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Staying in a hostel 101

Hostels are interesting places to stay. They will be a big part of your travel adventure no matter where you go, and they will be the main place where you’ll meet your fellow travelers. This article will give you some ideas on how to get the most out of the hostel experience.

What is a hostel?

A hostel is a cheap, sociable place to stay. You will rent a bed, usually a bunk bed, in a dormitory. The bathroom, lounge and kitchen areas are shared. Rooms can be mixed or single-sex (but where’s the fun in that?), and private rooms are sometimes also available.


  • First of all, hostels ≠ hotels. Manage thy expectations.
  • Like most things in life, the hostel experience can either be awesome or horrible, depending entirely on your attitude.
  • Embrace what you’re getting into with a smile, and you’ll have a blast, guaranteed.
  • Expect a five-star Hilton experience, and you’ll be disappointed and angry, guaranteed.
  • Unless you’re traveling in a group that wants to stick together, always pick the biggest dorm available. They’re the cheapest, and you’ll statistically have a bigger chance of meeting cool people.
  • Yes, you’ll also statistically have a bigger chance of meeting assholes, but don’t worry too much about that. About 90% of people staying in hostels are either cool or kinda shy and keeping to themselves.
  • Private rooms in hostels are generally a rip-off, as they are around the same price as the average two to three-star hotel around the corner, while still being a hostel room.

Hostel life

During the day

You walk into the lobby. The interior is quirky, there’s music playing, and people are hanging out. Sometimes there’s a bar, too. The guy checking you in is just like you, and probably working in exchange for a free place to crash. No one who works here is in a rush, and the general attitude is usually happy-go-lucky/I’m just here havin’ fun, bro.

Recognize the fifteen minute wait to get checked in as your first opportunity to meet some people who are also staying here. Don’t bury yourself in your phone.

You’ll get your sheets and room key, and off you go. You enter your room, you put your small backpack in a locker, you put your big backpack in a corner, and you make your bed.

The first thing to do when you enter a dorm room, is introducing yourself to everybody. Say hi, shake some hands. Do this right away, as holding off on that makes things awkward later. Most of the time people are kinda shy, anyway, so be the guy that breaks the ice. If you are the one that’s shy and not good at this, good. Here’s a chance for you to grow as a person and expand your comfort zone.

Remember, everyone here is to have fun. This is not a business meeting. There is no pressure. This is a great place for instant-adventures with friends you haven’t met yet.

Be bold and unapologetic when walking up to people. They’ll appreciate someone else making the first move.

During the evening

Assuming you’re not eating out, you’ll get your cutlery from the reception, and you’ll go to the shared kitchen to cook yourself a meal. Usually it’s busy exactly during the times you’d expect it to be, so decide for yourself when you’re going in there.

The kitchen is another good place to make some new alliances. Have a chat with the person using the stove next to you. Talk about what’s cookin’. Shoot the shit about your travels. Trade some spices.

The smart thing to do is cooking with a group. This will save you money, as you can buy things in bulk. Ground beef, tomato sauce, spaghetti and veggies are cheap, and will make up a large, delicious meal with ease. Besides the good times you’ll have, making a habit of sharing social events with others is part of success in life.

Most hostels have activities every evening like bar games, sports, or movie nights.

Night falls

Sometimes your dorm will be peaceful and dead quiet. Sometimes it won’t be.

Reality check: you’re sleeping with at least half a dozen other people in the same room. Some of these people will snore. Some of these people will stumble into the dorm in the middle of the night drunk. Some of these people will go to the bathroom at night. Some of these people will be hooking up three feet away from you.

If you complain about these things, these people will probably laugh at you. And they’ll be right in doing so, because sometimes, you’ll be one of these people.

The only way to deal with this is to embrace the suck, wear a good sleep mask, and just enjoy the experience for what it is. Shitty things are usually funny later.

The next morning

You’ll wake up either by your own alarm, someone else making noise, or the morning announcement that some hostels do. You go to the hostel kitchen and whip up some breakfast. You’ll walk into people you’ve met yesterday or even went out with yesterday, and you’ll get the day started.

There’s a good chance you’ll have a little crew going by now to explore the area. If not, be bold and just walk up to a group and ask them if it’s cool if you join in on their adventures for the day. No one ever says no.

Breakfast tips:

  • Eggs and bacon is a healthy, delicious breakfast that will keep your motor running for the entire morning.
  • Pro tip: instant coffee will save you a lot of money. It’s also a great tool to make someone else happy. Offering someone a cup of coffee in the morning makes people LOVE you.

In conclusion

Hostel life is very social. It’s fun, and it’s a fantastic place to meet fellow travelers to go on an adventure with. Usually by the second or third day you’re in the same place, you will constantly run into familiar faces. The hostel “circuit” is also smaller than you think. When you’re traveling from hostel to hostel, there’s a big chance you’ll run into the same people several times.

Do not miss out on this experience on your travels.

But, I’m not going to lie, after staying in hostels for weeks on end, you will eventually get tired of it. Sometimes you just want a nice bed, a good shower, and some time for yourself. There is no shame in booking a nice hotel room every once in a while. By all means, do this when you feel overloaded. Keeping things balanced is key.

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About Diederik

Diederik is a guy from Rotterdam, The Netherlands. He quit his job when he was 29 years old and traveled the world for over 18 months as a digital nomad and bartender. On this website, he posts his travel photos and experiences, records podcasts with interesting people, and shares his general thoughts.

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High-quality content is added to The Polarizer at irregular intervals. If you don’t want to miss anything, sign up for the mailing list for free to get a notification when new podcasts or articles are posted.
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