New to Hostels? We've All Been There!
One of my first trips abroad was with a friend to Japan. He informed me on the plane he had booked us in to stay at a Youth Hostel - my heart sank.
Several years of Hosteling including a solo round the world trip later it was genuinely one of the best lessons of my traveling life - and one I would not have taken if left to my prejudices.
That said - It would have helped if I had known then what I know now - so here are 5 tips to enjoy your experience more.
Am I Safe?
Yes! Of course bad things can happen anywhere but in my experience a Hostel is every bit as safe as other forms of accommodation.
Reputable Hostels pride themselves on a welcoming, safe environment. Residents, be it backpackers or other holiday makers, are a hugely inclusive community.
One of the things that surprised me at first when travelling was how many girls travel alone. I am sure bad experiences must happen - but I have yet to hear a story of when anyone I have spoken to felt unsafe in a hostel.
A good idea is to stay at sanctioned hostels e.g. Hosteling International or Youth Hostel Association and read reviews of people who have stayed there before.
Will My Possessions Get Stolen?
Highly unlikely. This was my primary concern (as well as sharing space with people I didn't know!). I remain slightly ofended that despite having left my possessions openly out in many hostels not one person has deemed them attractive enough to thieve!
It is sensible to adopt the approach of minimising items you are traveling with that you would be too disappointed if they disappeared. Many Hostels have safes or lockers - it is worth asking them before you arrive in case you have to bring your own padlock.
My tactic is usually to keep essential things on me - basically passport, wallet and phone. I figure as long as I have them I can get out of pretty much any situation. The remainder of my gear gets left in the room - due to the nature of the travelling community I have never had a problem.
Should I Pay Extra To Be in A Smaller Dorm?
Unless you are getting a private room (more and more hostels now offer these, including family rooms) I would say there is little point.
Part of the fun of hosteling is meeting people - the more people in your room the more chance you have of making connections.
Of course it also increases your chances of rooming with a bit of a weirdo but such is life.
I once decided to get some comparative luxury in a Vancouver Hostel and paid extra for a 2 bed dorm after spending a week in a 10 bed. I ended up bunking with quite a strange individual whose smelly feet would have knocked a bear unconscious... Not the best money I ever spent.
How Do I Meet People?
The social side of hosteling is what makes them so great. I am fortunate enough that I could stay in fancier accommodation if I wished but I CHOOSE to stay in Hostels because of the people you meet.
There are few better ways to experience a country than sitting chatting to people who have been travelling and experiencing it. They will tell you what is "must see" and what is best to "swerve". It is also commonplace to be invited or invite other travellers to join you in whatever you are doing. This can lead to some great experiences and great lasting friendships.
My recommendation is that you stay at Hostels that have a social area or a bar. These are the places where other travellers go to meet people. If you want to meet people simply go and sit in one of these social areas and talk to anyone. Everyone sitting there wants to meet people - otherwise they would have gone and found a coffee shop nearby.
It can be nervewracking but just strike up a conversation and see where it leads. Everyone there is staying at that hostel, in that town, in that country... just ask about one of these things.
If there is no social area - find another place! I stayed in a Hostel in Miami. In my room were two other guys who were working in a local restaurant so had no interest in socialising. There was no social area.... I ended spending my 2 days there with my own company - don't want to make out my chat isn't great... but I went to the cinema... twice.
I Am A Snorer - Will Everyone In A Multi Bed Dorm Resent Me?
Yes - but don't worry as the laws of nature means in any room the snorer always gets to sleep first!