Here's How Far In Advance You Should Book Your Hostel Stay

Fancy staying in a 28-bed dormitory with just one measly shower to share? If you answered "yes," you should show up in Rome in mid-July with no accommodations booked and go door-to-door looking for a hostel. While you'd come home with a good travel story, most people would choose a little more comfort and certainty when picking accommodations.  

For budget-conscious travelers, hostels are often the accommodation of choice when going on vacation, and many travelers wonder how far in advance they should book a hostel. This simple choice can significantly influence your travel experience, whether you're seeking the bustle of a popular dormitory or the peace of a less-crowded abode. From meticulous planners to spontaneous explorers, hostel booking strategies can be as diverse as the travelers themselves.

And before you ask, hostel dwellers tend to be on the younger side — 80% of Hostelworld's guests are under 35 — but there is no upper age limit for staying in hostels. The data means a full 20% of guests are over 35 years old. Whatever your age, you can enjoy staying in a hostel.

Early bird bookings get the worm

The stereotype of the carefree backpacker traveling with no plan is increasingly becoming a thing of the past. According to a 2019 survey conducted by Hostelworld, the planners have taken over — a mere 13% of future backpackers plan to walk in and grab a bed on the same day. This means that if you leave booking until the last minute, you'll be in the minority and risk ending up somewhere no one else wanted. 

One advantage of booking in advance is securing a place in the coolest hostel in town, as hostels with good reputations fill up quickly. Posters in the r/solotravel forum on Reddit recommend booking ahead, especially if traveling to Europe during the busy season. Always check when the busy season is at your destination and look to see if any events are happening during your trip, as this will affect prices and availability. 

There are conflicting opinions about whether it's better to book in advance or not in terms of price. If budget is a concern, we recommend choosing a reasonably priced hostel well before your trip to avoid the panic of arriving to find only $200 rooms available. So when exactly should you book? Hostelworld's data shows people book an average of 24 days in advance when traveling to Europe. So if you want to be ahead of the pack, 25 days or more is the way to go. Some travelers report booking up to 12 months in advance.

Last-minute bed? No problem!

Can you still book a hostel bed on the day of your stay? Of course! There are a ton of booking sites (you can even use Google Hotels to search specifically for hostels), and there'll almost always be something available.

What's the advantage of leaving booking until the last minute? Backpackers rarely stick to their original plans. And Hostelworld writes that 60% of its guests are solo travelers — you may well be one of them. However, most solo travelers don't remain alone for long. Imagine you hit it off with someone in a hostel in Rome. They're off to Greece next, which sounds amazing, but you've got your hostels booked for the next month in northern Italy. If you had left your plans open, you could have hopped on the plane with them and continued your adventure together.

Booking at the last minute also allows you to check out a city before you commit to an area to stay in. If you're going to Paris, you might automatically book a hostel as close to the Eiffel Tower as possible; but when you turn up, you could find most backpackers hanging out across town in cheaper, cooler Bastille and the Latin Quarter. To combat this, book one night in a city and then plan to move when you get more of a feel for it.

The happy medium

If booking on the day sounds too stressful but you don't want to lose your flexibility, there's a happy medium. The most popular timeframe for new backpackers to book hostels is one week ahead, according to Hostelworld's survey.

Why is one week ahead the booking sweet spot? You have the security of knowing you have a decent bed but the flexibility to change plans if you want to. We certainly recommend booking the first week of your travels before you go; after that, go with the flow of your newfound friends. If you really must book way ahead, make sure you can cancel your reservation for free as late as possible.

If you're nervous about traveling solo or worried that you won't meet anyone, this fear is likely unfounded. Hostelworld's 2022 report, "A Solo Traveller's Guide to the Galaxy" states that for every month of travel, hostellers meet 10 new people. One in four people meet their new best friend on the road, and 27% meet a romantic partner. These are great reasons to keep your travel plans at least semi-flexible when staying in hostels.