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Are Hostels Dangerous? How to Find Safe Hostels

Updated: May 6

Intensive travel in the past 15 years throughout the U.S., Central America, and Europe means I'm I've got a little knowledge to share - both insider knowledge and experience as a frequent, solo traveler.

The short answer is: as a solo female traveler, I've learned what types of hotels avoid in the U.S. and to be extremely cautious when choosing hostels in the U.S. However, in Europe I have very few hesitations! Jump ahead to find out how to feel safer traveling solo as a female.

Digital nomad working from hostel room.
One of my favorite hostels in Lisbon.

Having stayed in a variety of budget and medium-budget lodging in Florida, this is a good place to start this story: "I don't know how you managed to book with us. We normally don't let anyone that's 'local,' book in our hostel. We hide it in the settings," the staff person who checked me in unknowingly revealed a huge secret.

Let's pick that apart: when hostels and hotels publish their rates on a booking engine they can opt whether they want someone who is searching from a local geolocation find them. Mind blown. And some hostels and hotels decide not to allow locals to book with them. Why?

Safety perception in hostels and hotels IN FLORIDA

This wasn't the first time I'd come across that in Miami. Why would a hotel or hostel purposefully hide their rate from a person looking for a stay locally? From the hotel or hostel's point of view the question might be: "If someone is already in Miami, why are they searching for a hotel or hostel?"

From experience, I have stayed in hostel dorms and hotels with homeless people, truckers, people with mental problems and bad habits. In Florida.

My experience in hostels and hotels in Europe has been very positive. Are hostels in Europe safe? Jump ahead to read on hostels in Europe.

My real-life experience in bad hostels and hotels Miami and Orlando

In Orlando I booked a hotel for the weekend for myself and a friend but neither of us felt safe. I'd been hoping to save a little money by cooking instead of eating out, so I filtered my search by "kitchenette." After perusing for hours, I booked a nice-looking, well-situated long-term rental in Orlando. Unfortunately, when we arrived, we noticed a lot of people long-term living there with bad habits. Yelling. Arguments. Drugs.

In Miami Beach I stayed in hostels where various people were obviously homeless and obviously suffered from mental illnesses. They could well be harmless or violent. Preferably, I wouldn't have been staying there in the same dorm to find out.

On Miami Beach, if you want to feel safe, don't book a hostel.

Note: there are at least a couple of hostels that are female-only that I would consider relatively safe in the Miami area, but they are not on Miami Beach.

Generally, hostels in Miami and Miami Beach are going to have homeless people in them, some of which have obvious addiction and mental health issues. Again, they could be harmless, but the point is: do you want to test that?

Miami and Orlando are not exactly low-crime cities.

Tips to finding safer hotels in Florida

1. Avoid low-budget hotels on a major thoroughfare or highway

Truckers often sleep in these hotels. D'oh. Right!? These hotels have a highly transitory, mostly male guest profile.

2. Rent a hotel room close to attractions

In Orlando that might mean staying in or near International Drive, or near any of the amusement parks. Short-term rentals in classy Orlando suburbs are also a good option, even if you have to drive an extra half hour to see attractions.

When narrowing down your lodging options anywhere in the world, map the hotel or hostel you are considering to ensure you are in a neighborhood of medium-to-high-end restaurants, shopping malls or banks.

3. Long-term residential hotels sometimes attract people who are not in a good place in their lives.

Why would these guests pay a higher price for a long-term hotel stay instead of renting an apartment at a more affordable rate? A partial, simple answer is that a hotel does not require a background check or deposit. Just a credit card.

The facts are that at home or in any kind of lodging outside, you are always at the risk that a person with bad intentions is looking for an opportunity. The same way that you would prefer to live in a nice, low-crime neighborhood in the U.S., that's what you look for in a hotel or hostel in Florida.

The tragic murder of a young woman, Miya Marcano, allegedly at the hands of a maintenance crew member who used his master key to enter her apartment, prompted the passing of a bill that made small changes to Florida law. The new safeguards include a 24-hour mandatory notice to the resident if staff must enter the apartment and permission to deny employment to someone who has a violent flag in their background check. These steps still fall short to address the problem.

Safety perception in hostels and hotels IN EUROPE

Europe has been a completely different experience for me than in the U.S.

Hostels in Europe still have that mostly youthful, Euro-trip demographic that wants nothing more than to explore and party.

This can look like: a group of 30 high schoolers traveling with chaperones, a threesome of 18 year-olds doing a multi-city trip trip together, maybe a few 20-year olds spending their month-long vacation from work to city-hop across Europe before they have to head back to work.

Hostel guest profiles have widened considerably in the past 20 years, since hotels have become so expensive and people are daring to travel more at any age. Nowadays you will find people up to the age of 50 staying in hostels in Europe. The 30, 40 and 50-year olds tend to travel in pairs or solo.

That description was just to give you a lay of the land. The big question remains: are hostels in Europe safe?

I never felt unsafe in my many years of hotel and hostel stays as a solo, female traveler in Europe.

The only time I felt uncomfortable were the two times that I stayed in mixed (co-ed) dorms. And not because anyone felt menacing or creepy. It was my individual discomfort as a female, solo traveler with sleeping in a dorm full of mostly men that I didn't know personally. So, I fixed that. I never stayed in a mixed dorm again.

Crime in Europe is generally lower than in the U.S. Social services are stronger and there don't seem to be homeless trying to stay in hostels or hotels. While there are increasing numbers of homeless in Europe (which I've witnessed with the years of widening gap between the rich and poor) I haven't knowingly run into any staying in hotels. or hostels in Europe.

Theft, unfortunately is still a problem all over the world.

If there is an opportunity, someone will likely take advantage of it. My experience with losing things to theft in one hostel include: a cute crop-top that I'd entrusted the staff within the laundry and a pair of sterling silver earrings I forgot under my pillow when I moved to a different room. When I asked the staff they said they never saw them.

How to travel safer as a solo female

1. Female-only hostels. Literally there are no dorms for men on the entire premises

That's right. Men are not allowed to stay at these female-only hostels. I've only seen this in the U.S.

2. Most hostels do have rooms with single beds or twins!

These rooms are usually only slightly cheaper than a hotel room. Sometimes they are exactly like a hotel room, with a bathroom ensuite, and in others you share the bathroom with the rest of the guests on the floor. Verify in the details if the bathroom situation is important to you.

2. Most hostels have female-only dorms

When you are booking your hostel, check their female-only dorm options. It's usually only marginally more expensive than a co-ed male-and-female dorm and well worth it if you are the type that worries.

Additionally, I'll iterate: look for lodging in city centers and ensure the hostel/hotel is in an area with middle-to-high-end establishments. Use GoogleMaps 360 view to see if the street feels too solitary or too busy.

Should I stay in a hostel?

Since I was staying in a hostel, I took a short video to talk about the benefits of staying in a hostel - and there are quite a few strong positives! And, of course, there are a couple of negatives. Dark humor alert! See vid 👇

Pros of staying in a hostel:

  1. The relatively lower prices of hostels means you can afford to travel for longer or experience more activities. Saving on the lodging = more money for other stuff.

  2. Generally you meet independent-minded, cool people.

  3. As a solo traveler, you could organize to eat or tour around with these new-found friends.

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