A backpacker’s guide to hostels

Staying in hostels is one of the best things about backpacking. You’ll meet loads of new people and share experiences that you’d never get to try if you were traveling alone. Hostels are often cheap and have all sorts of facilities, from swimming pools to on-site bowling alleys. If you’re a hostel first-timer, there’s bound to be some questions you want answered. Read our backpackers guide to hostels…

Before you go:
Before you leave for your destination, check out the discount accommodation cards available for your destination. One of the most common is the International Hostelling (IH) card. It also grants you various discounts at travel shops, like 10% off at Millets – ideal for purchasing some backpacking necessities!

It’s often worth exploring the different cards and packages on offer, as there are often plenty of promotions tied in with them. Coach tours, attractions and even plane fares can sometimes be discounted if you’re a hostel cardholder, so it’s definitely worth becoming a member even if you aren’t planning on solely using a single chain of hostels.

Advance booking:
If it’s your first time hostelling, it will probably pay off to always book ahead so you know where you’re staying. Especially if it’s your first night in a new country. You’ll be jetlagged and disoriented, and it’s quite likely you’ll need some help getting your bearings. Booking your hostel ahead is an extra security measure, you know you’ve got somewhere to fall back on.

You can make hostel bookings over the internet or by phone. Find a reliable, up-to-date guidebook or hop on to the internet and start browsing the available hostels. You’ll find countless options available to you, so try to make sure that your final choice is within your budget and is in a sensible location. Ask other backpackers on social networking sites like Facebook for recommendations and warnings. This way you’ll book the right hostel which suits you.

What to expect:
In most hostels, you’ll find yourself with basic, simple (and hopefully clean) accommodation. Washing facilities, bathrooms and bedrooms will all be shared if you’re choosing the cheapest option. Although you can hire private rooms depending on the hostel (sometimes they even have en suites!). The most cost-effective way to use hostels is using dormitory beds. You’ll often have the option of choosing single-sex or mixed dorms; this is usually in place to make female travellers feel safer. Don’t be daunted by the size of the dorms – in some hostels they can be as big as 20 or more people, but as a general rule you’ll find 6-8 or fewer beds per room.

On arrival:
When you arrive at your hostel, don’t be scared! Settle yourself into your room, find an empty bed and introduce yourself to your new roommates. Try breaking the ice by asking where the kitchen and bathrooms are. Remember that everyone else in the hostel is in the same boat as you.

For the first couple of days, keep yourself busy. Spend some time in the social room and find out where people are from, what they’ve done and where they’re going. Chat to the reception staff and get yourself booked on some activities.

Look after your belongings:
Hostel dorms lock so that only backpackers that sleep in that dorm can access it. However, this doesn’t mean you should ignore sensible security precautions – the people you’re sharing a room with are complete strangers, so use your common sense.

Check with the hostel reception where you’re able to store valuables like your passport, travellers’ cheques and your travel documents. Don’t stash valuables under your mattress. If it’s something very important, put it in your day pack.

Finally, don’t forget your backpacker travel insurance!
It won’t take long before you’ve made a whole bunch of new mates, and you’ll be making plans to gallivant off to your next backpacking destination together. You can purchase great value backpackers insurance direct at 24/7 travel insurance. For a 2-month trip to Oz, will cost you just £18.93* – a small price to pay to really enjoy your backpacking adventure all the more!

*Premium £18.93 includes Insurance Premium Tax based on an individual aged under 35 taking out a Standard Backpacker 24/7 travel insurance policy for 2 months in Australia. Cover details and prices are correct at time of going to press (November 2009) and are subject to change.