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Whether you’re a hosteling newbie or a seasoned traveler, here’s a quick backpacking checklist to make sure you’re always prepared for a hostel stay. These hostel essentials are best if you’re going on round-the-world trips, are long term nomads, or budget travelers.
Backpacking Checklist: Top 10 Hostel Essentials
One of the most overwhelming things for new backpackers is the idea of staying at hostels or budget accommodation. While Airbnb is great for regular trips, it doesn’t offer the social atmosphere you’d find in a hostel especially if you’re traveling solo.
These are a few must reads for new backpackers:
- Budget Travel Packing Essentials
- How to Choose the Best Travel Backpack
- How to Protect Your Passport While Traveling
- How to Protect Your Laptop While Traveling
Now that we’ve covered the essentials, take a look at this Round-the-World packing list for everything else you need to bring.
What is a hostel vs hotel?
A hostel is shared dorm accommodation between you and other travelers while hotels offer private rooms. Hostels are cheaper and tend to attract a younger demographic while hotels are more appealing for adults that want a private, comfortable experience.
A hostel is more budget-friendly because there are more travelers in less space using a dorm room concept. Some hostels are small and start at four people per dorm room whereas larger hostels can have up to fifty people on an extremely large space.
Some dorm rooms have ensuite bathrooms where others have large shared bathroom facilities (usually separated by male and female). Less expensive hostels don’t include sheets and towels.
Wondering if hostels are safe? Read this!
The benefits of staying at a hostel are the social atmosphere, lower costs, and better amenities. If you are a solo traveler, you can easily make new friends and travel buddies, which is one of the most memorable aspects of the solo travel experience.
Even though a hotel costs more money, they don’t offer the same free amenities as hostels. Ranging from $5-$50 a night for one bed, many hostels include free wifi, free breakfast, laundry facilities, travel booking services, and the opportunity to meet people.
If you like the idea of a social atmosphere but don’t feel comfortable staying in a dorm, some hostels offer private rooms, too! You get the best of both worlds! We recommend booking through hostelworld.com or hostelbookers.com.
Hostel Packing List
- non-plastic organizers
- lockable backpack
- hanging toiletry bag
- travel adapter
- travel towel
- sleeping liner
- travel alarm
- ear plugs
Keep reading below to find out more about each of the items in our hostel packing list!
Ziploc bags may be convenient for travelers staying at hotels, but there’s no faster way to ruin your budding new friendships in a hostel dorm than with the crunching of plastic bags while your dorm mates try to sleep. Don’t be “that person” and stick to packing cubes or compression sacks to organize your belongings.
I travel with a Packing Cube Set but if you have a top loading backpack, you may prefer a compression sack like this one: Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Compression Sack. Alternatively, use this portable closet to hang your stuff on your dorm bed and have easy access to everything you need!
Watch this packing video – it will change the way you travel!
Osprey Packs Farpoint 40 Travel Backpack
Deter thefts by choosing a backpack that locks. While rare, many thefts are due to convenience. Taking a small precaution such as locking your backpack can save you thousands of dollars and trouble.
Remember, no matter how comfortable you are with your new hotel mates, always lock your bag before leaving the room. Many thefts also happen on long bus and train journeys so no matter what – lock it up.
I travel with an Osprey Farpoint Travel Backpack and you can read my review here. It’s A-MA-ZING.
eBags Pack-it-Flat Toiletry Kit
Hanging Toiletry Bag
Not all hostel showers are created equal and many lack adequate shelving or hooks. Your best bet at keeping your toiletry bag dry while you shower is ensuring you choose one with a handle or hook that you can latch on easily.
I’ve been traveling with a basic single compartment Target brand toiletry bag for a couple of years now but if I were to upgrade, I’d get this style: eBags Pack-it-Flat Toiletry Kit.
Here’s a full list of the best hanging toiletry bag options!
Compass Rose International Travel Adapter
Purchase an international adapter that works around the world. Take care of your electronics by choosing a travel adapter that also acts as a converter and has a surge protector to avoid blowing a fuse in your valuable tech toys.
If you’re only traveling to one destination, it’s also possible to choose individual adapters so you don’t have to lug around a big bulky one. Although, the fact that this also acts as a surge protector is worth the effort. I use this basic one that can be used worldwide.
Learn more about how travel adapters and voltage converters work.
Many hostels offer some type of locker or safe deposit box for you to store your most important valuables. Purchase thin travel locks that can be used for various closures – a big lock may be too thick to fit the closures on all hostel lockers. I recommend packing with two: one for a locker and one for your bag.
Research a hostel’s amenities in advance by looking at their description online. I traveled with this Master Lock set for years but after it were broken into from the side, I’d go with a more secure lock such as this popular set.
While hostels are often more fun and offer more amenities than many hotels, most of them do not provide towels. Do not forget to pack your own travel size towel when on a budget trip or long term journey. What makes these towels so special is that unlike regular towels they’re made of highly absorbent materials that not only get you dry but also dry quickly too.
Look for a microfiber fabric or small pack towel like this one and choose a size Large or Extra-Large. I’m 5’2” and a medium barely covers me.
This is why you should always pack a fast-drying travel towel!
Alps MicroFiber Rectangle Sleeping Bag Liner
A sleeping bag liner is important because it not only allows you to sleep in your own sheets in poorly cleaned accommodation but some budget hostels may not provide sheets. In addition to using it in hostel dorms, you can use it on planes, trains, buses, and any other long transportation journey.
The key to choosing a sleeping bag liner is to find one that packs light such as a silk or microfiber fabric blend. Cotton can be too bulky and heavy. I travel with a mummy style sleeping liner like this one: Microfiber Travel Sheet.
These are five reasons why you should consider using travel sheets!
A headlamp is an essential item in your backpacking checklist that comes in handy more times than you’d think – when you’re actually camping, power outages, reading in the dark, and when rifling through your bag in the middle of the night.
Avoid turning the light on in the hostel room while everyone sleeps and use your convenient head torch that enables you to have your hands free.
This is why I always travel with a headlamp!
If you’re a backpacker on a budget and you plan on having late nights with early mornings, you may want to consider a small travel alarm.
With an array of exciting activities planned, you’ll need a good wake up call to get you out of bed after a night out with your new hostel mates – but don’t count on hotel concierge service when you’re backpacking. Pack a small foldable travel alarm. Alternatively, use a travel watch such as one of these.
You may prefer to use your cell phone as an alarm but keep in mind that not all hostels are made equal especially when you’re traveling on a budget. They don’t all have accessible power outlets to conveniently charge your phone while you sleep. Whatever you choose, remember to turn your alarm off before you leave the room to go shower.
On my round-the-world trip, I used a Target watch similar to this one: Elgin Travel Clock.
HEAROS Disposable Foam Earplugs
If you’re a light sleeper, ear plugs can be your best friend to neutralize the sounds of a nearby boar. Use them in hostels, planes, bus rides, etc to drown out the unpleasant sounds of travel.
There is a pack of disposable ear plugs but you can also get a reusable set like this one HEAROS Disposable Foam Earplugs .
Versatility is key to a capsule wardrobe and simplified packing, learn more here!
Here’s a quick overview of the top 10 hostel essentials:
|BRAND / MODEL||REVIEW||RATING / PRICE|
|Compass Rose Packing Cube|| Non-plastic Organizers
- Stick to packing cubes or compression sacks to organize your belongings
|Osprey Packs Farpoint 40 Travel Backpack|| Lockable Backpack
- Deter thefts by choosing a backpack that locks. While rare, many thefts are due to convenience.
|eBags Pack-it-Flat Toiletry Kit|| Hanging Toiletry Bag
- To keep your toiletry bag dry while you shower, ensure you choose one with a handle or hook that you can latch on easily
|Compass Rose International Travel Adapter|| Travel Adapter
- Purchase an international adapter that works around the world.
|TSA Combination Luggage Lock|| Lock
- Purchase thin travel locks that can be used for various closures - a big lock may be too thick to fit the closures on all hostel lockers.
|Sea to Summit DryLite Towel|| Travel Towel
- Do not forget to pack your own travel size towel when on a budget trip or long term journey.
|Alps MicroFiber Rectangle Sleeping Bag Liner|| Sleeping Liner
- A sleeping bag liner is important because it not only allows you to sleep in your own sheets in poorly cleaned accommodation but some budget hostels may not provide sheets.
|Petzl Headlamp|| Light
- A headlamp is an essential item in your backpacking checklist that comes in handy more times than you'd think.
|Marathon Travel Alarm Clock|| Travel Alarm
- Don't count on hotel concierge service when you're backpacking. Pack a small foldable travel alarm.
|HEAROS Disposable Foam Earplugs|| Ear Plugs
- If you're a light sleeper, ear plugs can be your best friend to neutralize the sounds of a nearby boar.
Travel Tip: Flip Flops are an absolute essential to add to your backpacking checklist! When you’re staying at budget digs, the first thing you sacrifice is cleanliness. Keep your feet bacteria free and wear flip flops in the hostel shower. These are our favorites – they’re cute!
What are your top hostel travel essentials? Please share in the comments!
For more helpful travel tips for your backpacking checklist, please read:
- The Ultimate Round the World Packing List
- Backpacking Europe Packing List
- Backpacking Southeast Asia Packing List
- Peru: Inca Trail Packing List
Backpacking Clothing and Gear:
- The Best Travel Pants for Women
- Travel Backpack Review: Osprey Farpoint
- How to Choose Toiletries for a RTW Trip
- How to Choose Shoes for a RTW Trip
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That’s just a fantastic list, gotta pack the light as well, Smartphone ist not enough!
I also think that a sarong should be on this list. It’s great for covering up on the way to the shower. Also, flip-flops are essential for staying in dorms (and to wear in the shared showers).
Great tip, thanks Kristine!
Great trips, try a retractable cable lock. I always take one when I go backpacking. They are far more versatile than traditional padlocks when traveling as you can use them just like a padlock for hostel lockers but can also secure your bag to something when you are waiting in public places for long periods, so no one can snatch your bag. I bought my current one from a company called Vector on Amazon and it’s great.
I found Foster Grant (available at riteaid) lighted reading glasses way more convenient than a head lamp for reading tiny maps, finding things in the dark and since there are two tiny lights on separate switches you can control the strength and direction better. Plus you can wear them in public with out looking “special.” Just get the lowest magnification you can for your vision.
I opted for a microfiber yoga towel they are long enough to lay out on and they cover all your naughty bits if you’re not a stick bug body type.
I think you should stop recommending sleep sacks. I sewed my own on your advice and never used it in three months of European travel. Maybe you still need one in Asia?
Hey Amanda 🙂 Thanks for sharing your tips with us! I totally understand what you mean about sleeping bag liners as so many hostels provide linen, however I always recommend them as there are some budget places that you may still use it for 🙂 I always carry mine just as a precaution and have used it plenty of times 🙂
Such good reminders! Must get a toiletry bag with a hook instead of packing *cringe* plastic zip-loc bags. You make a great point about being *that* person.
sad but true 😉
The sarong trick i’ve seen people use before. A lot of people who lived in hostels would do this also.
bottom bunks only…
here’s my list of 10 essential travel items: travelmoar.com/travel-tips/10-travel-essentials/
It’s a great trick!
I always take a sarong, grab a bottom bunk, hang sarong from the top bunk (tuck the edge under the top mattress)- instant privacy and blocks out some light. Even better if you have two so you can have one on either side.
great tip Kate, thanks for sharing!