Everything I Didn’t Know About Hostels, but Wish I Did

This is the incredible view from the rooftop of my hostel in Barcelona, Spain.

Let’s face it, studying abroad is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Naturally, you’re going to want to make the most out of it. This means not only experiencing the city you’re studying in, but maybe a few weekend trips too. But you’re a college student, and money is unfortunately a real thing. So that means using the B-word: Budget. 

One of the best ways to budget while traveling is by utilizing hostels. Hostels are short-term, low-cost, shared lodging. Hostels are typically much cheaper in price than hotels and Airbnbs, which definitely made my bank account happy. 

Now, you may have heard a plethora of things about hostels, good and bad. I am here to report all of the nitty and gritty about staying in a hostel for the first time. Certain aspects pleasantly surprised me, and the others, well, not as pleasant. If you’re considering staying in a hostel in the near future, or just want to see if your expectations will be debunked, here are a few things I didn’t know about hostels, but wish I did. 

1. Hostels Can Be Coed, or Not

When I stayed in my first hostel in Barcelona, Spain, I knew that it would be set up in a dormitory-style. What I didn’t know was that this dorm was coed. Luckily, I grew up with two brothers, so it wasn’t much of an issue for me to share my space. However, if you are someone who is not as comfortable sharing your space with the opposite sex, consider looking into a single-gender space. Yes, they exist. Some hostels have rooms like this available, and some do not, so make sure you check the room styles before you book your stay. 

2. Towels Are Not Provided, Not for Free at Least

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t expect to be pampered with a full spa, but a little part of me was expecting some towels set out for showering. It was not until I went for my first rinse that I realized I should have brought my own. Hostels typically have towels for rent, yes, but they are not free. So if you want to save some money or a nude run back to your room, think about bringing your own towel. 

3. Lock It Up

If you choose to stay in a dormitory-style hostel, most of them will come with lockers for you to put your belongings in. Many of these lockers are located in your room, but sometimes they can be in a separate “luggage” room. In either case, it may be handy to invest in a lock. If the locker is in your room, you can lock the main door. Although you may want to give your roommates the benefit of the doubt, you cannot always trust everyone. Better to lock up your possessions than to come back after a long day of activities and realize that you are a victim of theft. 

4. Location Is Key

In the theme of saving money, it is always helpful to be aware of your hostel location in relation to the things that interest you. Being located within a walkable distance of famous landmarks and activities will save you tons of money on public transportation. Typically when you’re searching online for hostels, the websites will tell you how far the hostel is from popular activities and landmarks. Being a first-time hostel user, I was completely oblivious to the location. Fortunately, one of my roommates had experience in hostels. She basically shot down all of my hostel suggestions; each one because of how far it was from the city center. Although I was discouraged at the time, my roommate made my overall experience much easier. 

5. Keep an Open Mind

This one is more of a final tip from me to you. Hostels are quite literally a melting pot of people. Since they are so cheap and so easy to find, hostel guests come from everywhere. Staying in a hostel is the perfect opportunity to meet people that you may have never had the chance to. A mere six hours into my hostel stay, I met a couple from Australia, a Colombian teenager, and a solo backpacker from Germany. And I still had three days left after that. My tip to you is to keep an open mind and get to know these people. You would be surprised how much you can learn just by having a 15-minute conversation. So take advantage!

I hope this article has helped you to learn (or confirm) a couple of things about hostels. Take this information and use it to your advantage. Happy hosteling!

Erin Stanley is a student at University of Nebraska, Lincoln and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is studying abroad with ISA in Florence, Italy.

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