Ahhh the classic hostel. The haven for a backpacker. The pit stop for a traveller. The place to rest the weary. They are a great option for accommodation when on the road as they can be affordable and social, but once you’ve got around a bit, it’s likely you would have experienced a wide variety of hostels.

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From the good, the bad and the ugly; the world contains a colourful array of hostels which can either leave you with a horror story or one of the best times of your life. If you’re travelling and wish to go for this option above hotels or apartments, then there are some little tips I can share with you to prepare you for what hostel life can bring!

1. Read the reviews

When booking a hostel, be sure to read up on it. There’s nothing worse than blindly being duped into booking a room which appears to be in the right location or at the right price, but then to turn up and find you’ll be sleeping in the deepest dimension of hell.

Google the hostel name and read a few of the reviews to get a rounded view of the place before hitting BOOK. And repay the favour to the travelling community by reviewing the accommodation once you depart.

2. Choose wisely according to your needs

The great thing about hostels is that there literally is something for everyone. Whatever your taste or vibe, you can usually find somewhere that will suit your needs. Do you want to party till dawn? Make a ton of new friends and then some? Do you want peace? Or a place to kick-back and chill-out?

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You can find the place for you, but be aware of what you’re getting into.You might think a ton of parties will be the time of your life, but remember that when you need your sleep, there might be a new crew rocking up who wants to get crunking. If you choose somewhere too secluded, you might find yourself longing for more company if you find it a bit too quiet. Choose wisely.

3. Bag yourself a food space  

The great thing about staying in a hostel as opposed to a hotel is that you can cook your own food. This means you can save some money, indulge in some group cooking and try your hand out at experimenting with local ingredients from the markets.

Carry some essentials in a designated food bag (just incase condiments leak) and have it labeled. Bag yourself a food shelf and a fridge space when you arrive, but unfortunately it is a leap of faith that no one will take it. It’s an unwritten code that everyone respects each others belongings in hostels, but if anyone steals your bag of food, I can only hope that bad karma will bite them on the ass later.

Our top tipp: travel with a cooking journal, so you can write down your new best friend’s kitchen secrets!

4. Flip flops can be more than for the beach

The trouble with the bathrooms is that sometimes, they can be a little… icky. I’m not hugely squeamish, but with so many people going in and out of those wet rooms, it can be hard for even the cleanest hostel of them all to stay on top of the cleanliness. A pair of flip flops can help you navigate the showers and help keep those feet clean and far from the gunk. They make it easier than trying to dry feet and ram them awkwardly into your trainers when making the journey back to your room.

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5. No plastic bags between 12am-8am

When sharing a room with a few friends or strangers, you do need to think and remember that, well, you’re sharing a room! So you need to bear in mind that the day you want to get up early to begin a packed day of exploring, the others might be wanting a chilled easy morning with a sleep in.

Of course, get up and do what you got to do to launch yourself into the world but there’s one thing that is guaranteed to really piss off a fellow dorm mate. Plastic Bags.

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There’s nothing more irritating than trying to catch some Zzzz’s or when you’re just dropping off to sleep, and ole thoughtless douchebag wanders in and decides to have some kind of fiesta with a bunch of plastic bags, looking for god knows what. Please stop! Our solution: store your things in noiseless tote bags!

6. The holy grail No. 1: Ear plugs

When sharing a 4, 6 or even 16 bed dorm, there’ll be a variety of activity going on. From the sweet snufflers to the god awful room-rumbling snorers, the door slamming to the excited whisperers, the drunks to the shouters – you may have an orchestra of noises trying to stop you from sleeping.

It’s not the end of the world as you are surrounded by humans who are living and have bodily functions, but I for one struggle to sleep when there’s noise or bass pumping music.

It’s best to try block out the noise than scream at others to shut the F up (you won’t make many friends that way), but if it does get too rowdy, ask politely or power through the night with your trusty pals, the ear plugs.

7. The holy grail No 2: Eye Mask

Wherever you end up sleeping, there’s always a chance you’ll be facing the direction of sunrise and the golden exotic sun light will come pouring in at 6am, or others aren’t ready to go to sleep yet. Majority rules in the dorm room so if you’re wanting to fly solo to dreamland or avoid an unfortunate dawn-induced wake-up call,  it helps if you have something to cover your eyes. Get an eye mask to help shield your eyes and give you a deeper sleep in pure darkness.

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If you don’t have one, you can pick one up on your long haul flight, at airports or invest in a real cute lavender scented one. Or just wrap a top around your face if you haven’t got one to hand.

8. A mozzie net or mozzie coils

If you’re in a pretty exotic faraway place, sometimes mosquitoes can be an issue. For me they can be a real issue as they will hone in on me and go for blood. ALL the blood. When I was in Thailand, a friend gave me a mozzie net which was great when staying in guesthouses that weren’t too bug-proof.

If you have a single bed, try and drape the net over it, or try and keep mozzies out by making a curtain with it on a bottom bunk. If it’s too hard to try and fashion some protection, light a mozzie coil or mozzie spray to keep them away as you sleep. There’s nothing worse than hearing them coming for you in the darkness or waking up with a huge bite on your upper lip. It does happen. Or maybe just to me?

9. Pack a sarong or oversized shirt

When you’re freshly showered and clean as a whistle, avoid running down the corridor in your little towel. By bringing a sarong to the bathroom or packing an oversized comfy shirt, you can fashion some kind of cover-up when making the journey back to clean clothes.

It sure beats lugging a dressing gown on your trip and at least you can then wrap your towel into a turban to dry your hair. There’s nothing worse than taking a small travel towel to a far off bathroom and then trying to get your dirty clothes back on in the wet bathroom to retain dignity.

10. A padlock

Not all hostels will have cages for you to lock your backpack away. I think in my 4 months of backpacking New Zealand and Australia, I encountered one hostel that had said cages, and boy were they pretty rickety.

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A padlock will enable you to lock these safety cages, but if this kind of protection isn’t available, use it to lock your backpack closed. In a perfect world, we could leave all our possessions draped around a room that we share with complete strangers, but unfortunately you may encounter a dreaded thieving bastard. The padlock can act as a deterrent, but if someone wants in, they’ll be reaching for the scissors to slice their way to your things.

11. Bring a book or two

In this digital age, everyone seems to swear by kindles. Whilst I do have a Kindle Fire which I use to take advantage of ANY FREE WIFI, I still prefer to use actual books which I can bash around, dog ear, and throw about on the beach. It’s a casual prop for when you’re hanging alone in the social area of a hostel or a roadside cafe – no batteries required.

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Swapping your books with new friends is a great way to break the ice and you’ll never run dry of reading material in a hostel! It’s guaranteed that there’ll be some kind of make-shift library where you can swap your book (good luck finding it in your language).

12. A head torch or book light

Like I previously mentioned, when it comes to lights off for bedtime, majority rules in the dorm. If five of your roommates are exhausted and need lights off pronto, but you’re still buzzing and want to dig into your freshly swapped book, a head torch or book light is the perfect thing to help keep you entertained whilst people snooze around you.

Also, you never know when the power might cut out if you’re in a real budget hostel so at least you’ll be able to find your way to the toilet in the night!

13. Have some guts

You never know what you’re going to encounter when staying in hostels. When I backpacked on a shoestring, it really showed myself what I could handle and I realised that without all my home surroundings, I could cope pretty well!

From cat-sized rats running amok in a Penang hostel to retrieving a beloved room key from a squat toilet, I realised if I just gritted my teeth and got on with it, I could cope with some pretty dire situations. But don’t just have some guts, trust your gut. If you enter a hostel and you feel it isn’t safe or the locks on your door just aren’t up to scratch, perhaps try elsewhere and avoid risking a dodgy night in a place that won’t have you sleeping well.

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14. Bring the means to recharge

When travelling with electronics, as all us travelettes need to, there comes the annoying necessity that is charging the batteries. Bring a few adapters if you have more than one item that will need regular charging, or even an extension cord which you can plug into the wall with one adapter. This is ideal, if you have the space to pack it, as power outlets will be few in dorms and there might be a queue of dead phones waiting to get some juice. If you bring an extension cord, you’ll be the best roommate ever!

However, if you feel uncomfortable with your fave device charging across the room and out of sight, or if you need to charge your phone and it’s got your alarm set, bring an external battery pack. I cannot imagine living or travelling without one of these as you can charge your phone by your head safe in the knowledge that you’ll be able to hit that snooze button as soon as it begins screeching.

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15. A hanging wash bag

We all need some beauty lotions and potions when travelling. Whether you have an arsenal of products or just have the basics, when showering in a hostel it’s handy to have a hanging bag. Hook it on the clothes hook or on the top of the door of the shower to avoid placing it on the wet floor!

16. Keep expectations low

I’m thinking along the lines of ‘shoestring backpacking’ here. If you are adamant that you don’t want to pay more than £5 for a bed for the night, you better keep those expectations low, girl! You get what you pay for, unless Lady Luck is on your side.

What would you expect from a 16 man dorm where the bed has cost you pennies? Fingers crossed you get a snazzy hostel that won’t break the bank, but once again, read those reviews and make sure you’re getting something relatively OK when you’re on a budget!

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17. Be prepared to scrub

If you’re on a long trip, you’re likely to need to wash your clothes. Naturally. But if you happen to need an extra pair of pants but you don’t have enough dirty garments to visit a laundromat, it’s a good idea to be prepared.

Bring a nail brush and some travel clothes wash to do some sink scrubbing of your bits and pieces that you need cleaned ASAP. A travel sink plug is also useful as they tend to go walkabout in hostels and washing your clothes under a gushing faucet isn’t the most environmentally friendly. Give a scrub and hang it to dry on the rails of your bunk bed – who cares if everyone gets a front row seat to your clean undies. If you stay in hostels for long enough, you soon feel like you’re at home!

18. Travel mug

Well, what can’t you eat out of a mug? If you’re cooking or fancy a snack, but there’s not a clean bowl or plate in sight then grab your trusty travel mug and tuck in! They’re small enough for you to wedge into your backpack or stuff jewellery in when on the move, and it’ll be a god send when you just can’t be arsed to fish through the debris in an unkempt kitchen for some kind of container.

Maybe it’s the English in me, but if you’re in need of a therapeutic cup of tea, knowing your mug is near you means you’ll never go without your beverage!

19. Take a pinch of salt with you

I’m not talking cooking here, although salt is a great thing to travel with if you want to do some hostel-cooking! Room mess ups can happen anywhere; from upmarket hotels to budget homestays. There is always a chance of a booking going awry or a transaction not going through, so keep your cool if you turn up and you can’t lie down immediately. It’s annoying but it will get sorted, so don’t allow your temper to flare up.

When in a Coogee Beach hostel in Sydney, our booked room had been taken accidentally. We got an upgrade but first had to get through a night crashing in either the all girls dorm or the all boys dorm. I drew the short straw (oh what a shame) and stayed in the testosterone addled room, but luckily they were as sweet as pie and soon I had my upgrade of a private room.

20. Sharing is caring

Whether it’s condiments, coffee, tea bags, milk or a spoon; sharing is caring in a hostel. Be the good samaritan and help out those in need of the odd bits and bobs to help their stay go smoothly as well. Everyone seems to repay the favours and there’s nothing more welcoming than someone helping you’re missing essentials and haven’t had a chance to go to the local shop.

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There’s a huge variety of hostels in the world today and they are getting more beautiful by the second! These tips will prepare you for anything and make your trip easier no matter what kind of hostel you end up in.

Hostels are always a top choice of mine no matter what my budget is (OK I would say yes to a five star hotel if the price is right…), however what better way is there to meet fellow travellers and make new friends when on the road? Cram yourself into a hostel and meet your new family – you’ll have a blast!

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Sophie Saint was one of the original travelettes, from 2009 – 2017. After fleeing the UK with ink barely dry on her graduation certificate, she traversed the world with a backpack and spent a few years living in Melbourne – one of her favourite cities in the world.

She finally returned to the UK after a few years where she now whiles time away zipping off for European escapes, crocheting and daydreaming of owning her own hostel somewhere hot to live out eternal summers. See what she’s up to over on her blog saintsonaplane.com and instagram: @saintsonaplane