An introduction to the world of hostels
To be honest, I have never really been the type to stay in hostels. Before my trip to New Zealand, I had only ever stayed in one other hostel, and it was during the off season so my friends and I pretty much had the whole place to ourselves (this was at the Circle Hostel in La Union, Philippines back in 2012). But while I was planning my solo trip to New Zealand, I knew I wanted to do a lot of different activities, and in order to have enough money to do them, staying in hostels was the most reasonable option.
I did quite a bit of research on what I should and should not know before staying in a hostel. I figured since I've done the research already, why not share it with all of you.
Here are some tips I can share from my experience:
1. Read the reviews - I think this is a good tip for booking any types of accommodation. There are all kinds of hostels out there. Some are known to be a party hostel, while others are more relaxed and quiet. You'll most likely find more than one in the area you're traveling to so take the time to do your research and pick one that suites the kind of environment you are looking for. I like a place that's more on the quiet side and yet the hostel I ended up booking in Wellington, New Zealand ended up being right by where all the bars were so I could hear drunk people slamming their doors all night!
2. Bring your own towel - this might seem like common sense to a lot of you, but for those of you that are used to staying in hotels where towels are provided, in most hostels, they are not (unless offered in exchange for a small fee). You don't want to have to use on of your clean shirts to dry you off, or stand there naked for a good 15 minutes till' you air dry yourself off.
3. Invest in a reliable lock - some hostels have lockers that you can use to store your things. It's important you bring your own padlock or combination lock for your locker in case there isn't one provided. I've read some stories of peoples things getting stolen because they left them out in the open. Be smart about this. Plan ahead of time and invest in a good lock. The hostel I stayed at in Queenstown, Jucy Snooze, actually had lockers with a key code for every tenant. I thought that was pretty cool.
4. Ear plugs, and sleeping masks will be your best friends - because you'll be sharing a room with other people, you can't control what time they want to shut their lights off, or when they go to bed. There will be times when some people will be coming in all loud at god knows what time in the morning, while others might not give a shit if you're sleeping, and they'll turn on the lights to finish the packing they procrastinated on. Ear plugs and sleeping masks are a big help with that. Some hostels sell ear plugs at the front desk so it wouldn't hurt to ask, otherwise another good thing to use is your earphones and play some music. I do that as well.
5. If you're really looking to save money, buy groceries - every hostel I stayed at in New Zealand had a common kitchen where people could store and cook their own food. I actually didn't know this was a thing until my second night in New Zealand. I walked out of my room to find some girls cooking spaghetti. Smelt absolutely amazing. Then when I asked one of my roommates how people got the food, she explained that a lot of backpackers tend to go grocery shopping and cook rather than go out to restaurants since it's a good way to save.
6. Ask the front desk about free/cheap tours - most hostels will have a bunch of posters and brochures in the main lobby for the most popular activities you can do in the area. It's also good to ask what they might recommend as some of them might now of local people that do freelance tours. Take advantage of this. Who else can suggest things to do if not the people that are from the area themselves? It's also a great way to meet other travelers which is great if you're traveling solo, a lot of other travelers staying in the hostel are probably solo travelers as well.
7. If you don't like the thought of being in a room with other people, but want the perks of staying in a hostel, book a private room - almost all of the hostels I stayed at in New Zealand had private rooms as well. I actually ended up booking a private room in two of the towns I went to just to be able to relax and have my own bathroom again. What's great with this option is you can still use all the other facilities (kitchen, lobby, laundry room, etc.) that hostels usually have too!
With all this being said, the hostel life may not be for everyone, but I do recommend trying it out at least once to know what it's like. Hostels are a great way for travelers to meet like-minded people. It's also a great way for those of you who are like me (slightly introverted) to put yourself out there and try to make friends. It might seem scary at first. I mean we've all probably read a few horror stories on some of the experiences people have had in hostels, but I think if you do the proper research prior to your trip, you'll have a blast.
If you're a seasoned backpacker, then let me know in the comments below if you have any other tips and suggestions to give to a first time hostel goer. It can be daunting when you go at it on your own, and I always feel it's best to pass on any knowledge and wisdom we might have to the next person so go on! Share! Maybe I can use it to for my next trip too.