3 September 2019

Hostelling for older travellers: 5 ways to feel at home in a youth hostel

Some time ago, I wrote a post on some of the common myths surrounding youth hostels.  In it, I encouraged travellers (especially those of my generation and older) to give hostelling a go.  If, after reading the article, you feel you're ready to find out for yourself what this fad called hostelling is all about, bravo; I've no doubt you'll find the whole experience immensely enriching, eye-opening and, above all, educational.

As I did before my first hostel outing in 2000, you'll probably also be feeling anxious about how your decision might play out; you know, being that creepy, old guy with the pot belly who thinks Imagine Dragons is some video game - all the time standing out like a sore thumb in an environ of mostly fit, fine-looking travellers young enough to be your children.  Or grandchildren.

Well, if indeed you are feeling the jitters, here are some first-hand tips and advice on what you can do (and avoid doing) to make your first hostel experience a fondly memorable one - one that will ultimately prove how foolishly-unfounded your earlier concerns had been.

1.  Hold no preconceptions of (or bias against) hostels; that's just time and energy wasted.  Instead, mentally prepare to immerse yourself in an environment that's vastly different from that of hotels which you're probably more familiar with. Keep an open mind; don't expect crystal chandeliers, bellhops or a welcome drink. What I can guarantee though are a friendly front desk and a warm welcome. Remember, you chose a hostel in the first place because you want to experience something new; something different. So, go on, indulge in your curiosity and discover what the spirit of hostelling is all about; you won't be left disappointed.

2.  Familiarise yourself with the surroundings.  Find out where (and when) people hang out.  Feel the vibe of the place and allow yourself to gradually settle into your new home away from home.  Try to stay visible, e.g. in the lobby or communal area.  Travellers are a curious, inquisitive lot; at some point, someone will try to strike up a conversation.  In more ways than once, being familiar with your new surroundings will go a long way towards helping you feel more at home.

3.  Don't be a loner.  But if you're one by nature, then you've come to the right place to hone your social skills!  Take the initiative to mingle.  Remember, people our age are, more often than not, the odd ones out in a hostel environment.  But that doesn't mean we are indeed "odd", right?

Most times it's pretty much up to us to make the move.  "Hi, whereabouts are you from?", for instance, is usually a good conversation starter.  From there, proceed to talk about your homeland, the places you've been to or those you'd like to visit.  Essentially, just go with the flow and you'll quickly find yourself engaged in an active conversation with someone interesting.

Exercise diplomacy, however.  Avoid questions like "What do you do for a living?" or "Are you travelling alone?" if such information aren't volunteered.  Don't be superficial either; if you don't like the company, just find new ones.  There's no need to force the issue because you'll definitely find more than a few like-minded people in a hostel environment to have a meaningful gab with.

4.  Share, share and share.  Hostels are a bit like family communities; generosity and goodwill are unbounded here.  Be generous with travel tips and share your travel experiences - both good and bad; such information is always welcome by travellers.  Likewise, you might want to learn from them too.  On this score, I can't emphasise enough how much I've learnt over the years from travellers half my age.  You'll be surprised how much noteworthy information they have to impart.

If a fellow traveller asks for food, it's because he or she cannot afford his/her next meal; share yours if you can.  If you've prepared, for instance, a large bowl of salad, invite everyone to take the plunge.  After all, sharing is richly-rewarding, don't you think?

5.  Respect the house rules.  The vast majority of hostels have strict rules with regards noise, smoking, late entry, etc.  These are necessary to ensure everyone has a pleasant, hazard-free stay as well as a good night's sleep.  Respect the rules in the same way you'll want others to respect your wish for a memorable hostel experience.  Remember, respect works both ways.

To most first-timers, a hostel stay can feel a bit strange at first; that's perfectly normal.  Give it time, however, and I'm certain you'll find yourself quickly settling into the vibe of the place.  The fact is, a hostel experience grows on you, and it's really not hard at all to achieve this quickly; just be yourself, be genuine and respect your fellow travellers.  Of course knowing what Imagine Dragons is - or rather, who they are - helps.

Welcome, Sir, Madam, to the hostelling community.

If you're an older traveller like me and have never stayed in a hostel before, do you now (after having read this post) feel more comfortable about booking your bed at one for your next holiday?  Or if you remain unconvinced, please share with me your reservation(s) in the comment box below; I'll reply as soon as I can. 


  1. So true! Hostelling is a fab way to travel, and the people are generally great. I volunteered at a hostel for a week last year, did some decorating and gardening, and now I've got the bug! This year a cycle tour will be based around hostel locations!

    1. Yeah, hostelling can be addictive, Mark; I can see where you're coming from. And you're right about most people in hostels being nice. Only once in my 16 years of hostelling have I encountered any form of unpalatable behaviour in hostels. Good luck on your cycle tour! Thanks for popping in; appreciated.

  2. If you're planning on being a loner, you definitely shouldn't stay at a hostel! Great tips, thanks for sharing :)

    1. Too right, Lauren. I hope what I've written here can help alleviate some of the concerns older people may have about staying in hostels. I'm 51 and I've always loved the experience. Thank you for leaving a line.

    2. I went backpacking with a rtw ticket in my 20s and needed the economy rates of hostels to make it.
      Some people love them, I used them, and managed to stay away from most people.
      Everyone is different.
      The travel costs if I had used guest houses or budget hotels would have been around three times the hostel version before even factoring in the savings from self catering meals.
      To be honest, the times I did meet people and go out, I tended to regret them quite a lot and regard them very much as wastes of time, when I could have been doing something better for the place I only had a limited time in, and am unlikely to visit again.

      It's not to say I found the types who go there for social reaons suspicious or anything.
      Oh, ok, then, maybe. Or more, yes probably, actually.
      Suspicious. Suspicious people.

      No, I am half joking. Only half. It was ok the odd time to meet someone, but can feel like a trip to the Christian Union, or making up for the times you missed not going on US summer camps, or the other ones are the international pub crawlers and so on! The older people in hostels are so typical, also. Hostels lack unique people so much.

      Today, nearly 20 or so years later, I have been there, done that, hostels served their budget purpose, I particularly enjoyed the transport and cheap day ski passes in some Canadian hostels. But mostly I am pleased that, while I can still travel alone, I must get privacy and none of the communalism.

  3. I'm taking a vacation this year and looking forward to spend a few weeks in hostels in and around Berlin. You give help, you get help. I'll volunteer and in return and they shall give me food and accommodation. Best deal! :)