15 Practical Tips For Staying in Hostels

In this post I give the practical tips to make your hostel stay more comfortable, enjoyable, and memorable, based on my experiences.

Booking a Hostel In Rome

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I’ve stayed in hostels in most of Italy (plus some in Croatia, the Netherlands, and Spain). I’ve come up with what I think are the best tips to improve your hostel experience. Some of these tips just come down to common sense and hostel life 101. But whether it’s your first stay at a hostel or you’re a seasoned veteran, I think you’ll find value here. 

Obviously, the applicability of these tips will depend on the hostel type. Hostels come in all shapes and sizes. Common areas, single beds, bunk beds, social events, room types, and number of guests, are all factors which will shape the experience.

If you’re looking for a great hostel in Italy, check out my list of favorite hostels I’ve stayed at in Italy.

1. If you go out at night, prepare your nighttime routine before you leave.

In my case, I can’t sleep unless I shower before bed (nor do I don’t like laying in the filth of the day every night – sue me). If I go out in the evening and come back in the middle of the night, there’s usually others already sleeping. That is until I make a ton of noise fumbling around in the dark to find my towel, toothbrush, change of clothes, etc.

Now I’ve learned – before I go out for dinner, I set everything on my bed that I will need for when I return. Arrive, use phone screen light to see, grab my stuff, and go shower without making too much noise. Your roommates will thank you.

2. Talk to strangers.

This is the main reason we stay in hostels, right? (ok maybe also because they’re usually the cheapest option). If you want to make new friends and meet fellow travelers, you need to learn to break the ice with people. This is especially recommended for solo travelers. If you need a push, here’s an easy opener:

Hey! I’m (insert your name here). Where are you from?

I know, ground-breaking social advice I’m giving here. But you’d be surprised how many people will sit in the common room and never speak. Here’s some tried-and-true conversation pieces for hostels:

  • where are you from?
  • how long are you in (location of hostel) for?
  • how long are you traveling?
  • where have you been on this trip?
  • where are you going next?
  • what do you think about the culture in this town?
  • that’s a nice haircut – did you do it yourself?
Who knows, you may just meet your best friend or soul mate for 2 days. 
 

3. Most people don’t want to hear you play guitar.

If you travel with a guitar (as I often do), just play by yourself away from others. Only play in a group when the vibe is there. Don’t pull it out every time you’re in a group of people. I’ve seen this. In you’re eyes, your John Mayer. The envy of all the guys in the hostel, and the heart throb body-is-a-wonderland love machine to all the ladies. Read the room. Unless people are singing or playing other instruments with you, you probably look more like a court jester.

4. Learn the names of the hostel staff.

There’s a good chance you’ll have a question for them, and when you need something it’s always appreciated when you know the person’s name. They are great resources for recommendations like day trips, public transportation, pub crawls, free walking tours, etc.

5. Check your phone alarms.

Make sure you don’t have any unnecessary alarms set for too early in the morning.

Funny story: I was traveling in Italy with my friend Andrew who was visiting from the US. We had just flown from Catania to Naples on an early morning flight. In Catania I set my alarm for 5:30am, not realizing that I had it set on repeat. So first morning in our Naples hostel dorm (Ostello Bello – highly recommend), my phone starts screaming at 5:30am. I wake up, accidentally pushing my phone off the top bunk bed onto the poor girl below me. The phone alarm is still going off. I put my shorts on so I don’t reach over this girl in my underwear, and in the process half the euro coins in my pocket fall onto the tile floor, rolling and scattering around the room. While climbing down the ladder, the other half of the coins fall out, continuing the crescendo of embarrassment. I look over and see Andrew quietly laughing and facepalming as everyone in the dorm was turning in their beds. I eventually made it down, reached over my all-too-understanding bunkmate, and finally put an end to my sonata, “Dropped Coins and Phone Alarms in D minor”. If you’re wondering, a lot of hostels have private rooms (for extra cost).

Going to Naples soon? Check out my Naples recommendations here.

6. Bring a towel.

Most hostels don’t provide a towel. You can usually borrow one from the front desk for 1 or 2 euros. Or you can bring a quick drying towel that could also double as a mini head pillow or blanket on trains.

7. Bring a small lock.

A small combination lock is useful in hostels when you’re provided with a locker, but no lock. Lock or no lock, if someone wants your stuff, they’ll get it, but the idea is to discourage or slow them down. Make sure the shackle isn’t too thick (look for 5mm or 3/16″).

8. Bring flip flops or sandals.

Even in the winter. When you’re in and out of the bathroom and shower, or just walking down to the front desk for something, you don’t want to have to put shoes on every time.

9. Bring trash bag(s).

Some form of plastic bags or trash bags are great for separating any secondary footwear from the the clothes in your main bag. They also can and should be used and twisted closed to contain your dirty clothes. Hostel dorm rooms with 6 or more travelers have a tendency to turn into an eclectic medley of aromas. You can minimize your stink footprint with the use of basic trash bags.

10. If you snore…

It’s ok. You should probably look into why you snore. Do you have sleep apnea? That can have serious long-term effects. Anyway, let your roommates know ahead of time so they can get earplugs from the front desk.

11. Take advantage of the hostel breakfast, if available, to socialize.

Hostel breakfasts are usually available at extra cost if not already included. I’ve found that they’re the best places to meet new people outside of your dorm. I suggest not sitting only with your dorm room mates. Find a table of strangers and ask if you can join.

12. Don’t feel bad for not being social at a hostel.

Even the most outgoing of people can need a day of social rest, especially after traveling for several weeks in a row. If you want to eat breakfast alone or just nap in bed all day, don’t feel bad about it and don’t be afraid to decline invites. “I’ve been out and about for a few days and I’m a little tapped-out socially so I’m gonna stay in and recharge tonight”. 

13. Don’t assume everyone wants to be social.

Some people are staying at a hostel for a night or two purely out of necessity. Maybe they are trying to move to that city and just need a cheap place to stay while they search for apartments. Or they want to go to the local university and need to check it out but are on a tight budget. Or some people are traveling solo but tend to be more introverted and are only staying at the hostel because it’s cheap. These people usually keep to themselves, and that’s fine. Read the room and don’t force conversation. 

14. Respect the hostel rules.

They are there not just for the benefit of the hostel, but for other travelers. If you use the hostel kitchen, leave it as clean or cleaner than before you arrived. Respect quiet hours.

15. When at the hostel, leave your phone locked up.

Not because someone will steal it, but to keep you off it. You know the classic scene where a J.K. Simmons-type teacher walks into a classroom and has to get all the students to quiet down so they can start? That doesn’t happen anymore because the students shut themselves up by staring at their phones. I am so guilty of this. If you do intend to be social at a hostel, it goes a long way to not have the nervous fidget device always at the ready.

Conclusion

In this post I went over my top tips that I always try to use to improve my hostel experience. I hope this was valuable for both first time hostel travelers as well as those more experienced.

Do you have hostel tips of your own? Write in the comments below. Also please check out some of my other content for all things Italy travel.

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