If you've never stayed in a hostel before, it can be a bit of a daunting prospect. I remember before I left to travel, one of my greatest fears was staying in a hostel for the first time. I had no idea what a hostel would be like, what I was supposed to do when I arrived at one, whether I would make friends, or whether I would even like it.
Fortunately, I needn't have worried. Hostels are great for travelers who want to keep to a tight budget and they're really not something you need to worry about. Read our FAQ below to find out everything you could possibly need to know about hostels:
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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. Got some extra cash? You can splash out a little more money on a private room if you need to.
Hostels are very community-oriented lodgings, and you'll share everything but your bunk and a locker -- in fact, it's a little like summer camp without the counselors. Hostels can be found in practically every country in the world. I've even stayed in hostels in places such as Tahiti, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, and Mauritius.
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Prices of hostels vary around the world.
In Western Europe or Australia in the middle of 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.
So, the short answer is that it varies. Expect to spend around $10-30 a night on a dorm on average, and roughly double that if you plan on going for private rooms.
Read more: How Much Does it Cost to Stay in a Hostel?
03 of 10
Some hostels do, but not many of them strictly enforce it. If a hostel has an age limit of 30 and you look young for your age, there shouldn't be any problem with getting in. My boyfriend and I traveled through Europe when he was 36 and he had no problem staying in places with an age 30 limit. Nobody questioned him when he checked-in, and nobody even commented on the fact that he looked older.
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 will restrict guests to being under 30, but these are becoming rarer.
How do you know if a place has an age limit? It'll say so either on the hostel's website, or on a booking engine, like HostelBookers.
Read more: Why Do Hostels Have Age Limits?
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You don't have to if you don't want to.
Quite a lot of hostels these days have single sex dorms for those of you who don't want to share a dorm room with the opposite sex. So if that's a priority for you, you shouldn't have a problem finding a place to stay. It's worth mentioning that mixed dorms are more common, though. If you can't find a same sex dorm and don't want to stay in a mixed room, you'll be looking at a private room instead.
I have to say, though, that although they sound a bit intimidating for solo women on the road, I've found mixed dorms to be a perfectly safe environment. I've spent the past six years sleeping in over a hundred dorms and never had an issue. You'll soon find that backpackers understand how to respect one another's space and privacy, and having seven other people sleeping in your room is a surefire way to prevent anything untoward from happening.
If you're not sure, give it a go and see how it works... out!Continue to 5 of 10 below.
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In hostels, you should expect to share bathrooms, especially if you're going to be staying in a dorm. Private rooms will occasionally land you with an en-suite bathroom, but these are still fairly rare.
Hostel bathrooms usually start the day clean, so if you're going to shower once a day, I'd suggest doing 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 manner of stains and clutter in the bathroom.
One other thing I can practically guarantee is that the shower temperature is usually unpredictable. If you're showering at a popular time of day (early morning or later afternoon) and several people at the hostel are also in the bathroom, you may find yourself having a cold shower.
Do bring flip flops for the shower to ensure you don't pick up anything nasty, or stand in anything gross.
Read more: Your Survival... Guide to Hostel Bathrooms
06 of 10
Breakfast is often included in many hostels, but this often isn't the bargain it sounds like.
Be prepared for a continental breakfast in most parts of the world -- buttered toast, an overcooked fried egg, and some coffee. It's rare to find a hostel breakfast that is actually well-prepared and fills you up, so read the reviews of the hostel before you book it if you're relying on it 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 sneaking out a bread roll to have as lunch. You'll save a ton of money on food if you can score your breakfast and lunch for free.
If breakfast isn't included, your hostel will likely have a large kitchen, food storage area, and dining room for your to prepare your own meals.
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Bed bugs are far, far less common in hostels than you'd think.
I have never shared a sheet with a bedbug, myself, and I've been in some sketchy places where scuttling in corners by more-than-four-legged things was a given. Posh places and budget motels -- bedbugs yes. Hostels -- not so much.
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. One bad review of a place mentioning it has bedbugs is all it takes for a hostel to lose its reputation and future guests, so they take it very seriously.
On top of that, if a hostel is found to have bed bugs, they'll likely have to replace all of their beds in order to fully get rid of the infestation. The staff will be doing all they can to prevent them from making your dorm their home.
08 of 10
You'll 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 certain hour.
You may be able to get in with your room key if the front door is locked; note whether the curfew is the witching hour by which you must be in or be locked out for the night. Pay attention, as you could find yourself out on the streets and unable to get in.
Hostel curfews do exist in part to keep the place quiet and to stop doors banging throughout the night, but they can be a pain if you're someone who likes to explore the local nightlife.
This isn't something to worry about too much though -- after staying in well over 100 hostels, I've only come up against a curfew a couple of times, and it hasn't affected my stay too much.
Read more: Hostel Curfews ExplainedContinue to 9 of 10 below.
09 of 10
Some places practice a hospitality-challenged custom of locking guests out in the middle of the day, like from 10:00-2:00, ostensibly to clean. This may mean that you can't get into your room during those hours, or it may mean that you can't get into the building at all.
I avoid hostels with lock out policies if at all possible, as I don't like being forced to leave my room when I may not want to or could be unwell.
Read more: Hostel Lockouts Explained
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Where Are the Best Hostels?
That would be the $64,000 question. Whether you'll have fun depends in part on your fellow guests, of whom you'll see a lot. It's 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! I made the mistake when I first started traveling of staying in the cheapest hostels I could find, not bothering to even read the reviews. Don't make my mistake! When searching for a hostel online, look for places with an average rating of over 90% and you're practically guaranteed a great time!
This article has been edited by Lauren Juliff.