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two young friends laughing and smiling with their arms around each other standing on a rooftop overlooking the city skyline

How to Actually Meet People in Hostels

Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, when you stay in hostels, it’s inevitable that you’ll meet new people on your travels. And if that’s part of the allure of hostelling for you, chances are you’ve wondered how to turn those people into friends. I’ve stayed in over 40 hostels during my travels over the years, so I’ve got some practice answering this question.

In fact, some of my longest friendships are from my very first solo trip to Italy in May 2017. On that trip, I stayed in an all-female hostel in Rome, and one night a group of us snuck out and went to the Coliseum in the middle of the night. Most of those girls are still my friends today. But you don’t have to sneak into historic landmarks after dark to make friends when you’re staying at hostels – instead, you can start with these beginner-friendly tips..

Be Open

an overhead view of three people playing cards at a small wooden table

People stay at hostels for all kinds of reasons, whether they’re traveling solo, visiting family, taking a trip with friends, attending an out-of-town conference, or have just moved to a new city. Whatever the reason each person has for choosing a hostel, there’s one common thread: almost everyone is curious to know each other. Personally, I’ve very seldom met someone at a hostel who wasn’t interested in talking or connecting to an extent. 

The best way to start to find your community is to hang out in the hostel’s common areas. Many hostels have lounges, game rooms, TV rooms, or outdoor patios where guests will congregate. These are intentionally designed and dedicated social areas where travelers are encouraged to meet people. I remember going to the kitchen in one of my hostels in Ireland where the kitchen and lounge were combined. There was one table, so if anyone was hanging out in the kitchen, they’d have to sit there. There were about six of us who ended up at this table and between all of us, we spoke English, Spanish, German, French, and Portuguese. But I pulled out a set of cards that the hostel had and we all started playing. We were laughing the whole night because while there wasn’t a common language among us (even English), we were just happy to be connected and in each other’s company. 

Be Optimistic

travelers at breakfast at HI Boston hostel

Try to go into your next hostel stay with the mentality that people are more kind and welcoming than we might fear when we think about sharing our space with strangers. It’s not considered weird or taboo to walk up to a stranger and say “Hi, where are you from?” This simple question is actually the best conversation starter, because either you’ve been there and can swap stories, or you haven’t, and can learn something new about a different place. In the end, it’s a win-win situation for everyone.

Be Curious

in a hostel dorm room, one guest on the top bunk passes a book to a friend on the bottom bunk

Speaking of learning new things, I feel the best way to form a community in a hostel is to stay curious and remain a student. Allow others to teach you something about themselves and it will change your worldview. 

It helps to approach meeting people with open mindedness. I’ve met people in situations I would never expect them to be in, but they took the time to share their stories and I felt enriched afterwards. My most prominent example is my friend Cintia, who was one of the girls I met in Italy. She’s so beautiful, tall, and slender that upon just looking at her you’d think she was a model, with a soothing Uruguayan accent to complement. But what I found out upon getting to know her deeper was that at the time, she was a fighter pilot and flew jets for the Uruguayan Army. Now I’ll admit, I had a pretty antiquated way of thinking when I met her. But learning about all the sides of Cintia made me change the way I approach people and how I view them before getting to know them. 

You never know what people are going through or what their story is, but never assume. Allow people to surprise you and in return, allow yourself to have your mind and heart changed for the better. 

Start Simple

two young people outside a hostel look at plans for the day on a cell phone

When sharing a dorm with someone or meeting people for the first time, I have a few go-to icebreakers. After the introductions and pleasantries are done, I always like to share my loose itinerary with the other guests I meet at my hostel. Now, sharing your daily agenda with strangers may sound scary to some. But as a solo traveler, I actually prefer to have at least one person know where I’m planning to be. I usually just say something like “I’m super excited to see this bridge or this monument today” – either opening it up for them to give me tips if they’ve already been there, or even to invite themselves along if the same place is also on their itinerary. 

I can’t tell you how many people I talked to for five minutes before we ended up spending the day together – in fact, this applies to every person I met on one trip to Japan.

Go to Hostel Events

a group of hostel guests out on a walking tour looking at a yellow building while standing on a cobbled street

Hostel events, from pub crawls, to neighborhood walking tours, to welcome parties, are also great icebreakers. Back in the day, I always loved hostel pub crawls: the hostel would announce for everyone to meet in the lobby and then you and a large group of other travelers would bar hop around the city together. The walks in between places are always a great chance to chat with someone and see what they’re up to on their trip. You’re both in the same country doing the same thing, so that’s a starting foundation of things you have in common. After that, you just need to go deeper. 

I remember during one pub crawl, I met a girl from France and we got on the topic of work. I told her, at the time, that I worked for a big YouTube channel and it turned out she was a huge fan of our content! It was so cool getting to understand her better through something we had in common. 

Bring it Home

two young men sit looking out over the Grand Canyon. One has his arm around the other's shoulders.

Creating bonds with new people always makes my trips better, but the greatest part of meeting all these people is seeing the experience translate into my normal life. After traveling and talking to so many different people who had different cultures and beliefs than I did, I realized that I started to become a better friend: I listened better and more intently. I also listened to understand rather than to respond. I asked intriguing, more thought-provoking questions to my friends and, most importantly, I learned how to hold space for people. 

Deep conversations come quite quickly when traveling, and it’s not always appropriate to be offering advice to people you just met. Besides that, sometimes, people just want to be heard. This is where holding space comes in. To have the skill to just create a safe and secure environment in which someone can share their heart with no ulterior motives or advice given is a skill that not many people have, but it can be developed — and I’ve always found hostels to be a particularly good practice ground. I appreciate how my hostel community turned me into a better person and friend overall. 

I encourage you on your next trip to put yourself out there: invite someone to have breakfast with you, tag along on someone else’s adventure around the city, or even start a card game with people who don’t speak the same language as you. You may surprise yourself in the best way possible.