March 16, 2009

5 Tips To Protect Your Stuff In Hostels


When it comes to staying in hostels, many people fear their stuff getting stolen. Just last week, I posted about my stay in the Venice Beach Hostel and and a fellow reader (Adam) had a question about safety. He suggested that I write a post on the topic and I thought I would do just that.

So here are are a few tips I have picked up over the years on how to protect your belongings while staying in hostels:

1. Bring A Padlock

The first time I ever stayed at a hostel I did not bring a lock with me since I had no idea what to expect. I ended up having to search for a store nearby that sold decent ones. I have since learned my lesson and permanently keep a Master Lock attached to my backpack. So what’s the lock for?

Almost every hostel will provided lockers for your valuables. It is very uncommon for a hostel to not offer lockers since most travelers have some valuables with them. Out of all the ones I have stayed at, only one of them did not offer in-room lockers. However, they did have lockers in the hallways which still did the job and kept my stuff safe.

One word of advice is to go for a key lock instead of a combination. I know it’s a pain to have another key but the reason I say this is because it’s damn near impossible to open a combination lock in the dark. You will most likely have a bunch of “roommates” in your room and you never know when you might have to get into the locker at night.

2. Pack A Good Laptop Lock

If you are traveling with a laptop like I always do, you will also want to pack a good laptop lock. The reason is because there may be times where you leave the room for a few minutes and don’t want to go through the hassle of closing your computer and jamming it in your locker. Especially if you are trying to charge it.

I purchased a Targus one for about 30 bucks and have never had any problems with it. No one has cut it or broken it yet. I think the main purpose of the lock is to create a sense of protections since most people won’t steal something if they have to go out of their way to do it.

If you plan on keeping your laptop outside the locker all night, I highly recommend locking it to your bed and then placing it underneath it towards the wall. That way someone would have to literally climb under your bed and break it off the lock while you are sleeping. If you are a really deep sleeper, then I would just lock it up in your locker to be safe.

3. Don’t Carry Your Camera Around Your Neck

And I’m not saying this because it makes you look like a tourist. Instead, keep your camera in a small bag around your shoulder or waist. That way you aren’t showing it off to everyone in the hostel. Remember, most people steal things because they were flashed in front of them or left laying somewhere.

I always travel with my Nikon D80 which was pretty expensive when I bought it and I would be super bummed if someone jacked it from me. That’s why I bought a nice bag to go with it that I can fit in my backpack. I tend to leave it in my backpack while I am in the room so no one sees it. It’s hard for someone to steal something if they don’t know you have it.

It’s also important to keep your camera in your locker when you are sleeping or outside the room. It’s just common sense…

4. Bring A Small Bag For Valuables

One thing I have learned over time is to bring along a small bag to keep my valuables in. That way I can take the bag out of my main backpack and put it in my locker. It never looks good when you carry your wallet, watch, money, and passport in your arms while walking passed your roommates.

It also makes it much easier if you are checking in and out of hostels every few days. Just be sure to keep the bag small since lockers tend to vary in size depending on the hostel.

5. Keep Your Wallet Light

The first time I stayed in a hostel I had a decent amount of cash in my wallet and along with every plastic card I have collected in my lifetime. Debit cards, credit cards, gift cards, the whole works. I didn’t think about it at the time, but getting your wallet stolen isn’t that difficult. It’s not that hard to lay down in the middle of the day and fall asleep with your wallet in your back pocket. It’s also pretty easy to drop your wallet when you are showering or changing your clothes. I do it all the time and always misplace my wallet.

That’s why I have kept my wallet “light” ever since that stay. Before I leave home, I take out everything I will not need on the trip. I usually only bring one debit card and one credit card along. I also take out any gift cards or other cards I may have that I know I will not need. That way if for some reason I did lose my wallet, at least some of my stuff would be safe at home.

I also keep the amount of cash I carry very small. It’s not that difficult to find an ATM machine when you need one. They are literally everywhere. If you are worried about the ATM fees, just keep an eye out for a no-fee ATM.

Hostels Really Can Be Safe

If you use my tips the next time to stay at a hostel, you will see that they are much safer than people think. It just takes a little more common sense to keep your belongings safe. Once you master it, you will never want to stay in a hotel again. Hanging out with people from all over the world is one of the coolest things you can do!

15 thoughts on “5 Tips To Protect Your Stuff In Hostels

  1. Jeremy Gehrs

    All of these things are just common sense, so I wouldn’t really put these in the negative category for staying at hostels. Reading your past posts really makes me want to try staying at a one for my next trip, seems like you would meet so many more people that way.

  2. Serena

    You’ve answered too questions I really wanted to know i.e. if you’re staying somewhere and don’t want to have to carry your backpack is it acceptable to use a smaller bag during the day and should I buy a lock. Great things to know for future reference, thanks!


  3. Adam Pieniazek

    Great tips Justin, thanks for this post. I googled safety tips for hostels but this list really clarifies and simplifies everything much better than what I found, plus it’s realistic.

    One tip I would add is to open an HSBC online savings account and plop a few hundred dollars in there. For one, the savings rate is a bit higher than traditional savings account, but even better HSBC will refund any and all ATM fees that you incur while using their debit card! They tend to only have a few physical branches, mostly in the New York area so they almost have to refund ATM fees, but it’s still a very nice benefit and one that has saved me a good amount of cash over the years.

    I’m planning on staying in hostels when I get my touring bicycle and take a trip down the east coast so this list will come in very handy. I’ll likely be all alone on the trip and I am a very deep sleeper so protecting my valuables will be a pretty big priority. Now I just need to have a plan for protecting my stuff when I sleep outside in a tent…laser trip defense anyone? Hehe…

    Do you think it would be overly paranoid to lock my bicycle up inside the room? I know hostels are usually a bit cramped but having that touring bike stolen or vandalized would likely end the trip right there.

    1. Justin Wright Post author

      Hmm that’s a tough one. I don’t think most hostels would have room in the rooms for a bicycle but they might be willing to let you lock it up in a hallway or spare close/room.

      The people are always super friendly and would probably help you find a safe spot to keep your bike.

      Or you could get a super thick chain and lock the hell out of it to something impossible to move…

  4. brian from

    Stayed in hostels for most of my round the world trip and I agree with everything Justin said. True it is common sense, but I didn’t know about needing a combo lock until I hit the road too. I didn’t get a lock for my laptop specifically, I just stuffed it in the locker or kept it with me most of the time.

  5. Vagabond Writer

    I’m a pretty big fan of hostels. If you ever visit Fairbanks, Alaska, (one of my old stomping grounds) there’s a good one over a bar called the Marlin, right by the University. Great cheap place to stay, and good location as far as walking around, seeing the country, etc. Great article on the easy precautions you can take. Keep up the great posts!

  6. Thea

    Great tips, just gettting ready for a trip round the world and wasn’t sure about taking a lock but you have made my mind up, master lock it is! Thanks

  7. Hostelio

    I’ve found the best way to feel secure about my things while at a hostel is to keep them as close to me as possible. If this means sleeping with your giant backpack, so be it. Not having shoes in the morning will not be a good memory on your trip.

  8. Pingback: Hostel Tips, Etiquette, FAQs, & More | BootsnAll Travel Articles

  9. Alysha

    These are great tips! Can I ask how you manage to bring your DSLR in a backpacking backpack? I am planning a trip for the summer and having a hard time figuring out what would be the best way to make sure that I have something to carry my camera around during the day but also doesn’t take up much space in my larger pack. Thanks!

    1. Justin Wright Post author

      Hey Alysha, thanks for stopping by.

      As far as the DSLR goes, I have a very compact SLR case that holds by camera (Tamrac) and I usually just wear it on my back or clip it on to my backpack using one of those rock climbing thing-a-ma-jigs. It also fits in the very top cover of my backpack which works great if I have to put it in the bag.

      Hope that helps!

  10. Waist Pack

    By using a waist pack, it is compact and able to fit all your valuables in. This way you can take the waist pack out of your main backpack and put it in the locker. They can also be used as a purse, camera bag or a small holding pocket.

  11. A Murray

    Ah common sense indeed, unfortunately though some of us are not blessed with the gift, or, we place illfound trust in our surroundings. These are valuable tips that will be of great value to the new traveller. Thanks Justin 😉

  12. Kehlen

    As common sense as they are, it is always good to review them all at once, especially when you are going to stay at a hostel for the first time, like me. I am slightly nervous, so thank you for this 🙂


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