6 Tips for Hostel First-Timers

1. Ask Questions.

People in hostels are hostel people. Hostels are full of people who are used to the environment—hostels are inexpensive and community-oriented, and a ton of people choose to travel that way. As a newcomer, be prepared to be treated like you know how these things work. I can’t tell you how many times I repeated, “I’m sorry, this is my first time in a hostel—what do I do about this?”

2. Always say hi.

I always hear about people that make lifelong friends in hostels, but in my experience, lots of people wait to be talked to. I was in my hostel room for four nights, and the first night, I was so concerned about figuring out what I was doing that I muttered a “hi” to one guy and went to sleep. By the end, I was saying “Hi! Hey! How are ya? I’m Chelsea!” to everyone that walked through the door. If you’re staying somewhere for two or even one night, make it a point to be kind. I could have probably been married to my gorgeous Belgian roommate by now if I’d opened up a little sooner (kidding, mostly, but if you know anything about European men you know what I mean).

3. Be trusting, but not stupid.

I came armed with a few padlocks, and on day one, I was told to throw my stuff in a hold for a few hours before I could check in. I gulped at the thought of leaving my laptop and camera lenses in my backpack to be pawed through by anyone, and ended up toting them around town while I wasted time before check-in, just about breaking my arm and shoulder in the process. Once I was in the room, there were plenty of places to tuck my stuff. It’s worth it to be smart if you’re traveling with multi-thousand-dollar equipment like I was, but look at it this way. You don’t even think about your roommates’ stuff. You’re so concerned about keeping your own things in your space and out of others’ ways, so what makes you think everyone else is just waiting to paw through your stuff? They’re not. Chill out.

4. Be generous.

Half the people that walked through the door of room 417 had lost their phone chargers or forgotten their adapters or were out of toothpaste. Speak up if you have things to offer. I learned very quickly just how community-oriented the hostel crowd is, and you don’t want to put yourself on the outside of it. Where’s the fun in that?

5. Befriend the employees.

If you’re staying somewhere a few days in a row, chances are you’ll start to see familiar faces. All of the above tips are a lot easier if you know who’s running the place. Getting to know the receptionists and waitstaff at KEX made it that much easier for me to ask for directions or recommendations or whatever else. Who knows, you might even end up with free breakfast one morning or an extra pillow. It’s the little things, people.

6. Plan ahead.

Several of the hostels I stumbled upon in Iceland did not have the necessary paperwork to be registered as legal hostels in the country. Different countries have different requirements, but even if a place to stay comes recommended make sure the hostel has paperwork to back it up. If you’re a risk-taker, knock yourself out, but just be aware what you might be getting yourself into. I’m a live-by-the-law kind of gal, so just for peace of mind, I don’t skip this step.

Most regular travelers agree that hostels are a unique way to travel and an exciting way to experience a new location or culture, especially if you’re traveling alone. I was scared of them for a long time, but they’re worth it when you finally bite the bullet. I have no regrets and am already shopping for hostels for my next European adventure. Feel free to share your experiences or tips in the comments!