A beginner's guide to hostelling: what to pack and what to do

April 06, 2017

First time staying at a hostel? I’m jealous. I remember the first time I walked into a hostel, back in 2005 (100 years ago) in Auckland, New Zealand. I think I said something like… “holy sh*t!"

And my life was changed forever.

First times are amazing, especially when they relate to travelling. Energy pumps through your veins all the time, you meet tons of new people, discover loads of free adventures and probably fall in love with travelling (and a traveller or two). Firsts are full of both kinds of surprises, good ones and less good ones. To help you experience fewer of these last ones, I whipped up the below pieces of wisdom. Don’t forget to share with your travelling buddies.

What to pack:

You will be sharing spaces most of the time. This means many others will use the same showers as you and sleep in the same rooms as you. Plan for that: bring flip flops, pyjamas that are public friendly (c’mon! You know what I mean by that!) and ear plugs. Consider a small flashlight (in case your phone dies or you left it behind), an extension cable in case you want to keep your charging devices close and a lock to close lockers or suitcases.

Ziplocks are so useful, they never cease to amaze me. Get a bunch, in various sizes and shapes. They don’t take up space and they are good for just about everything: store left over food and bring it to your next destination or eat it on the train; gather your dirties and lock in dirt and odour; place your wet flip-flops or dirty shoes in baggies; use them for shampoos, soaps, deodorants, creams and all other spillables. You can even put your cables in a ziplock, so they are easier to find in the depths of your pack. And you can thank me when you come back.

I just mentioned shoes, so it’s a good time to advise you to bring at least two pairs. Why? —You my ask— they take up so much space! Well, because in some places fun water activities happen and so does rain. On that note, bring a raincoat! If yours is chunky, make it a dollar store poncho that can at least keep you dry while you sightsee.

A refillable water bottle can be a lifesaver. In most hostels water is free and clean. And you will want lots of it next to your bed after pubcrawl.

Pen and paper may seem like a thing of the past, but writing stuff down can be fantastic when your phone runs out of battery or when there is no wifi around.

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest basic pharmacy stuff: aspirin, carbon pills (to stop a case of the runs), condoms, and band aids. Think of other stuff you may need but not find outside your home town… For example, last January I went to Cuba and got super congested as a result of the temperature change. I didn’t think to bring over the counter cold pills and learned (the hard way!) that tourists are not allowed to buy meds in Cuba. Long story short: I missed out on great diving and other outings.

I always pack a travel towel. Some hostels may offer towels but some may not and in any case, it’s always good to have! Ultra-thin-super-fast-drying towels are not expensive and can be purchased at travel and camping stores, like MEC.

What to do:

It’s easy and can be summed up in two words: Have fun.

Say hello to people. Strike up a conversation. Ask where they’ve been and where they are going. Give and receive tips. Try to make more meaningful connections and maybe, eventually, you'll gain a new lifelong friend.

Ask questions. Front desk staff is usually ultra knowledgeable and resourceful. Don’t be ashamed to ask anything or to bring them candy (Why not? They work hard!)

Go explore. Grab a few of your new hostel friends and plan an adventure; a day trip, a picnic, a hike... make the most of your time at your destination while you're there.

First times only happen once, so enjoy every second and Instagram the hell out of it!

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