Hostels are growing up. Budget travelers in search of the basics — a bed, running water and decent WiFi — will still have the option, but so will those looking for a more elevated experience without the price tag of a traditional hotel.
Hostelling was around long before the term “sharing economy” made its way into the mainstream with things like Uber and Airbnb. These days, there's a hostel for all budgets and tastes.
Social media is certainly helping to fuel Millennial wanderlust and may even be contributing to a new industry category: the boutique hostel, which offers hotel-like comforts like daily cleaning service, an eye for design and upgraded amenities, such as ensuite bathrooms and mixology-driven bars.
These features often make up for typical hotel features, like porter service, a sit-down restaurant, spa and gym, which can add to a traditional hotel's nightly rate.
Although, once you've decided on a hostel, how do you make the most of it?
Whether you're a hostel newbie or seasoned hopper, some form of planning and research can save you time, money and with all of the programming hostels usually feature, ease the FOMO.
Check out these six practical tips for maximizing your hostel stay:
Book Your Bed
If you are particular about where you sleep like I am, browse through the hostel's Facebook page or its geotags and hashtags on Instagram for a quick look at how the bunks are arranged and request your bunk preference.
This is also assuming you have reserved a bed for yourself online, rather than showing up to the hostel on the day you need a bed. I prefer a bed located away from the dorm entrance, and a bottom or top bunk depending on how the room is arranged.
Unless otherwise stated, most requests aren't guaranteed -- though in my experience, being gracious helps.
Email For Special Requests
The hostel website may say it has lockers, towels and hair dryers available, but things change. For the things you know you must absolutely have, it's good practice to confirm them before arrival.
If the needs you identified are unavailable, work out how you'll compensate, substitute or decide if you'll be OK without.
For example, if you know you'll be doing laundry and the hostel doesn't have a machine on site, you should plan to build it into your travel schedule to find one nearby and stick around until you're finished washing everything.
Read The Community Board
This should be every traveler's first order of business after checking in.
Find important information, like when the hostel is hosting free or discounted happy hours and free walking tours, which is a great way to get acclimated to new surroundings. Learn a bit of history and receive local recommendations of things to do in the immediate area, as well as ideas for day trips.
The WiFi password is sometimes scrawled somewhere on this free-for-all, too.
Supplement Your Breakfast
Most hostels include breakfast with your stay, though unless you're staying at a boutique hostel (like The Hat in Madrid) breakfast likely includes toast, cereal and maybe some questionable fruit.
For a morning meal that will actually keep you full through lunch, head to the grocery store for your eggs, bacon and other specialty diet needs. Reception can point you in the right direction, as will the hostel's map.
On my most recent Europe trip, I brought a few packages of protein-rich granola in my carry-on, then used the hostel's milk and picked up local produce from the grocery store a few blocks away.
Plan Your Showers
When you're on a schedule, a long queue (as the Europeans say) for the showers can push your activities back, which is fine if your plans for the day consist of puttering around and popping into every cafe with an enviable pastry case and hot coffee.
Not so much when you've got a tour planned or are attempting to make the final hour of the free breakfast. Because free. A solution? Note the most popular shower times and either plan around them or allow enough time to wait it out.
Another time-saver I've learned is to keep my pajamas and toiletries easily accessible in the likely event I return to my room after a late night out with new friends, post-free communal dinner.
Just Say "Yes"
Travel is an opportunity to challenge the limits of your comfort zone, to meet new people and experience cultures and traditions different from your own.
Embrace opportunities to sample a dish you've never heard of, like a cod fish casserole dinner advertised on the community board at a hostel in Lisbon.
Accept a spontaneous invitation to join in on that fun day trip you wouldn't have done otherwise, like canyoning in Queenstown with the fellow American who shared your four-person room.
When you get home, let your friends know that these are also the benefits of staying in a hostel, be it a budget-conscious or design-driven space.