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How to Stay in a Hostel: Tips for the Uninitiated

July 13, 2010
How about staying in a boat/hostel for a few nights? Try the Eastern Comfort hostel in Berlin.

How about staying in a boat/hostel for a few nights? Try the Eastern Comfort hostel in Berlin.

If you’re headed out of town for a short-term stay, say two weeks or less, a hostel is an ideal place to crash. There are plenty of other travellers to socialize with, generally clean restrooms, a kitchen for preparing your own cheap meals, and sometimes they offer perks like television, free Internet access, laundry or sightseeing discounts.

In a large city you’ll likely have a dozen or more hostels to choose from, ranging from huge hotel-like structures with their own bars and restaurants, to the smaller, mom-and-pop places that may not offer as many amenities, or even hot water. In smaller locations, say deep in the Australian outback or in out-of-the-way South American villages, your choices will be more limited, but not necessarily less comfortable. One of the nicest hostels I’ve ever come across is the Prarie Hotel in Parachilna, South Australia; population: 7.

Your best bet for finding a good hostel is to ask other backpackers for recommendations. If you don’t have time though, go through Hostelling International, as they only give their seal of approval to places that meet their standards. (Although those standards do seem to vary here and there.)

You need to have a HI card to get a discounted price, but if you’re going to be traveling for more than three weeks during a year, it will pay for itself in discounts. You can pick one up at any Travel CUTS shop, or online. The HI website has a list of hostels by city, so you can get addresses and plan ahead. There are other discount cards for other chains, like VIP Backpackers, so you do have options.

When packing for your hostel stay, there are a few essentials:

  • Plastic bags, both big and small, are perfect for packing any shower items that might drip or leak, as well as dirty clothes, muddy shoes or snacks.
  • Flip flops make great shower shoes (as in going to and from, or during if the floor’s too creepy).
  • Most hostels give you bed linens, or let you rent them for a few dollars, but it can’t hurt to bring along a simple sheet. Check your local thrift store and get something you won’t mind throwing out before you return home. You can sew the sides of the sheet together to make a sleeping bag out of it, or leave it in tact to use at the beach, out camping, or on a bus or train ride.
  • A small flashlight is ideal for late-night trips to the bathroom. Try to find one of those small things that attaches to a keychain.
  • Finally, a clothesline is compact and can be hung just about anywhere so that you can handwash and dry clothes.

When choosing a place to stay, also remember that you have the right to look a hostel over and see a room before you hand over any money. If you walk into a place that feels sketchy or makes you uncomfortable, walk back out and look for something else.

The hostel culture is perfect for travelers who can eat, sleep, and shower anywhere. But even if you’re not sure that sounds like you, give it a try for a few nights. It’s laid-back, friendly, and you’ll meet people and have experiences that you’ll remember forever. You’ll probably get some great stories out of it too, so share the best, and worst, of what you find.

One comment

  1. I really enjoyed reading your article. It really made me think and provoked me to look at the situation from a different angle. Excellent information, I will return to your blog to be updated with your new updates.



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