How to Make Friends at a Hostel

Written by: Chris Richardson

As I planned my big backpacking trip around Europe, I never put a lot of thought into how I’d meet new people and make friends while travelling or in a hostel. I mean, I expected to be friendly to the roommates staying in my dorm room but going out of my way to make friends in a hostel, so much so that I’d go on tours or go out and eat with them, seemed unlikely. I was shy, and saying hello to strangers was scary for me.

That was until my first night abroad in a hostel in Paris.

I met some people in the hostel common area, and we got chatting. Chatting turned into going to get food together, followed by some amazing conversations till late that night.

We bonded as a group instantly about travel, where we were from, where we were going next, how long they’re staying here, and so much more. It was like I’d known them all my life, yet it had been just a few hours. It was nothing like I expected, and I soon learnt that friendships made in hostels are quick, intense and fleeting at the same time.

So what’s the secret, you ask?

Tips on How to Make Friends in Hostels

Making hostel friends is much like making friends anywhere else, just a whole lot easier. So here are a few tips for making friends I picked up on my trip around Europe that helped me make some amazing friendships and, most of all, have an even better time than I could have imagined.

1. Be Social

I’m not expecting you to be the life of the party. But a simple “Hi” or “How are you” is a great ice breaker to start a conversation if you find yourself in your dorm room with someone else. Be open to meeting people by making eye contact and not being glued to a phone or computer.

The most common questions that can garner a greater conversation is to ask someone where they are from, where they are going, or where they have just been. That’s a good two-hour conversation right there. What I found is most backpackers want to share what they are doing and talk to others.

I often started talking to the people in my dorm room as it was less confronting than trying to get someone’s attention in a busy common room. It’s usually only one or two of you in there at a time, so it’s less intimidating. And if you are travelling solo, it’s easier to pick out others doing the same in the doom room. Giving you a common ground to talk about hostel life as a solo backpacker.

You’ll be seeing these people more often, sleeping in the same room, etc. So getting to know them can also help reduce any hostel safety fears you might have as well.

2. Don’t Skip Breakfast

Breakfasts in hostels around Europe is often baked goods and cold meats.

Not only is a free breakfast never worth missing (hostel breakfasts are often free or cost a small amount). It’s also a great time to spark up a conversation with someone about their plans for the day.

Maybe a couple of you could be planning to take the same free walking tour that morning or heading to see a specific museum. Those first couple of days in a new city can take time to get your bearings and learn how to get around. If you can go exploring with someone else it helps make the experience that little bit easier, and not all activities need to be taken on your own. Who knows, you might get along well and make yourself a friend for the rest of the day or even a lifelong friend you’ll have forever.

3. Join Hostel Events or Activities

Not all hostels put on events or activities, but the good ones will, and they are a fun way to meet others. I stayed in a family hostel where a lovely older Italian couple cooked everyone an evening meal once a week. We all chatted, played board games and watched a movie for the evening.

Another organised walking tours and pub crawls that took us out and brought us home as one group. While a third offered paid tours that you could book from their reception for various activities so that you could go somewhere with just people from your hostel.

These are a great way to get to know others without you having to be the one to start the conversation. If you are unsure what the hostel does and doesn’t organise, the hostel staff usually know what is going on.

4. Eat or Cook Together

Everybody loves food. It’s a great way to lower your guard and try something new. Not to mention cooking one night in the hostel is usually a lot cheaper than eating out. And cooking in the hostel kitchen is a great opportunity to make friends.

All you need do is ask in the common room or your dorm room if anybody was hungry and wanted to go out for a meal somewhere together or if they wanted to cook something together tonight in the hostel. You can even float the idea with people at breakfast in the morning to meet up at the end of the day as well.

I think meeting people around food is a great way to make new friends, and I probably found that the most open way to get to know others staying at the hostel.

Above all else, given the mix of new people, you’ll find in a hostel each day, it means you’ll most likely get to try some fantastic and unique meals you may never have seen before.

5. Hang out at the Bar

Make friends at a hostel bar.

You won’t find every hostel has a hostel bar, but if they have one, you’ll be sure to find someone to have a chat with. I found the bar, when quiet, was a great time to speak with the hostel staff and get top tips on places to eat and things to do.

Then as it gets busier, you can meet people and strike up a conversation with the person next to you or ask if you can join an existing table if the group seems to be more solo travellers and not a group who are travelling together already.

There’s nothing like a little bit of dutch courage to lessen the nerves.

You can also ask others to join you at a local pub or bar for a night out. There’s nothing backpackers love more than a chance to go out and have a bit of fun.

6. Relax

The thing about staying in hostels is the majority of people are just like you. Travelling alone and looking to make new friends and see the world. The rules of the world don’t apply as much here, either. Each new hostel you visit is a new beginning and will have a different vibe to it. And many hostels are run to be fun and welcoming in addition to providing you with a place to sleep. 

Making friends is a given. It’s more a case of who’s going to let their guard down first to get a conversation flowing. It doesn’t matter if it’s your first hostel or your 50th hostel. There will always be a few nerves as you walk through the door of a new hostel if you can push past that, the chances of you making friends and having a good time are guaranteed.

I was a shy, quiet guy when I first landed abroad. By the end of it, I was speaking to anybody and everybody without a fear in the world. And while I don’t have the guide on how to make friends down pat yet, I know you’ll get a long way down the path with a smile and a can-do attitude.

Most people you meet in a hostel are there for just days before you part ways. If you make a goose of yourself in front of someone, it won’t matter. You or they will be gone soon enough, and you can try again with someone new.

Do You Have to Make Friends in a Hostel?

Of course not. You are welcome to travel however you like. If you don’t feel like hanging out or speaking with someone, you can politely decline or say let’s catch up later. If you don’t want to join someone in your dorm room nobody is going to get upset with you.

The joy of travel and hostels, in general, is you can enjoy as much or as little of what is on offer as you like. Just know if you avoid friendships while staying at a hostel, I think you’d be missing out on what makes them so great to stay in.

For me, the whole process of making friends in a hostel was very rewarding. It opened up my mind to how silly I’d been worrying about what other people thought of me. And it gave me a lot of confidence to go after my real dreams and goals in life.

So no matter how you go about being friendly in a hostel, I strongly urge you to say “Hi” or engage with others next time you are in one. It can be a whole lot of fun.