Hostels are a great low-cost way to travel. With several options in most major cities, hostels make a perfect place to stay for people who like to interact with other travelers, are independent and are looking to save some money. I have stayed in hostels on four continents, from rural to urban and made a lot of memories along the way.

It is important to remember that hostels are not hotels, and you should be aware of a few things. Here are some tips to help you make the most of your stay:

1) Do your research. Each hostel has a different character. Some are more oriented towards younger travelers who like to stay up late and party and may feature large shared rooms with bunks. Others are more family-friendly and may have private rooms with private baths. Do your research before you book a hostel to make sure it will be a good fit for the kind of travel you want to do.

2) Understand the rules. Depending on the location of the hostel, there may be rules on when you are allowed to be in the hostel or not. Some close during a few hours for cleaning. Others are 24 hour access. Check ahead of time so you don't end up locked out unexpectedly.

3) Clean up After Yourself. Hostels will have shared spaces, including bathrooms, lounge areas and kitchen. If you prepare a meal in the kitchen, be sure to wash, dry and put away your dishes. Wipe down the counter and table you ate at. Make it look like you would want it to if you were using it next.

4) Be friendly. Take the time to greet and chat with other folks staying in the hostel. Part of what makes a hostel environment so great is the ability to meet people and learn a bit about where they come from. You might also meet someone that might make a good sight seeing buddy for the day. The hostels staff is also a great group of people to chat up. They can clue you in to great happy hours, local tours, bike rentals and other things that might enhance your stay.

5) Protect your valuables. Since many hostels have shared sleeping quarters (bunk beds), you may be sharing a space with someone you don't know. Take normal precautions to protect your valuables. Most hostels will have a locker to store your luggage. Keep important documents (passport, credit cards) on your person.

Enjoy your travels!