In this series, Lonely Planet’s team of writers and editors answers your travel problems and provides tips and hacks to help you plan a hassle-free trip. Editorial director Fin McCarthy took on this query from a female traveling alone.
Question: I’m traveling through Europe this summer staying in hostels. Some places only have mixed dorms available, but as a woman traveling solo, I’m a little hesitant. Any advice from someone who has done it?
Fin McCarthy: We checked in with a few of our seasoned writers and other travelers who have experience staying in both single-sex hostels and mixed dorms. The good news: their experiences have been really positive overall.
“Hostels are some of the best environments I’ve been in,” said one regular LP traveler. “Remember, it’s a bunch of people from around the world coming together under one roof and having a blast. Generally, people who stay at hostels are there because they want to meet you and see what you have to say.”
It’s good to remind yourself that you are going to be staying with fellow travelers who also know they have to share with you, so they should mostly be like-minded and respectful. The quality of your sleep is not guaranteed, however; a lot will depend on the location and reputation of the hostel.
If you happen to be staying in a place known for partying, be prepared for on-street noise – and, since hostels generally don’t have curfews, some late-night disturbances as late-night revelers stagger in. Come prepared with an eye mask, earplugs or (if you can sleep with them) noise-canceling headphones. You are bound to have a few snorers in the room; for many travelers, this factor alone will determine whether the experience is positive or not. Keep in mind that it’s purely luck of the draw: you won’t know where you are with the snore factor, alas, until lights are out.
A lot of people sharing one room can lead to some…pungent smells. One tip: sprinkle a dash of an essential oil like lavender on your pillow, keeping other potential odors at bay. Try to get a bed near a window you can open slightly for some ventilation.
Choosing a top bunk might also be a good idea, as you’ll have slightly more privacy in a room with a group traveling and bunking together.
Be aware also of the smartphone factor: 12 people, say, in a room means 12 screens, ringtones and pinging notifications. Try your best not to sleep with your head near someone else’s phone that’s plugged in – and with an alarm that could go off at 5am.
Most hostels do their best to make the ratio of men to women in mixed rooms equal – yet this understandably depends on who is staying on any given night. Do remember everyone is there to rest and get sleep for the next day’s travels, which means you shouldn’t expect a social situation. Still, we know how friendships can blossom during travel – so do be open to (quietly) chatting and sharing travel tips with your roommates.
Hostels with female-only rooms are in high demand, especially in the peak summer months; try to make arrangements ahead of time if you have qualms about mixed-gender lodging. Still, even if think you’ve been shut out of these options, it’s always worth checking with the front desk right when you arrive if there have been any single-room cancellations or spaces in the female-only dorms.
Most importantly, if you’re worried about safety at any stage of your stay, don’t be afraid to speak to the hostel staff about your concerns. If it’s a reputable place, they’ll listen and provide assistance. If they don’t, it might be a good idea to move on.