Culture

Some Tips To Help You Win At Hostel Living

How to master the art of hostel living.

Brought to you by YHA Australia

YHA Australia is part of the world's largest backpacker accommodation network, providing more than 4,000 hostels in over 60 countries.

Hardy travellers know how crucial hostels are for keeping sane and socialised. Where else can you find a sympathetic friend with a can opener to help pry open your Campbell’s soup? Or to replace your dog-eared Murakami with an unread paperback? Or to swap commentary with while watching the entire first season of MTV’s Teen Mom on your last day in the States?

Sure, there’s a certain art to hostel living, but once you’ve mastered it you’ll find travelling becomes a little more Friends than Big Brother. Here are some tricks to get you started.


Don’t pick a party hostel if you’re not a party person

Cape Byron YHA (180)

This DOES look pretty fun. The Cape Byron YHA.

Hostels aren’t just for the terrifyingly social anymore. With a rise in older travellers and travellers with children, there’s pretty much a perfect hostel for everyone. Think of the hostel as your ‘sharehouse on the go’, only without the Gumtree ads or passive aggressive text messages. So pick a hostel that’s right for you. If you value your quiet time, choose a dorm with four-bed bunks and avoid the 20-bed sleeping fests. If you like socialising, but find it difficult to approach people, look for a hostel with a lively events calendar.

Read reviews like a theatre critic and don’t make price your only factor – a hostel without a kitchen will cost you more in the long run. Be aware of your hostel’s cancellation policy so you always have an easy way out. And if you (shudder) didn’t do your research and rock up somewhere that feels dodgy, trust your gut. There’s no shame changing your mind if it doesn’t feel right – what’s $20 if it means you avoid lodging in Urine Town?


Pack like a genius

New Cape Byron (4)

Pluggers not pictured.

Did somebody say thongs? Only a fool would hostel without them; they’re perfect for just about anything from showering to getting around the communal areas to starting a conversation with Americans about whether they should actually be called “flip flops”. (It’s not our fault that “thongs” means something entirely different to them.)

Other incredibly handy things you’ll want:

  •  A light microfibre travel towel, fast-drying and scrunch-friendly.
  • A head torch or book light, so you can stay up reading without annoying your dorm mates.
  • Ear plugs and eye mask, so you can sleep without rage.
  • A can and/or bottle opener, because when you really, really want one I guarantee it will not be there.
  • A travel mug, so you always have a sense of home and don’t have to wash one every time you want a cuppa.
  • An external battery pack, to keep your valuables charging safely near your head while you sleep.
  • A hanging toiletries bag, to slip over the shower door and stop your essentials from touching that well-trod floor.
  • A sarong, which can be used for absolutely everything, from a post-bathroom robe to a bunk curtain.
  • A padlock, to secure your locker or deter fumbling fingers from your backpack.

And before you pack that laptop or Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, think again. Do you really need it? As one seasoned traveller wisely advised me, “You’re there for the experience, not to be keeping an eye on your laptop!” Most hostels will have computers available anyway for a small fee.


Learn proper dorm etiquette

Melbourne Central YHA - Bar (3)

“We need to talk about your plastic bag problem.”

Basic dorm etiquette is essential to keep your new hostel family on your side. That means no plastic bags, unless you want to enrage said family by rustling like a wild tree all night. When planning a big evening out, leave your sleeping attire on your bed and take out your tooth brush, because no one likes the jerk who comes in and out of the room 60 times at 4am.

If your bed comes without a locker, sleep with your passport and wallet in the sheets. You might think your room mates are the greatest, but the risk just isn’t worth it, especially if people are coming and going.

And if you’re hoping to get lucky, CHECK INTO A PRIVATE ROOM LIKE A NORMAL PERSON WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?


Master your meals

Bellingen_Kitchen_01_YHA

Peanut butter is sort of like a vegetable, right?

Having to fork out a good chunk of your daily travel budget on accommodation and activities means your diet is likely to take a back seat. Avoid fast food and expensive restaurants by cooking some meals at the hostel kitchen. This area of prime hostel real estate can sometimes be busy, so you’ll want to get in and out with one-pot or microwave meals.

Pasta is a widely-loved staple among hostel guests, as is risotto and (incredibly unhealthy) two-minute noodles. If you absolutely have to go the two-minute noodle route, bulk up your sodium soup with some veggies to make it go further – and actually resemble a meal people should eat. For instance, you can take any Asian-style broth to the next level with slices of meat or tofu, broccoli, carrot and a boiled egg. For your Maggi chicken noodle variety, add a diced tomato or stir fry some zucchini matchsticks to chuck on top (just make sure you salt them and squeeze out the liquid before frying).

Port Lincoln YHA_Paella

Communal cooking at its finest at the Port Lincoln YHA.

For extra seasoning, keep an eye on the free food shelf, and if you find you have wandering fridge hands, get some help. Chances are, people will be more than happy to share some essentials with you – so long as you ask. Collaboration is often the cheapest and most enjoyable way to dine hostel-style.


Don’t suffer in silence

Blue Mountains YHA - Kitchen (3)

Solo travel isn’t all wild adventure and Instagrammable scenery: it can be deeply lonely and introspective. Sure, one of the best things about hostel living is getting to meet a bunch of fabulous, interesting international people, but trying to fit in for so long can get exhausting, especially for those who prefer their own company.

Rather than retreating each evening to your dorm in terror, head bravely to the common areas with your beverage and reading material of choice. One of the most rewarding parts of travel is learning not only to be comfortable with your own company, but around other people. Even if you’re shy, hostels provide that sense of place that’s so crucial when you’re travelling alone. And if you master good hostel etiquette, you might even make some bosom buddies along the way.

From castles to boats, jails to lighthouses, YHA has more than 4,000 hostels in 80 countries including 85 across Australia. Kick start your travel dreams with globetrotting inspiration here.