Apparently humans spend one third of their lives sleeping. While you’ll probably half that statistic when you’re on your gap year, you’re still going to need a bed – or at the very least a horizontal surface – to crash out on each night.
In this section we’ll give you loads of advice and information on the types of accommodation to expect on your gap year and a dedicated page about making the most of that legendary hostel life.
You’ll likely visit at least one first world country on your gap year, be it Australia, New Zealand or the USA, and in doing so you’ll almost certainly be staying in hostels. Although each hostel has its own individual quirks, they all have three things in common: they’re cheap, they’re sociable and they’re everywhere. Perfect for travellers!
Many first-time travellers are slightly daunted by the prospect of sleeping in a room full of strangers, but you’ll very quickly adapt and realise that these places are one of the highlights of backpacking.
Check out the next tab for a 24 hour guide to staying in a hostel.
If travelling in developing countries (think places like Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent and South America) you will be more likely to stay in hotels than hostels, simply because they are more abundant and about the same price per night as a hostel would be in a developed country – if not cheaper.
The main difference between, say, a backpacker hotel in Thailand and a hostel in Australia, is privacy and amenities. Hostels tend to have a communal kitchen and be made up of shared dorms, whereas hotels provide individual rooms and aren’t self-catered. Apart from that, it can be difficult to discern the difference. Keep in mind that many hotels will offer free airport transfers; this is most welcome when you have just arrived in a brand new city and nothing is written in English.
You may well end up spending a night or two under the stars on your gap year, but don’t fool yourself into thinking you’ll be the next Bear Grylls, fashioning hammocks from parachute cords and wrestling tarantulas in the night. Some people have been known to lug a tent around for their entire gap year and not open it once. If you’re not a wild, outdoorsy type with specific plans to hike for weeks on end, think carefully before packing camping equipment. It could well be cheaper and less burdensome to hire a tent as and when you need.
Beach huts & bungalows
These are about as awesome as they sound. They’re usually found in places like the islands of Thailand, and while they’re basic, their locations are just unbeatable. There will typically be a 'village’, where anything up to thirty huts or bungalows are sprinkled just off the beach. Bungalows will usually have air conditioning, a TV (not that you’ll need it) and a bathroom, whereas huts are much more basic, as shown below.
Planes, trains and automobiles
And boats. And buses. Transport, basically. It’s going to happen sooner or later: the overnight journey. You, like everyone else who’s ever been on a gap year, will have that light-bulb-moment, where it will suddenly make perfect sense to kill two birds with one stone by saving on a night’s accommodation by travelling overnight. Overnight trains are actually quite fun, especially if you get a sleeping berth; buses and planes not so. You could also find yourself sleeping on an airport floor on certain occasions. It’s all part of the gap year experience – character building or something.
A 24 hour guide to hostels
Find a hostel and check in
In places like Australasia, USA and Europe, hostels are all over the place and at most times of the year (the exceptions being Christmas, New Year and other major events) you’ll always find one with a spare bed, even at last minute. Having said that, a little pre-planning won’t hurt. The day before you are due to arrive somewhere check sites like Hostel Bookers and Hostel World for hostels in the area, choose one you like the look of and reserve a bed (there will usually be a 10% deposit up front which will be deducted from the rate, providing you show up). Pre-booking ensures that upon arriving in an unfamiliar town you don’t have to spend an hour traipsing around under a heavy backpack looking for a room!
Once you’ve found your digs you’ll probably have to provide some ID, like a passport, so have that to hand. Depending on the hostel you will either pay up front or when you leave. You may be given a kitchen kit – i.e. a plate, bowl and cutlery – and or a bed sheet and pillow case. Make sure you look after these or you’ll end up footing extra costs when you check out.
Explore and be safe
Once you’ve dumped your stuff in your dorm go for a wander. All hostels have a communal kitchen and most have some sort of chill-out area, be it a TV room, bar, roof deck, pool – or all the above and more if it’s a good one! These are great places to meet fellow travellers, especially if you’re backpacking alone.
Now, we’re going to sound like your mum for a moment, but this is very important: make a mental note of where the fire escapes are. While it is extremely unlikely there will be a fire, they do happen: every year over 1,000 people are involved in hostel fires. Between 50 – 100 of those people die.
Read our guide to fire safety in hostels to ensure you don’t become a depressing statistic.
Meet your roomies
If you haven’t met anyone in the communal areas head back to your room for a bit – sooner or later someone will show up. Having some alcohol to hand can help break the ice; if you’re in Australia or New Zealand grab a box of wine. More commonly known as ‘goon’, this stuff tastes lethal, but countless friendships have been forged over it so it’s worth raising a glass!
Sleeping with strangers
It’s a slightly odd thought, just bedding down in a room with a bunch of people who’ve you’ve only known for a few hours (sometimes not even that) but you get used to it surprisingly quickly. What you probably won’t get used to is the inevitable noise which accompanies a group of (often inebriated) people crashing out for the night. Think snores, rustling bags, creaky bunks… sex.
Earplugs are the way forward.
Most hostels have a check out time of midday, but be sure to check. Some hostels are fairly relaxed on late checkouts, others will charge you. You’ll often have to bring down any bedding you’ve been given. If you’re moving on to the next place but not leaving until later on the day, ask at reception if you can put your bag somewhere – this is usually fine. It’ll give you a chance to have one final explore before you leave.
For even more information check out our first-timer’s guide to hostels.