1. Wear ear plugs every night.
This is by far my number one tip, and I’m shocked that not everyone does it already. Hostel rooms are loud. Someone will come in after you’ve gone to bed–perhaps turning on the light and rustling through his bag for his toothbrush. Someone will be waking up for a 7 AM bus with an alarm set for 6 AM. Lockers will be opened and slammed. Bags will zip. Plastic will rustle.
Wear earplugs, and you’ll sleep through the night. Don’t, and you won’t.
I buy Flent’s Ear Plugs in 100 packs from my local pharmacy. I specifically like their shape, and they reduce noise incredibly well. The key with ear plugs is that they go much deeper in your ear than you might think. You have to roll the ear plugs into a tiny, long tube and place it quickly into your ear before it expands to its normal size. It will expand in your ear and block out most sound. If you’ve done it correctly, the ear plugs will bear extend outside your ear. If you stick it in without rolling it, it will barely go in, stick out of your ear quite a bit, and block very little sound. You may find you have to pull your ear as you stick it in for maximum depth. I pull my ears up and away from my head as I insert my ear plugs.
I usually take two ear plug from my 100-pack for each four days of a trip. After about a week or so, an ear plug usually gets gross, and I toss it.
I don’t usually sleep with an eye mask, but it is a good way to stay asleep during morning sun or bus-packing. I call putting on ear plugs and an eye mask “entering a sensory deprivation chamber.”
2. Start a Conversation.
Everyone in the hostel–except that Scandinavian couple attached at the hip–wants to meet someone new. Even pairs and groups of friends are a bit bored of each other and want a new activity or drinking partner.
But it’s unnatural for many people to start a conversation with a stranger. I’ve been in countless hostel common rooms where everyone is sitting watching TV, reading, or on their computer hoping someone will talk to them. Once you talk to someone–even someone who looks busy–the conversation will flow smoothly and other timid souls will join in.
Here’s my sure-fire #1 way to start a conversation in a non-awkward way even if talking to a stranger terrifies you.
If you’re in the common room or kitchen and you have some things scattered about, turn to a person near you and say, “Can you watch my things for a moment?”
When you get back from the bathroom or your room or a brief walk, say, “Thanks. Did you have to fight anyone off?”
They’ll usually say “no.”
“People were probably afraid of your German ninja skills.” Replace German with your best guess of where the person is from.
“Hahaha, why do you think I’m from Germany?”
Now you’re having the most common hostel conversation about where each of you is from. I segue quickly to how long they’ve been in the area because I want to know the fun stuff to do in the area.
I don’t actually do the preceding often because I don’t mind just saying, “Hey. What’s up?” to people. But the longer opening is guaranteed to start a conversation with anyone of any gender, and odds are excellent that person was hoping someone would start a conversation with him/her. Others will probably join in the conversation soon. Now you’ve got an activity group to roam the town, which makes traveling alone much more fun.
Most hostels have a kitchen. Cooking is a good way to save money, eat healthier, and meet the other people cooking. You can modify the conversation-starter from above with “Can you stir this for me while I go to my room for a second?”
If you’ve already met someone, it’s fun to cook together and cook each other a meal you often eat at home. Most Europeans have never had anything like my world-famous enchiladas.
4. Pick the right hostel. See yesterday’s post.
5. Ask what others have done in the area.
Guide books are OK, but the info is always at least a year or two old. Your hostel’s front desk is OK, but they may not actually have done many of the activities.
Ask anyone you’re talking to what they’ve done that day, whether it was fun, and whether you should do it. This is the easiest way to get up-to-date info about activities, their prices, and whether they’re worth it.
6. Buy a Drink to Share.
Many hostels, but not all, let you bring in your own alcohol. This is a good way to save money on drinks and meet people. If you buy a big bottle or case of beer, and you don’t want all of it, offer some to someone else who is cooking or you are otherwise talking to. Instant best friend.
7. Bring Cards or Bananagrams.
(Bananagrams is a Srabble-like crossword game for 2+ players that takes under 10 minutes to play and takes up less space than a book in your bag.)
I usually go into a common room with my computer, a bottle of beer, and cards or Bananagrams. As I work, I might start up a conversation with someone. I’ll ask if they want to play Bananagrams later, and after I wrap up a post, we’ll start playing.
If you want to start a more raucous night, you may want to employ a deck of cards to start a drinking game. Ask a guy or a couple guys if they want to play Kings or your game of choice. If you start that game with a few people in a common room, you will quickly have everyone in the common room coming up asking if they can join.
If you see a game happening in a common area, ask if you can join even if you don’t know what it is or you think it’s a group of friends playing. People will be happy to let you in and teach you to play.
8. Stay a Few Nights.
I like to travel slowly, so I always try to stay 3+ nights everywhere. Also many hostels have check out times of 10 AM, so changing every night means getting up early every day. Staying a few nights means lots of sleeping in with one early morning.
9. Note the checkout time.
If you are a late riser, note the check out time listed online. Noon checkouts will be preferable to 10 AM.
10. What are the extras?
Hostels are fun partly because each is unique. Sometimes there are interesting or valuable extras like a free weekly barbecue the night you’ll be there, free bike rentals, a big book exchange, or something else that will make that hostel a better fit for you than other similar hostels.
Usually the extras are easy to find because they really are cool or valuable, the hostel advertises them heavily on their hostelworld page.