Guide to Hostels

Hostels are popular and cheap accommodations when traveling abroad. Hostels are usually dorm style rooms with shared bathroom and kitchen facilities. Their greatest advantage is often their low price, but access to a kitchen and the social atmosphere are desirable perks too.

Depending on your travel style, hostels are either a great type of accommodation or one that should be avoided. If you want peace and quiet, privacy, or luxury, then hostels aren’t for you. However, if you are traveling on a budget or alone and want to meet new people, hostels are an excellent place to choose. Of course, hostels come in all shapes and sizes. You might be able to find a quiet hostel off of the beaten path or find one with state of the art facilities, but generally speaking they are simple and efficient.

Outside of the United States of America, hostels are very popular. In Europe, they serve as low cost housing for travelers; in Asia, they are slowly replacing traditional guesthouses, and in Australia and New Zealand, they are simply referred to as ‘backpackers’.

A hostel in Lao


What to Expect:

Many students or younger travelers select hostels. The average age in most hostels tends to range from 18-30 years old. Some hostels will even impose age limits. However, I found that when there is no age limit there always seems to be at least one older patron staying at just about every hostel we visited.

Most rooms in hostels are shared, dorm style bedrooms, although offering private rooms seems to be becoming more common. Shared rooms may accommodate between 4 and 20 people depending on the hostel. Beds are typically twin-sized bunk beds which come with sheets, a pillow, and a duvet (although you might have to make the bed yourself when you arrive). Each bed may have its own power outlet, reading light, and lockable storage unit. The furnishings in most rooms are scarce; however there might be a shelf or mirror. Dorm rooms may be co-ed or divided by gender. This is usually specified before you book.

Hostel for 8 in Peru


A private room in Lao, mattresses on the floor. Sheets, towel, and a small bar of soap provided for each guest.

Bathrooms are shared with your roommates at least and by the entire floor at most. In our experience, a wait for available toilets/showers/sinks at any one time is rare. Some hostels offer shampoo and body wash, but most do not.

Hostels usually have several common spaces and lounges for guests. Seating in the lobby, movie rooms, and bars are offered by various hostels (make sure you read the description before booking). Kitchens are also considered common areas and can be another advantage to staying in a hostel. Kitchens in the hostels we visited always included stove tops, pots, pans, and shared refrigeration space.

A nicer than average common area at a Peruvian hostel

Advantages of staying in a hostel:

  • The number one reason hostels are popular is because they are cheap. For budget travelers, there is not usually a suitable alternative. Hostels also provide weekly and monthly rates that are less than paying per night.
  • Kitchen access is another advantage. Purchasing and cooking your own food can be a money saver, plus if you are staying longer term you might get tired of eating out.
  • Hostels are very social. The demographic at most hostels are younger solo travelers or small groups of friends traveling together. The shared lounges and prearranged hostel activities encourage the making of new friends and traveling companions
  • Freebies: many hostels, especially in cities, offer free movie nights with popcorn, free tours of the city, travel agent services, and happy hours. We’ve also seen hostels which offer free breakfast, free spaghetti dinners, and discounts to local restaurants and bars.

Be wary of:

  • Theft. Luckily, we’ve never had a problem with theft, but when you share a room anything could happen to your stuff. Even if it’s not your roommates, it’s hard to make sure doors aren’t left open and that the other people in the hostel belong there. Most hostels offer lockers to securely store your stuff.
  • Noise (and light). If you are a light sleeper, then you might not like hostels as much. Your roommates can come and go at odd hours, making noise and turning on lights.
  • Cleanliness. Buildings with as much traffic as hostels can get run down quickly. Many hostels clean the bathroom at least once a day, but you are still sharing with numerous people. Also, don’t expect a maid. Your bed will never get made, and the sheets won’t get changed unless you do it yourself.
  • Lack of amenities. The internet service is usually poor, and you won’t find a pool or gym. If there is a cable TV, it is shared with the entire building.

How to book a hostel (and tips):

  • We use to book hostels. It’s simple and has a large listing of hostels.
  • If you are traveling to a smaller town or to a less developed company you might have to call the hostel to book it. We found that hotels in whichever city we’re traveling from would usually help us do that.
  • Check ratings and reviews for the hostel. Hostelworld has a rating system and reviews. Additionally, if you hear of a new hostel that opened, they are usually super clean and less crowded.
  • Book in advance. We found that of the best-rated hostels were booked more than a week in advance, especially for popular backpacking destinations.
  • Check the private room prices. Prices for private rooms are usually listed ‘per person’. Sometimes a room for $40 sounds cheap, until you realize that it actually means a $80 total for two people. Other times we’d find that a shared room wasn’t really that different in price than paying for two people to stay in a dorm room.


What to bring:

  • Lock – Your hostel will likely provide a locker or storage space, but for most you will have to bring a lock for it or rent one from the front desk.
  • Towel – Another item that is usually an extra fee at hostels. (If you bring a large enough towel you can try to curtain off your bunk from light).
  • Flip flops – To wear to the shared bathroom/shower.
  • Eyemask and earplugs – For sleeping
  • Toiletries – Unlike a hotel, shampoo, conditioner, and soap are usually not provided in hostels.
  • Flashlight – So you won’t distrub sleeping roommates.
  • Power Adapter – For international travel.

Types of hostels:

  • Youth hostels – For young adults only, these hostels carter to a younger crowd and may have age limits. Be sure to check for age limits before you book.
  • Pod hotels – Pod hostels are a unique experience where each bed is isolated by walls. We’ve found pod hostels to be less social and more quiet, making them a good place to stay if you want privacy or a nap during the day. Each pod is equipped with its own light, light socket, and locker.

A room of ‘pods’ in a Singapore hostel



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