Hostels are an extremely important aspect to every student’s study abroad experience. Before studying abroad, I remember being slightly skeptical of hostels. We’ve all heard stories of people’s belongings being stolen but, while being cautious is key,  hostels are nothing to be wary of. I never had one bad hostel experience in my five months studying abroad in New Zealand and neither did any of my friends. In fact, hostels can be one of the most unique and interesting parts of your study abroad experience. Here’s how to navigate your first hostel experiences:

Find the best deals

Staying in hostels is one of the most affordable ways to travel, no matter the size of the group you are with, and finding deals is easy thanks to tons of hostel-focused websites. Hostelworld is a great way to start your search. You can narrow down the location and type of accommodation you are looking for in the time period you need. I would search Hostelworld then go to hostel’s direct websites that caught my eye to get an even better idea of what they offered. (Make sure to specifically search for hostels with free WiFi!)

Hostels typically provide guests with bedding, a towel, and access to a bathroom and a kitchen.

Read the reviews

Looking at ratings and other travellers’ reviews of hostels is extremely important. Firsthand opinions are valuable in the sense that these are the people that have stayed in the hostel and are able to give you some of the pros and cons about the place. Among the reviews, I always looked for ones that talk about the location. Did travellers think the hostel was in a convenient location for transportation, food, etc.? I also looked to see reviews on cleanliness, which is super important when there are communal bedrooms, bathrooms and kitchens.

Choose what’s best for you

Unlike typical hotels, hostels allow you to create the type of experience you want. Rooms are often available to fit two to up to 12 or more people, and can either be gender-specific or not. Typically set up with bunk beds, the environment really is pretty situational, which I found pretty exciting about my hostel experiences. You know when booking your bed how many people will be in your room, but you don’t know who you’ll meet or what they’ll be like. When choosing your hostel, also look into its atmosphere. Is it a loud hostel, notorious for partying, or is it for backpackers that need a place to stay before heading off on a tramp? Pick the hostel that will suit your needs.

Pack belongings in one bag for security in hostels
Consolidating your belonging makes it not only easier to travel, but also secures everything in one place.

Keep track of your belongings

Often the stories you hear about people getting their belongings stolen happen when their stuff wasn’t locked up. A simple solution is to bring a lock with you. Most hostels have lockers in each room so that you can lock up valuables or your entire pack. If there aren’t lockers, most of the time the office will be able to store valuables behind the front desk for you. My personal advice is to keep your belonging organized all in one pack, that way you can keep track of everything you brought with you at all times.

Utilize the hostel’s resources

Hostels know exactly what travellers want and often will provide free food, like pancakes or pasta, which doesn’t sound like much but ends up being pretty awesome when trying to conserve money. They usually have deals and coupons for restaurants in the area too. Hostel staff are also great resources when it comes to activities in the area, the best deals on excursions and directions for how to get places. In general, people working in hostels and other guests are really cool people that have awesome stories and are willing to share travel advice – always spend some time in a hostel’s communal areas to get to know the people around you!

View from hostel in Glenorchy, New Zealand
Not only do hostels have amazing resources, but they often have the best views around, like this one in Glenorchy.

Overall, I found it most important to be open-minded when it came to staying in hostels. You’ll definitely run into ones you like better than others, but they are all so unique. Some of the best memories I made abroad were in hostel kitchens and common rooms with my friends and other travellers who we had just met. As long as you are cautious with your belongings and do your research, you should have a ton of success staying in hostels!

Kate Farrell is a TEAN Alum and recent graduate from University of Hartford who studied abroad in Wellington, New Zealand.