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Written by Alice McLeod on 27 / 10 / 2023

Gap Year Advice

Embarking on a gap year is an exciting adventure, filled with new experiences, cultural exploration, and making friends from around the world. While traveling, one of the most affordable and popular accommodation choices for gap year students is staying in hostels. Hostels are not just a place to sleep; they are vibrant hubs of international culture and camaraderie. Heading off on your gap year and never stayed in a hostel before? Fear not, you’re not alone. Hostels and gap years go hand-in-hand, and if you haven’t done much travelling before then maybe you’re not familiar with how they work, the dos and don’ts, the things to look out for, and the joys of the bottom bunk. Fear not, that’s what we’re here for.

What is a hostel?

A hostel is essentially a form of low-cost, short-term, sociable shared accommodation. Beds are usually bunkbeds in a shared dormitory, with shared facilities like bathrooms and a kitchen. You can often get women-only rooms, and many hostels offer private rooms too, but they tend to be more expensive. Most hostels will offer lockers where you can lock away your valuables, and most provide linens. Some hostels also have a restaurant and/or bar which is a great place to meet people, and they tend to be catered towards backpackers – i.e. cheap!

Why stay in a hostel?

Hostels are fab options for backpackers for a number of reasons, the main one being how affordable they are. They’re also an amazing way to meet new people and buddy up with fellow travellers, many of whom will have awesome tips and tricks for you about the best places to visit and where you can find the cheapest pint locally. Hostels range in location, from city centres to off the beaten track, so make a perfect base to explore from. It might be tempting to book a hotel room, but trust us, you’ll be missing out on everything hostels offer, from walking tours, roof-top bars, and organised pub crawls.

What are the disadvantages of a hostel?

Pack your earplugs because hostels can get noisy. Whether you’re sharing a room with a snorer, or your bunk mate is reading until the early hours, hostels can be noisier than hotels. Don’t forget your earplugs and an eye mask! You're sleeping in a room with a number of different people so don’t expect the same level of privacy you’d get if you were in a hotel. There may reach a point on your travels that you need a break from hostels and splurge for a few nights in an Airbnb or hotel, and that’s totally fine!

How much do they cost?

Prices can vary massively between countries and locations; in places like South East Asia you can find hostels for as little as £3 a night. It often depends what amenities they offer, but in general they’ll be a fraction of the cost of a hotel room.

What’s some basic hostel etiquette?

  • If you're getting in late or leaving early, then try to cause as little disruption to other travellers as possible. It’s generally understood that during the day the dorm room is fair game and there’s no need to tip-toe around, even if someone is having a nap. After 10/11pm keep the noise down so that others can sleep. Also keep lights off – if you do need light to see then use your phone or a torch. If you're leaving early make sure you pack your bag the night before so you can slip out without waking the entire dorm.
  • Keep the communal areas clean and tidy, especially the kitchen. Wash up your dishes as soon as you’re done with them so that others can use them, and if you lack faith in other people’s washing up skills then it might be an idea to wash pots and dishes before using them. Most hostels have a shared fridge and will use a labelling system to identify the owner of the food. There might be a labelled “free shelf” where people can leave unwanted food and other hostel guests can help themselves.
  • Some hostels have a curfew so make sure you find out what it is and respect it!
  • Speaking of respect, hostel staff are often fellow travellers who are just working a couple of hours to cover their stay. They’re doing their best to make sure you’re having a good time, but they are only human. They don’t have much control over the behaviour of your fellow guests, sometimes they’ll have to change your room mid-stay, and they can’t guarantee you’ll end up sharing a room with your friends, but just roll with it – who knows, you might end up making a new best friend.
  • We’re sure we don’t have to spell this one out for you, but having sex in a shared dorm with 15 other people in it is simply not cool. Don’t do it, don’t even think about doing it. No matter how stealthy you think you’re being, we can assure you that everyone in the dorm with you knows exactly what’s going on and they’re not impressed.
  • Don’t be a Debbie downer, especially about things that you should have known beforehand. If you're staying in a party hostel, you can’t be angry at the people playing drinking games in the common room until the early hours. Read descriptions and reviews so you know what to expect, but as always, be prepared to go with the flow.
  • Don’t be a bathroom hog; shower and bathroom space is usually limited so don’t spend hours in there and use up all the hot water. This is less hotel etiquette and more general advice, but make sure you wear flip flops or sliders in the showers. Your travels will be considerably less fun if you pick up some weird foot fungus in the communal shower.

Top or bottom bunk?

Bottom bunk every time. It’s easier to access, you don’t have to climb up and down (especially tricky after a drink or two at the hostel’s bar), all your stuff is nearby, and you don’t have to worry about falling out of bed in your sleep. In some hostels you can also hang a towel down from the top bunk to create a little more privacy and block out the light. There are pros and cons to both, and you will no doubt experience both on your gap year so you’ll end up making your own opinion on what you prefer, here at The Leap though we’re big bottom bunk advocates.

Hostels, you’ll learn to love them. They’re the very best place to make new friends on your gap year, offer low-cost accommodation, and you’ll make loads of new memories whilst staying in them. If you're a solo traveller then hostels are a great way to meet fellow travellers from all over the world (read our guide to making friends whilst travelling here). You may have to contend with loud snoring, shower hogs, and the odd food thief, but at least you’ll have some funny stories to tell your mates when you get home. If this all sounds like your idea of a personal Hell then check out our team programmes, you might still be sharing a dorm with other people, but they'll be people on your team who you'll be with for the duration of your programme - no strangers sharing your bunk!


What's the easiest way to book a hostel? Most hostels you can book online through an app like booking.com or hostelworld.

Are linens and towels provided in hostels, or do I need to bring my own? Most hostels will provide you with at least bed linens, depending on the hostel, you might have to bring your own towels.

Do hostels have age restrictions for guests, or are they open to travelers of all ages? Hostels don't tend to have strict age restriction policies, so you might find that you're sharing a room with a huge range of ages. Some will be more catered to young people than others though so do your research.

Do hostels offer laundry facilities for guests to use during their stay? Yes, many hostels have coin-operated washers and dryers that are available for guests to use during their stay. If not, they'll know the nearest place to get laundry done.

Related Articles:

Solo vs team gap year travel

Pack the perfect gap year backpack

How to make friends on your gap year

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