Hostels are a budget traveller’s best friend. They’re cheap and cheerful, with lots of opportunities to make friends while solo travelling.
But they can also be intimidating.
If you’ve never stayed in a hostel before or haven’t enjoyed your previous stays, you need this guide on how to survive hostel life.
I’ve been in your shoes. When I first went to Europe for my 8 month gap year, I was too terrified to stay in a hostel. I’d never done it before and doing it for the first time on my own seemed terrifying.
I’d had friends who had their bags stolen, others who were crammed 40 people to a room with a broken window in a Scottish winter, and had heard tales of drunken hook ups a metre from your head.
So, naturally, I was concerned about staying in one of these places.
But you shouldn’t be. Hostels aren’t as scary as people make them out to be!
All you need is this quick guide on how to survive hostel life to learn how to make the most of these cheap accommodations. Don’t let scary stories prevent you from meeting new people while solo travelling, saving money, and getting to visit more remote places!
Find out how to survive hostel life with these essentials.
Common Hostel Issues
After my fears of hostels, I finally got over myself and stayed in one.
Guess what? It wasn’t that bad!
My first hostel was on top of a bar in the Scottish Isle of Skye. It was bare bones with two bunk beds and a shared washroom. There was a pumping bass that felt oddly soothing and the neon glow of the bar sign illuminated the nearby river.
I loved it – mostly because it was insanely cheap.
After overcoming my fear, I started staying in a lot of hostels. I spent 30 days exploring New Zealand, staying in hostels around the country.
In my time, I’ve noticed some common issues amongst hostels. It’s important to learn them so you can discover how to survive hostel life.
10 Most Common Issues in Hostels
- Free WIFI doesn’t always work
- There are never enough outlets
- Shared bathrooms aren’t for everyone
- Hostel safes are smaller than you expect
- Top bunks are fun for kids, but not for adults
- Your roommates will snore, get up at odd hours, come in drunk, or accidentally turn the light on while you sleep
- They’ve rarely planned enough space for your luggage
- Kitchens get busy around prime meal times
- Being sick in a hostel is the 2nd worst place in the world to be ill (next to on a plane)
- It’s hard to find alone time
11 Items You Need To Survive Hostel Life
Now I’ve gone and gotten you all freaked out about hostels right? You’re second-guessing your decision: but that 10 euro accommodation in Paris is such a steal!
All hostel issues are solvable!
After staying in dozens of hostels with varying degrees of success, I’ve learned the essential items you need to survive hostel life. These items won’t break the bank and they’ll help you extend your hostel journeys.
Don’t forget these hostel essentials to survive your next solo backpacking adventure!
My favourite ear plugs are soft and easy to twist in. I love the bright pink colour so I never lose them!
Earplugs are at the top of EVERY hostel essential packing list. You’ll need a good set if you want to survive hostel life in shared rooms.
A good pair of earplugs will help you sleep through noisy roommates, the errant snorer, and the early risers who may interrupt your beauty sleep.
You can get them at any pharmacy or airport, so you can easily get more throughout your trip.
I got my first eye mask for free on a flight but quickly learned I needed an upgrade. I love silk eye masks for their softness, but find contoured ones best for my headaches and sensitive eyes.
If, like me, you struggle to sleep with lights, invest in an eye mask to help you survive hostel life. Oddly, this is one of those essentials that I didn’t find when I was trying to learn how to survive hostel life. But having an eye mask saved me countless times.
Eye masks are a great essential for any backpacker to help you turn a train or plane into your personal nap haven. They do the same in hostels, where roommates can return at all hours and phone flashlights can accidentally blind you when someone is fumbling for their shower bag in the morning.
Plus, it gives you the opportunity to feel posh in budget accommodations. Whenever I put on an eye mask, I transform into a posh, socialite version of myself who needs a lie in before a day of shopping in the most expensive boutiques.
Then I take it off and return to normal ol’ Nina, who hates shopping with a passion!
Treat yourself to a silk eye mask or one contoured for human eyes to be more comfortable. You can even get ones scented with lavender to help you sleep better.
Just be sure it actually blocks out lights and stays on well. There’s nothing worse than an eye mask that doesn’t stay on your eyes.
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Get yourself a USB universal travel adaptor to be the most popular person in the hostel.
3. A USB Adapter
Yes, adapters are essential for any traveller. You’ve probably got that checked off at the top of your packing list already.
But I’m going to tell you that you have the wrong adapter. So stick with me.
I always travel with universal power adapters. They’re easy for global travel because you never need to worry about having the right one with you for any country.
BUT that’s not the kind of charger you need in a hostel.
You see, hostels were designed without millennial and Gen Z travellers in mind. Many have two plugs for a room of 8 people. In my apartment right now, I’m using 8 plugs just for all of the tech I need to write this post!
So two plugs is definitely not enough.
The people in hostels with USB adapters quickly become everyone’s best friends, because they solve the universal problem in hostels by giving people more space to plug in their electronics.
If you have a particularly horrible roommate it also saves you from someone unplugging your devices to charge those, leading to a dead camera battery at the peak of Machu Picchu or your phone dying 5 minutes into a full-day bus ride.
So if there’s one new thing you really need to buy to figure out how to survive hostel life it’s this USB adapter.
You can even get them in carrying cases to help organize your luggage!
4. Microfibre Towel
One of the best travel gifts I’ve ever received was from my step-sister after her summer in Southeast Asia. She gifted me my first microfibre towel and I’ve been hooked ever since.
That first towel went with me to over 20 countries around the globe. I still have it, although it’s become a gym towel due to a mishap with a dryer in Budapest that led to some shrinkage.
Microfibre towels are thin, quick-drying towels that pack down easily in your luggage. They take up almost no room and mean you won’t have wet luggage when you get to your next destination.
I recommend every one learning how to survive hostel life get at least 1, if not 2, microfibre towels. If you’re going to beach destinations like Croatia, you’ll want a second to lay out on and not be sandy post-showers.
They also come in smaller sizes so you can wash your face with a clean towel.
Always spring for the XL or L sizes, even if you’re worried about space. To be honest, they’re so lightweight and packable that I’ve only ever regretted not having a bigger one so I don’t have to worry about my bum hanging out rushing from the shower to my room (that was admittedly post-dryer shrinkage).
Get them on Amazon or from your nearest sports retailer.
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I get all my flip flops from Old Navy (always have). They’re cheap, comfortable, and easy to replace if you lose them.
Yep, staying in a hostel is a lot like being back in a college dorm. Which means you’ll need shower shoes again.
Most people opt for flip flops in their hostel essential guides, which I agree are the best option for shower shoes. They’re easy to wear and pack away, and they usually dry quickly. Plus, most of us already own them.
I guess you could use water shoes as well, or maybe crocs if you’re that sort of person.
Regardless of the type, ensure you have some sort of shower shoe to help you survive hostel life without getting a foot infection.
Decide if you need a small or large bag based on the toiletries you have. You may be able to get away with a plastic bag or tote bag, but be sure you dry everything off really well to avoid damp pants!
And I’m getting more flashbacks to my college dorm.
It may seem odd to take up space in your luggage with a shower bag, but trust me it’s necessary. You need somewhere to store everything you need for the shower for 2 reasons: 1) It’ll keep these damp items away from the rest of your stuff and 2) You’ll be able to find it all when you need it.
A key tip on how to survive hostel life: make it easy to find your stuff.
You do not want to be that person rifling through your bag at 4 in the morning trying to find a toothbrush because your bags are chaos. It’ll piss off your roommates and frustrate you.
Instead, have a defined bathroom bag with your morning essentials. I kept my shower items, toothbrush and toothpaste, and hair brush in mine.
Because I didn’t plan to have a shower bag, I used a reusable tote bag from a grocery store for mine. Which meant that things did often get damp around the bag.
Don’t make my mistake: invest in a bag that will keep the rest of your stuff dry!
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Just be sure your password isn’t 000 or 123 – and you’ll be safe!
I’ll be honest, I NEVER used my padlock the entire time I was travelling and living in hostels.
There was no need to.
I kept my valuables on me, since I’d really only brought my phone and my camera. I trusted my roommates most of the time (the benefit of rooming with friends I’d made on the road after a few days). And it felt like more effort than it was worth.
Plus I had travel insurance, so I knew I could replace anything stolen. If someone really wanted my grubby, over-washed t-shirts, they could have them!
However, if you’re travelling with valuables (especially laptops), or you’re in rooms where you don’t trust your roommates, use the offered safes. Most hostels have safes in the room or at the front desk area where people can secure their valuables. You usually need to bring your own padlock or pay a fee to rent one.
Have a small lock with you. You can use it to keep your backpack locked on the road, too, so double usage!
Personally, I always go with passcode locks as I inevitably lose the tiny keys (true story, my suitcase has had a lock on it for 8 years and I still don’t know where the key is).
Get a cheap set of tupperware from a local shop to take with you or invest in these collapsable set to help you store more. Don’t forget your cutlery or you’ll be eating that stir fry with your fingers!
Hostels are a great way to save money when you’re travelling. One of the top ways is by cooking your own meals.
I love cooking, so I took advantage of hostel kitchens a lot, even making large spaghetti dinners for my ground of friends (complete with cake for dessert – bought from the local NZ supermarket).
But all that cooking usually leaves leftovers.
Help yourself save money by getting Tupperware and utensils so you can take it for lunch the next day or save it for dinner. Avoid throwing away your extras by having somewhere to put them.
I bought my Tupperware from a grocery store, but it cost more since I only needed the one box. That meant I got a premium one versus the cheap stacked plastic varieties. Pack your own so you can save a few bucks – but be sure it has a tight seal so you don’t end up with pasta sauce all over your bag!
Get a set of reusable cutlery. It’s a great, easy way to travel more sustainably while saving money!
Invest in a good power bank with the ability to charge your phone at least 4x throughout the day. It’s heft is worth the weight!
My phone is my life, especially when I’m on the road. I use it to write posts, take photos, stay in touch, and entertain myself.
Unfortunately, that means I run through the battery at least twice a day.
I always tell people asking how to survive hostel life this tip (even though it’s technically for out of the hostel): get a power bank and extension cord.
A power bank gives you the freedom to use your phone as much as you want without worrying about keeping it charged. It also means that if your asshole roommate unplugged your phone in the middle of the night to charge theirs, that you have a back up for the day.
An extension cord is key if you, like me, love to use your phone even while it charges. This will let you charge your phone at the weird plug halfway across the room or at the bottom bunk without leaving your bed. It can also let you plug into bus ports and still use your phone during the journey.
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Pro tip: put on a pair of Beats in your bed and no one will talk to you until you take them off.
They’re the key on how to survive hostel life for any introvert.
Solo travellers can struggle with hostels. We often travel alone and worry about being lonely – which is almost never the case. There are so many great ways to make friends while solo travelling, like staying in hostels.
But sometimes you need a break from your new friends. You don’t want to shell out for a single room.
So how do you survive hostel life if you need some alone time?
Easy: your phone and some noise cancelling headphones.
It’s the hostel version of a “do not disturb” sign. You don’t even have to have anything playing in them, but people will instinctively leave you to yourself.
You can even go a step further and hang a sheet over your bunk – but that’s usually a sign of some sexual activities going down, so you’ll have to be prepared for people to make some wrong assumptions there.
I’ve used World Nomads exclusively for years. They’re the most reliable travel insurance with the best coverage – that even let me skydive in Taupo, New Zealand with full insurance coverage!
11. Travel Insurance
Although travel isn’t strictly required and it never appears in most how to survive hostel life guides, I think it’s essential.
Travel insurance helps cover you if anything goes wrong on your trips.
I’ve used it constantly throughout my travels. I always get a bug – like the ear infection in New Zealand or the parasite in Casablanca – which ends up with me in a foreign doctor’s office stressing.
But I never have to stress about how to pay for it, because travel insurance has me covered.
It’s also why I didn’t stress about locking up my belongings in the hostel: because it covers your items, too!
I ALWAYS ensure I have travel insurance when I stay in hostels, because it gives me peace of mind. It means that I can enjoy my vacation without worrying about the money (and since I’m staying in a hostel to save money, that’s pretty important).
Don’t skimp on the insurance. Believe me, it’ll pay for itself in no time!
how to survive hostel life (WITH optional items)
Everyone handles hostel life a little differently. You may need some extra items to survive travelling through New Zealand, the land of no Wifi, or if you’re travelling for months on end with pounds of laundry.
Check out these optional items to help you survive hostel life anywhere:
- Laundry Bag so your clothes don’t get smelly
- Pocket Wifi or good data plan so you can stay in touch & online
- Laundry Powder Packs so you don’t overpay to wash your clothes
- Mini Toiletries so you save space
- Body Wipes for when the hostel shower is too gross to use
- Sleeping Bag Liner for when you don’t trust the hostel sheets
- Travel Alarm Clock for if your phone is always dead (but be sure your roommates want to wake up, too!)
- Travel Journal to keep you occupied, save your memories, and help you make friends
- Entertainment to have fun! Pack some playing cards, a small game, or a kindle to help you pass the time.
What Not to Bring to a Hostel
There are so many essentials to help you survive hostel life, but there’s also some stuff you just don’t need. With space being such a premium for travellers, don’t waste your time packing useful items.
Here’s a quick list of things you do not need in a hostel:
- Your own sheets (they’re provided for you)
- Headlamps (they just blind everyone)
- Sleeping bags (they take up too much space)
- Valuables like jewellery (they make you a target for theft and you won’t need them)
- Speakers (most hostels have rules about noise levels so you’ll likely get in trouble. Party in the attached bars instead)
- Drugs (most hostels have policies on illicit substances. Plus, again, theft)
- Hairdryers or straighteners (you mostly won’t have the time to use them and they often don’t work well with adapters anyway. Some hostels have hair dryers for free)
- Delicate clothes or dry clean only (it’ll get ruined ASAP by nights out or the old hostel washers)
Wrap up: How to Survive Hostel Life
Hostels are intimidating for new solo travellers. It’s hard to figure out how to prepare for them if you’ve never stayed before.
Luckily, I’ve made all the mistakes so you don’t have to.
Ensure you have these 11 essentials to survive hostel life and you’ll be sure to have an incredible (and budget-friendly) adventure. Plus, you’ll look like a hostel pro from day 1.
Now all that’s left to do is book your hostel and start packing!