Hostel Packing Essentials

I’ve written a lot recently about my hostel experiences, what they’re like and some great ones to stay in. One important topic to cover is the essentials specific to hostels that you should make sure to pack when traveling and planning to stay in a hostel.

Some of these might already be obvious to you but hopefully you’ll pick up on some new items. I’ve covered what you should definitely pack and some things that I read on other “must pack” lists that I didn’t really need. These are my hostel essentials only so doesn’t cover the basics for every trip like clothes and adaptors etc. 

Do bring

1) Eye mask

This is great not just for hostels but also for any travel you might be doing along the way. In airplanes, buses and trains, if you need to do any sleeping, this is a must have! There’s often an unwritten rule in hostels that the light will stay on until a “reasonable” time. I’m usually in bed by 10 pm and am not afraid to just turn it off when I’m ready for bed but if you’re less pushy you might just want to throw your eye mask on and get some sleep on your own time.

Personally I prefer the ones that don’t rest against your eyes as I can’t stand that feeling but there are loads of options out there.

2) Ear plugs

This one is similar to the eye mask, great to help you get to sleep when everything is happening around or you have a noisy sleep mate or two. I’ve tried a few different models out but love these. They’re the easiest to put in and seem to block out most noise.

If you’ve got the space and are serious about your head phones, you can get noise cancelling headphones and us the noise cancelling function to block out even more snores.

3) Travel towel

Most places you stay these days will offer a towel during your stay, either free of charge, for a small deposit or maybe for a fee. If you want to save money, then a travel towel can be a great investment. They range in price but you can get a teeny tiny one for as little as $10 and Ive seen some fancy ones get up to $100+. Look for them in any camping or adventure store and of course online.

They take a little getting used to as they are made out of that shammy-type material but they are super quick dry and pack very small, a lot smaller than an actual towel. My top tip is to get either a Large or X-Large size. It won’t add that much more bulk and there’s nothing worse than not being fully wrapped when needing to run from the shower to the room.

hostel packing essentials

4) Lock

When you stay in a hostel you will usually be provided with access to a locker but will need your own lock. I suggest carrying two strong padlock with a combination instead of key access. Trust me on this, I’ve travelled with someone who lost BOTH of their keys and had to have the lock broken.

The locks can also be used if you’re leaving your backpack in a luggage storage room after check out or to lock backpack while in transit. Make sure to use a TSA lock if you’re travelling in the US.

5) Flip flops

So, if you’ve never stayed in a hostel before then the idea of sharing a bathroom with a group of people must seem very strange. It’s actually not that bad! Sometimes each dorm will have its own bathroom and sometimes there’s be a big shower block for all the room stop share. Either way, those showers are seeing more people in them every day than is usual and they might only be cleaned once a day. I’m no hygienist but my personal preference is to wear a pair of flip flops into the shower so I don’t catch any potential cooties. If you’re like me and live in them 24/7 then they probably need a good wash anyway.

6) Flashlight/head lamp

Depending on your trip you might have use for a dedicated torch or head lamp anyway but just in case think about the types of experiences you’re likely to have. Often I’m mixing city stays with off the beaten track activities in jungle and river lodges. There is likely to be some sort of camping or “eco” situation where I will have to use an outside toilet.

Head lamps are awesome for this as you can go "hands-free" if you know what I mean… Ever tried wiping with one hand while directing a torch in the direction of the giant centipede you just saw 2 inches from your face?

At the every least, make sure your phone has a flashlight app that you can use in a pinch. This should be sufficient for rummaging through your stuff at 4 in the morning for an early departure without waking the whole dorm up.

7) Plastic bags

These are very multi-purpose: to separate your dirty clothes so they don’t stink up the rest of your clothes; to store your muddy shoes in that are still wet from a rainforest like but you have a 20 hours travel day ahead of you; keep your electronics dry during a rainy open water ferry crossing; super cheap way to store your soap so you don’t need a fancy soap case. Just make sure you always have a couple on hand and you’ll always have a use for them, I promise. 

One thing to keep in mind is that plastic bags are noisy as all hell in the middle of the night so try to avoid your immediate demise at the hands of your fellow bunk mates by not rummaging through your plastic bags when all is silent.

8) Bottle opener

Hostels are filled with happy travelers who are having the time of their lives, maybe this is the only two weeks they get off every year and they want to make the most of it, maybe they’re on an extended multi-year trip to find themselves and "every day is Friday” and “every hour is happy hour”.

Whatever the case, when you stay in a hostel, you will make the best of friends if you have a bottle opener on hand. Even better, if you know who to open a bottle with any object on hand. I once saw a guy open a beer with a show! How do they even do that??? Why did I not learn this in school?

9) Toiletries

As with the towel situation, hostels usually don’t provide toiletries like you would find in a hotel. Depending on your situation you might want to bring along some travel size toiletries or just buy some products when you get there. For me it depends on how long I’ll be staying in a particular place and when my next flight is. I don’t mind carrying around a full tub of toothpaste but as I travel carry-on only I’m unlikely to get it past the checkpoint.

You don’t need to go overboard with the toiletries though. If you’re away for 3 months then you probably don’t need to take a 6-month supply of floss with you but DO check what will be readily available of you to buy at your destination. In some places sunscreen is more expensive than crude oil and tampons are the devil so just make sure you’re prepared.

10) A tupperware container

I learnt this one from a vegan I met traveling and thought it was a very cool idea. If you’re going to be cooking a bit and using those awesome hostel kitchens, then chances are you’re going to have some leftovers to contend with. Rather than throwing it out or leaving it to the other life in the hostel fridge, you can throw it into a tupperware container. This way you can eat it the next day and even carry it with you as a lunch option. The best part is they don’t take up any room, just stuff them with something else and you’re good to go!

11) Bonus - A playlist that reminds you of home

Before I leave on any trip I always put together a playlist of all my favourite songs and my friends’ favourites. Why? When I’m feeling homesick I just pop my headphones in, tune into Spotify and listen to all the music that makes me think of the people that I leave but in the best way possible. You could also try having some photo albums on your phone or even a couple of real life pics if you’re a visual person.

Nothing better for homesickness than some happy music

Nothing better for homesickness than some happy music

Don’t bring

1) Door jamb

So, this is a tricky one. I’ve never chosen to stay anywhere that I felt unsafe enough that I would use a door jamb. Saying that, I would hate to be the one to tell you not to bring it and then something happens to you so I’ll leave this one up to you. They’re heavy as hell but maybe there are some new solutions that can help you feel safe and not weigh down your luggage.

2) Sink plug

This is used for hand washing and soaking clothes in sinks. If you’re staying in a dorm this is just not practical. You’ll be sharing a room with at least 3 other people and they’re not going to be happy with you using the sink to keep your laundry in. If you’re in a private room it’s a little more practical but I usually just take my clothes in the shower with me to give them a good rinse and wash with whatever I have on hand. I’d wash my clothes like this maybe once or twice and then take them to a laundromat to give them a good wash after that.

3) Clothes hanger

This one is probably a personal choice and depends on how many clothes you’ll be washing at one time or how expensive it is to wash clothes where you’re staying. When travelling through Latin America I found that I was happy to pay the $2-$3 a week to wash, dry and fold a full load of clothes. Laundromats in the US and Canada were also reasonably priced. When I did want to save money, I would usually be washing clothes overnight and hanging them up on my bed or somewhere convenient. I only once saw anyone hanging clothes up on a line but again this could be appropriate for you.

Any surprises for you or is there anything that you would add? Let me know in the comments! 

This post includes affiliate links. When you make a purchase via these links, I receive a small percentage at no additional cost to you. Very small but very appreciated.