What Are Hostels Like In Europe And Loads Of Hot How To Hostel Tips

As a backpacker, I’ve stayed in my fair share of hostels whilst travelling Europe. I’ve written this article to help those who are about to backpack and for those who have never stayed in a hostel before.

Before you do it yourself, you often have absolutely no idea what to expect. Hopefully this should clear a few things up for you and let you feel a little more at ease with any hostelling adventures you have planned for the future.

What Are Hostels?
What Do Hostels Look Like And What Do They Provide?
What To Bring To Hostels
What To Expect And Know About Hostels
How To Apply For And Book Hostels
How To Find Cheap Hostels In Europe
How To Meet People And Make Friends In Hostels
How To Avoid Bed Bugs In Hostels And Other Annoyances
 

A friendly game of beer pong in a hostel in Valencia, Spain.


 

What Are Hostels?

So what exactly are hostels, and why are hostels so cheap? These are excellent questions to start with. Basically a hostel is a building that contains multiple rooms that have bunk beds and other simple facilities.

As a backpacker, you can pay for a night in a hostel, and you will get a bed in a dormitory style room that you will share with other backpackers. Because the hostel will receive money from everyone staying in the same room, they can charge a lot less for a bed then at a hotel for example.

It’s the perfect setup for any traveler or backpacker that wants to see Europe cheaply and on a budget. Hostels are extremely popular in Europe, and not only do you get a cheap place to sleep but you will also meet loads of awesome people and make heaps of great friends (I know I have and do!).

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What Do Hostels Look Like And What Do They Provide?

Every hostel looks different, and many hostels try to give their hostel a theme or a real sense of style. And just as they look different, some hostels will provide more facilities then others.

I’ve stayed in huge hostels that have hundreds of rooms and their own bar, and I’ve stayed in other hostels that are more like a small house. Each has their own advantages and disadvantages.

Either way, there are a couple of things that you can almost guarantee will be at every hostel you stay in:

  • A reception area where you can check-in and get your room key and get an introduction to the hostel.
  • Rooms with beds – generally bunk beds – I always try to get the bottom one if I can!)
  • Towels and linens – normally you will have to hire them if you didn’t bring your own travel sheet/towel).
  • Communal toilets – most hostels will still segregate male and female toilets.

The GOOD hostels (in my opinion) will also include the following features:

  • A 24 hour staffed reception.
  • A kitchen with equipment for cooking and cutlery to eat with. The nice hostels will also have a ‘free food’ area where you can use things like pasta or rice left behind by other backpackers who didn’t get a chance to finish their food and didn’t want to take it with them.
  • A book exchange where backpackers can leave behind their old books and trade them for new ones. It’s the traveler’s library – and I believe a must-have for any good hostel!
  • Free Wi-Fi to access the internet via your phone or laptop. A free computer owned and operated by the hostel that backpackers can use is also a bonus and a common feature for the better hostels.
  • Individual lockers in the room for each backpacker. This is pretty important as it means you can lock up your passport and cash so you don’t have to bring it all with you on a night out.
  • Featured and themed nights for guests. Some hostels will run fun little meet and greet type events and themed nights – it’s a great chance to meet your fellow guests and make some new friends.

 

Life In A Hostel Kitchen from Active Backpacker

 
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What To Bring To Hostels

There is not a lot that you HAVE to bring to hostels (apart from your own toiletries and clothes etc) – but there are some things that you can bring along to save yourself a bit of money.

Your own travel sheet and towel means you won’t need to hire them from the hostel and will save you a couple of Euros at each place you stay.

An open mind and a friendly attitude. Yes, it sounds lame, but no-one likes a grumpy bum or someone with a narrow cultural focus. You will meet all sorts of people of all different nationalities from all around the world – there is no room for people with closed minds!

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What To Expect And Know About Hostels

In my opinion, there are two different main categories of hostel. There are the big and commercial hostels and the funky lo-fi hostels – and then there is everything else that falls between these two types.

The commercial hostels have their advantages; they are normally great for partying and will organize lots of various events. On the flip-side, I love a good small and funky hostel, it’s a much more relaxed atmosphere (think a few beers, a game of chess and great conversation).

In your travels, I have no doubt you will come across both these types of hostels, and then you can decide which one you like best!

If you’ve never stayed in a hostel before, you may be unsure of what to expect. Don’t expect a hotel – you are not going to get your own private bathroom and a luxurious king bed. Hostels offer great value, but you do need to be prepared to share a sleeping area and bathroom with other backpackers.

If you’re a light sleeper, you may need ear plugs, as people will often come in late and others will snore. That’s just the reality of hostels – but if price and friendliness is a factor for travelling, then I would pick a hostel over a hotel everytime.

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How To Apply For And Book Hostels

The two best sites for booking hostels are:

HostelBookers.com – currently has no ‘booking fee’ and claims to be cheaper than its competition.

HostelWorld.com – charges a booking fee, but offers more features like a ‘MyWorld’ section, a route planner and a great reviews system.

I would sign up for both of these and see which one you like best. I personally use HostelWorld and always have, but have also heard good things about HostelBookers too.

Once you’re signed up and logged in, booking is just a matter of searching for the city you are going to be staying in along with the dates, and picking a hostel from the list.

My process for choosing a hostel is first and foremost to take recommendations from other backpackers I’ve met along the road, and then I will look at the ratings and reviews for the hostels available, and also factor in things like location (can I walk to all the things I want to see or will I need to use public transport?) and the amenities offered (is there a kitchen?).

Here’s an example screenshot of searching for a hostel in Amsterdam using HostelWorld:


 
See where I’ve arrowed in red how many customer ratings there have been. In this example, CocoMama has 93% with 233 customer ratings and St Christopher’s at The Winston has 85% with 747 customer ratings.

The amount of ratings can also play its part, as 747 people saying the hostel is an 85% is just as good as 232 people saying a hostel is 93% in my opinion. There are always going to be fussy people who can bring a rating down.

When choosing between those two hostels in the example shown, I would pick based solely on location and price of their largest dorm room and disregard their difference in review/customer ratings as they are similar enough.

Ratings and reviews are not the be all and end all of a good hostel. I’ve stayed in lots of fantastic hostels that didn’t have 90% ratings – as with anything you take all of that stuff with a grain of salt.

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How To Find Cheap Hostels In Europe

If you’re only after the cheapest hostels, then here’s a quick trick to always ensure you’re getting the cheapest available hostel.

It’s pretty simple, and I’m sure most people will figure it out themselves, but if you search hostels by city name and then sort the hostels by ‘price’, the cheapest will appear at the top of your search.

Check out the screen shots below:

What Are Hostels Like - HostelBookers
 
What Are Hostels Like - HostelWorld
 
I would check what you’re ‘getting’ for the cheapest hostel price however, if there is no kitchen for example, you can end up spending MORE because you won’t have anywhere to cook your food. Of course a reasonable price is important, but I certainly do not consider that the only factor when choosing a good hostel to stay in.

There is one thing you won’t be able to avoid, and that is the fact that all hostels will raise their prices during the summer months which constitutes the peak season for them.

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How To Meet People And Make Friends In Hostels

There is nowhere better than a hostel in Europe for meeting other backpackers and making new friends.

Here is what I always do when I’m staying in hostels, and it seems to work great for meeting people.

Introduce yourself to everyone and say hello, almost everyone else you meet in a hostel will be backpackers, and most of them want to meet people and make friends on the road just like you do!

Drop into the common room or lounge room after doing the days sightseeing. It’s generally an unspoken rule that most backpackers (especially solo or independent travelers) will drop in at the hostel hangout spot to meet and greet.

Use the kitchen facilities and cook in the hostel at least once during your stay. Not only will this save you money, but is also a great spot to meet some new people, share food and have a good time!

Organise a game of something. If you’re into drinking games, board games, card games or chess – this can be a great way for everyone to introduce themselves and start the night off with a bang. I remember fondly many games of chess, beer pong and card games.

Suggest a night out. Most backpackers will want to check out the nightlife of each new city they are visiting. So you won’t find it hard to get a group going for a night out on the town.

Remember, people are backpacking to see new things and meet new people – that’s the whole point! So don’t be shy, get out there!

Some new friends at a hostel in Spain.


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How To Avoid Bed Bugs In Hostels And Other Annoyances

I get questions sometimes from friends and family about hostels, ‘Aren’t they dirty?’, ‘Aren’t there bed bugs in hostels?’ Most of it is a myth.

Sure, some hostels are not as good as others – and guess what? That applies to hotels too, and restaurants and everything else you do. That’s just life. For backpackers, I believe a great hostel will always be so much better than a hotel.

As to bed bugs, a 5 star hotel can just as easily get bed bugs as the cheapest hostel in Asia. It all comes down to WHO checks in to the hostel, did they stay somewhere with bed bugs and they’re bringing in eggs on their clothes and backpacks? It’s never the hostels fault if they were to get bed bugs, but a good hostel would always act immediately to eradicate them if this were to happen.

Let me tell you something else – I might put this in bold for extra emphasis!

In all my travels of Europe and Asia, I have never stayed in a hostel that has had bed bugs. Not once!

It really is an unfounded misconception that hostels are not clean and are filled with bed bugs and backpackers drinking all day long. Many hostels pride themselves on their cleanliness.

So that’s all for now, I trust you got something out of this article, and have a better understanding of what hostels are and how you can go about booking into some! Trust me, you won’t regret staying in hostels whilst you backpack through Europe, the people you meet and the things you’ll see will give you fond memories for many years to come.

If you have any further questions about the security and safety of staying in hostels, check out my post on the matter here.

Bye now, and safe travels out there!

Tom

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16 Responses to “What Are Hostels Like In Europe And Loads Of Hot How To Hostel Tips”

  1. Louise says:

    This is extremely comprehensive…I think you covered everything..and it is easy to read..excellent..

    • Tom says:

      Thanks Louise! I tried to make it pretty comprehensive, and give someone who has never stayed in a hostel a good idea of what to expect :)

  2. Hollie says:

    Great article! I’m planning a trip for summer in 2013, still over a year away but I’ve never travelled before so I like reading things like this. I’mm be sure to keep all this in mind when it comes time to figure out hostels for my trip :)

    • Tom says:

      Hi Hollie! Thanks for commenting :)

      Great to hear about your trip in 2013, you’re going to have heaps of fun! If you want any help or advice feel free to drop me a mail – I try to put everything I can think of into my articles though :D

  3. John says:

    Hi Tom,

    Great site. I have a question. What do you do in terms of locking up your pack? Are those individual lockers big enough to store a 70 liter pack? I’m hauling around a sleeping bag as well.

    Thanks for the tip. All of this is making me feel much more comfortable about traveling by myself.

    -John

    • Tom says:

      Hey John! Sorry for the late reply!

      I have a pack that is a side loader and top loader, a good backpack will have two zips that come together and form a combined hole where you can slip a combination lock through it.

      I need three combination locks to completely lock up my pack at the bottom, side and top and I have a 75 liter pack.

  4. Deeps says:

    Thanks Tom, my biggest fear has been dirty hostels and I am glad to read the article. Just to add in a note, I find your website very much fun and full of info. We are planning a backpacking trip to europe soon and i think i am going to anchor myself to your website all the time. Great going and keep sharing!

    • Tom says:

      Hey Deeps! That’s so awesome! Thanks so much for leaving a comment. There are some super amazing hostels and others that are not so much, but that’s all part of the fun. Definitely don’t fear them or feel they are going to be dirty, the majority of hotels in Europe are really good and they KNOW that running a dirty hostel means no business in this day and age of the internet, reviews and social media! Good luck and let me know if you have any questions :)

  5. Morgan says:

    So I’ve read a lot about hostel etiquette – don’t turn the light on late at night, pack your bag the night before, etc – but what are the European norms when it comes to changing/getting dressed? I don’t have a problem swapping a shirt or changing into sleepwear in front of my roommate, but does that fly in hostels? Or are you expected to change exclusively in the bathrooms?

    • Tom says:

      Hey Morgan. Yeah turning the light on/off at 3-4AM in the morning is a big no-no ;) Swapping a shirt is no worries. As for changing pants/underwear, I normally use a towel if there are other people in the hostel room (if not, I just change quickly!) or just duck into the bathroom. Don’t over think it! Just don’t walk around the room naked or something and no-one will have a problem with it (or some people would probably like that haha). :D

  6. jason to europe. says:

    I was kind of curious about how booking works, if I am trying to keep a more open schedule and not booking in advance, is it difficult to find a room? Do hostels normally book up quickly? Namely in August?

    • Tom says:

      It’s always the big question. Hostels in June/July do book up quick in the larger cities (but only 1-2 weeks in advance). Definitely aim for a more open schedule, but opt to book 5 days in advance if you’re visiting a city like Barcelona or Amsterdam in peak season. A little bit of both works well for me – depends on your itinerary.

      • Caryn says:

        This is helpful~ We planned a trip to europe on the coming November. :)
        We travel in a group of four. Do u think hostel is suitable for us? As I understand, hostel count by number of pax, right?

        • Tom says:

          Hey Caryn. You do pay per person when it comes to hostels. Travelling in a group of four does lend itself quite well to the Airbnb/Wimdu route, but if you want the social/meeting new people thing then hostels can be hard to beat. Maybe mix it up between the two?

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