The first time I stayed at a hostel was during my first trip abroad in 2009. I was 22 years old, completely alone, and absolutely clueless. Please keep in mind that the internet was at a much different level back then. This is back when Blackberry phones were the most amazing things ever and a hashtag was just a pound key.
I stayed at this hostel called the Brazen Head in London. I thought this hostel was amazing! It had bar, a jukebox, and a cool alley courtyard kind of thing. But with the bar came the local drunks (at 1 pm), with the jukebox came the endless Oasis playlist, and with the alley came the most disgusting couch you'll ever see. (I hooked up with someone on this couch. Not my finest hour. I definitely should have gotten booster shots after that.) It wasn't until I stayed at a hostel in Italy a couple of weeks later that I realized that the Brazen Head was a dump. It actually closed down a few years later. Look how surprised I am by this.
Now that we have blogs, vlogs, Instagram, hashtags, Youtube, etc., it’s easier to prepare for potential nightmares. So what do I wish I had known before my venture in a hostel? Well I’m happy you asked...
1) There are no towels. Or soap. Anywhere.
So I heard a rumor about this before my trip, but I didn’t realize that there weren’t towels ANYWHERE. Like not even hand towels. I had to remember to take my towel to the bathroom every time so I didn’t awkwardly drip around the hostel or have to wipe my hands all over my pants.
Now when I travel I typically pack a towel. Especially if I plan on going to the beach. But if you decide to save space, you can usually rent a towel for about $3, or just pick a cheap one up at the store and toss it at the end of your trip. Do keep in mind that the towels available for rent at a hostel are typically tiny and have never met a drop of fabric softener.
Just like the towel scenario, I also had no idea that soap would become a treasure. The only thing more upsetting than forgetting your towel when you go to the bathroom is forgetting your soap. I must say though, most hostels are getting better about providing soap. I think they realized how disgusting their hostel was when people didn’t properly wash their hands.
I suggest grabbing a bar of soap and keeping it in a plastic bag. Not kidding. It takes up the least amount of space and it lasts for ages.
2) Smells like teen spirit
People are disgusting. We know this. Although we hope that most people will be considerate about their filth, it tends to not be the case. Most travelers that stay at hostels are young and broke, so they cut costs wherever they can. Sometimes that means airing out their dirty laundry in the room, or washing their underwear in the sink. This doesn’t happen all of the time, but now you’re prepared for it in case it does.
Also, some backpackers literally only have one pair of shoes for a three month trip. And sometimes those shoes end up right by your bed…
BUT sometimes you get the cleanest, freshest people in town! ...And then realize you’re the stinky one now.
3) Wet bathrooms. No, wet everything.
It doesn’t matter if you’re in a shared bathroom or have an ensuite, I’m telling you right now, the bathroom will always be wet. I blame this on the lack of towels. Plus showers flood and people apparently like to dance in puddles.
Although, I must admit that I may be part of the problem because I always wear flip flops in the shower at any hostel. Most people do. That’s the community way. Unfortunately, that means water is tracked EVERYWHERE. Honestly, I don’t know how I haven’t slipped and busted my hip trying to walk around in soaking wet flip flops.
I have no solution for this other than wake up earlier than everyone else and get in there first. Or go in right after they’ve finished cleaning in the early afternoon. It’s the cleanest, driest bathroom period. Hands down.
4) Bathrooms: If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.
If the first bathroom you use is terrible, find another one. That's the beauty of a hostel; you get to shop around. One of the first things I do is scope out the bathrooms. You gotta find the showers with the best pressure, drainage, and shelf space. You've also gotta find the best pooper. I like to poop in peace. I'm sure we all do. So I find the most tranquil toilet in the building. #treatyoself. Sometimes you hit the jackpot and the best bathroom is the closest bathroom. Don't be afraid to check everything out.
5) No one cares if you’re sleeping
I’m one of those people that hates coming in late or waking up early in a hostel because I never want to wake anyone up. Too bad no one cares about my feelings in return. Honestly, I’ve been stuck with some of the rudest people alive. You’ll never hate a zipper more than when you’re try to sleep and someone keeps opening and closing their luggage. It’s maddening.
What’s the best solution? Make friends with your bunkmates. Grab drinks at night and make breakfast plans in the morning so you’re all going to bed and waking up around the same time. That is honestly my best kept secret. This little trick of mine has gotten me the best sleep in any hostel. You’re welcome.
6. Not all bunk beds are created equal
The first thing I do when I’m looking for a hostel now is check out the bunk bed situation. Cheap, metal bunk beds are honestly the worst. You feel EVERYTHING. And it only takes one awkward hook up above your head for you to avoid them forever.
I also despise the top bunk. After a couple of cocktails, I don’t trust myself on that tiny ladder. Not to mention I usually have to pee in the middle of the night and end up just falling halfway down. (I never said I was graceful.)
Some hostels now even have triple bunk beds. Oh, hell no. I’m out.
7. Use the kitchen!
A lot of people are afraid to use the communal kitchen. Don’t be! Head to a market and make a few meals at the hostel. You’ll save a ton of money and you may make a few new friends along the way. Make sure you check out the free pantry before you stock up on food. Most people will buy things like oil, seasonings, pasta, soup, tea, etc., but then leave it all behind at the end of their stay. Take advantage of these awesome finds and pay it forward by leaving something of your own behind.
And if you make more food than you need, most people will trade you beer or wine for a plate. Food is the way to everyone’s heart.
8. Discounts at the hostel bar
If the hostel has a bar, they probably offer discounts, or at least a free drink, for their guests. This is truly amazing, and borderline dangerous. I’ve had some unforgettable moments in hostel bars. And some moments that are a bit hazy…
In fact, the Brazen Head used to close their doors to the public at like 10 or 11, but then let the guests party until the wee hours of the morning. There are so many nights that I couldn't tell you about, even if I want to.
So far my favorite hostel bar has been Oliver St. John Gogarty in Dublin, Ireland. I love the Temple Bar area in Dublin. There is just a constant stream of live music, dancing, and whiskey. It's absolutely fantastic.
9. That I would meet the most amazing people and...
10. I would have the time of my life.
(This is a true throwback. Please notice the purple walls and blue door frames of the infamous Brazen Head. Someone asked me to take care of their shirts while they were at work, but instead I grabbed my girls and we did Risky Business in the hallways. I love these ladies. This was pre-camera phones and filters. Soak it in.)
I have stayed in some crappy hostels over that last nine years, but I haven’t regretted a single one. Even if the accommodation was sub-par, the experience was always top-notch. I now have incredible friends scattered across the globe. Some I spent days with, some I only met over a drink.
That's it. Those are the 10 things I wish I knew before my big journey overseas. Now get out there. Go hop around hostels like a champ and meet the people that will change your life.