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Hostel Living 101

Dorm bed in a Reykjavik hostel

Big, fluffy duvets are a nice touch at this hostel in Reykjavik, Iceland

[F]ourteen years after I spent my first night sleeping in a youth hostel in Amsterdam, I continue to spend a good portion of my year staying in them.

I've experienced hostel living as a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed college grad, and a persnickety 35-year old with lower back pain.

As normal as living out of a backpack, and sharing dorm rooms has become for me, I'm regularly reminded of the younger kids who are just getting started with a life of travel. This article is for them.

When To Make A Reservation

By and large, you can walk into most hostels of the world, at any time of year, and get a bed to rest your head.

Rarely does a backpacker need to sleep on a park bench because there's no space at the local hostel. There are a few exceptions to this rule of thumb, of course.

These are the times I consider making an advance reservation at a hostel:

  • To ensure a stay at a hostel that got rave reviews from my friends, or someone I trust.
  • During a popular holiday, sports event, or festival, such as Christmas, the World Cup, or Oktoberfest.
  • In expensive destinations, such as Iceland, when I want to lock in a cheaper bed rate for a larger dorm.
The rest of the time, I pick out a first choice hostel, and one or two back-ups, and just show up.

Save Money With a Membership Card

If you're planning to go backpacking for an extended time, such as a month or more, than it often makes sense to pick up a hostel membership card, like those offered by Youth Hostel Association.

You can usually make your money back within 3-5 stays at a participating youth hostel, and we all know backpackers appreciate a bargain.

I've personally used discount cards in Europe, and more recently, South America.

Exercise Good Etiquette

Living in a communal situation necessitates good etiquette.

The hostels I've enjoyed staying at the most manage to create a fun atmosphere, while ensuring guests remain respectful of one another.

Here are my three biggest tips to keep it copacetic:

  • Stay tidy and organized. Ensure your stuff is on, around, or under your bed, for example. You're less likely to lose things, and others are less likely to trample over your clothes when the lights are off.
  • If you want to drink heavily, and stay out until the early morning, stay at a party hostel. Most hostels have a communal area or bar for hanging out, and sharing a beer at the end of a long day. But if you want to drink heavily, and stay up all night partying, do us a favor and stay at a known party hostel where you're less likely to piss other people off.
  • Don't have sex when other people are in the room. This is a common pet peeve by anyone whose had the experience. It's just awkward for those around you, no matter how quiet you think you're being. Use a communal bathroom in the hall, pay for a private room, or find an hourly hotel instead.
What's one piece of hostel advice you'd offer future backpackers of the world?


This post was written by Dave, and brought to you by Youth Hostel Association (YHA).

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Tuesday 18th of February 2014

Whoa, whoa, wait, how often do people have sex with other people around in hostels? Not something I want to experience that when I'm backpacking in a few years.


Tuesday 18th of February 2014

It's a reality of staying in hostels that people will sometimes drink too much and then end up having sex in a dorm room (bathroom, or common area) without regard to anyone else that may be in the room, but it's not something happening all the time, everywhere. In other words, it's no reason not to stay in hostels.

You can increase your chances of avoiding it by not staying at "party hostels" where entertainment revolves around the bar and heavy drinking every night. Choose the quieter places, and you reduce the chances of having a night of sleep ruined by an amorous couple.


Friday 5th of October 2012

Thanks much for posting this!!!

Laura Bon

Tuesday 2nd of October 2012

Ah i wish more people decided to pay attention to number 3!!

Venkat Ganesh @ India Backpack Motorbike

Monday 24th of September 2012

Ah! How I wish hostels were more common in India and backpackers walking in an walking out and the usual bonhomie. May be some day I will venture out and experience it all. And will definitely make sure to keep those tips in mind.

Cheers Venky

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