Hostels are an affordable accommodation option for travelers. They’ve been around for a long time, since way before iPhone and even the Internet. Even with Airbnb and the many other options, hostels are still great places to meet other travelers and if you’re traveling alone, you can meet people and get lots of tips on what to do.
But sharing a room and facilities with complete strangers does come with downsides. In a hostel, you have much less privacy and security than in a regular hotel or apartment. That’s a particular concern for solo female travelers.
Luckily, staying in a hostel doesn’t mean that you have to totally sacrifice safety just to save a few euro, dollars, etc. Here are the best things you can do to keep yourself and your belongings safe in a hostel:
- Pick the right kind of room for you.
- Lock your valuables away and bring you own safety gadgets.
- Look into the hostel’s security measures, location, and reviews.
- Keep your wits about you, especially when it comes to alcohol.
Pick the right kind of room
The main thing that sets hostels apart from hotels is the shared accommodation. In a hostel, you generally sleep in a bunk bed in a shared room. You may have 1 roommate, or over a dozen. Hostel rooms come in all shape and sizes, so consider things such as if you’re a light sleeper, if you’re OK having roommates of the opposite sex, and if you’re sensitive to things like other people’s smells and habits.
Big vs. small dorm
Some hostels have huge dorm rooms with up to 20 people, but most places also have smaller rooms with 8, 6, or 4 beds. Generally speaking, the smaller the dorm, the safer your stuff. This is simple logic, based on fewer people are likely to take your stuff. On the other hand, though, fewer witnesses.
Mixed vs. female dorm
Shared dorm rooms are a concern for some female travelers, as some women might not be comfortable sharing a space with men they don’t know, or even those they do.
If you’re young, it may be the first time you ever slept in a room with a bunch of guys. That can be a little intimidating. Mixed dorms aren’t necessarily less safe, and in my experience more social, but it’s understandably not for everyone.
Luckily, these days almost every hostel has designated female dorms, which are only open to women. If you’re concerned about sleeping in a mixed dorm, opt for one of these instead. The Plus Hostel in Florence reserves a whole floor for girls! And there are even complete female only hostels, such as Hostelle in Amsterdam.
Dorm vs private room
Of course, the safest and most private option is to book a private room. Lots of hostels offer single and double rooms to guests looking for the social atmosphere but more privacy. These rooms are often still cheaper than a hotel and you get to enjoy the fun and activities.
Top bunk vs. bottom bunk
Although top bunks are usually the least popular, they are less easily accessible and therefore provide a bit more safety. Lots of hostels have upgraded their bunkbeds with privacy curtains, which can be closed to create a more personal space, such as the Maverick City Lodge in Budapest. St. Christopher’s in London takes it a step further with full-fledged pods! If you’re staying at a hostel without curtains, you can always DIY one by hanging a towel.
Lock up your valuables
Keeping your stuff safe while sharing a room with other people can be tricky. Whether you misplace it or someone takes it, the last thing you want on your trip is to lose something. Especially valuables or important documents, like your passport.
Most hostels provide lockers for your stuff. Sometimes small, just to store valuables, and sometimes big enough for your whole bag. Often you’ll have to bring your own padlock or buy or rent one from the reception. If you’re planning to stay in a hostel, it’s worth investing in a good padlock (either with a key or numeral lock).
If the hostel doesn’t have a locker for you, there are still several things you can do:
- You can ask the reception to store valuables for you. Some hostels already require you to leave your passport at the reception for security and as a deposit. Although this is great for things you won’t need during your stay, it’s not as useful for a laptop, phone or wallet.
- You can always opt to keep valuables on you while you’re out, instead of leaving them at the hostel. But this is a bit of a hassle when you’re lugging everything around all day.
- Some travelers sleep with their passport, phone, and money under their pillow. If this makes you feel safer, by all means go for it. But it’s really not that safe or comfortable.
- A better option is to buy a luggage lock so that you can securely close your suitcase or backpack. Or invest in an inti-theft bag such as Loctote or a portable safe by Pacsafe. These are slash-proof and can be locked to your bed. No one is getting to your things with one of those.
Lastly, don’t keep everything in one place. Stash a bit of cash, a copy of your passport and a second credit card in a different bag. That way, if you lose your wallet, you’ll still have some emergency money.
Research hostel security measures
When deciding where to book your stay, make safety one of your top priorities. Sure, amenities, cleanliness, and atmosphere are super important when picking a hostel, but don’t forget to look for their security measures as well. This includes things like their key system, their reception hours, door policy and if they provide lockers.
Some hostels have an open-door policy, which means that dorm rooms don’t have individual door locks. This obviously isn’t ideal. Other hostels, especially the more upscale ones, have a (electronic) key system so that no one can enter a dorm room that they are not staying in.
Front doors are often locked, especially if the hostel does not have 24-hour reception, and non-guests are usually not allowed after quiet hours. So the chance of strangers entering the hostel and going through your stuff is small. A 24-reception is the best, because there is always someone around to keep an eye on things and help you with whatever you need.
Pick a hostel with a good location, somewhere central in a safe neighborhood. The last thing you want is to have to walk through dodgy alleyways in the dark to get to your accommodation.
The best way to figure out if your hostel is in a good location is from previous guests’ reviews. You can also do a little Google search, for instance: “is (name of neighborhood) in (name of city) safe?”, “safe neighborhoods in (name of city)” or “safest areas in (name of city)”.
This will likely pull up blogs and websites reviewing the safety of different areas in your destination. A good indicator for safety is usually if it’s centrally located and close to shops and restaurants, so an area where there will be lots of people around.
And always read reviews on Hostelworld, Booking.com, or TripAdvisor to see how other guests rate the hostel’s security and if they felt safe staying there. That’s your most important indicator for your own experience.
Keep your wits and be personally responsible
Hostels are a great place to meet people and have fun, so you should take full advantage of that. But be responsible, especially when it comes to drinking. Party hostels are infamous for getting you turned up, but getting too drunk is risky.
You’re in a new place with new people so it’s best to keep a clear head. Alcohol is often to blame for problems in hostels, from noise to theft. So, maybe take it easy on the alcohol until you meet some people you trust, and you know will look out for you.
If other guests are having a few too many, a good approach is usually to gently usher them into bed and let them sleep it off. If they’re unpleasant or making you feel uncomfortable, inform a staff member. Trust me, they’re used to dealing with drunks.
Unfortunately, there are bad people out there, and not everyone has the purest of intentions. Align your safety measurements with the vibe people give you. In some hostels I’ll leave my stuff lying around, in others I lock everything away. Go with your gut on this one, after all, your instincts are usually the best indicators for safety.
In sum: Even if something happens, a hostel’s a good place to get help
Keeping yourself and your stuff safe is essential to a good travel experience. And although picking the right hostel and room and locking your valuables away helps, there is no guarantee. If something does go wrong, try to keep your cool. Hostels take their guests’ safety very seriously, so immediately inform the hostel staff of what happened.
A lot of hostels have policies in place and, depending on the problem, they can check security cameras, move you to a different room, confront or remove the culprit and even blacklist them so that they won’t be allowed in other hostels either. They can also assist you in contacting local law enforcement. If the staff does not adequately resolve the situation, be sure mention it in your review to help other travelers!