Staying in a hostel is almost a right of passage for young travelers, and nothing says “I backpacked around Europe when I was 20” like a good hostel horror story. However, most travelers don’t know how to make the most out of a less-than-ideal hostel situation — let alone how hostels work — so almost every tale you hear about budget lodging is bound to have a negative slant to it. From personal experience I can assure you that there are ways to remedy a hostel experience if it starts to sour, so long as travelers are willing to take a step back and assess the situation:

Be Vocal with Hostel Management

Has something gone wrong enough for you to have a “I NEED TO SPEAK TO YOUR SUPERVISOR!!” moment? Since many hostels are individually owned rather than just another property in a corporation’s menagerie, it is much easier to have big problems dealt with by the people in charge. Also, several larger hostels are staffed by people who live on-site or are avid hostel hoppers themselves, so they are well equipped to handle unfortunate situations should they arise.

The biggest problem I’ve encountered in a hostel was in Amsterdam when I came into my room late at night to find a disheveled man with questionable hygiene passed out in my bed, cradling his bong like a teddy bear. Within minutes of alerting the night manager, my bed was cleared and the sheets and pillows had been changed. The creepy man didn’t move far, and in the middle of the night glass shards from his bong ended up on my face, but that is neither here nor there — I spoke up when I needed to, and the hostel staff did all they could to make sure my issue was taken care of.

That being said, sometimes it helps to…

Learn How to Turn a Blind Eye

Face it: when you elect to stay in a budget accommodation for cents on the dollar, you pretty much waive your right to sweat the small stuff. You check into a hostel without expectations of luxury or pampering, so it only makes sense to conversely predict some tiny annoyances during your stay. My above anecdote about finding a strange man in my assigned bunk late at night is clearly an example of a problem that needed to be corrected straightaway. However, if there is an aspect of your hostel that rubs you the wrong way but doesn’t compromise your protection or the safety of your belongings, many times it is easier to grin and bear it than to cause a fuss with the staff.

For instance, I’ve stayed in hostels where the water temperature in the shower barely rose above lukewarm. Even worse: hostels in Europe with special knobs that need to be constantly pressed in order for water to come out of the shower head (they say it’s for water conservation, but in the moment it seems like the only purpose is to make you look like an idiot as you contort your wet, naked body around so that some part of it is always pressing the damn knob). And guess what? There’s no quick fix for these nuisances, so you might as well just speed through your ice bath while perfecting your back bend and get out for some sightseeing.

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em

Part of the reason hostels are so cheap is that they can toss strangers into the same room to save space for more guests. This is also part of the reason why many people report having crummy hostel experiences. Whether you’re just a private person and hate the thought of sharing your living space in general, or if your temporary bunk mates turn out to be off-putting or intensely strange, chances are you’ll have an issue with privacy — or lack thereof. This is another situation where, unless you’re afraid these strangers could cause you harm, it’s better off to just try to play nice.

When I visited Barcelona, my friends and I wanted to save as much money as possible for nighttime activities and did so by staying in a hostel room with 13 strangers, several of whom were rowdy German fellas in town for a bachelor party. At first, it was hellish — imagine a drunk German man with something akin to lust in his eyes watching you decide what to wear for the night, asking you to put on a runway show in front of the whole room — but soon we realized that the only way to get over the annoyance was to do just that: get over it. When would we ever be the honored guests in a German stag party again? We downed some beers, wrote “try not to cheat on your wife” on the groom-to-be’s t-shirt, and went on our merry way.

And as it turned out, making friends with our former enemies paid off. When I woke up the next morning, one of the brutish German men had kindly reached over my sleeping body and squashed a roach on the wall that was dangerously close to crawling onto my face. Behold, the kindness of strangers:

how hostels work cockroach
Better squished than on my forehead.

Moral of the story: accept that you are in a hostel, not the Four Seasons, and that complaining about a situation you put yourself into will get you nowhere. If you’re proactive about fixing major problems and dismissive of the small ones, you’re bound to come out of the hostel with a smile (or a roach) on your face.

Do you have any tips for getting the most out of a hostel say? Let us know in the comments!

Steven tried out for The Amazing Race one time and was denied. We're not saying this is why he started this site, but it may have been a contributing factor in his decision to explore the world online and share his travel inspiration with others.

12 COMMENTS

  1. haha VERY good point on turning a blind eye at hostels! Sometimes there are just no other options! And what’s up with nasty bugs in hostels? We saw gross spiders in Peru.

  2. Helpful article.

    Sometimes, it’s hard to know when “enough is enough” at a hostel. Guess, like everything, it all depends on the price 🙂

    Love the roach story.There are some strange critters in hostels.

    Charles once went to get a bite to eat in the middle of the night, and found a rat sitting on the kitchen counter, staring straight at him at a hostel in Kuala Lumpur (ewww)…

  3. Oh that roach is nastyyy. I avoid bad hostel experiences by really doing my research on hostels beforehand; reading all their reviews and ratings. It’s a bit more time consuming, sure, but it’s only failed me once in four years — most of the hostels I’ve found that way are above and beyond the norm.

    • I have friends who travel without doing ANY prior research into where they’re staying. I’m sure it’s very liberating, but definitely not for me. I need to run a thorough background check, thank you very much.

  4. That roach story and photograph made me shiver. I’m not the biggest hostel person, at least the big dorm rooms. I need my privacy and a door to shut. Perhaps I can’t stand them after too many bad roommates in college. The hostels I have stayed at though I do as Edna says above: research! Bad reviews are my cue to not stay there.

  5. Hostelworld.com has many hostels from around the world with honest reviews. If the hostel is reviewed well, usually, everything will be fine by nearly everyone’s standards. Actually, I have found that a good hostel will add to the travel experience.

    However, sometimes you cannot avoid a bad experience. I stayed in a place in Pisco, Peru and it was almost the only standing building in the area. It was cheap, but people dug out small holes in the walls from the outside to see inside. And there was a toilet, but it was not hooked up. Just a toilet on a floor. Funny because it’s true.

    Note that if you are traveling with someone or a group of people, you can split the cost of an inexpensive hotel and it will cost about the same as some hostels.

  6. My son recently stayed in Baxpax hostel in Berlin treatment really bad. Manager would not help or listen. Wrongly accused son of some damage. Not only put him out of hostel but called others to blacklist him and friend. Any parents out there how would you like your son wandering around (in this case Berlin) until 4 in morning when a hostel owner took pity on them and let them use reception couch!! If you have any choice avoid Baxpax organisation. Staf are ok but management ? owners need to get their act together.

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