A Complete Guide to Hostels

What is a hostel?

The main difference between a hostel and a hotel is that hostels offer shared rooms and hotels have private rooms. But it is so much more than that. A traditional backpackers hostel will be full of young people and there is a sense of community. The communal rooms are equipped with bunk beds. A typical room will have 6-8 bunk beds, but there can be anywhere from 1 to 50 beds.

Why should I stay in a hostel?

Hostels are drastically cheaper than hotels and make long-term travel much more affordable. Each hostel will have different types of rooms for different prices. The more beds in a room, the cheaper it will be. If a hotel is $100 a night, a hostel can be $15-$20.

But it’s not just about money. If I won the lottery tomorrow, I would travel the world. And I’d stay exclusively in hostels. Why?

Because there is an amazing sense of community at hostels. You can hang out in the common area and drink beers with the other guests. The staff at the front desk are very often very helpful and can give great recommendations. And they offer all sorts of tours and group activities.

Are hostels safe?

I’ve stayed at over 100 hostels in my travels and I’ve never had a problem with safety. Most hostels will offer lockers where you can store your stuff safely. Sometimes they offer a padlock (or rent it to you), but it’s always wise to bring your own padlock just in case.

If you’re a girl and are not comfortable sharing a room with strangers, many hostels offer Female Only dorm rooms.

How do I find hostels?

The best apps to search for hostels are HostelWorld and Booking.com. I find HostelWorld to be the best though.

How do I book hostels?

One of the best things about hostels is that you don’t have to book them very far in advance. I usually book them the day before I arrive. If the hostel is booked up, there is usually one just down the street of equal quality. Unlike hotels, the price doesn’t increase at the last-minute. And this provides you a little extra flexibility.

The only time you have to make sure to book in advance is during the summer, close to beaches, and on weekends. Or if there is a festival in town.

HostelWorld offers generous cancellation policies. If you cancel more than 24 hours in advance, you only lose the small deposit.

How do I select a hostel?

Before you begin looking for a hostel, think about what’s important to you. Do you want a party hostel where people are doing shots of Jose Cuervo in the common area at 4:00 a.m.? Are you budget constrained and looking for the cheapest place? Is it important to be near the historical district? Here is a checklist I use.

  • Filter results – Open the filters on HostelWorld so you can narrow the search results.
  • Rating – This is the criteria that I filter for first. I like to stay in hostels that have over a 9.0 rating.
  • Reviews –  Make sure there are plenty of reviews. You don’t want to stay in a hostel that has only been reviewed 15 times. If a hostel has over 1,000 reviews, it will be pretty trustworthy. Read a few of them and make sure there are no red flags.
  • Price – I usually set this filter between $15 and $25, but that depends entirely on the city I am visiting
  • Location – HostelWorld will give you the Distance from City Center. It may not seem like much, but there is a huge difference between 0.5 miles from center and 1.5 miles from center. Dealing with public transit or walking long distances can really ruin a trip. If you’re going to spend a few extra bucks on a cab, why not just spend it on staying in a more central place.
  • Party? – If I am in the mood for meeting new people and being social then I want a party hostel. But sometimes I just want a good night’s sleep. You can read the description on HostelWorld before booking it. If it mentions a bar in the common room, that is a strong signal.
How do I meet new people in a hostel?

Hostels are an amazing place to meet new people and make new friends. I have met so many amazing people at hostels over the years that have become lifelong friends.

As soon as I get to a new hostel, I go sit in the common area and look around at the other guests. And then I say hi. It’s really that simple. “Hey, where are you from?” Or maybe, “What brings you here?” Then you can begin forming a group and making plans with them. Ask everyone if they want to get lunch/dinner/beers.

Hostels will typically offer a free walking tour or a pub crawl at night. There are also great places to meet new people. And you can invite your hostel friends along.

What should I bring to stay in a hostel?
  • Ear plugs – Many hostels will either sell these or give them away at the front desk. If you’re a light sleeper, this may help you manage a dorm-style room. Between snoring, and people arriving in the middle of the night, these will help you a lot.
  • Eye mask – Again, if you are a light sleeper, an eye mark will help you. Sometimes (rude) people turn the lights on early in the morning or late at night.
  • Headlamp/flashlight – You will need this when you need to find your toothbrush at 3:00 a.m. and you don’t want to be rude to your bunk mates.
  • Padlock – As I mentioned before this will be helpful to secure your belongings.
  • Deck of cards – Cards are always fun to play drinking games in the common area with your new friends. And when you need them you never have them.

I hope you have as much fun at hostels as I have over the years!

To read about my adventures as a professional MMA fighter in Peru, check out my book: The Cage: Escaping the American Dream.

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