First Time Using A Hostel? Here’s What You Should Expect
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If you’re an American and you’ve never traveled outside the country, then chances are high that you’ve never used a hostel. I just recently had this experience for the first time when traveling to Europe and it was nothing like I expected.
For starters, the only thing I had to make an opinion off of was the 2005 American horror movie Hostel. The storyline depicts a few buddies who go on a backpacking trip to Europe only to find themselves in a fight for their lives. If you haven’t seen the movie, it’s good but very very bloody.
This was my anchor point for that word since 11 years old. Great start right?
From my very humble amount of traveling, I now know it’s nothing like this.
Here are a few things you should know before you experience your first night in a hostel:
1) Have zero expectations.
2) People in general kind of suck.
3) Nothing is free.
4) Your stay in a hostel is what you make it.
5) It’s worth the price.
If you’re looking for an all-in-one guide on how to navigate the hostel scene in Europe then this may not be the article for you. However, if you’re even just a little bit curious about making a trip across the pond and using a hostel, then stay with me. There are some really good stories in this article that I don’t want you to have to experience as well. Learn from my mistakes!
Have Zero Expectations
When I stated that the movie Hostel had an impact on how I viewed actual hostels, I was mostly kidding. One of the things I’m most thankful I did and I would highly suggest to anyone else, is to come into this situation with zero expectations.
I basically assumed I was going to be living on the street since I was only paying $20 a night. Now, this is far from the reality that I lived but I’m glad I had that mentality. By expecting the worst, I was pleasantly surprised.
When I planned my first trip to Europe, I covered the basics and that was about it. I found hostels to stay in that had an above average rating and just booked them. I read no more than three reviews and didn’t even glance over what all they offered and didn’t offer.
To be honest, that was a mistake.
Take your time and do your research but still set the bar as low as you can. The point of a hostel is to allow everyday people to have affordable, quality travel experiences. NOT to have a 5-star place to sleep.
I’ve slept on couches for free and stayed in awesome resorts in the Caribbean. This is no resort and you shouldn’t expect it to be.
People In General Suck
You probably were already well aware that people suck but just in case you needed a reminder, people do in fact suck.
I’m no angel and definitely don’t pretend to be but my parents taught me some manners. Before you start thinking that I’m full of myself, hear me out.
Imagine you’re with me in a hostel in London. It’s dormitory-style so there are 36 beds squeezed in the room in the fashion of triple bunks (yikes). It’s 3 am and you’ve just walked 17 miles the day before. Stack on the fact that you’re highly jet lagged.
You’re sound asleep when all of a sudden the lights flash on and someone speaking French (maybe?!) is yelling at the top of their lungs. Now I don’t know about you but I was taught to stop, drop, and roll when stuff like this happens and that’s basically what I did.
The point is (some) people suck.
These bros had obviously just come home from a rowdy time at the bar and weren’t ready to quit partying. If you’re at home, do your thing. You guys know I like to party but when there are 30 other people in the room, none of which know each other, then maybe not.
One thing I have learned (this should have been obvious) is that no matter what time of the day you go into your room, someone will always be sleeping. I’m currently staying at a hostel in Brussels. I have 5 roommates and I swear this one guy hasn’t left his bed. Don’t worry, I made sure he was alive but this makes being respectful into a bit of a tricky situation.
This is where good judgment should come into play. If it’s 10 am and you have a bus to catch in two hours, then feel free to shower. Yes, you should be respectful but you paid for the room just as they did.
Nothing Is Free
Such as everything in life, nothing is free.
Why does there always have to be some form of hidden costs? Well, in terms of hostels this is also the case.
You get sucked in by the rate of $20 a night for a place to stay but end up paying double, if not triple, that when you start adding things in.
This was something I kind of knew but didn’t really take seriously, which was a big mistake. Here’s just a quick list of things that come to mind that I’ve seen and their costs in US dollars.
- Late check-out – $10/hour
- Towel – $5
- Laundry -$7
- Locker – $3 per day (this was especially frustrating for me)
- Hygiene kit – $5
- Lost key – $20
- Parking – $20 per day
- Pet Fee – $15 per day
The list goes on and on but as you can probably see, most of these costs can be avoided. For instance, the $5 towel fee. I actually brought a small hand towel that has worked perfectly. If you take the time to shake and wipe off after a shower, you don’t really need that big of a towel.
If I were to do this trip again I would buy a microfiber towel like this one from Amazon.
Luckily what was always free at every hostel was the WiFi. This was a lifesaver when trying to plan out the next day or figure out how I was going to get from a hostel to a bus or train station.
In fact, every place I went in Europe there was free WiFi access. Whether that be a Starbucks, McDonald’s, or a city’s museum.
Most of the time I would research new places to go to whether that be a museum, restaurant, or a popular tourists spot. Then I would look it up on Google Maps. Finally I would screenshot it and use it the next day. If you didn’t know Google Maps doesn’t need WiFi to show your current position.
So it was as easy as matching up where I was on the GPS to the map I screenshot.
Having access to WiFi saved me about $25 a day that I would of had to spend on an international data plan.
Your Stay In A Hostel Is What You Make It
As I write this I’m currently sitting in the main lobby area of a hostel in Brussels, Belgium. It’s about 8pm and I’m watching people make dinner, play pool, and just hang out. It’s a great site.
So why am I writing this?
Well, during this trip I wanted to challenge myself and see if I could manage the travel and work balance. I have big plans for this blog that revolve around me working from anywhere and my current situation qualifies as anywhere.
Don’t worry about me, after I hit my word count I will join the others and meet some new friends. Enough about that though, let’s get to the reason behind this section.
Life in a hostel is 1000% what you make it. That sounds simple, but of the people I’ve bunked with, most of them like to hang out in their beds 90% of the time. Now to each, their own and I’m not bashing them in any way, but when you’re traveling alone like I currently am you may want to meet new people and a hostel is a perfect place to do this.
The common areas are always busy but they give off this weird vibe of people just looking at each other. My theory is this is because of two main reasons; the first being that people naturally tend to keep to themselves and are nervous to talk to others. The second is they all speak different languages. In my mind, this is just a little speed bump and you can still communicate the basics with anyone.
For example, my first night this group came in and immediately spread out and started making conversation with everyone. I met a friend (I now call him a friend) from India, another from France, and another from Massachusetts. Everyone had different stories and suggestions of things to do. It was a great experience, and all because we decided to get out of our comfort zones.
Go meet people and take advantage of one of the key benefits of a hostel.
A Hostel Is Worth The Price
On my 9 day hiatus from reality, I stayed in three different hostels. They were in London, Brussels, and Amsterdam. On average I paid about $20 per night each. No matter how good you are at searching for deals, there’s basically nothing that will beat that price.
Unless you take the free route of couch surfing. That’s a whole different topic for another day.
A quick Google search showed me that in the areas I stayed in, the average price of a hotel was $250 a night. In essence I saved 92%. Which means I can put that extra money directly towards food and alcohol, right?
Let’s be real, if it cost $250 a night I wouldn’t even be on this trip.
What I’m getting to is that it’s worth the price. A hostel simply gives you a home base, somewhere you can store your stuff for the day while you go out and explore. A place you can shower and try to get some sleep every now and then. It isn’t your home so I’d suggest not viewing it as one.
Besides that cheap price is a part of the experience. Looking back at all of the different things that happened during my stays make great stories and even better lessons.
The Bottom Line
I wouldn’t trade my time in a hostel for anything. It’s been an awesome experience where I’ve learned so much about myself and how to interact with others.
If you’re going to take anything from this article, just plan ahead. Doing all of this on a whim has been fun but it has also caused some small headaches.
Research your hostel, know what you need to bring, and have an idea of what your living situation will be like. I’ve seen two or three people walk into a sleeping dorm and right back out because it wasn’t what they were expecting.
They had high expectations and were sorely disappointed. After reading this article, you should know how to adjust your expectations accordingly.
Are you ready to take the leap? This trip opened up my eyes to the world and made me want to explore every part of it even more. Too often we get caught up in our own world, which at times is fine, but you will never know what is out there until you go find out for yourself. If you are interested in staying in a hostel then hop on over to Hostel World and look for a place to stay, just be sure to read the reviews.
Have you stayed in a hostel before? If you have and want to add some tips or ideas to this article or a new one then email me via the Contact Us tab.
Who knows, by sharing your experience you could be helping someone out.
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