Hostel Packing List Essentials: Everything You Need

Written by: Chris Richardson

Packing for a hostel stay requires a different approach than preparing for a hotel or a resort. Hostels often present a blend of shared living, social interaction, and the need for personal security. While they provide a cost-effective and fun way to travel, travellers must consider what to bring to maintain comfort without over-packing.

Essential items for a hostel packing list include safeguarding privacy, ensuring personal hygiene, and facilitating a smooth communal living experience.

A table with a backpack, clothes, toiletries, and a travel guide

Travelling light is key in hosteling, starting with selecting multi-functional items that serve multiple purposes.

For instance, a padlock is a non-negotiable hostel essential to secure belongings in a shared dorm room, and a microfiber towel is preferred for its quick-drying properties and compact size, especially when the hostel doesn’t provide towels.

Earplugs and a sleeping mask become crucial for quality sleep if you are sharing a room. especially if you can’t handle noise and light. A universal travel power adapter ensures electronics stay charged regardless of the destination.

Hostel-goers should also not overlook the importance of a practical day bag to carry essentials during daily explorations.

Staying in hostels often means limited storage space and less privacy, which requires a thoughtful selection of items.

A curated hostel packing list balances the need for personal items, like a toiletries bag, with the expectation to share specific amenities.

It includes recommendations like a durable pair of flip-flops for communal showers and a lightweight travel laundry detergent to keep clothing fresh during extended trips. However, I have often found hostels sell laundry detergent, or you can buy it in laundrymats, which I primarily do.

By packing smart, travellers are well-prepared to enjoy the unique experiences that many hostels offer.

Essential Backpacking Gear

A backpack, sleeping bag, hiking boots, water bottle, map, and flashlight lay on the ground next to a hostel sign

Packing the right equipment is crucial for a comfortable and secure hostel stay. Choosing quality gear tailored to your needs can significantly improve the backpacking experience.

Choosing the Right Backpack

When selecting a travel backpack, it’s important to consider size and practicality.

A 65-litre backpack typically suffices for longer trips, whereas a small backpack or daypack is ideal for day excursions.

Packing cubes can help organize contents efficiently, allowing travellers to pack light and save space. Though I personally am not a fan of them. 

Sleeping Solutions

Travellers might consider a lightweight and compact sleeping bag for colder climates or less equipped hostels. However, unless you plan to rough it or go outback travelling, you can leave the sleeping bag at home for the likes of Europe, as most traditional hostels don’t allow them.

A travel pillow can be a small but significant addition for added comfort if you need a good pillow. A dry bag is handy for storing electronics and documents when travelling between stops or just to dump your dirty clothes between washing cycles.

Locks and Security

Security is paramount. A sturdy padlock is essential for safeguarding belongings in hostel lockers.

Some may prefer a combination lock, while others opt for a key lock. I recommend a combination lock so you don’t worry about having the key go missing. No matter the choice, the critical aspect is that the lock is robust.

Additionally, investing in a universal travel power adapter with surge protection can secure electronic devices while accommodating various socket types worldwide. I found taking a power board or power strip also to allow you to charge multiple devices at once convenient. 

Clothing and Footwear

A pile of clothing and footwear arranged neatly on a bed, ready to be packed for a hostel trip

The proper clothing and footwear for a hostel stay is important for comfort and practicality. Always consider the climate of your destination and the activities you plan to undertake.

Apparel for Different Climates

For warm climates, travellers should pack light and breathable clothes such as t-shirts and shorts. For cooler conditions, they ought to choose layers that can be easily added or removed, including long-sleeve shirts, fleece tops, and a lightweight, waterproof jacket. Here are recommended clothing items to pack:

  • For hot weather:
    • T-shirts (breathable fabric)
    • Shorts/skirts
    • Sunhat and sunglasses
  • For cold weather:
    • Long-sleeve shirts or thermal tops
    • Sweaters or fleece layers
    • Warm hat and gloves
  • For all climates:
    • Versatile pants or jeans
    • A mix of short and long-sleeve tops
    • A lightweight, water-resistant jacket

Footwear for Comfort and Function

Hostel travellers should pack flip-flops for communal showers and sandals for everyday use, ensuring they are durable and comfortable for extended walking.

Essential Footwear List:

  • Flip flops or shower shoes: For hygiene in shared bathrooms
  • Sandals: For ease and breathability during daily explorations
  • Walking shoes: Supportive and suitable for a variety of activities

Travellers should bring a quick-dry travel towel since traditional towels may not dry quickly and can develop odours (trust me, this is true; you do NOT want a musty towel hanging from your bunk in a shared dorm). A microfibre towel is an excellent choice because it’s lightweight, compact, and dries swiftly.

Additionally, a laundry bag is beneficial for separating dirty clothes from clean ones within their backpack or suitcases.

Personal Care Items

A backpack open on a bed, filled with toiletries: toothbrush, shampoo, soap, deodorant, and towel

Packing personal care items for a hostel stay is good for maintaining hygiene and health. These items should be compact, travel-friendly, and cater to your needs.

Toiletries and Hygiene

A well-packed toiletry bag is a cornerstone of any traveller’s backpack. Here’s what should be included:

  • Toothbrush and Toothpaste: Opt for a small, travel-sized toothpaste and a toothbrush with a cover to maintain oral hygiene.
  • Shampoo and Soap: Travel-sized bottles are convenient, or consider solid shampoo bars and soap to save space and avoid spills.
  • Deodorant: A small roll-on or stick can be a space-saver compared to sprays.
  • Wet Wipes: Good for freshening up when showers are not an option and for quick clean-ups.

Items should be packed in a dedicated toiletry bag to prevent leaks into clothing and other belongings.

It’s advisable for travellers to pack according to their daily routine, taking into account the hostel amenities available, as some may provide basic toiletries.

First Aid and Medications

Being prepared for minor injuries or illness is important:

  • First Aid Kit: Include plasters/bandaids, antiseptic wipes, and bandages. A compact kit prevents over-packing.
  • Personal Medications: Bring an adequate supply of prescription medications, clearly labelled and accompanied by a doctor’s note if necessary.
  • Sunscreen: A small tube of high-SPF sunscreen can protect against sunburn.
  • Insect Repellent: An insect repellent can be a valuable addition, depending on the destination.

All medications and first aid items should comply with international travel regulations and be stored in a dedicated, easily accessible part of one’s luggage.

Electronic Devices and Accessories

Electronic devices and accessories scattered on a bed, including a laptop, phone charger, headphones, and portable power bank

When packing electronics for a hostel stay, travellers should prioritize devices for communication, navigation, and entertainment, along with their respective chargers and adapters, to ensure connectivity.

Keeping Your Devices Charged

To keep devices powered throughout one’s travels, it’s worth carrying a power bank or power strip and appropriate chargers for each gadget.

Countries have varying electrical socket types, so a universal travel adapter is indispensable. It allows you to charge your electronics, whether a phone, tablet, or camera, in multiple countries without needing separate adapters.

  • Power Bank/Power Strip: A high-capacity yet compact power bank can charge a phone multiple times.
  • Charger: Bring the original charger for each device, as they are optimized for quick and safe charging.
  • Adapter: A universal travel power adapter with multiple plug configurations allows for easy electronics charging anywhere.

Entertainment and Connectivity

For many travellers, electronics are a source of entertainment and connection to the rest of the world.

A kindle or tablet preloaded with books and movies provides hours of entertainment and is a space-saving alternative to physical books.

Lightweight headphones or earbuds are also good for private listening during downtime or in shared spaces.

  • Kindle/Tablet: These devices should be pre-loaded with various forms of entertainment to reduce reliance on potentially unreliable Wi-Fi because it WILL be unreliable.
  • Headphones: Comfortable, noise-cancelling headphones can enhance the entertainment experience without disturbing others.
  • Phone: In addition to entertainment, a smartphone serves as a critical tool for navigation, booking accommodations, and staying connected with loved ones.

Sleeping and Comfort

A neatly made bed with a cozy blanket, a stack of fresh towels, toiletries neatly arranged, and a backpack ready for adventure

Sleep quality and personal comfort are crucial for a pleasant stay when staying in a hostel. The section outlines specific items travellers can bring to enhance their sleep and ensure comfortable nights.

Enhancing Sleep Quality

Hostel environments can be noisy, with the potential for light disturbances. To mitigate this, travellers should consider the following items:

  • Earplugs: A small and inexpensive way to reduce ambient noise and snoring from dorm mates.
  • Sleep Mask (also known as Eye Mask): An essential accessory for blocking unwanted light, facilitating a darker and more conducive sleep environment.

Comfort Items for Cozy Nights

For added comfort during sleep, these items can be beneficial:

  • Travel Pillow: Supports the neck and head, which can be exceptionally comforting during long transit nights or when hostel pillows do not meet personal preference.
  • Sleeping Bag Liner: An additional layer that offers warmth and serves as a personal hygiene barrier between the sleeper and the hostel bedding. You never know whats lurking in the bed. But in saying that I took one of these and never used it. Each to their own here.

Each of these items serves a specific purpose in ensuring that hostel stays are as restful as possible, allowing travellers to wake up refreshed and ready for new experiences.

Travel Essentials

A backpack open on a bed, filled with clothes, toiletries, and a travel guide. A passport and boarding pass lay on top

When packing for a hostel stay, a traveller should prioritize their documentation and hard currency while also considering the need to stay hydrated and maintain adequate nutrition without overpacking.

Documentation and Money

A traveller’s documentation is paramount. They should ensure their passport is up-to-date and secure.

Citizens from many countries may require visas or at least have entry requirements to consider, so one must check these requirements before their next trip.

Carrying a passport holder can help keep important documents safe and organized. It also helps prevent your passport from getting wet, which can be a big problem.

Travel insurance is another essential, offering critical protection against unexpected events. This one is a must-have, no matter your budget.

As for money, it’s advisable to carry some cash in the local currency to cover immediate expenses, such as transportation from the airport or a meal upon arrival.

However, to save money and avoid carrying large amounts of cash, you can use travel credit cards, which often offer favourable exchange rates and additional security.

A discreet money belt can be a wise choice to keep cash and cards concealed and safe from pickpockets.

Hydration and Nutrition

Staying hydrated is important. I bought a water bottle early on and kept it with me to refill as I travelled daily. But having your own bottle can be good, too.

Choices include reusable bottles that are lightweight and environmentally friendly—some even have built-in filters for purifying tap water, which is both a money-saver and a convenience.

As for nutrition, while a hostel traveller should take advantage of local cuisine, it is also beneficial to shop at the local supermarket and cook in your hostel where possible. It’s a fun communal thing to do with others in the hostel.

This can help avoid the high costs of eating out for every meal and ensure you have sustenance during excursions or in the event of limited access to food markets or restaurants.

Safety and Security

A checklist of hostel essentials: lock, flashlight, first aid kit, and emergency contact info

When staying in hostels, always prioritize the security of your possessions and your personal safety.

Protecting Your Belongings

  • Hostel Locker: Always use a hostel locker to store valuables. These are often provided, but always verify if locks are included or if you need to bring their own.
  • Padlocks: Invest in a high-quality padlock for securing luggage. Combination locks are preferable as they eliminate the risk of losing keys.
  • Travel Insurance: Securing comprehensive travel insurance is crucial before embarking on a trip. It should cover theft, loss, and medical emergencies. If you don’t have it you shouldn’t be travelling.

Personal Safety Measures

  • Common Sense: Always follow common sense practices like not sharing too much personal information with strangers in the street and being aware of the hostel surroundings.
  • Security Practices: If you feel unsafe in a hostel, trust your instincts and speak with the staff or consider finding a new place to stay.

Packing Organization and Tips

A neatly organized suitcase with folded clothes, toiletries, and travel essentials laid out on a bed

Effective packing strategies streamline hostel stays, combining space efficiency with ease of access.

An organized approach minimizes clutter and maintains cleanliness, significantly enhancing the travel experience.

Maximizing Space and Accessibility

Packing Cubes: Travelers should utilize packing cubes to segregate their belongings within their luggage. Never, I repeat, NEVER use plastic bags.

These compartments allow for categorization—clothes in one, electronics in another—making items more accessible to locate.

  • Clothes: Roll instead of fold to optimize space.
  • Electronics: Use small cubes or bags to prevent the tangling of cords.
  • Toiletries: Dedicate a waterproof cube to contain any leaks.

Luggage Choice: A backpack or carry-on suitcase, sized to fit airline hand luggage restrictions.

Choosing luggage with multiple compartments helps organise and separate different items. I prefer a backpack as its easier to carry on a bus aisle and when walking long distances to your hostel.

  • Hand Luggage: 45 x 36 x 20 cm (standard dimensions)
  • Suitcase or Backpack: Opt for a lightweight, durable option to avoid excess baggage fees.

Maintaining Tidiness and Cleanliness

Laundry Bag: is important for isolating dirty clothes or wet items from the rest of a traveller’s possessions. Having one that is waterproof like a dry bag or similar, can be good here.

They can also be used to dispose of trash and keep the sleeping area tidy.

  • Wet items: Use a sealable bag to prevent moisture transfer.
  • Trash: Keep a small bag for wrappers or waste to maintain cleanliness.

Day Bag: Carrying a day bag ensures that a traveller has all the essentials on hand during outings without repacking the main luggage. My day bag attached to my larger backpack to make it easy to carry between stops.

It serves as a personal carry-on when exploring the local area.

  • Essentials: Include a water bottle, a snack, and a light jacket.
  • Security: Choose a bag with secure zippers and compartments to protect valuables.

Social and Cultural Preparedness

A table with a checklist of items: passport, toiletries, clothing, and a first aid kit. Backpack and travel documents lay nearby

When travelling and staying in hostels, social interaction and cultural sensitivity are crucial. They ensure enriched travel experiences and respectful exchanges between travellers and locals.

Engaging with the Hostel Community

An open mind is the traveller’s best asset when engaging with the hostel community.

Hostels thrive on the diverse interactions between backpackers from various backgrounds.

Bringing playing cards or a travel-sized game is beneficial, as they are excellent icebreakers and allow for shared fun and camaraderie.

In addition, travellers can utilize platforms like Hostelworld or Facebook Groups to connect with potential travel companions or gauge prospective hostels’ social atmosphere.

These platforms often feature reviews that can help choose an establishment that aligns with one’s desired level of social interaction.

Cultural Etiquette and Awareness

Every country has its own set of cultural norms and etiquette.

Travellers should research or utilize resources such as cultural guides or forums dedicated to budget travel to familiarize themselves with these practices.

A respectful traveller who displays awareness of local customs is often welcomed warmly into the community.

Specifically, a smile can transcend language barriers and be a universal sign of goodwill.

This sensitivity enhances the overall hostel life experience and promotes mutual respect.

Frequently Asked Questions

A hostel room with a neatly packed backpack, travel-sized toiletries, and a guidebook on a bed. A checklist with ticked items is pinned to the wall

What items are considered essentials when packing for a hostel stay?

Pack comfortable clothes you can wear for long periods of time and not get sick of, flip flops for shared showers, a padlock for securing belongings, and a good backpack or suitcase to travel with.

Earplugs and an eye mask come in handy for better sleep in shared dorms.

Which toiletries should one include for a hostel trip?

Bring travel-sized shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, toothpaste, a toothbrush, and deodorant.

Hostels usually do not provide these items, so having a personal stash is essential.

How does one efficiently pack for a week-long stay in a hostel?

For a week-long hostel stay, pack versatile clothing that can be layered, a microfiber towel for quick drying, and minimal pairs of shoes.

Rolling clothes saves space, and using packing cubes keeps belongings organized.

Are there any prohibited items when staying in a hostel?

Most hostels prohibit sleeping bags due to hygiene concerns.

Some do not allow outside bedding.

High-value items should be left at home or secured upon arrival. Drones and illegal substances are typically banned as well.