Ah, hostel life. It’s social, it’s friendly, it’s a great way to meet new people. But it’s not always easy being the new face. What if you’re travelling by yourself and you’re lacking the confidence to approach people?
The good news is you already have something in common with everybody here. You’re all exploring a new place, and you all share a passion for travel. You simply wouldn’t be here otherwise.
Here are my tips for making friends in a hostel, and before you go, make sure to read this article on how NOT to make friends in a hostel too (another link at the end of this page)… You won’t believe your eyes!
Choose the right hostel
Just like people, not all hostels were built equal. If you’re loud and confident, then staying in a larger, party style hostel may be your thing. If you’re a little more shy then you may find a huge hostel intimidating, and smaller hostel where you’re likely to meet the same people over and over may be more your vibe.
This may sound a little harsh, but if you’re a 20-something traveller looking to find people with similar interests, then stay away from any hostel advertising ‘family’ rooms. Kids might be cute, but they can’t share your stories about that time you got so hammered at the Full Moon Party that you lost your pants.
Stay in Dorms
Dorms is where most friendships are made as you’re practically living on top of each other, so to not talk to each other would be awkward as hell. Personally, I like dorms which sleep 6-8 people, as there’s more of a friendly vibe, rather than 16 people dorms where people are always going in and out.
Don’t sit on your bunk tapping away at your computer or blocking out the world with your headphones. Smile, say ‘hello’ and look approachable when people come in. Oh, and make sure you’re around at the ‘golden hour’, when people are getting ready to go out for the evening. Sharing make up tips and talking about plans for the night ahead is all part of the fun.
Strike up a conversation
It’s much easier than you think to start a conversation with a complete stranger in a hostel. After all, the fact that they are there already means you both have something in common. You both love to travel and want to explore the destination you’re in.
A simple ‘Hi, I’m Hayley from England, where are you from?’ usually works a treat to get the conversation started but if you’re looking for a couple more ways to break the ice, then try; ‘Nice hostel, eh?’ or ‘Hey, I’m thinking of exploring XXX today. Have you been? What did you think?’
Always remember to keep eye contact (not in a creepy way) and smile. A natural smile goes a long way!
Hang out in communal areas
You won’t want to stay holed up in your dorm for the whole time. Get yourself into the common areas and start introducing yourself. Don’t be afraid to approach groups of people either. Chances are they’ve been in your position before and will welcome new people to the fold.
Rise and shine
No matter how bad that hangover, don’t be tempted to sleep through breakfast. Free breakfasts in hostels are often the most buzzing time of the day, when people excitedly talk through their plans for the day or dissect ‘the night before’.
You can also take this opportunity to try to organise the day’s sightseeing. Are other people headed to the same place you are? Great! Suggest you share a cab or if there’s a large group of you, perhaps you can use your bargaining power to negotiate discounts on attractions.
People like to talk about themselves, so asking a few well-crafted questions can get people to open up and start chatting to you. Try ‘how long are you travelling for?’ ‘where have you been so far’, and ‘where are you going next?’ for starters.
People also love giving tips about a place they’ve just travelled through, so if they’ve just been to Myanmar and it’s not on your plan, say something like ‘oh wow, I’ve always wanted to go to Bagan. Do you have any tips for hostels in the area?’
Once you get into the flow of conversation, people also like to brag about the weirdest and most dangerous things that have happened to them on the road. A kind of ‘bragging rights’ perhaps, so that topic is always a winner.
Just make sure you’re not firing questions like you’re interviewing someone, and if they’re giving you one word answers or tapping away on their phone or laptop, then get the message and move on to the next person!
Cook your way to friendship
Many hostels have kitchens where you can cook your own meals, so take advantage of this. Not only will it save you money on eating out, but it’s a great way of meeting other people. You can talk about the food you’re cooking, share recipes or even reminisce about the foods you miss from home. (Remember roast dinners and apple pie? Those were the days!)
If possible, aim to cook a little more than you plan to eat so you can share it around with other people in the kitchen or common areas. There’s no better way to friendship than through the stomach!
Share your stuff
Everyone likes free stuff, especially poor travellers, so as well as offering out your leftovers, make sure you share your stuff whenever you can. Snacks, old clothes you no longer need (which are still in good condition of course, no one wants your rags!), books, music and movie downloads, the list goes on…
You know what they say, sharing’s caring, and as well as earning you a few more friends along the way, you may find that someone else does it for you when you most need it.
Go to events
Hostels often have organised trips or nights out so make sure you sign up for (and go to) them. A lot of people will be going alone, so it’s a great way to meet others whilst exploring further afield too. You’ll probably find that the event is hosted by someone from the hostel who is a pro at breaking the ice, so the pressure’s off you for a change.
Organise your own event
No events going on right now? No problem. Make your own! Put a poster up in the common room saying ‘explore the city with me’ or ‘Night out on Wednesday!’, asking people to put their name down.
Make sure people know about the event by chatting to them about it when they pass through. As well as having something to talk about, you’ll also become known as the person who brings everyone together, which is a nice place to be.
Play a Game
Before you go, learn a few basic card games for 2 to 6 players so you can ask around and see if anyone wants to play. Playing games is a great way to start talking to new people, and before you know it, you’ve got a small crowd of people wanting to join in.
You can also use the cards to play drinking games as the night wears on. My personal favourite is Ring of Fire (also known as King’s Cup). Guaranteed to get everyone bonding well!
Chat to the staff
It’s not always about your fellow travellers; often the most interesting people to talk to are the staff members themselves. That girl on reception or that guy behind the bar are here because they love the city and they decided to make it their home, so they should have a healthy dose of passion for the place!
Ask them for their favourite places to have dinner, or if they know of a secret beach nearby that hardly anyone goes to. They may even introduce you to other people who live in the area, or others staying at the hostel too.
Don’t be ‘that guy’
There’s always one person, otherwise known as ‘that guy’ (or girl!). Boasting about how many people they’ve slept with, turning on lights at midnight when everyone is trying to sleep, constantly one-upping everyone (you were mugged in Buenos Aires? Well, I was stabbed. You bungee jumped? I skydived)… You get the picture. Nobody likes that guy.
If you’re talking more than 70% of the time, or if you’re constantly hearing yourself say ‘that reminds me of the time I…’ you might be that person, and it’s time to tone it down a bit. Ask more questions and resist the temptation to share your every story.
If all else fails, then head to the nearest shop, pick up a bottle of vodka or a crate of beers and start sharing them out in the common area. You’ll be surprised just how quickly people want to be your friend when there’s free booze involved!
When the last can is sunk, suggest you all head out to the bar together. It just might be the start of one of those random nights which you’ll remember (or not) forever!
So take my tips, slap on a smile and go out there and meet people! And if you want a laugh, then check out how not to behave in a hostel here.
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