for places with an average rating of more than 90 percent, and you are practically guaranteed a great time.