My First Time in Hostels
I remember my first time in a hostel like it was yesterday...
While waiting outside the doors of my inaugural hostel stay, my heart raced with both joy and apprehension. Joy that I even found my accommodation and apprehension about what I may have gotten myself into. Traveling alone wasn’t how I had planned to visit Europe, however it was the reality of my situation. Upon walking in, I heard the chatter and laughter of everyone in the common area which somewhat calmed my beating heart. Then, I began to realize that regardless of the language(s) we speak, laughter is a universal language that everyone knows and understands. I saw people of all ages from all over the globe interacting and conversing with one another like people do. I put a smile on my face and acted like this was not my first time doing such a thing. In that moment, I forgot how heavy my backpack had felt with the realization that soon I could set it down and begin to relax. I went to the reception desk where they greeted me warmly and welcomed me to Dublin, Ireland.
An experience you won’t forget…
You may be asking yourself what exactly is a Hostel? Hostels are establishments that provide inexpensive food and lodging for a specific demographic; be it students, workers, or travelers. For the purposes of this article, I believe that hostels are great for the solo traveler. While known more for “youth” accommodations, hostels are really a community of travelers rather than an extension of a first year college dorm. You will meet people gaining similar experiences to you and who share your passion and purpose for travel. While staying in hostels, I made many new “mates” who are likely to be lifelong friends. Whether you are traveling in a group or alone, “hosteling,” is a great way to make connections that will elevate your travel experience. But, everyone should have a fair primer on what to expect on their first hostel stay.
To begin, let’s be upfront, you won’t pack the same way for hostels as you would for a hostel stay. Here’s a quick list of essentials:
- Flip flops
- Ear plugs
- Phrasebook/app with common sayings in every country.
- Carry a bag with any allergy or headache medicine.
- Separate dirty laundry bag for your backpack.
- A hanging toiletry bag
- Locks, enough for personal luggage and one for your personal locker in the bedroom
- Towel (s)
Selecting A Hostel Isn’t An Exact Science…
In today’s world of technology there are plenty of apps that will help you find your ideal hostel scene. Hostelworld is my favorite resource and booking site because it gave me so many options, which was great because I didn’t always know what I was looking for at first. After all, it was my first time backpacking. What I loved is that websites that specialize in “hosteling” helped me determine what my “ideal” accommodation would be. For example, “Do I want to be in the city centre in a hostel with subpar reviews or out a ways in a hostel with a fantastic reviews?” A word of pragmatism: after reading the reviews just keep in mind that everyone’s ideas of cleanliness and convenience can vary greatly. The most important thing to remember, however, is to keep an open mind. Don’t be too picky or have too much of an agenda for how a hostel should be. You’re there to experience the city, the people, and the culture, anyway! Every hostel is unique, and over time you will discover how to choose the hostel that balances your needs.
Expect to be a little disappointed…
Kind of like seeing the Mona Lisa in person… the hype is a lot bigger than the painting. But honestly, the intersection of “expectation meets reality” is one of the best parts of traveling. Even if sometimes it is a complete let down. You are going to experience that some hostels are nicer than others; and that’s simply the reality of it. But the silver lining is that you’ve traveled somewhere amazing. And common misery often bonds people, so you may even make a friend out of a bummed out hostel stay. I had to bathe in some questionable environments. And I mention that because I’m still haunted by them. But in all seriousness, this only magnifies the importance of being prepared with your “hosteling” essentials listed above. While you can’t account for everything that may happen, you can bear the brunt of disappointment by knowing that you don’t have to walk into the murky waters of a co-ed shower barefoot.
Here’s a quick look at some common hostel Pros + Cons:
- Will meet a lot of people this way.
- Hostels almost always offer free breakfast and wi-fi.
- Hostels setup pub crawls and walking tours so you can mingle with everyone.
- Hostels always give you a free map of the city (hang on to these as a cool souvenir!)
- Sometimes you get roomed with difficult or obnoxious people.
- Getting a good night's sleep is not always on the agenda because of others.
- Some of the cleaning standards at hostels are not the same across the board.
- Showering will become a whole new world to you. Varied water pressures, buttons you push for water instead of handles you turn, and having to share one bathroom with an entire floor, to name some examples.
Exercise Your Choice…
When you’re traveling, life becomes full of choices. Probably more choices than you realized you ever had before. And when it comes to “hosteling,” your myriad of choice continues. Such as, do I want to sleep in a four bedroom dorm tonight or a sixteen person dorm? Maybe a private hotel doesn’t fit your budget, and you might need a break from the lively but nonstop energy of a 16 person dorm. The benefits of today’s modern hostels are that you can choose from many types of sleeping arrangements. Some hostels may even offer private rooms at a deeply discounted price compared to a legit hotel. Though you may be sleeping alone, you still get to reap all of the benefits of a fulfilling social hostel life. And when this luxury isn’t available - or doesn’t fit the budget - and your only choice is a full dorm, be sure to make good use of those handy earplugs I encouraged you to pack.
“Hosteling” is as much of a lifestyle choice as “jet setting.” Sure there are plenty of photos of cool people online in Five Star Hotel chains and drinking champagne in airport lounges, seemingly living the dream. But the truth is, most people who have wanderlust have begun here - with a dream of seeing the world - and that’s a really cool culture of its own. Preparedness when “hosteling” is absolutely the key to a successful and comfortable trip and that’s why I’m sharing my experience with you. Hopefully you feel a little more comfortable and excited than before.
Share your hosteling experience with me!