Staying in Hostels While Studying Abroad: The Cliff Notes

by Zach Herzog

The ability to travel frequently is an awesome perk of studying abroad…but it can also be one of the most expensive parts of your semester, especially if you identify as a “luxury traveler.” Since you’re probably rocking a student budget and don’t have Mom and Dad there to book the swankiest hotels in town, it’s high-time you learn the budget-friendly and joyful ways of hostelling abroad.

Staying in youth hostels is a cheap way to travel. Generally speaking, a hostel is a form of housing where residents pay to rent a bed instead of a full room. Many offer dorm style housing, with six to sixteen beds in a room (which may be either coed or gender specific, depending on the hostel). Hostels exist worldwide, so rest easy knowing no matter if you are studying in England, China, Australia, or Chile, you won’t get the short-end of the student accommodation stick.

Hostel in Sologne, France

Hostels come in all shapes and sizes. This is a hostel in Sologne, France, believe it or not!

Hostels are great venues for meeting fellow travelers and securing an affordable place to unwind/catch some ZzZ’s in the evenings. Here are a few tips to consider when choosing cheap student hostels during your summer or semester studying abroad.

Understand the age limits.

Many, but not all, hostels are designated for youth and student use only. This age range is somewhere between 16 and 30, depending on the part of the world you visit. This is important to look into for two reasons: one, you may or may not be excluded from a facility based on your age. Two, you may prefer to stay at a hostel that only rents to people in your age group. Knowing the general age range of your new roomies will make your stay a lot more comfortable and enjoyable (not to discriminate against old fogeys, they often invite fascinating conversations and incredulous life stories!).

Look at reviews online.

Most hostels can be found through online booking services where you can also read reviews from previous travelers. This is a good way to gauge the cleanliness, accessibility, and atmosphere of a specific hostel. Some hostels have problems with bugs or basic safety features, while others cater extremely well to extroverted adventurers by offering nice amenities, on-site food service, and even guided tours. Reading online review is also a good way to find out if the hostel has public or private showers, as well as if kitchen facilities are available for cooking.

Keep in mind that you’ll want to steer clear of hostels with basement bars or neighborhood clubs if you want a good night’s sleep.

Locate the nearest public transportation.

You should find out the nearest public transportation to and from your hostel, preferably before you book it. A lot of the times, hostels are cheaper if they are further from the main touristy sights. A hostel that is too difficult to get to it can negatively impact your trip; it takes up precious time or causes you to pay expensive taxi fees to get around efficiently. By finding the address of your hostel and doing a quick online search, you should be able to see if it is close to the metro or other stops so that you can get around smoothly (and ideally on foot!).

Bunk beds

Bunk beds are the norm.

Know the check-in/check-out times.

Not all hostels are staffed 24-hours, so it is important to know when you can check-in and out. Most hostels allow check-in during the afternoon and expect you to check-out in the morning (otherwise you may get dinged with extra fees). There also may be curfew hours where the front door is locked while the staff is off duty, which is important to know so you’re not locked out of your hostel in the wee hours of morn.

Travel with your passport.

It should be common sense to travel with your passport whenever you leave your study abroad nest, but it is absolutely imperative to have it if you plan to stay at hostels. Hostels are responsible for reporting to the police who stayed there, and most are unable to rent you a bed unless you have proper legal identification. When you leave your hostel, be sure to carry your passport with you so it isn’t lost, stolen, or worse! (Eaten).

Arrive with cash and expect to pay a key deposit.

Hostels in most parts of the world are a cash business. While some larger (more expensive) chains will take credit cards, most prefer cash. It is important to have enough cash on you at arrival to pay for your bed and take care of any extra upfront expenses, such as for deposits for keys, towel rentals, or internet access. Oftentimes deposits can be returned upon check out if the items are returned in good condition.

Pack a towel!

While hotels usually provide linens, hostels frequently do not. It is good practice to bring your own towel to avoid rental fees adding up (or using your dirty socks to spot-dry after a rinse). A towel can also double as a privacy curtain if you hang it over the side rail of your bunk.

In this same vein, don’t be surprised if you have to make your own bed in the hostel. Oftentimes, your clean linens will be waiting for you neatly folded on the bed, or the nice desk staff will hand them over after check in. If only we could pack Moms in our carry on’s...

Bring a lock. 

Since you are renting a bed in a shared room, it is important that you take appropriate measures to keep your stuff safe. Your roommates will be fellow travelers and will rarely cause you any problems; however, since you will be rooming with strangers, caution is necessary. Most hostels provide lockers for you to use during your stay, some will be key operated, but many will require that you bring your own lock. A small combination lock will work just fine and keep your stuff safe and sound while you’re out exploring and living it up.

Hostel room abroad

Some hostels are more spacious than others.

Be respectful of your roommates. 

Living in a shared room can be either really fun or really frustrating, depending on your roommates (and attitude!). You can increase your chances of having good roommates by being a good roommate yourself. Don’t be afraid to engage in conversation with the folks in your room, as many will likely be traveling in small groups or solo. Gauge their interest in conversation, some travelers will be looking for adventure buddies while others will be enjoying their peaceful escape. Everyone should feel comfortable in your room at the hostel; give other residents as much or as little privacy, silence, and space that they indicate they want.

Pro tip: Considering packing your bags or setting your stuff out during normal waking hours so you won’t be fumbling around/making noise in the dark (and consequently upsetting your roomies).

There is more to be learned studying abroad than a brief paragraph could ever do justice. But developing travel savvy skills is an important lesson that students should not skim over. Staying in a hostel will challenge you to become streetwise, learn how to book things on your own, jump feet-first into the great adventure that is life…And you thought all you were doing was resting your weary bones at an affordable student accommodation!