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.
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.
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 every night, these cannot be forgotten.
- Silk eye mask. Keep all the glowing lights of the youths on Snapchat late at night from rousing you. Also makes you feel a little glam in a decidedly unglamorous place.
- 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.
- 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).
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 34 year old woman traveling alone but at least it was $9 a night.
You can also find hostels that have single 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.
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.