Have you been through all my hostel tips but still haven’t found answers to your questions about hostel life? I get questions about hostels on a daily basis, and so I thought I’d put together a hostel FAQs post to cover all the basics!
Most of the answers you’ll find here are based on my own personal experience. Luckily, despite hundreds of nights spent in hostels across Europe, almost all of my experiences have been positive. More than positive in fact. I’ve fallen in love with hostels and I want you to as well!
So read on, and if there’s a question you think I should have included in this hostel FAQs post then feel free to ask away in the comments.
P.s. You can find out everything I know about hostels in my book: The Hostel Guide: The Ultimate Backpackers Guide to Staying and Working in Hostels in Europe.
Hostel FAQs Contents:
What is a Hostel?
Are Hostels Safe?
How Much Do Hostels Cost?
Everything You’ve Ever Wanted To Know About Hostels
What is a Hostel?
What Is The Difference Between a Hostel and a Hotel?
Most people think that the main difference between a hostel and a hotel is that in a hostel you have to share bunk beds, but in a hotel you have private rooms only.
When hostels were first invented (which you can read about in this brief history of hostels), this may have been true. But in the 21st Century, the difference between a hostel and a hotel has far more to do with atmosphere.
Here’s a short list of the ways a hostel provides a more social atmosphere than a hotel:
- There are communal lounge areas for guests to hang out together.
- The staff at hostels tend to be more laid back… and keen to get involved in fun activities!
- Hostels often run fun activities, like walking tours, bar crawls, and evening dinners for their guests.
Also, while hotels offer a lot of extra amenities such as TVs in the room and toiletries in the bathrooms, hostels tend to have more basic facilities. However, the idea behind this is that with the money saved on unnecessary extras, more money can be invested in creating a modern and exciting place for young people to stay in while travelling!
For example, you usually have to pay to hire a towel in hostels. So most travellers carry their own travel towel. This helps the hostel save money on laundry, which they can invest in fun social activities for their guests.
Do You Have To Be Over 18 To Stay in a Hostel?
You might find that many hostels in Europe have an age-limit of 18 and over. Some even have a maximum age limit to try and keep the atmosphere inside the hostel youthful. Or for example, if they are running a party hostel.
The reason for the minimum age limit in some hostels may come down to local laws regarding minors. It’s also very common that hostels will not allow travellers under the age of 16 to stay in a shared dorm room, even if they are staying with their parents. However, in these cases, some hostels are more than happy to accept families who want to stay in a private room.
Generally, if you are under 18 and planning to stay in hostels, then it’s best to contact each hostel before booking. Some will allow you to stay, but you won’t be allowed in a mixed dorm room. Others may not allow you to book at all. Another way you can check is to make sure to read the small print on the booking website. However, contacting the hostel directly is my top suggestion.
Why Do Hostels Ask For Your Passport?
It is a requirement for hostels and hotels in countries in the European Union to record the passport details of their guests. There are various reasons for this, but the main one is so that the information can be made available to the police if requested.
This is why hostels ask for your passport at checkout, or if they can make a photocopy of it. Even though I am from the UK, I still have to hand over my passport when checking into hostels in London.
One thing hostels don’t really need to do is keep hold of your passport. Once they’ve recorded your ID number, name and address you should be able to take it straight back. So be wary if the reception asks to hold onto your passport to give back to you at a later time.
Do Hostels Still Have Curfews?
You may have noticed that some hostels don’t offer 24-hour reception. And traditionally, some youth hostels would impose curfews on their guests, who would have to return to the hostel before the reception closed and the doors were locked.
These days, this is highly unlikely. When hostels don’t offer 24-hour reception, they usually allow guests to come and go as they please with their own key to the hostel. That being said, it’s always best to double-check the description and reviews of any hostel you might suspect to impose a curfew.
Are Hostels Safe?
Are Hostels in Europe Safe?
You’re probably asking if hostels are safe because of one aspect of hostel life: sharing dorm rooms with strangers. When you’re sharing a room with other people, you have to trust that your belongings will be safe, and that you will be able to sleep safely.
But one thing that people often forget is that the majority of people sharing their room are people just like you and me. People who are looking for budget friendly accommodation and a great experience. Chances are that the last thing on your mind is stealing from others, or causing them harm. So chances are, these are also the last things on the minds of the people you’re sharing a room with.
As for general security, many large hostels these days (such as St Christopher’s Inns, Generator Hostels, or Clink Hostels) have security guards keeping an eye on the front door. Security is there to make sure people who aren’t staying at the hostel don’t sneak in. And even in smaller hostels, like ones I’ve worked in, we had security cameras so that we could watch the door from reception.
If you’re still unsure, I’ve covered this topic in more depth and included tips on how to stay safe in hostels in this post: Are Hostels Safe? Personal Safety Tips For Staying in Hostels.
Will Your Valuables Be Safe In Hostels?
These days, almost all hostels in Europe offer lockers for your valuables. Some hostels have lockers in each dorm room (my favourite option!). While other hostels have lockers near the reception, which you can also use as luggage storage. But more on that later…
Ultimately, always check the hostel’s website or description on a booking site to make sure they have lockers if you need them. If there is no mention of lockers, then you can also get in touch with the hostel by email.
One final thing to note about lockers in hostels is that they differ a lot. Most hostel lockers require a padlock, but the sizes may differ. I discuss this more in my essential hostel packing list post, but ultimately it’s best to carry a few different lock sizes to fit all lockers. Alternatively, some hostels may have locks at the reception that you can buy or rent.
Do Hostels Have Female-Only Dorms?
Many hostels have begun to cater for solo female travellers who don’t want to share a mixed dorm, by offering female-only dorm rooms. This a great option for female travellers who want to experience hostel life without feeling intimidated by a room full of men.
Some hostels have an entire female-only wing, like St Christopher’s at the Oasis, which is on the second floor of the St Christopher’s at the Village Inn in London. Others have female-only dorms with freehair dryerss, full-length mirrors and private bathrooms.
However, not all hostels have a female-only dorm. The best way to find out which hostels do is to pop over to Hostelworld. Once you’ve searched for the city you want for the dates you’ll need, you can filter your results by room. Just tick ‘female dorm’ and you’ll only be shown hostels that have a female-only dorm!
How Much Do Hostels Cost?
How Much Are Hostels in Europe?
I’ve covered this topic in more depth in this article. But generally speaking, the average cost of a bed in hostels in Europe ranges from between €10 to €45.
The wide range is due to a number of factors. Hostels in capital cities like Paris and London cost a lot more than hostels in smaller cities in the same country. Some countries are also a lot cheaper than others. Hostels in Portugal, for example, are much cheaper than hostels in Switzerland.
The price of a hostel bed also depends on the size of the dorm room. Larger mixed dorms tend to cost less than smaller dorms. And there is also a common trend that female-only dorms are more expensive than mixed dorms.
Finally, it’s important to double check the dates you’re travelling with local events. Annual festivals (like King’s Day in Amsterdam for example) can really push hostel bed prices up… sometimes to as much as €70 for a bed!
Should You Book Hostels in Advance?
There’s something very romantic about arriving in a destination with no plans and no commitments. Or deciding at the last minute to head to Paris after London instead of Barcelona. Which is why so many of you guys ask me if you should book your hostels in advance.
Ultimately, the decision is up to you. However, my advice is that you should book hostels in advance if:
- You’re trying to stick to a budget. Last minute travel can mean you miss out on special offers for future bookings, or get left with the worst pick of hostels and/or dorm room size for a high price.
- You’re travelling at peak periods. Summer for example in Europe is the busiest season for travel, and therefore the demand is higher and so is the cost of a bed. Some destinations (like Bruges) are also really popular at Christmas, which can increase the cost of a bed, especially if you don’t book in advance.
Also, if this is your first time travelling, then I definitely advise booking in advance at least for the first couple of weeks. Arriving in a completely new culture can be nerve-wracking. So knowing that you have a bed and transport for the first couple of weeks means you have one less thing to worry about.
How Far Ahead Should You Book Your Hostels in Advance?
Without a doubt, one of the best parts about travelling in hostels is making new friends and getting advice on where to go and what to see from other people you’ll meet. This might mean that you want to change your plans slightly, and if you’ve booked super far ahead (like for your entire three-month trip), then you’ll have little flexibility to change those plans without losing out on money you’ve already paid.
So my advice is to book about three weeks in advance each time you change destinations. That way you’ll have a wider pick of beds, more flexibility to travel where you like, and less chance of being stuck without anywhere to say.
That being said, if you know there will be an event on (like Sziget Festival in Budapest) that will raise bed prices and decrease availability for the time you plan to be in the city, then it’s best to book as far ahead as possible.
Is Breakfast Included?
Like many aspects of hostel life, whether breakfast is included in the price of the bed or not is completely up to the hostel.
Some hostels will offer a basic breakfast (cereals, toast and jam) for free. Others will offer a more luxurious breakfast (with eggs, sausages, etc) but for a higher price, with no free option. The best way to find out if a hostel you are interested in offers free breakfast is to check the information and reviews on booking sites.
Something I am noticing more these days is that some hostels are encouraging guests to pay for their breakfast online when they book their bed. This upgrade is usually cheaper than the cost of breakfast once you’ve already arrived and checked-in to the hostel.
Below you can see the online booking process for Clink78 Hostel in London. Breakfast at Clink78 costs £2.00 when you pay at the hostel. But if you book in advance it’s half price… just £1.00!
Can You Leave Luggage in Hostels?
Almost all medium to large size hostels offer luggage storage facilities where you can leave your backpack if you need to. Most of them won’t allow you to leave luggage overnight (as I found out in Paris). But if you arrive early, or are leaving late in the day, then these facilities are a better option than carrying your luggage with you the whole day.
Not all luggage storage is free. Some hostels will offer a big locked room where you leave your bags for free. Others have a locker room in the reception with large lockers that fit backpacks. Usually, if a hostel offers lockers rather than free luggage storage then you are required to pay a few euros to rent the locker.
If you can’t leave your luggage in the hostel, then most train stations in big cities in Europe have lockers for hire. You can find a great list of left luggage lockers in train stations here.
Do Hostels Have Towels & Toiletries?
I mentioned in the section about the difference between hotels and hostels that many hostels don’t offer free towels or toiletries in the bathrooms. So it’s always best to make sure you pack your own travel towel and toiletries.
If a hostel does offer towels and toiletries, they are usually only available to rent or buy. I actually love it when a hostel sells toiletries. There’s nothing easier than running out of toothpaste and popping down to reception to buy some more!
That being said, there are some hostels that still invest in a few extra amenities for their guests. The Beehive Hostel in Rome for example stocks the best smelling liquid soap in their showers!
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So there you have it! All my insider tips on hostels inspired by your frequently asked questions!
Of course, this roundup of hostel FAQs could have been a whole lot longer. And while I’ve tried to cover as many of the most crucial worries that some of you may have, I understand there still may be topics I’ve missed. So as always, feel free to email me or leave a comment below with any other hostel FAQs you might want answering.
Lots of love,