The Essential Hostel Dormitory Checklist

Believe it or not, I didn’t start staying in hostels until after I graduated from college. When I was younger, I let the negative things I’d heard about hostels hold me back from trying them for myself. Eventually I got over those worries, and I have spent the last six years staying in hostels across Europe, North America, Central America and Asia.  

Although I’m a big fan, I’ll be the first to admit that not all hostels are created equal.  

This is generally because not all people are created equal.  

There are hostels that cater to people who want to party all night, people who want to sleep and not interact with anyone, and everything in between. If you want to have an enjoyable experience, do your research ahead of time to make sure the hostel you are booking aligns with your preferences, personality, and values. After a few rough hostel experiences, I always do my research on HostelWorld these days before booking anywhere. Read the reviews of the hostels you are considering and search for terms that are relevant to you. For example, I always search the reviews for the term “solo traveler” to see what people who’ve stayed there are saying about whether or not that hostel is a good place to stay if you are traveling alone. 

After choosing the right hostel for you, there is something else you can do to help you have the best possible hostel experience:  

Bring the right things with you. 

The Essential Hostel Dormitory Checklist: What to Bring to a Hostel

I’ve seen plenty of lists online that go into a bit more depth and include things you should bring with you when you travel abroad in general (like a plug converter), but I’ve kept this list to just those items that are specific to hostel dwellers. While this list is directed toward those staying in dormitory-style accommodation in a hostel, some of these items may also be helpful if you are staying in a private room in a hostel or a budget hotel.  

1) Earplugs 

You may not want to sleep much while you’re exploring a new city, meeting amazing people, and having a general blast, but when you do, you’ll be thankful you brought these. Earplugs are one of those very cheap, easy-to-pack purchases that will completely change your life if you plan to attempt to sleep at all in a hostel dormitory. Grab several pairs at your local hardware store or on Amazon before your trip and thank me later. 

2) Eye Mask for Sleeping

If you are a person who is bothered by lights switching on and off while you try to sleep, this is another one of those inexpensive purchases that will vastly improve your hostel experiences. I bought this mask from Amazon for $10 and it has been working great for me, but no matter where you decide to purchase one of these, it is worth it!

3) Lock 

Lately I’ve been seeing a lot more hostels with keycard accessible lockers (the keycard that gets you in the main door also gets you into your locker), so you may not always need your own lock these days. But when you do, it’s nice to not have to rent one or buy one from the hostel to be able to store your stuff securely. I just bring the same combination lock with me on trips that I use when I go to the gym at home.

4) Pillowcase or Pillow Cover 

This is an optional item that simply may not apply to you, but a few years ago I kept getting sinus infections every single time I traveled. Being sick while staying in a room with 10+ other people is miserable, flying with a sinus infection is brutal, and having to pay for antibiotics back in the U.S. right after funding a trip abroad was getting VERY OLD. I realized that it was the hostel pillows that were causing the issue when I (finally) had the bright idea to try covering the pillow.

If you also have this problem, there are anti-allergen pillowcases that could work for you (I haven’t tried these abroad, but I use these to cover my pillows at home). Personally, I use my Gregory Deva backpack’s rain cover since it is always with me anyway. Here is a link to the Gregory Deva backpack I have, but you can also just buy a rain cover for your backpack if you don’t have one already, or use the one you have. I usually put the rain cover on over the pillow, then put the pillowcase on over it. Yep, I probably look like a weirdo... but (knock on wood), I haven’t had a sinus infection abroad since I started doing this. 

5) A Courteous, Flexible Attitude.  

While most of the items on this list are pretty cheap, this one is FREE! (And you know I love a bargain.) 

This should probably go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway (just in case). The thing about staying in a room with other people... is that you are staying in a room with other people. Sometimes, people need to check out very early or check in very late. We don’t need to make rude comments to them and add to the chaos: after all, this is why we have our eye masks and earplugs. If you are the person checking out or in, be as courteous to the sleeping people as you can.  

Flexibility is also very important in a hostel. If you don’t want to deal with long shower lines and a lack of hot water, consider taking your shower at a time of the day when no one else is. If you’re having trouble sleeping enough at night even with your eye mask and earplugs, consider splitting up your sleep and adding a siesta in the afternoon (naps are the best). Overall, a good attitude and willingness to do things a bit differently than you do at home goes a long way toward having a positive experience while staying in a hostel dormitory. 

Your Hostel Experience 

There is only one way to figure out if you like staying in hostels: start staying in some hostels and see what you think. Just bring these hostel essentials, remember to do your research... and you’ll be a professional hostel traveler in no time.  

I’d love to hear about your hostel experiences, both good and bad, and about the items on your hostel checklist that you can’t live without. Let me know in the comments.