No matter whether you’re setting out on your first backpacking trip or your tenth, staying in hostels is a great way to reduce your expenditure. Over years spent sleeping and living in hostels, we’ve learnt a thing or two about refining our hostel packing lists!
Without these trusty hostel essentials, you may be left wanting – hostels are not hotels, so don’t expect luxuries like towels or toiletries to be included (although it’s nice when they are)!
This hostel packing list breaks down everything you need for hostel life and includes a few non-essential but worthwhile items which will upgrade your hostel experience. So, whether you’re staying the in the ultimate flashpacker pad or a barebones abode, we’ve got you covered!
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The Ultimate Hostel Packing List
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A Good Backpack
If you’re staying in a hostel, the chances are you’re travelling. And to travel, you need a suitable backpack or suitcase. While good luggage isn’t essential for staying in a hostel, you’ll need to get your stuff there somehow! Our favourite travel backpacks are the Osprey Farpoint and Fairview 40.
You’re likely to want a good daypack too. We recommend a collapsible daypack. They’re easy to cram into your main pack when not in use and weigh very little! Without a daypack, you’ll either have to head out with everything in your pockets or have to carry your main pack all day while leaving the bulk of your travel gear in the hostel!
A Travel Towel
Some hostels provide towels for free. In others, you can rent them. However, you shouldn’t rely on this. Travelling with a packable microfibre towel means you’ll always be able to dry off after a shower or swim. And, buying a quick dry towel rather than renting one saves money over a long backpacking trip!
Plus, a travel towel can be used as an extra blanket if it’s chilly – especially useful on night buses – and gives you a clean place to sit while in the park or on the beach!
Travel towels are all pretty similar but our favourites come from Youphoria!
- Reduce the bad smells microfibre towels are known for
Getting a good night’s sleep is important while on the road. Too many restless nights and you’ll be left feeling tired and lethargic.
In a busy dorm room, the light can click on and off all night as your roommates make their way to bed or get up early. To ensure you remain undisturbed, a sleep mask is essential!
If you decide a sleep mask isn’t for you, a buff works well to keep the light from waking you up!
Sleep masks are available almost everywhere from supermarkets to airports. If you want to save a few $$$ consider getting yours online before you travel!
As well as a sleep mask, ear plugs are excellent for reducing disturbances and allow you to get a good night’s rest. You can never guarantee how quiet (or loud) your roomies will be. Plus, no one really has control over how much they snore…
Reusable earplugs don't vary much but this set from Loop are an excellent choice!
- Multiple bud sizes for the best fit
Almost everyone likes music, films and TV. But not many people like it inflicted upon them. Headphones allow you to watch or listen to what you want without disturbing anyone else. They also come in super handy when travelling on planes, trains and buses throughout your backpacking trip!
Noise-cancelling headphones are a good choice but they’re not essential. There are plenty of good wired or Bluetooth headphones available for much cheaper than those with active noise-cancelling!
Some hostels provide basic toiletries but don’t expect these. It’s a nice treat when you arrive to a bar of soap or small tube of shower gel but even so, you’re likely to need more than they supply if you’re staying for more than a few days!
Essential toiletries for staying in a hostel:
- Shower gel
- Tampons/Pads/Menstrual cup (if applicable)
- Toothpaste and toothbrush
- Wet wipes (not essential but after using cheap hostel toilet paper, you’ll appreciate them!)
- Hand sanitiser
- Toiletry bag
Universal Travel Adapter
Keeping devices charged is the new bane of backpackers. Where would we be without our phones, eReaders and laptops?! A good universal travel adapter often costs more than a country-specific option but look after it and it’ll keep you going for years.
Look out for adapters with USB and USB-C ports as well as a socket for a standard plug from your home country. This way, you’re able to charge multiple devices at once and won’t need an extra adapter to charge your USB and USB-C devices!
Access to a plug socket isn’t always guaranteed in a hostel. While newer, higher-end hostels often have sockets for each bed, this isn’t always the case. To save you falling out with roommates over access to the only plug in a 10-bed dorm, we recommend travelling with a power bank. There are plenty available online but beware of airline battery limits. Often, power banks over 20,000 mAh are forbidden by airlines.
Anker produce a wide range of batteries and power banks. They're some of the best in the business!
- 20,000mAh capacity
- Fast charge enabled
It’s no good having an adapter and power bank if you don’t have the right cables for your devices! If possible, try to align your devices, so they use the same cable, this will save you carrying too many wires on your trip!
We also recommend taking at least one backup cable in case you break or lose one. Most cables can be purchased no matter where you are but if you’re well off the beaten track, a Lightning cable might be hard to find!
Multi-purpose cables are excellent as they take up less room but they do cost more. We love this fast-charging cable which features Micro USB, USB-C and Lightning adapters, allowing you to leave most other chargers at home.
Whether it’s your normal pyjamas or just a T-shirt and shorts, you’ll need sleeping clothes for hostel life. If you sleep naked at home, it’s time to get out of that habit while you enjoy communal living. Unless you’re staying in a naturist hostel…
Whether it’s a headlamp or a simple hand-held torch, having your own light will help you navigate a dark hostel dorm or unlit street at night. “But my smartphone has a light already”, we hear you cry. While true, having an actual torch means you’re not reliant on keeping your phone charged all the time!
If possible, opt for a torch which features a red light option. Red light is less obtrusive and doesn’t reduce your night vision as much as white light!
Reducing plastic waste is something we should all be aspiring to. One of the most effective ways to do this while travelling is to get a reusable water bottle. Some hostels offer filtered water to their guests and many countries – especially in Southeast Asia – have public dispensers where you can buy filtered water for a fraction of the cost of bottled water.
Hostels often have storage lockers for your backpack and gear. A good padlock allows you to store your stuff without worrying about anyone going through it. You can also use a padlock to secure your backpack while on the move or if there is no hostel locker available.
We recommend a combination lock over one that needs a key. There’s nothing more frustrating than losing the key and having to beg someone to cut your padlock off!
If you take medication regularly, you know what you need and when. Make sure you have enough for your entire trip. It’s worth noting that some medication only available on prescription at home can be bought over the counter in many popular backpacking countries in Southeast Asia and South America. In Europe, it’s harder to get medication without seeing a doctor, so make sure you have enough for your trip!
Optional Items for Your Hostel Packing List
We consider the items above hostel essentials but there are other things you can add to your hostel packing list which will make your stay more comfortable, even if they’re not essential!
Sleeping Bag Liner
You’ll find packing lists all over the internet recommending sleeping bag liners or sleep sacks. They act as a barrier between you and the hostel beds, so if you’re concerned about the hygiene of a place, a sleeping bag liner can help mitigate some of that worry. They’re also great if you’re staying in cooler climates thanks to their extra insulation!
Although they cost more, we recommend a silk sleeping bag liner because they naturally repel bed bugs and let's face it, silk just feels nice!
Books or eReader
There’s a surprising amount of downtime while travelling. Having a good book is a great way to pass the time. eReaders are better than the physical alternative because they weigh less and can store hundreds if not thousands of books!
Flip Flops (or Shower Shoes)
Having shoes for communal showers and bathrooms is a great way to avoid catching athlete’s foot or verrucas – especially if you don’t think the hostel shower is cleaned very often!
If you’re already travelling with flip-flops, just use these. But if not, getting a pair of shower shoes is a good investment!
What happens abroad, stays abroad… Unless you end up with an STI or child. Stay safe out there.
Having somewhere to store your dirty laundry is nice. It saves you getting confused when it comes to laundry day and keeps your clean clothes separated from the stinky stuff! You can always use a carrier bag from any supermarket but if you want something specifically for clothes, buy it before you travel!
Some travellers swear by watertight bags to prevent contaminating their clean clothes. Others prefer a mesh bag.
Notepad & Pen
Whether you’re journaling throughout your trip, scoring Scrabble or writing notes and ideas, having a pen and paper handy is a great idea!
Multiplayer games offer a great way to make friends with your hostel buddies!
First Aid Kit
You never know when you’ll need plasters, Imodium or paracetamol. Having a small but well-kitted-out first aid kit in your backpack is never a bad idea!
Packing cubes are excellent for getting gear into your backpack but they’re also great for organising your gear and ensuring you know where everything is while in a hostel.
Digging around in a panic for your wet wipes at 4am while your stomach protests about last night’s curry isn’t fun. By keeping your gear organised in packing cubes, you’ll know exactly where they are!
You don’t need to travel with it but treating your clothes and backpack with permethrin before you travel is a good idea. Permethrin is an insecticide that kills bed bugs, mosquitos and other insects on contact.
Permethrin helps protect you from all sorts of nasties that are intent on sucking your blood!
Essential Hostel Packing List – A Round-Up
Staying in hostels is a huge part of the travel experience. They’re cheaper than hotels and offer an excellent way to meet other travellers. If dorm life isn’t for you, even private rooms in hostels offer a budget-friendly bed and the chance to meet other travellers in communal areas!
These hostel essentials will ensure your trip is as enjoyable as possible while keeping you and your stuff as safe as possible!
Have we missed an item you deem essential for staying in hostels? Let us know in the comments!