underscored hostel packing guide lead

It’s no secret that staying at hostels makes planning your dream vacation much more accessible. From their reduced price points to communal living quarters that make it easy to meet new people, hostel stays make for a budget-friendly alternative to hotels and resorts.

Of course, with hostel living comes a unique set of travel guidelines that require you to stay organized and, most importantly, safe.

“Hostels vary significantly in terms of how clean they are, what they include, how secure they are, whether the rooms are private or communal and more,” says co-founder and general manager of sales and product at Wildland Trekking Scott Cundy.

Traditional travel wisdom suggests packing light, but Cundy recommends a different approach. “When packing for a hostel trip, we recommend erring on the side of bringing more versus less,” he says. “Sure, they might provide towels or you might not have a roommate, but it’s better to have a towel and earplugs and not need them than to need them and not have them.”

For a successful hostel stay, we spoke to budget travel experts for a comprehensive hostel packing checklist so you can start your trip off without a hitch.

“A lightweight, well-organized pack is a game changer when it comes to enjoying your hostel stay,” says Iain Salter, founder of The Road Trip Expert. “In dorm rooms with limited space, it's easy for your bag to become disorganized as you search for an outfit.”

Beyond its comfortable padded back and shoulder straps, this pack from REI features six storage spaces, a sleeping bag compartment, a spacious top-loading compartment and a collapsible internal divider for customizable organization of your belongings. It's available in standard and extended sizes as well as two color options.

“Packing cubes are a useful solution,” Salter says. “Organize your clothes for easy access and consider grouping outfits together, such as evening wear.” These compression packing cubes from Bagail fold neatly on top of one another for making the most of your available space and they come in multiple sizes to accommodate the likes of clothes, undergarments and accessories. Plus, since they've got added compression, you can zip the bags down to fit more than you could in standard packing cubes.

Staying in hostels is all about having the right tools at your disposal. “Quick-dry travel towels are awesome as they're lightweight and easily stored on travel days, which is when you'll love having a light bag,” Salter says. This quick-dry towel not only features festive patterns that we love, but it's also lightweight and features a sand- and slip-resistant material and an antimicrobial treatment to keep it smelling fresh for days when you don’t have access to laundry.

Salter says travelers staying in hostels will appreciate a foldable daypack that’s lightweight and stowable. Whether you’re bringing it with you on the road or storing it when not in use, these small packable bags have multiple uses. Boasting nearly 5,000 positive ratings and reviews, this packable 4-ounce backpack hits every high note from its waterproof nylon material to durable hardware and expandable side pockets. And when it's not in use, it can be folded down to fit inside a pocket.

No matter if you're staying at a hostel or a five-star hotel, laundry piles up. “A laundry bag is a must-have, and a small mesh bag is useful for carrying toiletries and clean clothes to and from the showers and your dorm room,” Salter says. With five sizes included, this comprehensive set of laundry bags with nearly 70,000 Amazon reviews makes for a great way to keep soiled clothes separate from your clean ones. Don't need to use all five of them? Consider using them as a set of packing cubes and dedicating a single bag for dirty clothes.

“These are a must-have,” Cundy says. “Many hostels are communal, which means you'll be sleeping in a room with other people. The odds are good that someone will snore, so be prepared with earplugs to ensure a good night's sleep.” These fan-favorite earplugs with nearly 50,000 reviews are made of comfortable silicone ideal for side sleepers and come with a range of tips to suit ears of all sizes.

Best Tested

“You never know if one of your temporary roommates is going to want to read with a flashlight until 2 a.m.,” Cundy says. “If that happens and you packed an eye mask, you can put it on and not miss a wink.” Thanks to its contoured shape, pillowy feel and blackout design, you’ll be drifting off instantly with this popular sleep mask. In fact, the Mavogel Cotton Sleep Mask took the title of the best overall sleep mask in our testing.

“You may not always have 100% confidence in the cleanliness of the bedding at a hostel, so having a light bed sheet or a sleeping bag liner can come in handy,” Cundy says. Acting as a buffer between you and any potential germs (or creepy crawlers), this sleeping bag liner used either as extra insulation or on its own will make it easier than ever to wind down at your hostel. In addition to the single-sleeper size, the liner is also available in a size that fits two travelers. It folds down into an included travel sack that makes it easy to pack away without taking up much of your precious bag space.

“Since hostels are often shared space, it's best to have a way to lock up your valuables," Cundy says. "Be sure your bag is lockable. Someone can still run off with the whole thing, but they're less likely to do so.” With this anti-theft travel backpack that’s both lockable and designed with a cut-proof steel mesh material, you’ll feel at ease knowing your valuables are that much more secure. 

Speaking of security, you'll want to bring your own. “Some hostels will have a locker for you to use, but you'll need your own padlock to be sure it's secure,” Cundy says. Salter adds you’ll want to also keep your main bag secure while you’re out on your daily adventure. This two-pack of travel locks allows you to do just that, and thanks to its minimalist design, it won’t draw unnecessary attention to your valuables.

“Showers and bathrooms at hostels are almost always communal, so having shower-friendly sandals will help protect you from fungus or other unpleasantness,” Cundy says. This rugged pair will serve you well not only in the shower but on any beach or poolside excursions you have on the itinerary. They're also lightweight, so they won't weigh down your bag when you're traveling through the airport or touring a new city.

“You'll need to have your own soap, shampoo, conditioner, lotion and toothpaste,” Cundy says. “Don't expect a hostel to provide those.” This 10-piece kit contains everything men need to stay clean while remaining within TSA’s packing limits. Interested in a women's version? There's one of those, too, available at the same price.

“You never know when the water is going to go out, when a hostel will run out of hand soap or that it doesn't provide hand soap,” Cundy says. “We recommend always having wet wipes to be prepared.” The flip-top on these flushable wet wipes ensures the rest of your belongings stay clean and dry, and the addition of soothing aloe allows them to work double duty as a cooling treatment on sunburns.

“Hostels rarely provide food, and in some cases, you're not going to want to leave late at night and walk around outside searching for food,” Cundy says. “Pack some snacks that you use to satisfy your appetite.” Boasting a mix of energy-dense carbs, satisfying protein and heart-healthy fats, this travel snack trail mix is bound to tide you over between meals while crushing any sweetness cravings.

“It's called ‘backpacking’ for a reason,” Cundy says. “Going from hostel to hostel rolling luggage along busy, cracked sidewalks is not going to be fun, so be sure your luggage is backpackable.” As one of our editor-approved backpacks, this Cotopaxi travel pack is ideal for your next hostel stay thanks to its ability to pack like a traditional piece of luggage with the convenience of backpack straps and compressive compartments to maximize space.

“If you’re traveling overseas, usually where you’re more likely to stay in a hostel, having a versatile adapter that works with several types of outlets will ensure you can plug in your devices and keep them charged,” Cundy says. With its four different plugs that cover 150 countries and the ability to support six devices at once, you’ll be charged up and ready to go no matter where your hostel is located on the map.

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