First Timer's Guide to Hostels 1.0 First Timer’s Guide To Hostels
Staying in hostels is one of the best things about
backpacking. You’ll meet loads of new people and share
experiences that you’d never get to try if you were travelling
alone. Hostels often have all sorts of cool facilities, from
swimming pools to on-site bowling alleys. Oh, and they’re
cheap as chips. However, we understand that your first time
in a hostel can be quite a daunting experience, so we’ve
put together this guide to help allay those fears, so you can
get on with having fun.
This is a hostel. See, they're really
not that scary. As well as a comfy
bed, most offer a kitchen with
cooking equipment and a sociable
chill-out area. You may also get
breakfast, internet access, laundry
facilities, social activities and other
stuff thrown in. Plus ready-made
friends and knowledgeable local
staff, and all for a few quid. Hoorah!
Belfast International Youth Hostel
About the Author
Author Rachel Ricks has travelled
around the World, staying in
hostels from Bangkok to Brazil.
She’s such a fan of the hostel
lifestyle that even at home she
likes to wear earplugs in bed and
write her name on cheese.
First Timer's Guide to Hostels 1.0 -2-
Before You Go… Book Ahead…
Before you leave for your destination, check out the discount If it’s your first time hostelling, it will probably pay off to always book
accommodation cards available for your destination. One of the ahead so you know where you’re staying. Although there’s a thrill
most common is the International Hostelling (IH) card, valid at all YHA from stepping off the bus or plane and finding yourself in a new
hostels world-wide. It also grants you various discounts at travel shops, place, with nowhere specific to go, there’s an added layer of
like 10% off at Millets. security when you know you’ve got somewhere to fall back on. We
highly recommend booking ahead at least for your first night in a
Most countries where hostels are a mass market, like Australia or New new country. You’ll be jetlagged and disoriented, and it’s quite
Zealand, have their own specific hostel cards. For example, in New likely you’ll need some help getting your bearings.
Zealand you can find the Budget Backpacker Hostel (BBH) cards. It’s
pretty much identical to the IH card, but can’t be used outside New
Zealand, while IH is a global organisation.
It’s often worth exploring the different cards and packages on offer,
as there are often plenty of promotions tied in with them. Coach
tours, attractions and even plane fares can sometimes be discounted
if you’re a hostel cardholder, so it’s definitely worth becoming a
member even if you aren’t planning on solely using a single chain of
Plenty of hostels allow bookings to be made over the internet, and
you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere you can’t book by phone.
Get yourself a reliable, up-to-date guidebook or hop on to the
internet and start browsing the available hostels. You’ll find
countless options available to you, so get choosing!
Try to make sure that your final choice is within your budget and is in
a sensible location; central, but not next to a railway station or
bypass, and try to avoid the red light districts (unless that’s why you
picked the hostel, in which case we aren’t talking to you any more).
Ask other backpackers for recommendations and warnings – and
pay attention to them! They’ll know what they’re talking about.
First Timer's Guide to Hostels 1.0 -3-
What To Expect choosing single-sex or mixed dorms; this is usually in place to make
female travellers feel safer. Don’t be daunted by the size of the
In most hostels, you’ll find yourself with basic, simple (and hopefully dorms – in some hostels they can be as big as 20 or more people,
clean) accommodation. It’s quite likely the décor will be fairly out- but as a general rule you’ll find 6-8 or fewer beds per room.
dated, so we hope you see the 70s as an era of great style. If you’re
lucky, you might even find yourself with pine-panelled walls and Expect alcohol. It’s unfortunate if you’re a teetotaller, but alcohol
ceilings. plays a large part in the backpacking experience for a lot of
people. It can help to break the ice, but be careful, especially if you
haven’t travelled before. Alcohol can remove your inhibitions, but it
can also remove your common sense.
You can definitely expect a lot of friendly and happy people;
hostels are wonderful breeding grounds for friendships, so even you
consider yourself quite shy, talk to new people and get to know
them – it’s what the hostel experience is all about!
In Britain, some of the YHA (Youth Hostelling Association) hostels are
very upmarket, often set in old mansions and country houses. If you’re
used to those, foreign hostels may come as something of a surprise.
The British YHA is a registered charity and trust, while non-YHA hostels
abroad tend to be businesses on smaller premises. While you’ll be Expect good times and bad times. We won’t lie to you and tell you
spoilt for choice when you’re backpacking, don’t expect the lap of that every night in a hostel is all rainbows and bluebirds – people
luxury – it’s functionality over looks all the way. snore, drunk roommates come home late from a night out, and
things do occasionally get stolen. However, we can promise you
Washing facilities, bathrooms and bedrooms will all be shared if that the good times are worth it, and that the positive memories you
you’re choosing the cheapest option. Although you can hire private have from your experiences travelling will stay with you for the rest
rooms (sometimes they even have en suites!), the most cost-effective of your life.
way to travel is using dormitory beds. You’ll often have the option of
First Timer's Guide to Hostels 1.0 -4-
Arrival and Checking in
When your flight lands, you’ll be tired, jetlagged and in a strange
country, so it’s completely understandable if you feel at a loss.
However, it’s important to look confident – it will help you to feel
more confident, and it makes you look less vulnerable. Your first
night away, before you settle in, will be the most vulnerable time of
Don’t be worried about
splashing on a taxi to
might even pay to stay
at a mid-priced hotel
rather than the cheapest Your first night alone might feel a little daunting, and there’s nothing
hostel you can find, as it wrong with feeling lonely or homesick. Keep in mind, though, that
means you can get a these feelings pass rapidly. If you’re lying in bed wondering what on
good night’s sleep Earth you’ve done (or maybe
before leaving your bag you’re crumpled in a drunken
at reception and heap and you’ll do your
exploring the city the following day. wondering the following
morning), just remember that
When you arrive at your hostel, don’t be scared! Settle yourself into everybody feels like that at some
your room, find an empty bed and introduce yourself to your new point, and you will get over it to
roommates. Break the ice by asking where the kitchen and go and have the best time of
bathrooms are – everyone secretly likes to be a know-it-all and it your life.
makes people feel good to help someone else.
For the first couple of days, keep
Remember that everyone else in the hostel is in the same boat as yourself busy. Get social in the
you. They’re here on holiday, and they want to relax. You should social room and find out where people are from, what they’ve
feel that chilled, holiday-esque frame of mind the instant you walk done and where they’re going. Try your luck chatting up the
into the common room. reception staff and get yourself booked onto some activities,
before sending mass emails home to assure your friends, family,
If you’re really keen on getting to know people, ask where the relatives and pets that you’ve arrived safely.
nearest bar is, and if anyone fancies joining you. This is better suited
to the late evening – suggesting a drink at 9am might give you a www.gapyear.com/accommodation
reputation you weren’t looking for.
First Timer's Guide to Hostels 1.0 -5-
Familiarise yourself with the fire exits. It sounds daft but it could
Hostel dorms lock so that only backpackers that sleep in that save your life. Some readers may remember the Childers
dorm can access it. However, this doesn’t mean you should Hostel fire on the news a few years ago. Fifteen backpackers
ignore sensible security precautions – the people you’re sharing died that night as the hostel went up in flames following an
a room with are complete strangers, so use your common arson attack. There are still no strict regulations on hostel safety
sense. or facilities abroad, so make sure to ask sensible, pertinent
questions about your accommodation.
Check with the hostel reception where you’re able to stash
valuables like your passport, your travellers’ cheques and your A few good questions to ask include:
travel documents. It’s often even safer to keep them in a - Is there someone to show you around?
money belt, so that your passport never leaves your side. - Is there a safe for your valuables?
However, these can become a bit of a nuisance, so ask about - Where’s the clean linen? Bathroom? Kitchen?
safes if you intend to stay at a hostel for a reasonable period of - Are the dorms single-sex or mixed?
time. - Are any meals provided?
- Are there any hostel pets? (For allergy-sufferers)
Under no circumstances store stuff under the mattress. It doesn’t - Can you see a room before booking?
become untouchable if you put it there, and it can actually be
much easier to pinch. If it’s something very important, put it in A couple of other points to check are:
your day pack and use it as a pillow – that way, if someone tries - Does the price you’ve been quoted match
to nab it, you’ll wake up. what you’ve been charged?
- Does this include breakfast? Are there any hidden
- Are the windows secured for safety? Can they be
opened in an emergency?
- Are there emergency exits?
- Are there smoke detectors?
This might all seem a little over the top, but a small number of
hostels pack beds in to accommodate more guests and block
Make sure you understand the security proceedings for your
off the emergency exits in order to do so.
particular hostel – they’re different every time. If you’re out
after a certain time, they’ll usually lock the doors and you’ll be
required to enter a code to re-enter, so take the code with you!
First Timer's Guide to Hostels 1.0 -6-
The Next Step Useful Hostelling Kit
It won’t take long before A sarong
you’ve made a whole These have a multitude of uses,
bunch of new mates, and including bedsheets, wall coverings,
you’ll be making plans to towels, and are a great coverup if
someone walks in while your pants are
gallivant off to your next
A sleeping bag/sleeping bag liner
However, if this isn’t Not all hostels provide linen, so take a
immediately the case, very compact sleeping back with you at
don’t worry. Just because the bottom of your bag. If you’re
you’re not getting on in travelling to one of the main
your current hostel doesn’t mean you won’t find a friend for backpacker destinations you probably
life at the hostel down the street. There’s nothing to stop won’t need it, but it’s still handy to have
you sleeping at a different hostel in a different town every one just in case.
night – the World is your oyster now!
You just know someone will snore. We’ve
Just get up bright and
just got our fingers crossed it isn’t your
early and pack your girlfriend.
day pack with your
valuables and Plenty of padlocks
essentials for the day These let you leave your bag in your dorm in
– most hostels will comparative safety – make sure you have some
store your full pack way of locking your bag before you buy it.
relatively securely –
and do some legwork A torch
in town. Stock up on Simply because nobody wants to be the person
on the 5am coach that has to wake up
maps, tourist guides
everybody else because they can’t find their
and wander round to
toothbrush in the dark.
with the area.
First Timer's Guide to Hostels 1.0 -7-
Gapyear.com recommended hostel network Where are our
The reality is that there are loads of hostels out there. Hundreds of
the blighters. This is why us lot at gapyear.com have come up with Airlie Beach, Australia
a recommended hostel network; essentially a list of hostels across Alice Springs, Australia
the globe that we would happily recommend to our friends and
Byron Bay, Australia
family. Cairns, Australia
Coral Bay, Australia
Our criteria for our recommended hostels is as follows: Darwin, Australia
Hervey Bay, Australia
- Location - should be centrally based or Magnetic Island, Australia
close to amenities Melbourne, Australia
- Close proximity to airport and transport Mission Beach, Australia
links Perth, Australia
- Clean and spacious Sydney, Australia
- Established Auckland, New Zealand
Christchurch, New Zealand
- Preferably with a bar Paihia (Bay of Islands), New Zealand
- Preferably with a reputable travel Queenstown, New Zealand
agent/operator attached Rotorua, New Zealand
- Reasonably priced Wellington, New Zealand
You can even send an email to any hostel Arizona, USA
in the recommend hostel network to get
San Francisco, USA
your bed booked before you leave the Seattle, USA
country! That way there’ll be no New York, USA
disorientated town centre rambling once Honolulu, Hawaii
you step off the plane – you’ll have your Toronto, Canada
first night already sorted! Vancouver, Canada
Rarotonga, Cook Islands
Another bonus of booking a bed at a gapyear.com recommended Cape Town, South Africa
hostel is that a number of them offer gapyear.com members two free Singapore
beers on arrival! Perfect to share with a fellow backpacker to break Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
the ice on that dreaded first night. Some hostels also offer free food Sartenega, Belize
and internet too! See, we told you that you were going to like this London, UK
staying in a hostel lark… Belfast, UK
First Timer's Guide to Hostels 1.0 -8-
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