What is it like to Stay in a Hostel? (From a Full-Time Backpacker)

Wondering what it is like to stay in a hostel?

You’ve come to the right place as I’m a full-time budget traveller and I stay in hostels everywhere I go.

Staying in a hostel for the first time can be intimidating, especially when you don’t know what to expect.

I remember before my first time in a hostel I was overthinking everything, and I had a million questions about what hostels are actually like.

So to help you out, I’ve written about my experiences in hostels and how it feels to stay in a hostel.

What is it like to Stay in a Hostel?

I’ll start by saying that staying in a hostel is the best experience in the world, but it’s not for everyone.

If you are someone who likes your personal space, doesn’t want to sacrifice your standards, hates the idea of showering in a below-par bathroom and can’t imagine sharing a room with someone snoring; hostels aren’t for you.

But if you want to travel more than these things bother you, then hostels are definitely for you.

Staying in a hostel is the best way to travel on a budget, no doubt about it. You’ll hear everyone say this, but few people tell you what it’s actually like to stay in a hostel.

The truth is, you don’t have any personal space. You’re sharing a room with at least 3 people, usually 5-7 in Europe, but if you’re backpacking the Banana Pancake Route in Southeast Asia, for example, sometimes the rooms have as many as 40 beds!

Hostel dormitory room with multiple bunk beds and personal items, showing a typical shared sleeping arrangement for budget travelers.

Naturally, this means that you have limited privacy, it’s uncommon to be in your room alone and there are few places to go to have time to yourself.

It can get pretty overwhelming if you’re travelling for long periods of time, which is why the lack of privacy is one of the cons of backpacking.

But it’s also a blessing because the fact you are constantly surrounded by others means you’re guaranteed to make new friends. The beautiful thing about staying in a hostel is that while most people are solo travellers, few people actually want to be alone.

Everyone wants to make friends and have a group of people to spend the day with. And since everyone is in the same boat, it makes sense to speak to people and get to know those staying in your hostel.

One of the best advantages of solo travel is it’s sooo much easier to make new friends than if you are already with someone.

Group of smiling young travelers who met in a hostel posing together indoors.
A group of friends I made at my hostel in Washington, D.C.

I’ve made some life-long friends from hostels. You never know who you’re going to meet- your future best friend could be sitting in the common room right now while you’re on the train to your first hostel, you never know.

One of my favourite quotes about hostels is “Hostel life: where strangers become friends and every day is an adventure” and I think this perfectly summarises what it’s like to stay in a hostel.

There are some other downsides to staying in hostels and these come in the form of comfort and cleanliness. It’s no secret that hostels aren’t as comfortable as hotels, and it makes sense considering the price difference.

Mattresses in hostels are usually hard and pillows are usually very thin. Personally, I like a hard mattress anyway so this doesn’t bother me, but if you’re used to memory foam underneath you while you sleep, you will have a shock staying in a hostel.

First-person view of a hostel bed with white linens, depicting the simple, compact sleeping arrangements often found in hostels.
My hostel in Lisbon had a curtain which was a nice feature!

And hostels are naturally less clean than hotels too. Again, thanks to the cheaper price, but also because things are communal. Sharing a bathroom with other people, versus having a private bathroom is going to have obvious differences. The same with the kitchen, the dorm rooms, the common area, and everywhere else in a hostel.

But if you ask me, these are small sacrifices that have to be made in order to keep backpacking inexpensive.

Staying in a hostel simply takes some getting used to. You have to accept there will be small, minor inconveniences such as you are making a meal in the kitchen at the same time as a few other people, or you need to wait 10 minutes for the shower.

Dimly lit hostel kitchen with tiled walls, featuring a sink, cooking area, and assorted kitchenware, creating a communal cooking space for travelers.

Things like this can be frustrating at the start, but you quickly get used to it. The biggest one is getting to sleep. Some people find it hard to sleep in hostels, personally, I don’t, but I can understand why others do. My top tip is to bring an eye mask and earplugs to make it easier to fall asleep in a noisy room.

There are always things you can do to make hostel life go smoother. And I’ll give you some top tips later in the post.

By the way, make sure you know what to wear to sleep in a hostel – you always need to be considerate of others in your room and make sure you are dressed appropriately, even when you sleep.

Hostels do get some bad reputations. There are many misconceptions about hostels such as hostels are dangerous, or guys are constantly trying to hit on girls, or everyone is there to party until 5 am, or they’re miles outside of the centre.

And while there is some truth that hostels will obviously be less safe than hotels, a vast majority of hostels are completely safe. Sure, some guys will shoot their shot, but it can happen anyway, and it’s much less common in a hostel than you’d think.

Some people will come in at 5 am, but that’s just the way it is, most people won’t. And while it’s unusual to find a hostel right on the doorstep of a tourist attraction, they’re usually only a 30-minute walk from the centre at most.

Some people will also stay in one hostel, have a bad experience and then criticize every hostel in the whole world. How? That’s like staying in a bad hotel and then never staying in any hotel ever again. Every hostel is different, and the large majority are good.

Modern capsule hostel sleeping area with numbered pods, each with a personal capsule and bedding, for private, efficient accommodation
One of the fanciest hostels I’ve stayed in – Next House Copenhagen.

The best hostels are designed for you to meet people, offering free tours, bar hopping nights, quizzes, game nights, etc. Hosting events like these are the perfect opportunity to make new friends and as I said earlier, this is one of the biggest perks about staying in a hostel.

And usually, the staff in hostels are super friendly. It’s rare that you would stand and talk to the receptionist in a hotel for anything other than the hotel, but in hostels, I have conversations with the staff all the time.

It really is a life-changing experience staying in a hostel, and I can’t recommend it enough.

I always say that until you’ve stayed in a hostel, you don’t really know what it’s like to stay in a hostel. It’s impossible to explain what it’s like to stay in a hostel, you need to feel it for yourself. So I’d strongly encourage you to book your first hostel!

My mum was very anxious about me staying in a hostel for the first time, but once I explained to her what it was like, she understood and now has no problems with me staying in hostels all around the world.

Staying in a hostel is the best decision you can make, especially if you are travelling on a budget. Once you’ve stayed in a hotel once, you’ll never want to stay in a hotel again.

Group of smiling young travelers posing together outdoors, symbolizing the social and friendly atmosphere encountered while staying in hostels.
A group of friends I made at my hostel in Washington, D.C.

Want to make friends before you even arrive in your hostel? I created a Facebook group recently for backpackers to ask questions, share stories, find new friends and anything else you could think of!

A promotional image for my Facebook Group. If you click the image, you will be taken to my group.

Things to Know about Staying in a Hostel

There are some things to know about hostels before staying in one for the first time. There are some unique things to consider when staying in a hostel which doesn’t really apply to a hotel. These aren’t quite tips for staying (I’ve got some of those after), but things that I think you should know in advance.

Etiquette and Respect

The reason that hostels are able to function so well is because of the people who stay there. People who stay in hostels all want to have the best stay possible, and a lot of the time, this comes down to who else is staying in the hostel.

This is why there are some basic hostel rules which everyone follows. You should ensure you follow general hostel etiquette which is basically just to be courteous. If you’re coming in at 2 am, don’t turn the light on, for example.

Types of Rooms

Most hostels will offer different-sized rooms. Generally, the more beds in a room, the cheaper it will be. In my opinion, there’s not much difference between sharing a room with 40 people compared to 20 people. But there’s a good difference between sharing a room with 3 people and 10 people. If you’re going on a longer trip, vary your room sizes and find out which you prefer.

Some hostels will also offer private rooms, which are a good option for couples travelling on a budget, or for when you want a bit of privacy every now and again. They’re usually much cheaper than a hotel room because they are also basic like a dorm room, the only difference is you have the room to yourself.

A bunk bed with a red metal frame and mattresses with blue sheets. The room looks somewhat unclean, showing what it is like to stay in a hostel.


Some hostels do have curfews, which means you can’t enter or exit the hostel between certain hours, in other words, you won’t be able to rock into your dorm room at 4 am and disturb everyone.

It’s becoming less popular and few hostels have a curfew, to be honest, but it’s important to always check if your hostel has curfew hours so that you don’t end up locked out.

Age restrictions

Some people assume that hostels are only for young people, thanks to the longer name of “youth hostel” and sometimes this is true. Some hostels have a limit of 35 years old, and if you’re older, you aren’t able to stay.

But there are many hostels which don’t have a limit, so if you are a bit older, make sure you check if there are any restrictions. Obviously, you need to be 18 to stay in a hostel.

Blue and white directional sign against a clear sky, pointing to a 'Youth Hostel' with icons representing bed and Wi-Fi facilities, surrounded by greenery

Book direct

One of my best backpacking hacks is to do your hostel research on Hostelworld, but book your stay directly with the hostel you choose.

Most of the time it works out cheaper, as they don’t have to pay processing fees. I’m actually an affiliate for Hostelworld, so I’m shooting myself in the foot by telling you this, but I can’t help giving you tips to save money!

But I do still use Hostelworld to choose my hostel as it shows all of the information clearly.

Josh’s 10 Tips for Staying in a Hostel for the First Time

It’s one thing reading about what it is like to stay in a hostel, but it’s another thing to stay in a hostel for yourself. To help things go as smoothly as possible, and to ensure you have the best time possible, I’ve put together some of the best tips I’ve learnt from staying in hostels all around the world.

  1. Bring flip-flops: If you don’t want to walk on the dirty bathroom flower or stand in a dirty shower in your bare feet, bring flip-flops or sliders. Plus, they’re comfy just to lounge about the hostel in. They’re an essential item on my hostel packing list.
  2. Bring an eye mask and ear plugs: Unfortunately, people snore. It’s annoying, and it’s hard to fall asleep. But wearing earplugs can help this. And wearing an eyemask can keep you asleep if anyone turns the light on during the night.
  3. Choose a bottom bunk: Sleeping in the bottom bunk is much better than the top bunk as it makes it easier to get on and off your bed, especially when it’s dark. And it means you can organise your bag and put things in and take things out easier.
  4. Always say hello: When you first walk into a room and see someone for the first time, always say hello. If you don’t say hello when you walk in, it makes it difficult to start a conversation out of nowhere. And if someone walks into a room, say hello too.
  5. Don’t be afraid to turn the lights off: If you’re ready to go to sleep and it’s getting late, don’t be afraid to go and turn the lights off. As long as no one is packing or unpacking, most people won’t have a problem.
  6. Bring a padlock: Hostels have lockers where you can keep your bag, but most require you to bring a padlock. Speaking from personal experience, I recommend you get one with a code rather than a key. It’s very easy to lose the key…😕
  7. Speak to the staff: The staff in hostels are really friendly and you can have great chats, but they also know the area really well. Whether you’re looking for something to do, somewhere to eat or just general advice, the staff will be able to help you out.
  8. Go to events: If you stay in a hostel which organises things to do, which I recommend, take advantage of the offer! It’s a really easy way to meet people and it’s better than lying in bed and doing nothing.
  9. Make your own food: Especially if you’re travelling long-term, it’s much better value for money if you make your own meals rather than eating out. Most hostels will have kitchens, so make use of them and save yourself money.
  10. Take your phone to the bathroom: One of my biggest pet peeves of mine is when someone sets an alarm, wakes up, snoozes it, goes to the bathroom and it goes off while they’re gone. And it keeps going and going and going. Just take your phone with you to the bathroom, it does everyone else a favour.

I also have some backpacking tips for general ways to save money while travelling on a budget.

What is it like to Stay in a Hostel: FAQ

Below are some common questions about what it is like to stay in a hostel along with my answers to each question.

Is it worth it to stay in a hostel?

Yes, staying in a hostel is worth it because you save a lot of money compared to hotels, and you have the opportunity to meet like-minded people. Hostels are the best way to make friends while travelling.

What is it like to live in a hostel?

Living in a hostel is a unique experience. It takes a while to learn how to share a space with others. Things like cooking a meal in the kitchen at the same time as someone else, or having to wait to use the shower are things that you need to get used to.

Is it fun to stay in hostel?

Yes, staying in a hostel is really fun. Everyone who stays in hostels has the same mindset and shares similar attitudes to life. Everyone is in the same boat and wants to make friends while travelling, and hostels provide the perfect setting.

What is the disadvantage of staying in hostel?

There are a few disadvantages of staying in a hostel such as the lack of privacy as you are sharing a space with others; the lack of comfort as the beds are cheaper and mattresses are harder; and the fact that hostels are generally less clean.

Is it hard to sleep in a hostel?

It can be hard to sleep in a hostel if you need complete silence and pitch-black darkness to sleep. Bringing an eye-mask and ear plugs can help you to fall asleep in a hostel and not be disturbed during the night.

Final Thoughts: Staying in a Hostel

And there you have it, a complete overview of what it’s like to stay in a hostel.

As I said, it’s an amazing experience, it just takes some getting used to.

I’d recommend hostels to everyone, it’s by far the best way to meet people while travelling.

Now that you know what staying in a hostel is like, you might want to learn about Couchsurfing- did you know it’s not free anymore?