What it’s like to live in a hostel for a year

I feel like hostels get a bad rep, especially if you chose them as accommodation as an adult. I’ve found hostels to often be cleaner than Airbnbs and I very much prefer them over hotels. I also love the idea of knowing someone at reception can help me navigate life in a new city. Hostels prioritize providing budget-friendly options to transportation, food and tours. Plus, most people you meet at a hostel get that you don’t have $$$ and are on the same page when you’re going out together.

The first time I stayed in a hostel was when I was 19 and travelling through Brazil. Of course, I had reservations about safety, hygiene, and privacy, but being broke didn’t leave me options. When I got there, I found bunk beds fun to climb, the complimentary breakfast decent enough to wake up early for, and friends easy to make.

Fast forward to being 23 in London, UK, I took the same route, but long-term this time. The hostel I stayed at was located in Notting Hill, one of the city’s poshest and most expensive neighbourhoods. I’d just completed grad school and worked an unpaid internship, so having my own little place in central London was highly unrealistic.

The rent at the hostel included two meals a day and study room and gym access. Considering my crater of debt, I opted for the finest, cheapest chamber – a four-women bunk situation in a space the size of a closet next to the communal floor bathroom.

I ended up living at the hostel for a year, thanks to the convenience of the location and the friends I made. Here is what you need to know if you’re thinking of a long-term hostel stay:

The more you stay, the cheaper it is

God’s Own Junkyard, London, UK

London is notorious for high rent, and if you’re looking to stay somewhere close to central, it only gets worst. Living in a hostel, I paid £85 ($142 CAD) a week, which came to £366 (610 CAD) a month. This may sound expensive in dollars, but I thought it was fairly affordable for someone from Toronto. It balanced out well considering food and gym were included. Since the hostel’s location was also central, my transportation costs were minimal. 

Many hostels also have special deals for students or people under a certain age, and some charge less the longer you stay. Make sure you ask before booking. The prices also drop if you opt for a room with more people. However, I found somewhere between two and three roomies to be a sweet spot.

To better compare, I later paid £155/week for a private room in a house I rented 20 mins away from central London.

You don’t actually have to pay

Central London

Many hostels let you volunteer there in exchange for a free stay or a reduced price if you’re staying long-term. These positions can be anything from cleaning to admin work. This option is especially great for someone just travelling on a tight budget or in between jobs.

Wave good-bye to privacy, for the most part

Living in a room with multiple people doesn’t allow much privacy, but hostels have options for private rooms (for a higher cost). If you do want some space, learn the patterns of your roommates. When do they go to work? Are they out on Friday nights? One of my roommates added a makeshift curtain to her bunk because she liked to read late.

I spent a lot of time exploring the area and found some empty coffee shops and parks I could work in for long periods when I didn’t want to be around people.

Sometimes I did want to do nothing in my zone alone. But having roommates and being put in uncomfortable situations really pushed me to go out an explore a new city.

Hot tip: Snoop around different floors to check out the bathrooms. On my floor, the bathrooms were communal and always packed in the mornings, but one on the third floor was much cleaner with better water pressure.

For the most part though, get used to having company.

You can ask to switch rooms

Unfortunately, if you’re travelling alone and opting for a dorm-style room, you probably don’t have much agency over who you end up with. Most people respect shared spaces, but some can be messy or noisy. Remember, you can ask to switch rooms if you’re not gelling well.

You also might meet someone at the hostel you’re compatible with, so ask them if they want to pair up with you for a new room. 

The people you meet will become your family

Some great people at my hostel

The best way to meet people was to sit at different tables during dinner. People often make plans for the rest of the night while eating, so if you’re clicking, ask to tag along. Some of my best friends today are folks I met at hostels. These people have hosted me in their cities and will probably come to my wedding.

Me getting a haircut in the hostel

Hotels are melting pots of the world, and you learn so much from individuals from all walks of life. Most of my roommates were from Spain, which helped me improve my language skills. I also met a hairdresser from Japan who gave me a free haircut during the lockdown! Some friends who met at the hostel even started dating and are still together (I know, so cute)!

Safety isn’t guaranteed

Notting Hill, London, UK

I’ve fortunately never had issues with safety in hostels, but we all hear horror stories. Most hostels I’ve stayed at offered lockers or a drawer set with keys. I kept my laptop and documents in them and checked on them often.

However, theft and harassment (especially in co-ed spaces) are common in hostels if you’re not careful. If you’re leaving anything valuable in your room, make sure it’s at least locked in a suitcase. The best thing to do is not bring anything too expensive with you. Make digital copies of all your cards and leave your laptop with someone you trust. Also, ask about the camera situation at reception.

You should also spend a fair bit of time reading reviews online and compare them to other options.

Now, I’m not saying cut your lease and move into a hostel. This option is not for everyone. But if you don’t mind a bit of snoring or find yourself in a financial crunch, it’s a great way to save money for the next step of your travels or a new phase of life.

Do you have any questions about living in a hostel long-term? Don’t be afraid to get in touch!

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