What NOT to Bring to a Hostel

Aside from how to pay for travel, the travel topic that I get the most questions about is staying in hostels. When I was writing my recent post about what to bring if you’re staying in a hostel dormitory, I started writing a bonus list at the bottom of the post about what not to bring to a hostel. But the “what not to bring” bonus list ended up being the same length as the list of things you should bring with you to a hostel... 

So I decided to give this list a post of its own.  

What Not to Bring to a Hostel 

Although this list is specifically written for hostel dorm dwellers, you may not need some of these items if you’re planning to stay in a private room in a hostel or in a budget hotel either. As I tend to mention in every single post I write and conversation I have about hostels, make sure to do your research ahead of time to determine what you need to bring and what not to bring to the hostel you’ve chosen specifically. (There are several sites you can use to research and book hostels, but I personally prefer HostelWorld and have been using it for years.) No matter where you choose to stay, here are a few things you probably don’t need (or at the very least would be happier without) in a hostel dormitory. 

1) Bedding and towels

Most hostels provide bedding including sheets, a comforter or blanket, and a pillow, so don’t worry about finding space in your bag for these items. It’s always worth checking the hostel description to make sure that bedding is included, but the only scenario I’ve ever seen where it isn’t included is in a tent hostel (tent hostels sometimes ask that you bring your own bedding or sleeping bag). Towels are a bit trickier: occasionally I’ll run across a hostel that doesn’t offer towels at all, but that is very rare. In my experience, it is more common for hostels to offer towels for rent or with a deposit that you can get back when you check out if you return the towel. If you check the hostel description and realize that towels won’t be free, you can bring your own, but make sure you bring a light and fast drying towel: no one wants to have to pack around a damp, heavy towel when they are rushing to check out on time!

2) A sleeping bag 

Many hostels won’t allow you to bring a sleeping bag at all, primarily because bed bugs love to travel in sleeping bags (and nobody wants those guys). This information is generally very clear in the hostel listing, so make sure to check for rules about sleeping bags. If you are staying in a hostel that asks you to bring your own sleeping bag, that will also be clear in the listing. Some of the hostels I’ve seen will take your sleeping bag and hold it for you while you stay there (in a luggage or storage room), but they won’t allow you to take it up to the room. Overall, sleeping bags are a bit of a pain unless you really need them… so if you can leave yours at home, you should.  

3) Big luggage 

When you are researching your hostel, try to determine how big the lockers are. Look for pictures of the lockers in the dorm rooms and search for commentary about the lockers in the reviews. While my Gregory Deva backpack and my carry-on size luggage will fit in most of the hostel lockers I’ve seen, I've never seen lockers in a hostel that are large enough to fit a large rolling suitcase. Generally, people will empty these larger pieces of luggage and put them under the bed. This is an option that works for a lot of people, but this option also opens you up to the risk of having your luggage stolen, particularly if you have expensive or designer luggage. You’ll usually be happier bringing less with you anyway, and your belongings will be safer if they all fit in a locker… so downsize if you can.

4) Your favorite delicate clothing 

Hostel washing machines are rough on clothes (… to put it mildly). If you don’t want to run the risk of any of your favorite pieces being damaged, it may be better to leave them at home. Most of us stay in hostels because we want to meet people, but also because we are on a budget. You wouldn’t look out of place wearing jeans or leggings and a sweater or t-shirt in any of the hostels I’ve ever been to in the world, so don’t worry about leaving your designer clothes, shoes or bags at home. You’ll fit right in! 

5) Valuables and other items you don’t need

Besides doing your research to choose a hostel that offers what you’re looking for, the best thing that you can do to prepare to stay in a hostel dormitory is to get very honest with yourself about what you need. If you can live without some of the tech or camera gear you were planning to bring, leave it at home (tech gear and camera gear tend to be heavy, valuable, and easy to damage, so don’t run the risk of bringing these items if you don’t need to). If you feel comfortable letting your hair air dry, leave the hairdryer and/or straightener at home too (sometimes the plug converters and adapters don’t love these gadgets anyway). Once you have settled on the items that are essential for you, make sure they will all fit in your locker. As mentioned above in the luggage section, you can research the size of the lockers in a hostel dorm room by browsing pictures and reading through the reviews on HostelWorld. At the very least, always make sure that all your valuables, tech gear, and camera gear will fit in your locker. 

Be Smart, Be Safe, and Have Fun 

I’ve alluded to the fact that there is some risk of items getting stolen when you stay in a hostel dormitory in this post, but I want to put that risk in context. I’ve personally never had anything stolen or been in a room where anyone else had something stolen at a hostel, but I have had my phone stolen while staying at a budget hotel before. The risk of having my belongings stolen has obviously not deterred me from staying in hostels, but I also put a bit more effort than I used to into keeping my belongings safe these days, primarily by doing research about the places I stay ahead of time and planning accordingly.

No one wants to spend any of their limited time abroad dealing with police reports or getting replacement documents from an embassy if they don’t have to, and no one wants to spend time worrying about their belongings either. Doing your research and reading reviews, bringing only the items you need, and making sure that everything you bring can be secured in a locker is just being smart. When you don’t have to stress because you did your research ahead of time, you can spend that energy enjoying your trip instead.

So be smart, be safe and have fun! 

I’d love to hear about your hostel experiences in the comments. Are there other items you’ve previously brought to a hostel that you wish you hadn’t? Let me know!