Your Guide To Keeping Safe While Staying In A Hostel

For the budget traveler, taking advantage of hostels is an obvious option that will likely save a pretty penny. Hostels are shared accommodations, with the majority of the spaces – including sleeping quarters and bathrooms – acting as communal areas. Hotels and short-term rentals may offer privacy and at times a sense of luxury, but hostels allow travelers adequate shelter throughout their travels at a budget price, thanks to splitting up costs with other lodgers. Another perk of choosing to stay in a hostel is the social aspect of being around and sharing space with fellow travelers, but these close quarters can bring up concerns as well.

One concern that often pops up when making lodging decisions on any trip is safety, and hostels in particular tend to get a bad rap in that area. Traveling to a new place will always require some adjustments for increased safety, but hostels are a whole different ballpark as travelers typically stay in close quarters and share accommodations with strangers. While they are not nearly as dangerous as you may have heard or believe, there are still steps you must take to protect yourself while traveling and making use of hostels.

Be kind, but wary

The Golden Rule of treating everyone the way you'd like to be treated is applicable to travel as well as everyday life. Traveling anywhere that is outside of your own hometown is akin to being a guest in someone else's home, and staying in a hostel quite literally puts you in close quarters to strangers who are also guests in an unknown place. This can breed uncertainty and unease, and a little bit of kindness can go a long way in healing this subtle tension. Being kind while traveling will not only make your stay more enjoyable but will also make your presence a positive one, hopefully helping to counteract any negative intentions that could be thrown your way.

While kindness and being a pleasant guest are certainly good qualities to have while traveling, pay attention to the kindness that is given back to you from strangers, and be wary of excessive kindness and overly friendly strangers with offers of trust. Kindness can be a beautiful thing while traveling, and dolling out acts of kindness to strangers is more than welcome. But be sure to keep that seed of reservation in the back of your mind and pay attention to red flags and warning signs that a stranger's overly kind nature may not be as genuine as they'd like it to appear. Listening to your inner warning bells could save you from being scammed, or worse.

Know your destination well

One of the best and easiest ways to keep yourself safe while traveling and staying at a hostel is to be prepared. Know what areas you are booking in and make sure they are tourist friendly. You can do this by researching the area in a number of different ways. Online tools are incredibly valuable here, just make sure the sources you are using are not out of date. A couple of years can and will make a huge difference, as areas can transform for the better or worse in that time frame.

Reddit is a huge resource that can help you understand the area you will be visiting, as it has a massive amount of people who use it all over the world. Chances are there is a forum, or subreddit, specifically for your destination and you can look up previously posted information or ask your own questions. If not, though, there are plenty of travel subreddits on the site to help you along the way.

Just talking about a trip before you leave and while you are on your journey can result in some valuable information as well. As you speak to people, they may have some first-hand experience in the area you will be staying in and some advice on places to stay out of and common scams that you should keep in mind. Of course, they'll most likely have some recommendations of what is safe and fun in the area, too.

Look at reviews

Safe travel starts before you even leave for a trip, and one of the most vital ways to plan for a comfortable and secure hostel stay is by looking at reviews and doing research on the places you plan on visiting. Scour individual hostels' reviews – especially the negative ones – and their online presence. Popular review sites like TripAdvisor, Google, and Yelp can certainly be helpful, but make sure to look at more than one source for reviews, as businesses can sometimes have negative reviews taken down.

Hostel World is a great resource when choosing a safe place to stay as well as connecting to other travelers. The Budget-Minded Traveler also has a community of helpful travelers who readily answer questions and concerns in real-time, which is helpful as you will know exactly who the information is coming from and you can ask follow-up questions and advice.

Taking a look at what the hostel itself has to say is a good idea too, as you can usually get a good idea of the atmosphere from its website or social media pages. Look at how professional a site looks and how welcoming its online presence is — bonus points if safety is mentioned as a priority on the website.

Lock up your stuff

While theft and crime in hostels is much more infrequent than you may think, it's important to prepare for the possibility you may be around someone who has sticky fingers. The fact is that people do steal, so you should do all you can to counteract that, especially since you will most likely have little more than the essentials with you while traveling, and losing anything could hinder your trip.

Bring padlocks to lock up and keep your things safe and take advantage of lockers if the hostel has them available for use. You can also hide items in pillowcases while you sleep and bring valuables with you when you leave the hostel for excursions. If you are traveling with valuables, don't show them off. No one but yourself should know where or how to find your money or anything else of value. There are plenty of ways to hide money while traveling, like using an empty water bottle or a hidden pocket, and they can be put to use while staying in a hostel as well.

Book at an inclusive hostel

Having tolerance for others is important, especially when traveling. However, you may be concerned about the people you come across not showing you tolerance in return. This could be especially true for LGBTQ+ members, as they can face even more challenges when traveling.

Booking at an inclusive hostel may make you feel much more comfortable and safe, as these focus on keeping LGBTQ+ members as well as Black and Indigenous people of color welcome and safe. Inclusive hostels can be found scattered throughout the globe and they are only rising in popularity, so you may be lucky enough to find one in your destination.

Whether you can or not, though, it's important to know how the culture of the country you are traveling to views your community. Only 32 out of 195 countries recognize same-sex marriages, making acceptance for the LGBTQ+ community not as widespread as it may be in your home country. For people of any minority group, it's worth looking into inclusive hostels if you are nervous about the lack of community where you are going and would feel more comfortable with a self-recognized place of acceptance.

Know which dorm options are available to you

Hostels come in all forms, and typically they have more than one room type as well. For female travelers – especially those traveling alone – the idea of staying in a hostel and bunking with a group of men may seem scary. Luckily, that doesn't have to be the case. If you do not feel comfortable with a mixed-gendered room, you can usually request to stay in an all-female dorm.

If you believe this is a good option for you, plan ahead and make sure your hostel has female dorms available. Even if no female dorms are available, there are sometimes smaller dorms with fewer people that could help ease your mind, or it may be a good idea to look for another hostel that has the accommodations you would feel most comfortable with. You shouldn't enter a situation that you feel overly nervous about, and there will be plenty of options available to you whether in one hostel or another.

Use the staff as a resource

The staff at hostels is usually comprised of travelers just like you that have had the great idea of combining work and play and are working for their room and board during their journey. They can be a wealth of knowledge, especially if they have been in the area for a decent amount of time. They can direct you to great places in the area and let you know what areas to stay away from. They also may be able to help you out if you are having trouble with another guest or need to transfer to a different dorm room.

With that being said, do not be afraid to ask for a different room if something feels off. The hostel staff are usually understanding when it comes to room changes if they have the beds available. It's a lot less messy than switching rooms in a hotel.

Hostel staff can also act as an unbiased party in situations that may arise between travelers. If you don't end up forming any close relationships or allies with your roommates, a staff member is a good person to lean on. While you probably won't need to in a big way, seeking help from staff could be a game changer when it comes to your experience and safety while staying at a hostel.

Follow the spoken and unspoken rules of hostels

If you have never stayed at a hostel before, familiarize yourself with normal guidelines and practices that will help you fit in with more seasoned travelers. By knowing what expectations are for guests, you're much less likely to catch negative attention from disgruntled roommates.

Most hostels have their individual rules laid out for their guests to see and follow in order to make everyone's stay smoother and more enjoyable. However, there are unwritten rules that people who frequently stay in hostels pretty much expect to be followed. Following hostel etiquette, written or not, is vital for keeping your head down and staying out of trouble with your bunkmates.

Some good rules of thumb are to be courteous, keep the spaces clean, and respect the quiet hours. Even the nicest people get grumpy without adequate sleep, so make sure you are not the reason they are deprived of some shut-eye. The last thing you want while traveling is to have roommate beef, and this is especially true if you are already a little unsure about rooming with a number of complete strangers.

Consider a private room

Not everyone is comfortable with staying in close quarters with strangers, especially if they are solo traveling. This doesn't take a hostel out of the running for lodgings completely, though, as private rooms are available to rent in many hostels. If you book a shared room in a hostel and feel uncomfortable after checking out the dorm and the other guests in it, switching rooms and upgrading to private quarters isn't out of the question.

Private rooms in hostels are more similar to hotel rooms than a typical dorm room, but they do come with increased perks specific to hostels. Some travelers prefer private hostel rooms to hotel rooms, considering the increased social element of the communal facilities and being able to tag along with other travelers, making excursions seemingly much safer.

Booking a private room is a great option for a lot of different people. Female solo travelers will likely feel much more comfortable having their own space and not having to worry about bunking with men, especially if the hostel does not offer female dorms. Trans travelers staying in hostels may have other challenges they face, and the lack of privacy a shared room offers may pose a safety risk. Private rooms offer an answer to a number of individual concerns one may have about staying in a hostel, and they should be considered when looking to book a hostel stay.

Make friends and check in

Building a network wherever you travel can be vital for not only a better traveling experience but a safer one. Whether you are traveling alone or with a group, knowing other people who are in the area can help keep you safe and, in case anything does go wrong, shorten the time it takes for someone to figure out you aren't where you are supposed to be.

Staying in a hostel offers plenty of opportunities to socialize and build bonds with fellow travelers, and you should absolutely try to form relationships. If you are traveling alone, creating a kind of buddy system with another solo traveler or group is a great way to keep yourself and your new buddy safe. By checking in on each other when you leave the hostel, you ensure that someone knows where you are and that you haven't fallen off the face of the Earth.

Even if you are traveling with someone else or have formed a buddy relationship with another traveler, checking in with someone back home is a great idea as well. Keeping friends and family informed of your whereabouts while traveling is one of Nationwide's safety tips, and updating the people who care about you on all the new places you are traveling not only makes sense but could also let them know something is wrong if you miss a check-in.

Pay attention to your surroundings

You will most likely be just fine in your travels, but it doesn't take long for something to go horribly wrong. It's wise to always be alert and aware of what is happening around you, and since hostels create a close-quarters environment with complete strangers, you will definitely want to be aware of what is going on around you. Reading the people you are sharing a space with and noticing how they speak and act towards you — both when they think you are looking and when they don't — will help in gauging your safety in a particular room.

While paying attention in a new place and situation may seem like a pretty common sense travel tip, it's an important one that may increase in difficulty in a hostel. Hostels are very headphone-friendly places since no one really wants to hear what everyone else is listening to on their devices, and it's extra important to stay on guard when one of your senses is cut out of the world around you. Late nights that are spent partying and drinking are another time when extra attention should be paid to what is going on in your surroundings — be safe and notice things that may be off when you get back to your dorm!

Trust your gut

If you get to your hostel and feel it isn't what you expected in your vast research of the place or don't feel safe, walk away. You can find other accommodations easier than you can find peace of mind in a stressful environment. This also goes for if you walk into your dorm and get an off feeling or bad vibes from the people in it. Don't try to convince yourself you are feeling silly – listening to your gut feelings may just save you from a bad situation.

You use your intuition every day, in every decision you make, and you may have to rely on it a little more while traveling in unknown places surrounded by strangers. Trusting yourself and your gut is vital in making confident choices and increasing your safety not only in everyday life but especially when traveling. You won't be mad that you trusted yourself, and it may even help grow your confidence as a solo adventurer.