Saturday, 10 May 2014

Hostel Virgin?

You're a virgin?!  You mean you have never experienced one before?!  A bit scared about it?  Well...let me help you; I've done it loads of times before!  With my advice, I guarantee you will have a pleasurable experience EVERY time!  Is this sexual nirvana, I'm referring to?  Nope...I'm talking about your first stay in a hostel.  These FIVE top tips will help you through your first hostel stay.

For the hostel averse out there, my advice is to give it a try.  As I have said before, hostels are an affordable, good value accommodation option for the budget-savvy traveller.  And for those that do not fancy the sights, sounds and smells of your average dorm room, staying in private rooms in hostels need not feel like you are 'slumming it' and can give you access to a host of activities and services you might miss out on if you were to stay in a hotel.

Par-tay! (source -

1. Choose Your Hostel Carefully...
- Selecting the hostel that most suits your personality and travel requirements is key.  Need a riotous party?  Make sure the hostel you choose offers free shots on arrival and bar crawls every night.  Need to chill out after a day's sightseeing?  Opt for the hostel that can hook you up with a local yoga class and 'knits' their own muesli for breakfast.  My main advice here would be to read the reviews on hostel booking websites such as Hostelbookers and Hostelworld; where travellers post frank reviews about their experiences and the quality of the accommodation on offer.

I just need to use my hair straighteners...and charge my iPad...and my camera battery! (source -

2. Don't Be The Hostel Oddball...
- You are likely to be sharing a dorm room with several others.  It is therefore, paramount that you do not mark yourself out in a negative way in the microcosm of the hostel environment.  Taking up all the floor space, leaving your underwear strewn across the room or hogging all the plug points for your phone, iPad and hairdryer is not going to win you many fans.  The key to being a good 'roomie'?  Easy!  Treat others as you would expect to be treated.

Greet the travel massive! (source -

3. Press The Flesh!...
No, not that way!  Though, that will help you make friends very easily!  Hermits and hostels do not go together very well.  The recluse will find it difficult, in the sociable community you get in most hostels, to be completely alone.  This, for me, is one of the real advantages of a hostel stay.  You get to encounter and share experiences with fellow travellers.  These 'micro United Nations' allow you to meet people from different countries, cultures and socio-economic backgrounds that, ultimately, help you understand yourself, your own country and its unique culture a lot better.

Breaking bread at the Lisbon Lounge Hostel (source - MikeW)

4. Get Active!...
Linked into the previous tip about the social nature of backpacker accommodation; hostels will often offer a range of formal and informal activities I would heartily encourage you to get involved in.  For example, the fantastic Budapest Bubble hostel runs an informal nightly bar crawl which allows even the most hardened wallflower the chance to join a group of like-minded travellers for a drink or two without the pressure to finish the night at 5am, staring up from Hungary's finest gutters and covered in vomit.  However, that option is there...if you want it!  The brilliant Lisbon Lounge Hostel is one of many excellent, top quality boutique backpacker pads in the Portuguese capital that offers a number of free and reasonably priced activities for their guests from free tours of the city (something I highly recommend in any city you visit - see 'The Glorious Free Tour') to tours of the Fado scene as well as fabulous in house dinners, cooked by Pedro the chef, for a reasonable price that would shame many of Lisbon's well-established and costlier eateries.  Remember...a good hostel and its staff will want to show off their city and country at its best and ensure you have a great time.  At the very least, make it a priority, once you have dropped your backpack, to ask a member of the hostel staff to sit down with you and map out the best places to visit, eat and drink.  This quick orientation can be a good way to get to know your hosts and offers an invaluable local insight into your destination.

Lock it up! (source -

5. Stay Safe!...
I am the first to admit, I am anally retentive when it comes to my safety and well being when I travel.  In addition to this, I am keen to ensure my belongings remain safe and secure.  When I stay in hostels I always take a good quality medium sized padlock with me to lock your backpack or to allow you to lock it or any belongings in the lockers many hostels provide in the rooms.  And, if there is a safe in the hostel...use it for your passport, at the very least.  I have stayed in hostels where people have left valuable electronic items within easy reach and in once case an iPad on their bed while completely unattended in a busy room of 9 other strangers, while the woman went for a shower.  This was despite having a locker in which she could have easily stored the tablet safely and securely.  It made no sense to me.  I do not mean to worry you and you should not be consumed by fear about hostel security as most hostels are filled with friendly like-minded folk who probably will have absolutely no interest in your treasures, but the way I see it is...the less hassle you can get into the more enjoyable your trip will be; saving you from laborious insurance claims, visits to the police and angst about the cost of replacing your stolen belongings.

So, there it is...five great tips to help you navigate your first stay in a hostel and make it go as swimmingly as possible.  Please let me know, in the comments box below, how your first stay went or if you have stayed in hostels before the tips you would offer the plucky hostel first timer.


  1. Hi Mike - I'm heading to Lisbon in a few weeks - have you got any tips beyond the obvious things to see and do?

  2. Hi George! Thank you for your question! Away from the obvious Lisbon experiences of the Bairro Alto and Tram 28, I recommend hopping on the train. Take the train from Rossio Station to Sintra; a hilltop palace/castle and parkland area that affords great views across the countryside and even to the coast on a clear day. I would also suggest you spend a little time at Cascais and Estoril; both of which are on the line that leaves from Cais do Sodre station. Get off in Cascais and walk down the promenade to Estoril, stopping for a swim, some food and a drink or two along the way. You can then catch the train back from Estoril to Lisbon.

    In Lisbon itself, I highly recommend popping to the supermarket for a couple of beers or a bottle of wine and heading to one of the city's Miradouros which offer great views all over the city. They're great fun to find and are scattered across the city, so it gives you chance to see a lot of the more hidden parts of Lisbon (

    I hope you have a great time! Let us know how you get on in this fantastic city!


  3. Great - thanks mike.