My first experience staying in a hostel was during my college study abroad program on a weekend trip to Salzburg, Austria. I was traveling with friends. We were all in college and on a budget so anything but a hostel wasn’t even on our minds. It was an adventure. Between me and my classmates, we were always sharing our hostel experiences from wherever we had just gone, the best and worst.

Flash forward ten years and although it’s not nearly as often, from time to time I still stay in hostels. Most recently I stayed in one in Bogota, Colombia and before that in Milan, Italy.

Staying in a hostel is a great way to save money and meet people traveling. And don’t think they are all dirty or old just because they are cheap. I’ve stayed in some amazing hostels traveling, ones with amazing staff and ones that were beautifully designed and decorated. Nowadays I find that the reviews on sites like booking.com and hostelworld.com are pretty accurate so they’re a good place to start when deciding where to stay. I was actually going to splurge on a hotel in Bogota but a local hostel’s reviews were so good I had to give it a try.

Here are my top tips for traveling and staying in a hostel.

Bring a lock (or two)

Although some hostels have individual lock boxes that set with a combination most hostels usually just have a locker to put your own lock on. Sometimes it is just big enough to fit your valuables or small backpack. Other times it can be an under the bed bin that locks and can fit your entire suitcase inside.

I just lock my valuables which are usually my purse and then my laptop and any other electronics. I’m not really worried about my clothing being stolen. If you’re concerned and there’s not room for your entire suitcase, use a luggage lock or to be more even more secure use a cord lock and tie your suitcase to the bed.

Have an organized suitcase

It helps to be a little more organized than usual with your suitcase. If you’re sharing a room it’s not really the kind of place where you can dump out your entire suitcase or unpack into closets or drawers.

Bring ear plugs

I mistakenly didn’t have these when I ended up sharing a room with the LOUDEST snoring guy ever. I can sleep through anything but this was the worst and definitely affected me the next day.

Evenings and mornings

Be prepared to be dealing with people being awake while you are sleeping. Because you are sharing rooms people may be coming in after you go to sleep or setting their alarms to wake up much earlier than you will be. It just comes with the territory.

Check for single rooms or dorm room options.

Don’t discount hostels right away if you are opposed to shared rooms. Some also have private room options for a little more money. That way if you are looking for a hostel community but not the shared room you can get the best of both. (These rooms though might not have their own bathroom).

Also, there may be different shared room options, coed, female or male only rooms. Rooms of 12 or of just two or four. If you’re with friends booking together is a great option. They will usually try and spread people out so you might get the room all to yourselves. I have stayed by myself and although I booked a shared room of four I ended up with no bunkmates.

Ask about the sheets and towels situation

Sometimes hostels will charge you for things like towels, extra pillows and blankets. Check before you book so you are prepared for the extra cost. You can normally find all this information online in other reviews or in the hostels own posted information. Some hostels will also ask you to strip your bed and drop your sheets somewhere before you go as part of checkout to help the staff.

Bathrooms

Some hostels may have a shared bathroom that many rooms will share or each dorm style room might have their own bathroom. I always bring a pair of rubber flip flops for the showers and bathrooms.

Communal Meals

If you are looking to make friends meals are the best place to do that. A lot of hostels will have free communal dinners or breakfasts. It’s the best place to find out what other people are up to that or the next day and share plans. Often hostels will also have shared kitchens with basic supplies that you can use. A good way to save money when you don’t want to eat out all the time.