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After staying in a lot of hostels in a lot of countries, I’ve decided to share all of my insider tips for fellow solo female travellers staying in hostels. Keep reading to discover what’s it really like to stay in a hostel.
I like to think of myself as a pro these days when it comes to staying in hostels. In 2017 alone, I stayed in 20 different hostels across three continents. Although I’m getting older and do enjoy my own space, I can’t deny how cheap hostels are and the benefits gained from staying in hostels. Whether you are staying in a hostel for the first time, or are a seasoned hostel-goer like myself, here are my top hostelling tips for fellow solo female travellers (or anyone, really!).
My top tips for staying in hostels around the world
1. Pick up a map at the hostel reception
Every hostel I’ve visited has supplied me with a map of the local area. Although paper maps seem so “old school” these days compared to Google Maps, I honestly like to use both. I find maps so easy to use when visiting the main attractions, while Google Maps is always good for transport information. I also usually like to spend my first few hours in a destination adding important places to the map, from prior research. Then you’re ready to explore!
2. Always ask reception staff for tips
More often than not, the hostel reception staff are usually just like you: friendly and young. If I check-in and the person seems open to a chat, I always ask them for local tips on the best things to do and eat. A fellow Aussie behind the desk at Budget Backpackers (now Kick Ass Greyfriars) in Edinburgh went crazy on my map, drawing circles around all of her favourite bars and restaurants. She was the best! I also had a very helpful receptionist at Vila Veselova in Ljubljana, who recommended great places to eat and things to do.
3. When staying in hostels as a solo traveller, book female-only dorm rooms
This is one of my number one hostelling tips, which I think makes for a much better hostel experience. When staying in hostels, I only book beds in female only dorms, because man I have heard some mixed dorm horror stories. I’m sure some mixed dormitories are fine, but I much prefer staying in female-only rooms. The option is there, so take it I say.
4. Don’t forget to check out the private rooms
If you’re a fellow budget-minded solo female traveller, private rooms in hostels are usually “no gos” as they are regularly the same price as hotel rooms. But when searching and booking through Hostelworld, at the top you can select both female dorms and private rooms. I always do this, in case I stumble upon a reasonably priced private room. I did get a little alone time on my Europe trip; staying in private rooms with shared bathrooms at Euro Hostel in Glasgow and Dots Hostel in Zagreb.
Here are my top tips for travelling alone in Europe
5. When staying in hostels, utilise the onsite kitchens
Another great thing about staying in hostels is nearly always having access to an actual kitchen when travelling. If you’re on a budget, this is a great way to save money. On occasion, I bought premade pasta dishes and simply warmed them in the microwave for dinner. I liked having smaller meals at night, as I was usually out eating substantial traditional dishes at lunch.
6. Bring your own towel
Depending on where you’re staying and how long your trip is, this point may not be applicable. But if travelling for an extended time, bringing your own towel is going to be a great money saver. Case in point: Generator Hostel in Amsterdam were charging €5 to rent a standard towel (ridiculous). But some hostels did offer free towels as well.
Here are the travel essentials I bring on every trip (travel towel included)
7. Be prepared when staying in hostels
I always liked to prepare my outfit for the next day before I go to bed. I’d place my clothes on my suitcase or in my locker, which made life a lot easier in the morning. Trying to search for an outfit while everyone’s sleeping is too much effort. I’d also recommend leaving your PJs on your bed if you’ll be getting back to the room when most people will be asleep.
8. Thongs (flip flops) are your friend
Us Aussies always seem to pack thongs (flip flops), but they’re the best for walking around the hostel and dorm room, as well as using in the bathrooms. Although Havaianas might be considered expensive for thongs, they’re the best quality thongs I’ve ever worn. Mine have lasted for multiple years.
9. Create a ‘bed bag’
This is one of my little tricks, which I find very helpful, especially if I wind up in a top bunk. More and more hostels are installing little shelves at each bed, so you can place your glasses/phone etc beside you. But they aren’t always available, and I need a lot to sleep: i.e. my Kindle (I always read before bed), earplugs, eye mask, phone charger and retainer. Having this all in a handy clutch just makes life easier, trust me. Sidenote: the eye mask I linked above is the bee’s knees if you need complete darkness like me.
10. Arrive as close to check-in as possible
Firstly, always check when check-in is, as it differs from hostel to hostel. Secondly, if you can swing it, arriving close to check-in means you get first pick of the beds on offer. If you are a bottom bunk lover like myself, any added chance of securing one helps.
If you’re looking for the best European hostels for solo travellers, check out this post
11. Be respectful
When staying in dorm rooms, it’s important to be respectful. You know, treat others how you want to be treated? This means not turning on the light at midnight if people are asleep; turning your phone to silent at night; and keeping your space tidy. It’s the small things that matter and make everyone’s experience that much more pleasant.
12. Don’t always pay for breakfast
I found that most hostels in Europe (and Australia for that matter) have a paid breakfast option. However, it was quite expensive in most places, for the food you were paying for (around $10). In Prague, I bought some spread, a small loaf of bread and fruit for $3, whereas the breakfast offered at my hostel was about $12. I then treated myself to a filling and traditional lunch – a win-win in my books. In Paris, I indulged in a daily pastry (or three), instead of spending €7 on breakfast too. However, I found a lot more hostels provided a free breakfast in the United States. I guess it just depends on where you are in the world.
13. Read reviews
I am a loyal user of Hostelworld and always read their reviews before deciding which hostel to book. I highly recommend doing this, as from the most recent reviews you can easily decide whether or not a hostel is worth staying in. Know what you want and make sure you get it.
14. Don’t be afraid to make friends
I found that I did a lot more socialising outside the hostel with my roommates in Europe, compared to my extended North American trip in 2014. Who knows why, because I’m still just as introverted. But whether you’re an introverted or extroverted solo female traveller, don’t be scared to ask your fellow solo roommates to hang out. You might just make a new friend, as you already have one thing in common – you both enjoy travel.
In Amsterdam, my roommates and I walked into the city from our hostel for brunch. I had lunch – and then drinks at the Wombar – with different people from my hostel in Vienna, who went on that morning’s free walking tour. In Brussels, I did a day trip to Bruges with roommates. In Ljubljana, my roommate and I happened to be sitting a row apart on the same flight to Brussels (what are the odds?!).
Check out this post for all the ways to meet people as a solo traveller (tried and tested)
15. Always remember a lock when staying in hostels
Always, always, always have a lock on you at all times. Most hostels provide lockers, either beside or under your bed. For the few that didn’t, I simply locked my valuables in my suitcase. I found that in most hostel dorms, your roommates will be respectful, as they wouldn’t want someone stealing their valuables either.
16. Check prices
Although I did say I love Hostelworld, I recommend also checking the prices on the official website and Booking.com as well. Sometimes, hostels advertise seasonal deals on their website, which is how I got a great deal at Sophie’s Hostel in Prague.
17. Bring a lanyard when staying in hostels
Another random Hayley tip, but I have a fear of losing hostel keys. Although many hostels use swipe cards nowadays, which I store in my purse, I also bring a lanyard to securely fasten any keys to my bag.
I hope this post makes you realise that staying in hostels isn’t as bad as some people say.
I was sceptical about staying in so many hostels across the world in 2017, as I’m now in my late 20s and I’ve never really been one for the party hostel scene. But I didn’t mind it at all. In fact, I quite enjoyed myself. I enjoyed meeting people, saving money on accommodation and staying in central locations. If you need some solo travel inspiration, check out this guide to 23 amazing solo travel destinations around the world.