The Only Hostel Guide You’ll Need (Hostel Etiquette 101)

If this is your first time staying in a hostel, you came to the right place! In this Ultimate hostel guide for first-time solo female travellers, I will tell you everything you need to know about, how to pick the best hostels, hostel etiquette and what to expect when staying in hostels!

Backpacking and staying in hostels go hand in hand.

I stayed in many different hostels throughout my travels. There were good hostels, and there were bad hostels.

Some were just a place to spend a night, while others were memorable. And memorable means amazing, but also horrible experiences that I wish I could forget. 

I love hostels! They are a cheap place to spend the night, and so much more than that.

Hostels are the centre of backpacking social life, a place where you will meet other travellers and make new friends and join day trips.

However, I wish I had a hostel guide before staying in one, as I made some mistakes in my “hostel-staying career”.

Luckily for you, you can learn from my mistakes and avoid sleeping with somebody’s feet touching your hair! I said what I said, and I wish I could forget some things.

Keep reading for all of my best tips for staying in hostels!

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. I hope you find the information here helpful!

What is it like staying in a hostel?

You will be sharing a small space with many strangers.

You won’t have a private bathroom, and you might have to wait in line to have a shower. If your hostel has a kitchen, you’ll have to label your food the be sure that you’ll find it next time.

Hostels are a great place to meet other travellers and make friends as a solo traveller.

I’m not sure when was the first time I stayed in a hostel. I just know that when I was considering hostels for my first solo trip, it felt like a completely natural choice since I associated travel with staying in hostels.

It could be because I travelled a lot as a child with my dance group (funny story, I will save it for some other time), and we often stayed in hostel-style shared rooms. Also, during university, I was sharing a 5m dorm room with another student. 

Consequently, I was used to sharing spaces, and I did not have very high standards for privacy. That made staying in hostels easier than I expected.

You might not have a lot of privacy, but you are there to sleep, and the best part of travel happens outside of your room anyways!

How do hostels work?

I think you already have a pretty clear idea of how hostels work. But I will explain what is a hostel like just to make sure we are all on the same page.

A hostel is a type of accommodation with one or more rooms shared among travellers.

According to Wikipedia, it is a form of low-cost, short-term shared sociable lodging. Some hostels also have private rooms.

The number of people who share the same room varies from 4 up to 30 and more. Yes, I stayed in a 32-person dorm room once.

You will be assigned a bed that can be a bunk bed or a regular bed. Nowadays, most hostels will offer you a personal locker – but you need to bring your own padlock! Those two things are the only personal things you will have. 

Where to book a hostel?

The best place to book hostels is Hostelworld. They have the largest selection of hostels available. It is easy to scroll through their options, and it is easy to read the reviews regarding the category you find important.

As a solo female traveller, the most important aspect I look for in a hostel is the atmosphere and cleanliness.

Booking is my second favourite website for booking hostels. What I like about Booking is that you do not need to pay anything in advance, unlike Hostelworld. However, they don’t have as many hostels available as Hostelworld.

Finally, you can book directly on the hostel’s website. I rarely use this option. But, sometimes it tends to be cheaper to book directly.

Do you need to book hostels in advance?

Yes and no. If you want to be sure that you will get to stay in a hostel you like, you should book your hostel room in advance. But, it is not a necessity.

I know, this was not really helpful, but the answer will depend on many factors. Most importantly, when are you travelling?

If you are backpacking Europe in summer, which is the high season for Europe, you will want to book the best-rated social hostels as soon as you know you are visiting the city.

On the other hand, if you are backpacking Algarve in winter, you probably don’t need to book in advance, as it is a low season and hostels have lots of beds available.

But be careful, backpacking Europe in winter can be a high season if you are backpacking the Christmas Markets route in December or looking to party in one of the best New Year’s destinations in Europe!

How to choose a hostel?

When picking the hostel you will stay at, you want to think about the different types of hostels you want to stay in, what type of room you want to stay in, and what facilities should the hostel have. 

Different types of hostels

Hostels are not just cheap, crowded rooms with questionable hygiene standards. Nowadays there are so many different options you can choose from for hostels. Some hostels are even more luxurious than hotels!

Party hostels

You will recognize party hostels because they will usually proudly announce it. These hostels are all about socializing. You are not paying for a room, you are paying for the experience. This type of hostel will usually have a party night planned every night.

Do not be surprised as I was when a bunch of people entered my room with a tequila bottle shouting that it is shoots o’clock and demanding that I drink.

This type of hostel attracts a younger crowd. Most of the guests will be under 25, and sometimes there is an age limit of about 35.

I find them fun to stay at sometimes because you quickly get involved in the hostel life and make friends. However, they are not my go-to anymore. 

Social hostels

Social hostels are where it is at for me. The best type of hostel in my opinion. They will usually be nicely decorated and clean and take pride in their social activities. You get the social aspect of a party hostel, but you can join the activities at your own pace. 

Social hostels will organize events for the guests like walking tours, day trips and game nights. They will usually have a big common area to meet other travellers and sometimes a bar. 

You can recognize this type of hostel by ratings. They will usually be the best-rated hostels on the booking apps, especially regarding the atmosphere.

You might have to pay more for this type of hostel. However, it is not a rule!

Basic hostels

Basic hostels are exactly that, basic. They are not necessarily bad, you will get a place to sleep, and that is pretty much it. This type of hostel is usually the cheapest, and they do not offer any additional activities.

However, sometimes all you need is a place to sleep. When I travel with friends, this is usually the type of hostel I will go for. Because I already have company, I do not need a hostel to facilitate my social life. I want a clean, safe place to sleep when I come back from exploring the town. And this type of hostel provides just that.

Hostels to avoid

These hostels are the ones with low ratings, dirty and unsafe. If a hostel has a rating under 6, do not even bother. Do not go for the cheapest place if it looks bad. It is not worth saving a couple of euros to risk your whole vacation. Look at the photos, look at the reviews. 

How to choose the right hostel for you?

Once you know what type of hostel you are looking for, you should decide on what other facilities the hostel should have. Check the location of the hostel, it should be in a safe neighbourhood, fairly close to the city centre or reliable transportation. 

Should you stay in a female-only or a mixed dorm?

You will notice some hostels offer female-only dorms, which are unjustifiably more expensive than mixed dorms. I do not usually care if I am in a mixed dorm or female-only. However, there are some instances where I will go for a female-only dorm. 

Female-only dorms are usually calmer than mixed dorms. In most cases, you can expect to get a good night’s sleep with no disturbances if you stay in a female-only dorm.

Girls choosing these dorm rooms are willing to pay more for their comfort, so you should all be on the same page.

One rule I have is that if I am solo and staying in a less than 5-person dorm room, I will go for a female-only if there is an option. Because chances are that otherwise, your mixed dorm room will be a male dorm room and you. 

Should you book a room with fewer or more beds?

This one is an interesting question. You would think that a 4-person dorm would be more comfortable than 12 person dorm.

It is not necessarily the case.

I was in a 4-person dorm that was so small that I felt like we were all sharing the same bed. I was also in a 30-person dorm that felt like I was alone because the room was a whole floor of the building and beds had nice, thick curtains. 

Over the years, I created a rule that I do not book rooms with less than 5 beds in mixed dorms. Somehow, they always ended up being male dorms and me.

It might seem weird, but I always felt safer in a room with more people. And I am not saying hostels are not safe, but I have shared a room with 1 extremely uncomfortable man. Luckily somebody else came into the room. Otherwise, I would have asked to switch. 

Look at photos, and see what the situation is like. Bigger dorms will always be cheaper, but you might be sacrificing your comfort.

What facilities should a hostel have?

Basic hostel facilities, your hostel should offer at least these:

  • Lockers: You want your dorm to have lockers where you can safely store your belongings.
  • Personal light: This one is always an advantage. You do not depend on the room light.
  • Personal outlet: To charge your electronics. Preferably close to your bed so you can use your phone.
  • Curtains: Always a great advantage. Gives you the privacy that is very much needed in a hostel.
  • AC: It is a life-changer in tropical countries!
  • Wi-fi: This is a given nowadays. Yet, it does not hurt to check if your hostel has free wifi you can use.
  • Common area: Essential if you want to meet other travellers and hang out outside the dorm room.
  • Kitchen: Very useful in Europe, not that common in SE Asia. 
  • Free drinking water: Great in countries where you can not drink tap water.

Luxury hostel facilities:

  • 24-hour reception: Generally, check the reception working hours. You do not want to come and stare at the closed doors.
  • Washing machine: After some time on the road, you will appreciate it if your hostel has a free washing machine. 
  • Pool: Yes, some hostels have pools. It is quite common in SE Asia!
  • Free extras: Some hostels offer free bikes, free tours, and snorkelling equipment…list is endless!

Beginner’s Guide to Hostel etiquette

You will notice that most hostels have hostel rules printed out in the rooms and on their website. Nevertheless, some things are considered basic courtesy and common hostel sense.

You should follow the hostel etiquette in this hostel guide to make your stay enjoyable for yourself and others. At the same time, you should be prepared that some people will not care.

Hostel Dorm etiquette

You will share sleeping space with at least three other people. It can be a pleasant experience, but it can also be dreadful. The most important thing to do is be considerate and aware that some people will not be. 

If it is after midnight, and lights are off in the room because people are sleeping, leave them off. Most hostels will have a personal light next to your bed, so use that one. Similarly, if you want to sleep early, be aware that not everybody will stop their lives for you. Pack an eye mask if you have a problem with lights. 

If you are a snorer, please take a private room. However, most people will not take this advice, so if you are sensitive to noise, pack earplugs. Chances are, there will be a snorer in your dorm room.

If you are leaving early, pack the night before. Have your outfit and toothbrush ready. Try to make as little noise as possible. If you know you will be coming back to the room late, the same rule applies. 

Finally, do not have sex in the dorm when there are people in the room. I would think this one goes without saying. Yet, I have experienced it more than once, and people do not consider it a problem. It will get you kicked out of some hostels, and even if it does not, it will not make you popular among other travellers. Nobody needs to witness that!

What to wear to sleep in a hostel?

This is a valid question. As you are sharing a dorm room with other people, always wear some kind of PJs. Don’t make it look sexy – actually, the less sexy it is, the better.

If you are backpacking in summer, wear short sleeve shirt and shorts. Don’t wear a sleeping dress or just an oversized T-shirt, you want your underwear covered at all times.

If you are staying in hostels in winter, you can wear proper PJs or leggings if you are packing super light, with a comfortable shirt on top.

Hostel Kitchen Rules

Hostel kitchen rule number one, clean everything after using it! 
Hotel kitchen tip number one, clean everything before using it.

I know it might sound counterproductive, but you will see many people do not care about how they leave the kitchen.

You will often find dirty pans, cups and dishes in the sink. The worst part is when it has been dirty for a while, and it is impossible to wash because it is too crusty. 

On the other hand, you might find things in the cupboards that seem clean, but people just rinsed them with water. We do not know other people’s hygiene levels, so even if it looks clean, just clean it before using it. 

Do not eat other people’s food from the fridge. It is simple, if there is a name on it, and the name is not yours, do not touch it.

Most hostels will have pantry items that you can use, or if it is written that is for sharing. I suggest you check the dates on things before you consume them. 

Hostel Shower etiquette

Before you do anything else, pack flip-flops that you will use in the shower. That is the number one rule for using hostel bathrooms. You do not want to walk barefoot, and putting your shoes back on after showering might be uncomfortable.

If you leave your things in the shower, people will assume it is for sharing. Therefore, if you do not want to share your shower gel with the rest of the people in the hostel, take it with you after you are done. 

Sometimes, privacy is a luxury. You will see many different types of bathrooms, so do not be surprised if there is no door or locks. That is more of an exception than a rule. 

Bring a big towel with you and a change of clothes. You do not want to walk around exposed through the hostel. I stayed in hostels where my room and bathroom were on separate floors.  

Hostel Essentials List

If you plan to stay in hostels, prepare as if there will be nothing there. Because, most of the time, there will be nothing there! These are the most important things needed in a hostel:

  • Padlock – even if a hostel has a locker, usually they will not provide you with a padlock, so pack your own.
  • Flip flops – or any other shower shoes. You do not want to walk around the bathrooms barefoot.
  • Towel – a microfibre towel is a must for backpacking. It takes up little to no space. In 90% of cases, towels will not be provided in a hostel.
  • PJ – you will share a room with other people, so count on that when packing.
  • Earplugs – if you are sensitive to noise, there will definitely be noise.
  • Sleep mask – if you are sensitive to light because people will turn on the light while you are trying to sleep.
  • Headphones – if you want to listen to anything inside the dorm, do it using headphones!

Safety tips for hostels

Safety is crucial when travelling. You might be wondering if hostels are safe for solo female travellers. That is why I want to address that in this hostel guide.

You will find hostels to be rather safe. Depending on the type of hostel you stay at, if you share a room with other travellers looking for adventure and good friends, you will not need to worry about somebody stealing your things. 

However, you should use common sense and not test the limits. Look for hostels with lockers where you can store your valuables.

Do not leave all of your things out in the open, keep them in your bag. Even if putting your belongings out of sight does make them unstealable, it makes them less appealing to somebody who will have to go through your bag to take something. 

If you feel uncomfortable at any moment, ask to switch rooms.

I had an incident in a hostel in Thailand and went to the reception to share my concerns, and they immediately offered to change rooms.

Communicate your boundaries with people trying to cross them. 

ultimate hostel guide for beginners

Final Thoughts: How Do Hostels Work

And that is it, girls! Are you ready for your first hostel stay? I hope I answered all of the questions in this Ultimate hostel guide for beginners. Let me know if you have any other tips for staying in hostels!

If you liked this article, let me know in the comments, save it for further reference and share it with your friends. 

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