I’m trying to remember the first time I stayed in a hostel, and I believe it was in December, 2004. My most recent hostel stay? February 2020 (just weeks before everything went crazy!). That means I’ve been hosteling for a full fifteen years, and in that time I’ve perfected my personal hostel packing list. I know exactly what I need to bring to have a clean, comfortable, safe hostel stay, and I know exactly what I need to leave at home (either so that I can pack light, or so that I can have more room in my bag for shopping!).
If you’re new to hosteling, or if you haven’t stayed in a hostel in a while, you’ll want to make note of the travel essentials I’ve listed below. These products are inexpensive, multi-purpose and often useful at home or abroad… but they’re especially important in the shared living environment of a hostel.
I should mention that in this post I’m not going to talk about the obvious stuff you need, like a backpack or suitcase and a passport (and a positive attitude… this isn’t the first day of kindergarten!). That being said, if you want to know more about the backpack I took on my eight-month around-the-world trip, you can read my full review of the Deuter Traveler 60 + 10 backpack. I’ve been using that Deuter pack for a few years. Before I took it around the world, I also used it for two two-month Europe trips, and it has suited my travel style well. I pack toiletries and shoes in the separate bottom compartment, use the main compartment for clothes and books, and use the detachable daypack for hikes and day trips.
Hostel Dorm Room Packing List
Let’s start with the things on your hostel packing list that you’ll need in a dorm room, whether it’s a cute little four-bed dorm with an attached bathroom, or a massive twenty-bed dorm with more people than you can count.
Earplugs are a new addition to my travel arsenal. I used to avoid them, but on a recent trip that accidentally involved sharing dorm rooms with sixteen snoring seniors I became an earplug convert. I’m not picky about which ones I use. I’ll happy shove in the free ones offered by airlines or nice hotels, but in some places (I’m talking to you, Kazakhstan), it’s been impossible to find a pair for purchase. That’s why I now take a handful of soft earplugs with me on every trip. I usually sleep without them, but when I wear them, boy am I glad to have packed them!
Question: What are your thoughts on loud snorers in dorm rooms? Let me know in the comments!
My recent around-the-world trip included about twenty countries and four different types of power outlets. I could have packed twelve different chargers, but that would have taken up valuable real estate in my backpack that I needed for my backup Birkenstocks. Instead, I packed a great universal charger that had dual-voltage capabilities, three different styles of plugs, two electrical outlets and multiple USB charging ports. I could charge my laptop, phone and camera at the same time, whether I was in Canggu or Chernobyl.
Although many hostels are moving towards personal charging stations in each bed, this isn’t the standard yet (especially in cheap hostels, older hostels, or hostels in developing countries). You never know how far away the nearest electrical outlet will be, so if you want to scroll through Instagram in bed (hey, are you following Fearless Female Travels on Instagram yet?) you need an extra-long charging cable: six feet minimum, but ten feet is even better. Extra-long cables are available for USB-Lightning chargers, USB Type C and Micro-USB electronics.
Bonus: When your alarm rings at 5:00 am for your early flight, your phone can be beside your bed and you won’t wake everyone up as you stumble around the room looking for it!
Apparently some people travel halfway across the world to watch The Office re-runs on their laptop. If that’s you, do the rest of of us a favor and listen via Bluetooth headphones. Believe me, we’ve heard all the jokes already and don’t need to hear them again. (The linked style also feature noise-cancelling technology!)
I would not have recommended a headlamp in the past. However, a recent trip to India and Central Asia changed my perspective. If you’re traveling to a place where the electricity is unreliable, you might want to pack a travel headlamp so that you can find your way to the bathroom in the middle of the night, and so that you can come in late or leave early without disrupting other people by turning on the main overhead light. Again, you probably don’t need this in places with reliable electricity.
I hear you, naked sleepers! I have lived alone for almost fifteen years and certainly don’t feel obliged to wear pajamas when I’m in my own house (except when it’s cold… Canadian winters and all that!). However, if you’re sharing a sleeping space with strangers, it’s generally considered polite to cover your naked body in their presence. As a woman, I like to pack a soft jersey nightshirt for sleeping. If it’s cold, I add a pair of comfortable cotton leggings (that can double as pants for easy hikes!). Guys, opt for comfortable sleep shorts and a t-shirt (both in breathable natural fibers).
Hostel Bathroom Packing List
For new backpackers, using a shared bathroom can be one of the biggest adjustments. If you’re used to having your own bathroom space (I hear you… I live alone and I have two bathrooms just for me!), add these essentials to your hostel packing list so that you can stay clean and comfy in the hostel bathroom.
Do you like warts? I’m going to assume your answer is no. Moist bathroom floors are the ideal place for bacteria and fungus to multiply… rapidly… and you want a barrier between your feet and all those germs. The easiest solution is a pair of cheap-but-durable flip-flops (yes, you can wear them to the beach too!).
Sadly, the people who designed many hostels failed to consider that people will actually need to put stuff down in the shared bathroom. You don’t want to balance your toothbrush on the narrow edge of the sink only to have it knocked onto the floor by someone flinging their towel around like an Olympic gymnast doing a ribbon routine. Similarly, you don’t want your toothbrush catching little bits of fur as one your bunkmates shaves his beard in the sink or plucks her eyebrows. Are you grossed out yet? You should be. Get a full-sized toothbrush holder with a few air holes to keep your toothbrush fresh (and your paranoia in check).
I’ve recommended these before and I will recommend them again. In fact, even in the summer of 2020, when we couldn’t travel at all, I used one of these Turkish towels almost every day when I went swimming in the lake near my house. Microfiber is so 2000 – all-natural, soft, fast-drying cotton is where it’s at today. Pack one and it can double as your bath towel, beach towel, sarong and scarf!
Bonus: These Turkish towels come in more than forty colors! They make great gifts for the travelers in your life; buy them a set of two or four in their favorite shade.
Hanging Toiletry Kit
Again, you can’t assume there will be counter space in a hostel bathroom. Often, there is literally nowhere to place your stuff other than a few hooks on the wall. Pack your toiletries in a hanging toiletry bag and so that you can shower without constantly looking out into the sink area, hoping your stuff hasn’t fallen onto the floor. You can get a standard-sized bag (like the one shown below) or, if you’re like me, opt for the XXL (pink!) version.
Hostel Safety Packing List
Generally, hostels are safe. I would say they’re no more or less dangerous than any other place you’d go when you were traveling, whether that is a hotel, restaurant, public transportation or tourist attraction. However, there will always be people who take advantage of the situation, and there is always the potential for a minor accident, so you’ll want to add these safety products to your hostel packing list.
I always travel with two different locks to keep my stuff safe in the hostel. First, a narrow combination padlock is essential for most hostel lockers. It allows you to lock up any valuables while you’re exploring (or sleeping!). While you might be tempted to get something larger, a small combination lock is ideal because it’s more likely to fit a variety of locker shapes (standard “high school-style” lockers, under-the-bed lockers, locking cabinets, etc.).
Retractable Cable Lock
Most backpackers don’t use a cable lock, but I wouldn’t ever consider traveling without mine. Not all hostels have lockers available (if you’re traveling with valuables, you might want to factor that into your hostel choice!). When there’s no locker, I use my cable lock to attach my backpack to my bed frame by looping the cable through the zippers. This keeps it closed and close. I also use the cable lock when I leave my bag in a luggage storage room and even when I use the luggage storage rack on trains. Often, theft is a crime of opportunity, and a retractable cable lock makes someone else’s bag look like an easier opportunity than yours!
Mini First Aid Kit
Although most hostels have a first aid kit on site, they don’t always have staff available 24/7 to help you get a bandage or rubbing alcohol out of their kit! Save everyone the hassle of scrambling to deal with your minor injuries by packing your own little first aid kit.
Bonus: Life-Saving Little Extras
These won’t make or break your hostel trip, but having them in your backpack could make things a little more comfortable and enjoyable:
- An inflatable travel pillow. Pillows seem to be the #1 place where some hostels cut corners. If you’ve got a lumpy hostel pillow, supplementing it with your own inflatable travel pillow can help you get a good night’s sleep. It can also be useful when you want to sit up in bed to send emails or read a book. Pick one like this, with a washable cover.
- Clothespins. I once lost my favorite pair of shorts to a rooftop breeze in Albania. Now, I always toss a handful of clothespins in my backpack so that I can safely hang my towel, swimwear and hand-washed undies to dry. Choose colorful ones so that you never get them mixed up with the hostel’s laundry supplies.
- Small change. Hostels aren’t currency exchange offices and they don’t keep tons of cash on hand. If you’re planning to pay for things in cash (whether it’s your stay, food, laundry service, day trips or something else) try to have small denominations of the local currency.
- Photocopies of your passport. It still makes me a little bit uncomfortable, but some hostels will ask to keep your passport for the duration of your stay. Often, they aren’t stored especially securely. An easy workaround is to have a few color photocopies of the information page in your passport. Most hostels will accept a copy instead (and it won’t mess up your trip if you accidentally leave it behind).
Don’t Pack These Things for Hosteling!
Here are some of the things you don’t need to pack for hosteling:
- Sleeping bag. 99.99% of hostels provide clean bedding! As part of this, they’re unlikely to let you use your own sleeping bag, since they can’t be sure it’s clean.
- Sleep sheet or sleeping bag liner. Again, hostels provide clean bedding. Carrying around a sleep sheet from hostel to hostel just means you’re dragging stuff around with you. And by stuff I mean bedbugs. (Kidding. Sort of. In twenty years of travel I’ve never encountered bedbugs… though I always check the bed as soon as I check into any room, hotel or hostel.)
- 5,000 plastic bags. You don’t need to wrap everything in a plastic bag. Make sure your toiletries are in a water-resistant toiletry bag (in case anything leaks) and consider packing a large plastic bag to keep your dirty laundry separate from your clean clothes. If you feel the urge to wrap or separate anything else, use packing cubes instead of noisy, crinkly, environmentally-unfriendly plastic bags.
- Playing cards. If you don’t like playing cards at home, chances are good you won’t like playing cards at a hostel in Honduras.
- Food. To clarify, you can pack whatever food you want. However, you need to keep it in the hostel kitchen, not in your dorm room. I’ve stayed in dorm rooms where people have left their salami and cheese in the window to try to keep it cool; this just made the room stink and the food go bad. Dorms are for sleeping, bathrooms are for pooping, and kitchens are for food.
Have you stayed in a hostel before?
If you have, let me know your favorite hostel in the comments!
If you haven’t, leave a comment with any questions you have about hostels and hostel packing lists. I’ll respond ASAP!
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