Hostels are quite safe, despite the questionable reputation they may still carry. It’s easy for me to say this since I’ve experienced hostels over and over again, but for first-time hostel-goers, or for solo female travelers, I also understand the concerns. That’s why I’ve come up with a few easy steps that solo travelers can take to ensure an excellent experience while staying in shared accommodations.
At 36 years old (and terribly picky about where I sleep) I stayed in a hostel the majority of nights that I traveled through New Zealand for three months (with a working holiday visa). Even when I travel in the United States, I often choose hostels over hotels and other types of accommodations. The Budget-Minded Traveler Community had a lot to add about hostel safety, too.
Related: Why I’m 30 and Still Stay at Hostels
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Why Solo Female Travelers Should Choose Hostels
First, let’s talk about why hostels are a good choice for solo female travelers. One BMT Community member said she feels safer in hostels “because there’s plenty of people around.” I agree. I frequently recommend hostels for solo female travelers because of the simple fact that there is safety in numbers.
Depending on the size of the hostel, there can be hundreds of other travelers in the building, and they’re not just hidden away in their rooms. Shared space doesn’t stop at dorm rooms. You’ll find travelers all throughout the hostel in communal spaces where you cook, dine, lounge, do laundry, and shower.
Even if you choose a private room at a hostel, amongst all that shared space, people are always around – new friendships are almost inevitable.
With some help from the BMT Community, and based off my experience as a frequent hostel guest, I’ve come up with a list of the BMT’s top hostel safety tips for solo female travelers (of all ages) staying in hostels.
Related: 5 Hostel Myths BUSTED!
Be Diligent While Researching Safe Hostels
To find the best hostel for you, do diligent research. Take advantage of these three resources:
1. Read customer reviews. Begin with Hostel World, which has millions of reviews of the 33,000+ properties they have listed. Cross-check other sites like TripAdvisor or Booking.com, too. I like TripAdvisor because customers often share their own photos, which give a more realistic take on the shape the hostel is in, such as moldy ceilings, dirty bathrooms or kitchens, and other unsafe conditions.
2. Check to see if the hostel has a website. If they do, does it portray a safe, welcoming atmosphere? Ensure that information about the rooms, facilities, payments, refunds, etc. is clearly defined. You don’t want any surprises when you show up!
I should have run for the hills when I saw the website for the worst hostel I stayed at in New Zealand (see the story below). It was a single webpage, totally disorganized, outdated, and riddled with spelling and grammar mistakes. It makes me wonder if they don’t care enough to have a professional, up-to-date website, do they care enough about my safety and needs as a guest?
3. Poll the BMT Community. With over 5,000 travelers from all over the world, there’s a good chance someone will know the hostel in question or can give helpful recommendations for alternative hostels in the area. Join The Budget-Minded Traveler Community.
What to Look for in Hostel Reviews
Look for the following while reading hostel reviews:
- High ratings for security/safety, staff/customer service, and cleanliness
- High total number of reviews (shows that it’s an established facility)
- A high number of reviews from solo travelers (pay attention to reviews written by women)
- Recent reviews within the past 6-12 months (hostel management could have made significant improvements or gone way downhill in that amount of time)
- Hostels with management responses (shows they are paying attention and care about their guests)
- Positive mentions of safety, security, solo female travelers, cleanliness, etc. (use keywords in a search bar to find specific reviews)
Ultimately, no matter what the reviews say, always trust your own intuition.
Look out for these review red flags
If you spot several of these red flags while researching a hostel, beware!
- A low number of total reviews
- More poor/terrible ratings than excellent/very good ratings
- No or very few reviews by solo travelers
- Unresponsive management
- Multiple mentions of the same safety/security/cleanliness issues
Tips for Choosing a Safe Hostel
1. Choose a hostel in a central location. The BMT Community agreed this is the best choice. You’ll be close to transportation, restaurants, shops, a grocery store, and perhaps the sights you wish to see.
2. You don’t always have to go for the cheapest option. Paying a few extra dollars is worth the extra amenities, more central location, or other factors that you prioritize.
3. Walk away if you don’t love it. If you arrive and it’s not what you were expecting or you just don’t have a good gut feeling about the place, it’s 100% OK to walk away and find an alternative. Your safety and sanity are more important! This is when it helps to have a backup fund or emergency credit card for unexpected costs if the only alternative is a hotel.
4. Speak up about your needs and expectations. Sometimes just saying that you will find an alternative place to stay is enough for the hostel to accommodate your request. For instance, I arrived at a hostel in Blenheim, New Zealand (the worst hostel I stayed at in New Zealand) that I booked a bed in a female-only room over the phone. When I arrived, they tried to give me a bed in a mixed gender room with another female and one male.
I’m sure he was a fine individual, but that is not what I agreed to over the phone. That’s exactly what I said to the hostel employee and I walked away while bringing up Booking.com on my phone to find another place to stay for the night. They caught me before I completely left the property to tell me another room became available, which was a female-only room.
Remember this story if you ever find yourself in a similar situation.
Hostel Rooms for Solo Female Travelers
Once you’ve found the right hostel, it’s time to choose the right type of room for you. The BMT Community agreed that female-only dorms are the safest choice but there are typically three different types to choose from:
1. Female-Only Dorms – These are available at most hostels around the world. They are slightly more expensive than mixed dorms because they are in higher demand but peace of mind is worth the price.
2. Private Rooms – At the other two hostels I stayed at while in New Zealand, I chose private rooms because female-only dorms were not available. Private rooms can be considerably more expensive than dorms, but still much cheaper than a hotel room. They provide privacy and peace of mind, and sometimes, if you’re lucky, even a private bathroom!
3. Mixed Gender Rooms – These are the cheapest option but not every woman will feel comfortable sharing sleeping space with men.
Hostel Safety Tips for Solo Female Travelers
No matter how comfortable you feel staying in shared rooms with all-female groups or male/female groups, always trust your intuition. If your gut tells you to switch rooms or find another option, do it. Don’t second guess yourself. Here are some additional precautions to consider:
1. Choose a room with fewer beds. Choose a room with as few beds as possible to avoid having to share space with so many roommates.
2. Sleep on the top bunk. It’s far less likely that someone will mess with you or mistake your bed for their own if they have to climb a ladder. Right?
3. Create a privacy curtain with your towel if you’re on a bottom bunk. Create that wall if you need it. It’s not permanent and it can be a courtesy to your roommates as well if you want to use a reading lamp or watch a show on your laptop.
4. Change your clothes in the bathroom. There’s nothing wrong with a little more privacy.
5. Pack your stuff up every night. If for any reason you feel unsafe in the middle of the night, you can just grab your stuff and go.
6. Speak up if you don’t feel safe. Hostel staff may be able to relocate you to a new bed. At a San Francisco hostel I stayed at once, the staff relocated me and three other girls from a dorm room where one guest was acting out and behaving violently. None of us felt safe being in the room with her and the hostel staff was quick to offer us new beds elsewhere in the building.
How to Keep Your Stuff Safe at Hostels
After getting yourself settled in and feeling safe, make sure your belongings are safe there, too. Here are some tips for doing so from the BMT Community:
1. Pack a luggage lock. Most hostels provide lockers for guests to keep their belongings safe. Sometimes they are free, sometimes guests pay a daily fee. Most lockers require the guest to use their own lock, while others come with a combination lock that is changed for each user. You never know what will be on offer.
If the hostel does not provide lockers, the luggage lock can be used to lock the zipper tags on your backpack or suitcase together deterring wannabe thieves.
2. Carry your valuables with you when you leave the room. When you leave the hostel to go sightseeing, take your most valuable items with you in a daypack, money belt, or whatever makes you feel secure. Just make sure it has a zipper and that you keep it on your body at all times.
3. At night, sleep with your wallet and passport tucked inside your pillowcase. Then turn the opening of your pillowcase toward the wall. Anyone would be hard-pressed to reach around and under your head to grab what you’ve stashed there.
Alternative Accommodations for Solo Female Travelers
Some members of the BMT Community suggested these affordable and safe alternatives to hostels:
Airbnb – Rent a private room in someone’s home or an entire apartment for just a little more (or the same price in some cases) per night. Be sure to do the same kind of research that you would do for hostels, and always pay and communicate with the host through the Airbnb website. Click here to find your next Airbnb.
Monasteries and convents – It’s popular to rent a simple room in a monastery/convent. No religious affiliation is needed. They often offer similar amenities as hostels, such as complimentary breakfast and proximity to city centers. Keep in mind, many of these facilities continue to run a traditional religious community in addition to a guest house. Modern ways of booking rooms online or through email might not be available. Be prepared to make arrangements over the phone (possibly far in advance) or in person, and use cash to pay. You can often find places like this on Booking.com or by doing a Google search.
Couchsurfing – Use the same precautions listed above (look for great reviews) when researching hosts that you do when researching hostels. Couchsurfing is safe! Reviews are what keep platforms like this safe for users.
By Brittany Quaglieri with help from The Budget-Minded Traveler Community