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Experienced shoestring travelers know what to pack for a hosteling jaunt, but for those setting off for the first time, don’t forget to pack these five hostel essentials.

1) Earplugs

There’s nothing worse than the huge fella in the bed below keeping you awake with his nasal orchestra. We can’t suggest anything to stop the bunk vibrating, but a pair of good earplugs will give you the chance to nod off.

I swear by the cheap foam versions available from most pharmacies and airport stationery shops. They’re affordable, re-usable and easily replaceable.

Keep them somewhere handy – you might not need them every night, but when you do, you’ll want to have them near at hand.

Soft plastic earplugs can be more effective, but they do not fit everyone comfortably.

2) Padlock

Padlocking your luggage gives you extra peace of mind whilst you’re out exploring the wider world. Considering a committed criminal can slash open your nylon pack, it’s more of a deterrent to sticky fingers.

I shun traditional key and lock versions as there’s a good chance you’ll lose your key somewhere along the way. A solid combination lock with three or four digits will serve you well.

If you’re flying within the United States, you’ll need a TSA approved lock. These allow TSA agents to open your baggage for inspection.

You can recognize these locks by checking for the following icons:

Plus they have a hole for a key somewhere around the bottom of the lock.

3) Sleeping bag or liner

In many European hostels sheets are provided, but things aren’t so luxurious in other parts of the globe.

If you know the weather’s going to be in your favor, then a sleeping bag liner can do the job.

There are advantages to both cotton and silk liners. Silk is more expensive yet lighter, warmer and softer than cotton. Both can become cold as they absorb sweat, but cotton is the worst offender here; silk wicks better.

I like the silk liners from Kiwi company Jagbags (international shipping is included in the price). Budget travelers can make use of an old sheet and some sewing skills.

If you need something more snug, choose the lightest sleeping bag you can afford. I’m a big fan of Mountain Hardwear gear. Their synthetic range is great for long-term travelers as you don’t need to be too concerned about moisture which can be a problem in tropical climates.

Goose down is lighter, warmer and more compressible but doesn’t like getting wet one bit!

4) Flip-flops

Whether you call them flip-flops, sandals or thongs, make sure you put these little babies in your pack for both summer and winter travel.

They’re great for the beach, but they’re even better for the communal bathrooms you’ll likely face.

It’s nice to have something to slip on in the middle of the night to pad to the bathroom and to protect your feet from less-than-salubrious shower floors.

5) Sports Towel

A sports micro-towel is super-light, easy to clean and packs down to a fraction of the size of a regular cotton towel. Outdoor stores normally sell a range of towels to meet your needs.

My super-absorbent towel from Kathmandu in Auckland, New Zealand is only the size of a tea towel but manages to dry me — and my shoulder-length hair — without problems. You just don’t want to see me scampering down the corridor in it though!

After two and half years of hosteling, these are five items I cannot travel without.



About The Author

Craig Martin

Podcaster and writer Craig Martin has been traveling full-time in Europe since leaving Auckland, New Zealand in February 2006. With a degree in Media Studies and English plus a penchant for Coleridge, he's currently homeless in Europe. Craig podcasts at the Indie Travel Podcast and regularly blogs at Our Crazy Travels along with his wife Linda.

  • paresh

    nice post, thanks for sharing.

  • Chris

    Just a word of advice. The Crocs flip flops pictured in the article are really comfortable except in really really hot and humid places. AND if you have much walking to do, consider something else. I used these when I was Saigon this year and I have scars from the blisters on my feet. Now, I just use them around the house or for quick jaunts out.

  • Gigi

    Great post, but have you forgotten that many people (especially in Middle and South America) can be very offended by flip flops? Perhaps some regular sandals would be a better idea.

  • Car rental

    I went to backpacking in Europe and only stayed in hostels. I needed this post before I went dammit!

  • Shark

    What about Soap on a rope?

  • Carlo

    Soap on a rope? I thought that was only handy in prisons…not a place you want to be dropping it

  • Craig

    I have never travelled there and didn't know. I've only been in the Pacific, Asia, Europe and North America and never run into any problems. Don't wear sandals in South America…OK.

  • Craig

    Waste of space and weight? I tend to use a 2-in-1 shampoo/conditioner and use that to clean my body as well. If you have any bar of soap you have to insulate it from the rest of your bag using plastic bags.

  • Colleen

    It should be noted that many hostels will not allow the use of personal sleeping bags, for fear of hitch hiking cooties. I've had better luck with bed liners. My budget tip for those without a sewing machine is to just get yourself a comforter cover. They are already stitched up and ready to go.

  • Noreen

    This is awesome sense i hostel by HI all the time.

  • Noreen

    Yeah that's what us hostelers need!

  • Sandy

    A couple of other suggestions:
    A sarong: doubles as a post-shower wrap, or a curtain on a bunk (if room-mates leave the light on or the curtain isn’t any good.
    A couple of clothes pegs can create a curtain OR one of those elastic pegless clotheslines (fantastic in developing countries like Africa & Asia) in combination with the sarong.
    A bath plug: in many developing countries the handbasins don’t have plugs & it’s easier to handwash clothes.

  • Anna the travel blanket gal

    Yeah I agree about the silk sleeping sack/sleeping bag liner, they are much more comfortable than cotton or cotton mix. They also pack really small, which would not be the case for most comforter covers.

    Instead of the flip-flops take sports sandals, they are kinder to your feet, hardier, and just well, more versatile.

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