Updated: Jan 4, 2022
Hostels are a great budget way of traveling. Hostels offer a bed to sleep in, community with other travelers, a great bar, laundry, kitchens, resources for the local area, and more. I personally stayed in hostels during my time backpacking Europe. As a solo female traveler, I needed to consider my personal safety and comfort levels in booking my hostel rooms.
In this blog post, I want to be an open book to share my experience of staying in hostels throughout 8 different countries in Europe while addressing some of the major safety concerns that may be at the top of your mind.
What do you think about staying in hostels? Let us know in the comment section. Read on to learn more about my experience and gain tips on general safety concerns.
Pictured above is in the English Garden in Munich, Germany. When I first arrived in Europe, I was a part of an EF College Break tour. The tour was a 10 day experience that allowed me to get my footing, learn from other travelers, make connections, and speak with my tour guide about the best way to move into backpacking solo. During this initial tour, we also stayed in hostels. I learned a lot from these initial experiences in what to pay attention to and/or look for in booking my solo experiences.
After the tour ended, I took off on my own to continue exploring Europe for another 78 days. I chose for the majority of my time in Europe to continue to stay in hostels. After the initial tour, I felt confident enough to start booking the stays on my own.
The below are the things I took most into consideration when booking and staying on my own during my hostel stays.
Safety of sleeping in a shared room: You always have the option in a hostel of how many people you are willing to share a room with and which gender. Hostels offer all female rooms, all male rooms, or mix gender spaces. Here's the kicker, they tend to charge more for the all female rooms (for example, a 6 bed mixed dorm in London at a top-rated hostel costs $30 per person per night, and a 6 bed all female dorm costs $35 per person per night). Depending on your comfort level and budget, opting for an all female room can be the easiest way to feel an extra layer of security when traveling alone as a woman. I personally did not stay in the all female rooms during my backpacking trip. Instead, I chose to stay in rooms that were 6 people or less. This allowed me to typically meet my fellow travelers before going to sleep at night. Meeting my temporary roommates always made me feel more comfortable. This way I could listen to my intuition about my safety sharing a room with them. In Amsterdam, I had a temporary male roommate that was in his late 60s. He was incessantly hitting on me. He made me incredibly uncomfortable. I knew I would not sleep that night if I was in a room with him. What would you do if you were in this situation? What next? How do you avoid creepy men while traveling? I decided to trust my intuition. I went down to the front desk and asked if it were possible for me to switch rooms. To my surprise, they had no hesitation and were able to switch my room at no additional cost. My advice for considering your safety while sleeping in a shared space, trust your gut. Doing what you are most comfortable with, even if it costs a few extra dollars will be worth it in the long run.
Keeping my valuables from being stolen: When searching for amenities in booking your hostel, I would highly suggest looking for lockers or personal room lockers to be listed. It is an extra layer of security for all of your valuables. I made a critical mistake that I can advise against while backpacking, my backpack was too big. It didn't fit in lockers, it didn't fit in carry-on space on airplanes, it drove me crazy. The first step to protecting your valuables is to consider what you pack and what you're packing in. Number one packing item to bring...your own luggage lock. A lot of hostels provide lockers but not all provide additional locks to lock up your items. Number one packing item NOT to bring...expensive or irreplaceable jewelry. This makes you a target for both desperate travelers and pickpocketers. When I travel abroad I always make a printed copy of my passport, bring a hidden stash of cash (enough to buy me two nights in a hotel/hostel), pack a luggage lock, and pouch for my jewelry that is discrete.
Personal privacy: It can be difficult to find space for yourself when you're sharing a room with strangers. I am an introvert and recharge by spending time alone. So, I had some difficulty with extended periods of time that were constantly with others. Some of the things that I did when I needed that time to myself were: -Stay in the hostel at weird hours. The room will more than likely be empty and you'll have time for yourself. -Splurge and book a private room. Top-rated hostels in London have private rooms ranging from $53-$85 per night. -Look for hostel rooms that list an ensuite. This will allow for you to have private space to brush your teeth, change clothes, shower, etc. Instead of having a shared bathroom college dorm style.
General safety and quality of the hostel: Hostelworld became my lifeline for booking all of my hostel stays. It is available on your desktop but they also have an app. Each hostel listing on Hostelworld acts as if it is its own hotel website. It provides all of the pertinent information you need to know when making your selection on where to stay. But the biggest lifesaver is the rating system. Similar to Airbnb or Uber, each hostel is rated by guest reviews. This 10 point scale is how you can gain peace of mind when booking your hostel. My suggestion, if you are looking for a stay that would be similar to a 3-star hotel, look for a rating of 9.5 or higher. If you are looking for a very comfortable and clean experience, but more authentic to a hostel experience, look for a rating of 8 or higher. If you are looking to save some money and are willing to stay in a place a little bit more rustic, look for a rating of 7.3 or higher. The lowest-rated hostel I stayed in was in Dublin, Ireland. It was rated 7.3, which is why I will not provide advice about staying at a property with a lesser rating. The hostel I stayed in that was rated 7.3 in Dublin was safe, comfortable, and clean but was definitely on the rustic side. For me, it is worth it to spend a few extra dollars a night to stay in a property rated 8 or higher. For example, in London, a shared dorm room in a hostel rated 7.3 costs approximately $22 per person. A hostel for the same nights in a similar area rated 8.1 costs $26 per person.
I also became semi-brand loyal when choosing my hostels as I was backpacking through Europe. There are a few brands I can personally recommend in Europe that tend to be well rated, clean, safe, and full of amazing solo travelers. Check out: Generator, Hostel One, Wombat, and St Christopher’s Inns. I personally stayed in 4 different Generator hostels during my trip.
All things considered, I loved my time in Europe. I met so many people along the way all thanks to hostels. The memories made are irreplaceable and staying in hostels allowed for me to continue to enjoy Europe for the entire summer. The biggest takeaway that I would like to leave you with is: Always consider your personal comfortability. I believe you grow the most when you are outside of your comfort zone, but that doesn't have to mean abandoning your personal comfort completely. Take a risk, enjoy new places, make new friends, BUT always do your research, travel mindfully and safely.