Hostels get a bad rap and sometimes it’s completely justified. They are cheap and often for a reason but I have experienced places at both ends of the scale. From gorgeous, clean and polite to grotty, smelly and damn right rude, reviews online often mean nothing so you just have to hope for the best.
I personally don’t stay in any one hostel for longer than two nights as it can become a bit of a chore, but they are perfect when you’re hopping from place to place, and if you’re travelling alone it is a great way of meeting people.
Here’s a few of my top tips on how you can make any hostel stay as fuss-free and enjoyable as possible:
1) Pick your dorm size carefully
If you are a light sleeper, book into the smallest dorm you can (usually four people). Many hostels often have private rooms too which are more expensive, however if you’re travelling with a friend it can work out just as cheap as a dorm.
2) Earplugs are your best friend
As is a sleep mask. You may luck out and end up having the most considerate people in your dorm, but in all likelihood you will end up sharing with someone whose snoring is akin to that of rapid and unwavering machine gun fire, who also switches on all the lights when they roll in at 4am with a gap year kid they fell in love with at the grimy bar down the road.
3) Keep your belongings safe
For peace of mind, a padlock is essential. Most dorms will have cupboards that you can attach it to, or just keep it on your suitcase if a backpack isn’t your thing.
4) Battle the bed bugs
These little critters really are few and far between, and even people I met who had been travelling for years had hardly ever experienced them. However, a sleeping bag liner meant that I could sleep in that under the blankets provided by the hostel. It also gave me an extra later of warmth in hostels who thought radiators were too much of an indulgence.
5) Scarves solve everything
The lovely Emma told me this trick before I went away. I used scarves to cover myself in temples, shield me from the sun and cover gross bus seats. But my favourite hack was to wrap it around pillows in hostels. I just didn’t like the idea that hundreds of people with questionable hygiene had previously slept on those pillows, so the scarf gave me peace of mind.
6) Charge your phone whenever you can
Because I stayed in eight bed dormitories with one plug socket. Seriously. You find people sitting in the communal areas just so that they can charge their various devices. Some of the more seasoned travellers I met actually carried a portable multi-socket plugs with them and if I was going away for a long time again, I’d definitely invest!
7) Carry a Sharpie
This is the most important thing to own in a hostel’s shared kitchen. When you’re putting your food in a shared fridge at the mercy of other hungry travellers, you want to label, no, BRAND that shit. Make no confusion by telling people that special ham you treated yourself to after days of eating beans on toast is YOURS.
8) Never take a shower without flip flops
A communal shower can be horrific but you can eliminate the chance of contracting verrucas or stepping in something unsavoury by never showering barefoot.
9) Shower early in the morning
When there are eight showers for 100 people, the hot water isn’t always guaranteed. If you can find the sweet time between people getting back from a big night and the time they come to wash away their shame (generally around 9am), you’re on to a winner.
10) Be friendly!
Say hi to your new dorm mates. Offer them a piece of gum, let them know that awesome place you found. Be respectful of their privacy but don’t just plain ignore them. You may have one conversation and never see them again in your whole life, or you might make amazing friends that you can go and visit in Cape Town over Christmas (TRUE STORY, I’M GOING TO CAPE TOWN AT CHRISTMAS).
The key for staying in hostels is just to be a little overprepared. There’s a fine lie between being considerate and damn selfish; get in and pick the best bed and the locker with the most space, but don’t eat egg sandwiches with the lights on at 4am. Simple. Be organised, be friendly and enjoy the absolute bargain that hostels can be.