I think the title of this post is pretty self-explanatory. When staying in a hostel, you expect to give up a certain level of comfort. It comes with the territory when you're back-packing around Europe and not looking to pay much more than €20 for a bed. I've had a few hostel experiences, ranging from the fantastic (upgraded to a private apartment with free breakfast! Thanks Dublin!), to the thank-gosh-this-is-only-for-two-nights (pulsing dance-club downstairs and used tissues in the room. Gross!). But no matter what kind of hostel you find yourself in, there are a few things that can make your stay a little easier. In no particular order (well, except maybe the first one), here are my top five hostel necessities:
* Sleep Sack - In my humble opinion, the Sleep Sack is one of the greatest inventions known to man and an absolute MUST if you're planning to stay in a hostel. It may seem pricey to the frugal traveler, but trust me, you want something between yourself and hostel sheets. Think of it as an investment! There are a few different kinds (be sure to explore the Yala Designs website for more options), varying in material, size, and design. You could probably find a knock-off version in cotton or fleece, but I think the silk is totally worth it. Not only is it lightweight and easy to pack (folds up to be no bigger than a water bottle), but it has a pocket for your pillow to tuck into and is surprisingly warm. No matter what time of year or what hostels are passing off as blankets, I was always comfortable in my Sleep Sack.
* Locks - It may seem like a silly or even paranoid idea to take locks with you on your travels, but always better to be safe than sorry; plus, peace of mind is worth its weight in gold. It's always a good idea to secure your things before you leave for the day to head out exploring, particularly if you are staying in a dorm-style hostel room where multiple people are coming and going. Some hostels may offer lockers, in which case having your own lock will come in very handy, but if not, you can create your own security system. When I stayed in hostels, I often locked the zippers of my backpack together (a good idea when out and about too) and then locked my backpack to my bed (wrap the strap of your backpack around a bedpost and lock it together). At the very least, lock your things and then stow them out of sight.
* Towel - A towel, even if it's just hand-towel size to conserve on backpack space, can be an absolute lifesaver. There's a good chance hostels won't provide you with anything, and if they do, there's a great chance it will more closely resemble paper than towel and you probably won't be very anxious to use it. It's worth it to have a clean, fluffy towel in your bag to use for washing your hands or drying your hair.
* Hand Sanitizer & Flip-Flops - It may be a bit unfair to paint hostels as unclean places where poor foreigners find refuge, and most really are just fine, but it's always a good idea to have some hand sanitizer at the ready and flip-flops for the showers or even walking around. There are a lot of people moving in and out of hostels, as with all of the places you're likely to encounter when traveling and sight-seeing, and you want to be as germ-free as possible.
* Ear Plugs/Headphones - This is really more of a preference thing. If you're a light sleeper and in a dorm room with a bunch of people on a much different schedule, they could be worth it. You want to get your beauty sleep and be well-rested for your adventures, so don't let your rowdy neighbors take that away from you (and don't forget that walls are almost paper thin in Europe). Besides, wouldn't you rather fall asleep to the soft sounds of your favorite band than to, say, your French dorm-mate chatting on the phone all night or those annoying American girls giggling about how adorable British accents are? I thought so.
What about you guys? What are your hostel necessities? Anything you can't travel without?