Oh hostels. So cheap! So social! So tempting for those traveling alone! Until you wake up at 3 am to a bunch of drunk youths stumbling around cackling and remember you are 33 years old with sleep issues and this is hell. This is when you need a hostel survival guide (plus a list of my favorite hostels around the world).
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So why stay in hostels at all?
Well, money, mainly. I have planned my year-long trip with a pretty good budget, but in expensive destinations like Geneva or Paris, sometimes I want to spend my money on doing things instead.
Also, as a solo traveler, hostels are social in a way that hotels and Airbnbs will never be. The chance to meet people is too good to pass up once in a while. It’s almost harder to not meet people – while I’m unpacking my pajamas the woman in the next bunk will start chatting, or while floating in the pool at my Australian hostel the conversation just naturally starts as we debate whether those increasing clouds mean rain.
When you’re on a short trip, meeting people seems less important. After all, your time is limited and you’ve got plans. But I’ve found now that I’m traveling all the time, making new friendships however brief is critical to my mental health. And hostels are such a seamless way to do it, even if you’re shy like I am.
And even if it’s a less than ideal stay (which has rarely happened to me), you’ll get a good hostel story out of it in the end. Like the time I hung out with a normal-seeming guy in Malaysia and found out the next day he was a flat earther who believes clouds are created by planes. That’s never happened to me in a hotel!
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How to stay sane and get some sleep
First, you’ll need a few essentials:
- Earplugs. Can’t stress this one enough. Between street noise and that one girl who has to go through her entire suitcase (which seems to be filled entirely with rusty plastic bags) every night, these cannot be forgotten. Often hostels will have free ones, but I don’t always find them effective. So I carry these incredible ones with me (also great on planes with screaming kids).
- Silk eye mask. Keep all the glowing lights of the youths on TikTok late at night from rousing you. Also makes you feel a little glam in a decidedly unglamorous place. I’ve sworn by this super soft one for years.
- Bathrobe. Trudging down the hall to a coed bathroom is something I didn’t even do in college (I went to a catholic school and not even our dorms were mixed-sex). Throwing an extra layer on, especially one that has pockets for your room key, is a very nice move. Now I have a green silk one I bought in Bali, but this cheap but lovely one came with me on the start of my trip.
- Silk sleeping bag liner. Sometimes sheets in hostels are scratchy, or old, or just not warm enough. This is the time to slip into your portable silk sheets! The liner folds up to the size of an apple and weighs almost nothing, so it’s worth the feeling of being cocooned and toasty when you want.
Choose your hostel wisely
The vibe, noise level, and social life varies widely from hostel to hostel. If you’re not looking to stay out until 3 am drinking cheap beer, because at 33 even 2 beers makes you feel it the next day, be sure to check online reviews.
I rely on the extensive reviews on Hostelworld, because they have the most accurate ones from people who actually frequently stay in hostels. Looking on other sites like TripAdvisor, I’ll often find reviews complaining about sharing a bathroom or roommates who go to bed late or get up early (yes, you’re in a hostel, it’s a shared space, thank u next).
Always check your review sources
Plus on Hostelworld, you can now sort reviews by the age of reviewer, so you know I’m always looking to see what the 30-somethings are saying. The one time I neglected to do this, I ended up in Montenegro in a super highly-rated hostel… that it turns out was highly rated by all the very drunk 20 year olds who came for the welcome shot (YIKES) and stayed for the daily drinking games. Not exactly my scene as a 33 year old woman traveling alone but at least it was $9 a night.
You can also find hostels that have private rooms, so you can get some sleep while traveling on a budget too. I stayed in the Athens Quinta hostel (pictured at the top!) and they have a mix of spaces. I loved my private room and got great sleep there.
A few of my favorite hostels for solo female travelers around the world
London: I have two hostels in London I like when I’m in the city, which happens a few times a year now. Wombats City Hostel London is my favorite – nice showers, big kitchen, female-only rooms. And a location close to many tourist sights, and walking distance to Spitalfields. When that’s booked, I like the Astor Hyde Park Hostel in a beautiful old building in posh Kensington. It’s around the corner from the lush Kensington Gardens, and attracts a quiet crowd.
Bangkok: The best hostel in Bangkok (and one of my all-time favorite hostels) is The Yard. The most welcoming staff creates a super-friendly atmosphere, and I’ve always met a ridiculous amount of lovely people every time I’ve stayed. Plus great beds, which are a rarity in Southeast Asia.
Kuala Lumpur: The Back Home Hostel in Kuala Lumpur had a beautiful, chic design, a nice free breakfast, and very friendly staff. And the bunks were huge and almost like pods – you get a whole kind of platform to yourself as well as a locker. Safe, friendly, and lovely.
Edinburgh: The Castle Rock Hostel in Edinburgh has an incredible location – right under the Edinburgh Castle in the heart of the old city. They have all-female dorms with comfy beds in a cool old building and really good security.
Sydney: My favorite hostel in Sydney was actually not that great of a hostel – it was under construction, which they failed to mention when booking. But the location of Wake Up, Bondi is incredible: right across the street from the beautiful Bondi Beach. And having heard horror stories about the other Bondi-area hostels, this one was at least clean and friendly.
Vienna: Another city, another Wombats – I loved the Wombats City Hostel in Vienna. I went down to the bar for one drink and left hours later with a whole bunch of new friends, who I still chat with on Insta to this day. Again, very clean and great beds!
Venice: In this perfect heaven of a very expensive city, it’s key to stay somewhere affordable and out of the way of crowds. The Combo hostel in Venice is in a quiet square but a quick walk from the main sights, and the rooms are huge – I booked a 6-bed female dorm and ended up in a big room with just two beds! Plus they have a really good extensive breakfast for just 7 euros – a big bargain in Venice.
The most important thing to remember to being with you is an open mind. It’s easy when you’re traveling solo to get too comfortable with your solitude and having everything your own way.
But sometimes, even when you’re sleepy, it’s good to stay up and drink (one) cheap Greek beer with the people you’ve just met and get to know a little about them, or embark on a road trip through the mountains to a private (and nude!) beach inside a rock cavern.
It’s nerve-wracking, especially when you’re as shy as I am sometimes. But it’s worth opening yourself up to a little vulnerability to have some adventures and make some new friends.
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