Up until last month, I had never stayed in a hostel. There’s no real reason why I didn’t; perhaps I just didn’t considered using them. Yet as I start to do more solo travel, and realize that my budget needs to better adjust to this fact, I figured it would be interesting to see what a hostel stay is like.
In brushing stereotypes and horror stories aside, hostels primarily have a good reputation as being a safe and affordable option for accommodations. They also attract more travelers from different age groups and backgrounds. Recently, for a work assignment, I spent a weekend at Hostelling International-New York City, the Manhattan location for Hostelling International, a worldwide organization.
Overall, my first experience went well, and I wanted to use it to share some first-time tips for staying in a hostel with other newbies.
Here they are:
- Of course, do your research. Just like with looking up hotels online, there are a number of websites on hostels complete with pictures, personal reviews and rankings (definitely pay attention to comments on amenities and cleanliness). Search engines such as hostels.com, hostelbookers.com or hostelworld.com provide lists on hostels in your destination. Hostelling International also is a good source, as their brand has hostels in just about every country and throughout the U.S. Another plus with all of these sites is that you can obtain the address of your potential hostel and be able to Google Map it to get specific directions.
- Weigh what you’re comfortable with. Especially as a woman, I think it’s important to really make sure you’re comfortable with your choice of setup in the hostel you’re heading too — way before you go. Hostels have a number of room options, varying in cost, occupancy and availability (plus an upfront deposit can be required). There can be a private room/with bath but it will cost more than let’s say a shared room with other women. “Shared” can number out to four to a room, perhaps even more than at. In some cases, you could choose to stay in a co-ed shared room. It’s up to you. At Hostelling International-New York City, I was assigned to a room set up for four people. My bed was one of the top bunks.
- Bring comforts and essentials. Most hostels will provide lockers or offer additional space for rent. Locks can cost extra. I brought a travel combination lock with me and my suitcase was small enough to be squeezed into my given locker. Bedding is supplied, and often towels are as well (I brought one along just in case). I would recommend bringing along flip flops, just in case, as you can wear them in the shower as well as go back and forth from your room. Earplugs are helpful to block out noises and late-night arrivals. Bring small bills, too, to cover any popup or not-covered expenses from laundry machines to a mid-afternoon coffee.
- Get secure. As with using lockers, don’t get too casual with your stuff. Travelers often go in and out of hostels as they please, and particularly the rooms they sleep in, so it’s best not to leave your phone or other electronics and valuables lying around in the open. (I had a bottle of water I bought and put on the side of my room taken, but still, it was MINE). With building security, a hostel should have knowledgeable staff that can give you directions and might also be able to book transportation to and from the airport. When I stayed at HI-NY, my keycard doubled for both getting into my room and past the check-in area.
- Be sociable. Hostels often have communal hangout areas like lounges and café seating areas to relax in or make small talk with other guests. At HI-NY, breakfast was included in the cost of my stay, so during my morning meal I got to chat more with one of my roommates, a Canadian, as well as two girls from England and Fiji, respectively. Check to see if the hostel organizes group outings too. HI-NY has guided excursions such as bar crawls or borough tours. I was there on Halloween night, so I signed up for a group outing to go watch the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade.
Staying in a hostel could feel like reliving your college dorm days. Yet, it’s a place to meet new people or even get some different tips on what’s in your destination. If you’re still going solo, your hostel is a good base to head back to, especially if you need help.
Editor’s Note: As part of my assignment, I was comped for my stay at Hostelling International-New York City.