Hostel bed

Why Hostels Give You The Best Travel Experiences

Hostels got a bad rap when they decided to make them the theme of a horror movie. However, I’m here to tell you don’t sleep on these travel gems. I discovered hostelling while in college and have been a hostel lover ever since. I’ve stayed in hostels all around the world and the only bad ones are really those in the US with the exception of those in the Hostelling International family.

Beautiful street art outside Selina Portugal Hostel
Working remotely at Selina Portugal Hostel

Hostels are excellent options for solo travelers, not only do you save a ton of money, but you get to meet lots of other travelers who you can share experiences with. I’ve made many fast friends traveling because of hostelling. In Europe, you can often find hostels as low as €18 a night. If you’re traveling and living abroad for an extended period, these are the types of rates you want.

Beer and Macrons at Safestay Hostel in Portugal
Enjoying beer and macrons at Safestay Hostel

Factors to consider when choosing a hostel

My favorite hostels are always those in the middle of the city which makes it easy to walk to all the action. I also look for hostels that offer free breakfast and conveniences like a kitchen, laundry facilities, and luggage storage.

Lastly, more hostels organize activities for guests. You must take advantage of these. This will give you the best opportunity to meet new people to hang out with and explore the city. Often hostels will host things like morning meditation, they may take you on free walking tours or bar crawls, or they may host events on-site. I have definitely had some of my best travel experiences meeting people this way.

Making friends while staying at hostels in Portugal.
With my hostel mate, Ella (in the quilted jacket), and other friends on a free walking tour in Porto, Portugal.

The biggest concerns some people may have about hostels are safety and cleanliness. The best way to not have any unpleasant surprises is to check the reviews. I normally book through Hostelworld. Their reviews are a great way to get a sense of a place. Be mindful though that reviews might to always give an accurate picture. I’ve stayed in hostels that were ranked lower than others but were extremely good. However, I made the decision to book them because of word of mouth. You must ask other travelers you meet to give you all the tea or wherever you are going, including where to stay.

Hostels should always have lockers in the room where you can lock up your valuable things. They should also have secured entry. You also want to look for hostels that specifically attract travelers. There are a few out there that attract people who are down on their luck and that’s when it can get sketchy. However, if you do your reserve you’ll be fine. In all my years of hostelling, I’ve never had a safety issue, and this is the woman who sleeps in the room with men she doesn’t know. LOL

Cleaning staff should be going around to clean often throughout the day. Bathrooms should definitely be cleaned daily. The rating for cleanliness is one I look for most commonly behind safety. Given that we now live in a world with global pandemics, you definitely can’t afford to play games with cleanliness. I suggest bringing Lysol wipes and/or toilet seat covers along with you. Again, if you do your research and ask other travelers for recommendations, I think you’ll be pleasantly amazed at how clean many hostels are given the number of people they host.

How to pick the best room

As for the room, you will most often be in a bunk bund unless you opt for the more expensive private rooms. I always send an email right after booking and request a bottom bunk. Hostels will always honor this request unless they are all taken.

For added privacy, many hostels have curtains that surround the bunk. If they don’t have this, you can create it busy using something like a sarong or other large cloth. It makes you feel like you’re in a little cozy cubby. I love it.

Hostels - My bed at Rodamon Lisboa Hostel with curtain closed
My bed at Rodamon Lisboa Hostel with curtain closed
Hostels - My bed at Rodamon Lisboa Hostel with curtain open
My bed at Rodamon Lisboa Hostel with curtain open

Many hostels, particularly in Europe, are mixed sleeping accommodations. That means men and women are in the same room. However, some do offer single-sex rooms at a bit higher pricing. Honestly, though, I prefer the mixed rooms because generally, men take less time in the bathroom. That cuts down on the amount of time I’m spending waiting for a shower. Of course, I’m speaking of rooms that are ensuite (have a bathroom inside the room). If you prefer not to wait, many also have hallways showers and toilet stalls. Think college dorm style.

As I mentioned previously, I like hostels that have kitchen facilities. That’s because if I’m traveling for an extended period I don’t want to spend all my money eating out. Plus, that’s not healthy. I’d much rather prepare the majority of my own meals. Many times I make protein shakes and smoothies, or I might drink a bone broth or eat some nuts and fruit. I do prefer lighter meals when I’m on the go. However, there will be times when you need a hearty meal and you might want to just cook something for yourself. This is especially true when you are missing flavors from home which definitely happens when you’re away for a long time.

I like hostels that have kitchens. This is the kitchen at Selina Porto Hostel in Porto, Portugal.
The kitchen at Selina Porto Hostel

Another thing to consider with hosteling is the size of the room, meaning how many people will you share your room with. Some can be as big as 9 bunks, with 18 people in a room. That might seem like a lot but people are out and about traveling, rarely will all these people be in the room at the same time except when everyone is sleeping. I typically choose a room with between 6-9 people. I find that the more people the more anonymous you can be in your room. It’s counter-intuitive I know, but when it’s a small room everyone is paying attention to everyone else way too much.

Don’t sleep on hostels

I can’t stress enough why hostels are an excellent option for traveling, especially if you’re trying to live a digital nomad life. I recommend using Hostelworld for your bookings. You’ll get to see rankings as well as access to chat groups for your city and hostel. A huge bonus for meeting people! Save money, meet new people, and be close to all the action, you can’t beat the experience of hostel living.

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