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Last Updated on 23/12/2020
Packing for your upcoming trip abroad is hard. You’re never sure if you’re missing something vital or if you’re giving the phrase “overdoing it” a new meaning. The prospect can be doubly daunting if you’re planning on staying in hostels. Their facilities are famously inconsistent and you’re surrounded by strangers 24/7 so negotiating what to take and how to keep it all safe can be a bit of a minefield.
After spending the last couple of months getting to know hostels very well, I’ve come up with a list of items which have helped me a great deal. Check out my 8 essentials for surviving the hostel lifestyle below:
1) Earplugs and eye mask
Hostels are noisy establishments; it comes with the social atmosphere. Everyone (and their mum) is running on different schedules and routines at all hours of the day. So, unless you’re lucky enough to sleep through anything, your best chance at getting any rest is bringing along some earplugs and an eye mask on your travels.
You never know when you might end up in a dorm with deafening snorers or early morning risers flashing their torches about at the crack of dawn. One thing to note, however, is that earplugs won’t block out all the surrounding noise so make sure you have some noise cancelling headphones and a good podcast handy for when it starts to get drastic.
2) Extra long USB cable
Not all hostels have caught on to the ever increasing demand of backpackers and their growing collection of chargeable technology. From cameras to phones, laptops, tablets, charging banks and beyond, power sockets are always in demand and there’s always a frantic dash to hunt them out in every new dorm room. But what happens if the only bed available is on the other side of the room? Or if your only option is the top bunk and the power socket is at ground level?
The last thing you want to do is leave your precious valuables plugged in and vulnerable without tour watchful eye. So, to save yourself the stress I recommend investing in an extra long USB cable. That way you will always be able to reach the power socket from your bed and you won’t have to huddle awkwardly over your phone in the corner of the room as it charges.
3) Oversized scarf or pashmina
You’re rarely alone in a hostel. Everywhere you go there will always be someone milling about. As great as that can be, sometimes all you want is some much needed ‘me-time’ to relax and recharge away from conversationalists eager to know where you’re from. But what if you don’t fancy paying extra for that private room? You don’t have to. All you need is an oversized scarf or pashmina and a bottom bunk.
Tuck the scarf or pashmina into the top rungs of the bed above your head to create an enclosed space, taking care not cover the ladder for the top bunk. If you want to go further you can do the same with your towel. You’ve now made yourself a semi private albeit small room at a fraction of the cost. This method is one of my top hacks for surviving the hostel lifestyle.
4) Travel hairdryer
This is a debatable essential item because it really depends on where in the world you’re travelling to. A lot of travellers suggest leaving the hairdryer behind as it’s a luxury which will only fill up your luggage unnecessarily. This is true if you’re heading somewhere warm. The last thing you want is to have excess baggage weighing you down on the road. But when it comes to colder climates a travel hairdryer for me is an essential. I took mine to New Zealand in winter and I was so thankful for it. Not only did it prevent me from having freezing wet hair but it also acted as a mini portable heater in hostels which were unbearably cold.
I’m not suggesting you have it on full blast every night. That’s hardly an eco-friendly way to stay warm and it’ll probably overheat and break. All you need is a couple of short blasts of hot air in-between your bedsheets or over your pyjamas to take the edge off when you’re unlucky enough to get a dorm without a radiator!
If you want to be successful at surviving the hostel lifestyle you have to think about security. The best way to keep your valuables safe is to store them in a locker. A lot of hostels do provide them but you’ll need to provide your own lock if you want them to be effective. It’s always handy to have a few locks when you travel just incase (not necessarily for attaching them to bridges). I’m told that the best one to have in a hostel is the combination lock because all or requires is a code. You don’t have to ever worry about the whereabouts of your key or wonder if you should YouTube how to break a lock just in case… However, I bought one and it didn’t work so I’m yet to experience these benefits but it’s a good enough reason to carry a spare!
6) Pacsafe bag protector
Of course, a lock is great if there’s a locker provided but oddly enough not all hostels have them. Depending on what situation you’re in, whether you’re in a tour group or of the hostel feels secure, you usually don’t have to worry. But when you’re sharing a room with strangers there’s nothing wrong with being too careful.
If you’re a traveller with a lot of expensive kit with you or if you want to know for definite that your stuff will be secure then consider investing in a Pacsafe bag protector. You can throw it over your bag and lock it to your bedpost and you can be sure that unless your roomies have wire cutters no one is getting into your bag. Incidentally, if they do have wire cutters then get out of there, that is not a hostel!!
7) Flip flops
Flip flops are probably the most important hostel survival essentials on the list because I can guarantee that at least one of the hostels you stay at will be nothing short of disgusting. The hostel life is far from glamorous and nothing puts your life choices to the test than going to have a shower after a long day only to be greeted by a filthy bathroom.
Even if you find yourself in fancier accommodation, if there are shared facilities involved you just don’t know who or what’s been using them and when it comes to bathrooms you may end up leaving dirtier than you were. So, when you take a shower in a hostel make sure you wear flip flops so that any dirt or bacteria on the floor won’t have a chance to get to your feet.
8) Sleeping bag liner
Like the travel hairdryer, the status of the sleeping bag liner as a hostel essential could be considered debatable. Travellers have suggested packing one just in case you come across a hostel which isn’t quite your preferred kind of of clean. Sleeping bag liners have been a solution for possible bedbug infestations on the road. If this is your intention, make sure it’s made of silk because the last thing you want to do is get bedbugs in your sleeping bag liner which will then ride along with you in your bag and then you’ll never be rid of them!
The reason why sleeping bag liners have made it to the list is not because of bedbugs or hostel cleanliness but more that they offer another line of defence against the cold when you’re tucked up in bed in a chilly dorm room (you can probably see a pattern here…). As a rule, hostel bedding tends to be quite thin on the ground which is fine of you’re in a warmer country. But if you know you get cold at night then wrapping yourself up in a sleeping bag liner underneath your blankets will cocoon you in your own body heat and it’s unbelievably cosy. I can guarantee that with one of these you won’t feel chilly again!
Have I missed any other essentials for surviving the hostel lifestyle? Let me know in the comments below. If you want a full run-down of what I pack when I travel, have a look at this list here.