Hostel Survival Guide: How You Can Tackle These 5 Travel Nightmares

Bell   |   27 March 24

Hostels can be an amazing way to meet other travellers and make the most of your stay in a new place, however, they can also quickly turn into a nightmare. Here are the top 5 issues I have experienced time and time again and how to deal with them!

My first hostel stay was at just 18 years old when I moved across the world to Australia for my Gap Year. I was on a tight budget and not experienced in what to look out for when booking hostels, so just booked whatever was cheapest. 

I had some real nightmare stays and sometimes days where I barely got any sleep, which eventually resulted in a mental breakdown. At that point, I decided to move into a flat in Melbourne for a few months to try and settle down.

Since then, I have stayed in around 50 hostels worldwide and learned a thing or two about choosing the right accommodation. I now vary between hostels, AirBnBs and homestays, but I still enjoy hostels for the social aspect, especially when I solo travel. 

Yet, no matter how good your choice of hostel is, there are certain “nightmares” I come across again and again. Here are the top five and exactly how you can avoid/deal with them:

5 Hostel Nightmares (and How You Can Survive Them All)

Being mindful of others is not universal

The thing that shocked me the most when I stayed in my first hostel was just how rude some of my roommates were. From turning the light on at 4 am to pack and go to the airport to stealing things to playing loud music at night, it is always baffling to me just how little some people care about others.

There’s nothing worse than when you need a good night’s sleep and you have one of those people in the room, yet you are on a budget and this is what you have to deal with.

In my experience, people like that can’t be changed and confronting them will often worsen the situation or even put you in danger. As a solo female traveller, I cannot risk this so here are my tips for a quiet night in a hostel:

  • Bring high-quality earplugs (you may even want to wear soundproof headphones on top to completely block out any noise)
  • Wear a sleep mask to block out any light
  • Make a makeshift curtain using a scarf or pashmina to give yourself some privacy (some hostels will already have this built-in)
  • If possible, choose a bed away from the door. I personally prefer top bunks for safety and privacy reasons, though everyone’s different.
If you are friendly with your dorm mates, you could also try to talk to them about the problem. Try and stay polite. If the other person becomes rude or the problem persists, speak to reception. If they have space, they are usually happy to move you. 

You sometimes feel lonely in the midst of people

Hostel Life for solo traveller - travel tips

Hostels can be the most social place around, but if you are not in the right mindset, you will end up feeling lonelier than ever

I will always remember the time I stayed in a hostel in Bratislava and everyone was drinking, playing games and having a good time. I however felt tired, anxious and overall not great, which meant I just felt so out of place. 

Getting in a rut like that is okay and normal, so don’t stress about it. Accept that tonight is not the night and do your own thing. This can feel weird in a very social hostel, but we are all human and sometimes just need alone time. Grab a book, call a friend or just try and get an early night. Tomorrow will hopefully look much better.

The main thing is not to beat yourself up about it and let it affect any more of your trip. Travelling is exhausting and emotions will be up and down. It’s normal!

Eating the same thing over and over and over

When you move around a lot and only stay in hostels say 3 days at a time, there is no point in buying many groceries. Any additional luggage to drag around is just dead weight. The typical meal, especially on a budget, will hence be pasta or cup noodles, which aren’t very nutritional and get boring very quickly.

My advice here would be to stay longer (a week+)  in some places to be able to buy groceries and cook proper meals, or budget for a meal out once in a while. Local food can often be affordable and nutritious, so is well worth the money.

When staying in hostels, they also sometimes offer “family meals”, where the hostel provides a home-cooked meal at a super affordable price. Or, you can team up with other travellers to buy proper groceries, split the cost and make a big meal for everyone out of it. 

Hostel reviews can sometimes be far from reality

Hostel from hell

Every now and then, you get to a hostel with stellar reviews and your experience is the complete opposite. It is dirty, the staff is rude and you feel uncomfortable or in the worst-case scenario even unsafe.

In my opinion, the best thing to do is to get out of that situation. It might be the next day to give you time to sort something out, but if somewhere isn’t for you and you feel uncomfortable, it will ruin your trip. 

I’d rather spend the extra money and get somewhere I feel better so that I can make the most of my time in a place. Hotels and hostels will sometimes have 24-hour reception, allowing you to switch places at very short notice. Airbnb is also a good option for a quick switch the next day and often guarantees better living conditions.

How to avoid this

Sometimes you can do everything right and still end up in this situation. However, there are precautions you can take to minimise the risk:

  • Read hostel reviews on several sites – Hostelworld, Google and Booking. Sometimes one site has good reviews and the others paint a more realistic picture.
  • Look at photos, especially from other travellers. 
  • Trust your instinct – if you arrive and something feels off, leave straight away.

Travel fatigue is real

View from airplane - travel fatigue

No matter how great travelling is and how many amazing people you meet, after a few months, it is normal for travel fatigue to set in. You miss your friends, family and simply your own bed. Sleeping somewhere new with a bunch of strangers every night is fun and exciting, but also exhausting and taxing.

Travel fatigue can be difficult to accept. After all, you came all this way to explore this new place and now suddenly you miss home, the routine. 

I used to fight travel fatigue and push through, which sometimes worked. However, most of the time it just meant I wasn’t fully enjoying the rest of my time in that place. Nowadays, I recognise the signs and know it is time to head home for a bit. See family and friends, reset and just plan the next steps. 

Don’t feel bad for “not lasting as long”. Head home, even if just for a short while. Allow yourself to reset and recover, before diving back into the travel world. 

If this isn’t an option, finding a work exchange or similar where you can build a “home” over a month or more can help fight travel fatigue. It provides you with your “own” bed and a routine, which is the necessary break from travelling you may need.


Is it safe to leave my valuables in the hostel?

Most hostels provide lockers for your valuables, so bring a good lock. Be aware that these lockers aren’t 100% going to prevent theft. 

I often hide my laptop in places where I don’t think people will look for it, like inside pillowcases or between random piles of clothes. Again, this isn’t a guarantee but always makes me feel better about leaving my stuff.

The thing is, if someone is set on stealing your stuff, they likely will. The same can happen in a hotel though with staff coming into the rooms. 

I would recommend always carrying your passport on your person, as this is probably the most important possession you have while travelling. And buy travel insurance that covers theft – trust me, it’s worth it.

Hostels or hotels for solo travellers?

This 100% depends on what you are looking for. Nowadays, I stay in a mix of hostels, hotels and Airbnb. 

I love hostels as you get to meet other travellers, which provides much-needed social interaction when solo travelling. It also means you will likely have someone to go explore the city with, which can be nice. 

I usually hit a point during my travels where I need a break from other people and my own private space. It’s then that I book hotels or Airbnb.

If you don’t want to share a room with other people, you could still consider hostel private rooms and use the public spaces to meet other travellers. 

Should I stay in girls dorms as a female, solo traveller?

Personally, I prefer girls’ dorms. They are often quieter and I feel a little safer.

That being said, I have stayed in plenty of mixed dorms and never had any issues. Sometimes you meet even more people that way.

I’d say give both a go and decide for yourself. If you are uncomfortable with men sleeping in the same room though, most hostels nowadays have the female dorm option so this shouldn’t prevent you from staying in hostels. 

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Hi, I'm Bell

Bell from Travel Off Script

My blog is here to show you that there isn’t one correct way to travel the world. Together, we can figure out what that means for you. Learn more about me here!

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