Travelling Safely: Tips for a Safe Night’s Sleep

| September 2, 2009 | 3 Comments
This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Travelling Safely

This post is part of a series of articles focusing on travel safety for the long-term traveler; however, they should be of interest to travelers of any stripe! The series, entitled ‘Travelling Safely’ comprises Antidotes to FearBefore You Go,Urban Bright—City Safety TipsTips for a Safe Night’s Sleep, and Personal Safety Products. Have any tips that didn’t make the lists herein? Please contact us!

A hostel is a great way to share accommodation with like-minded travelers from around the world. However, many people are apprehensive about hostels because they have concerns regarding personal safety and security. However, there are many hostels take security as seriously as do hotels; in fact, it can be harder to sneak into some places compared with the larger chain hotels. At the same time, it pays to check out your hostels in advance—as there are likely as many potentially dangerous places, where safety, security and sanitation are questionable.

hostelsafety Travelling Safely: Tips for a Safe Nights Sleep

Bottom line—if you know the risks before you check in, you can be prepared for any situation

So, to answer the question—are hostels safe? The answer is “yes—and no”. For the simple fact that safety is not quantifiable in a hostel, there will be some dangers. However, most of them are avoidable. Bottom line—if you know the risks before you check in, you can be prepared for any situation.


Every year over 1,000 people globally are involved in hostel/hotel fires on their travels, of which 50–100 perish. It’s an alarming statistic. However, in light of the fact that there were over 922 million international tourist arrivals in 2008, it’s statistically unlikely that you would ever be involved in a fire while abroad. Regardless, fires in hostels and guesthouses are a very real danger when travelling. Of course, warnings are not meant to induce paranoia, but fire safety is certainly something of which backpackers should be aware.

Tom Griffiths, founder of, the UK’s largest online gap year community says:

“On my first gap year at 18 I stayed in numerous death-trap hostels around the world, many had only one exit onto the street and burglar bars on the windows that would have stopped me getting out in a fire. Some also stacked bunk beds and junk against fire exits and other hostels were made of wood and thatch that burn very quickly once alight. It scares me to think that I stayed in so many dangerous hostels without giving this a consideration and more importantly, had no real basic knowledge of what to do in a fire. 15 years on, many of these hostels still exist; many others are worse still and the typical ‘It won’t happen to me’ backpacker attitude remains. Luckily fires are rare, but when they hit, like in Childers in 2000, they kill many.

Click here to view and/or download a Tom Griffiths’ ‘Backpacker Hostel Fire Safety Guide’. The bottom line is—if you know what to do and take some minor precautions, you are likely to survive. SD Rios, over on Helium, offers the following advice upon checking into a hostel:

  • Locate the emergency exits and know what to do in case of a fire or other emergency.
  • Lack of fire extinguishers, smoke detectors, alarms, notices, emergency ‘route maps’ or fire exits blocked with beds, junk and storage are sufficient cause to consider alternative arrangements.
  • Don’t be embarrassed to decline a room if the condition leaves something to be desired!

Hostel safety tips

Keep in mind that, for the most part, violence and theft is relatively uncommon in hostels. Regardless, it does happen. So common sense dictates keeping valuables and important documents in your possession at all times—or locked up. Use the hostel locker or safe that is on your room to lock items at night.

Below we outline a few of the more relevant and interesting tips that Kathryn and I have happened across in the course of our research.

  • The card is key! If possible, try to find a hostel with has installed modern electronic guest room locks—more common in Europe’s larger cities—but not so common in Asia and South America. “The majority of these locks automatically change the lock combination with every new guest so there is little chance of someone having a duplicate key to your room.” (Source).
  • Use a door wedge. “When inside your room, use a door wedge when sleeping or in the shower. This may seem somewhat paranoid, but in some cities in Europe, hotel burglars have been know to frequent hotels that use standard metal room keys that are easy to obtain. Unfortunately many hotels do not change the locks to the doors when the keys are lost. Employing a door wedge will keep out would-be robbers by sounding an alarm.” (Source).
  • Bring your own combination lock. “About half of the hostels you encounter will have some pretence at security, either through a key that locks the flimsy excuse for a door to your room or a lock that will secure your valuables in their plastic play-skool style lockers. These are inadequate to say nothing of the fact that the other 50% of hostels don’t even make an effort at providing security.” (Source).
  • Small is good. Look for a small hotel/hostel where the staff will recognise their guests. (Source).
  • Prepare alternatives. “When researching what safe hostel to stay in, it is best to make a list of any other hostels nearby which meet your expectations. This is just in case the hostel you are at does not satisfy your safety concerns you have another address to go to. Its better to pay twice for a night if you’re assured of being in a safe hostel.” (Source).
  • Don’t get too high. “Select a room located between the fourth and sixth floor. Avoid rooms above the sixth floor—the maximum height that fire department ladders can reach—some fire departments overseas, and within the US, are not equipped to reach above the sixth floor.” (Source).

The Golden Rule of attaining a good night’s sleep regardless of location? Be aware—but don’t be paranoid. No matter where in the world you find yourself, these simple and common sense precautions will help to prevent you from becoming a victim! If we haven’t said this enough—the best way to avoid surprises is to be prepared!

If you have any additional safety precautions that should be undertaken before, during, or after checking in to a hostel or guesthouse, please don’t hesitate to share them with us in the comment stream!

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About the Author ()

For nearly ten years now, Daniel of Two Go Round-The-World has explored how travel captures our imagination and engages our deepest emotions. One half of the duo that maintains the widely read Two Go Round-The-World blog, Daniel treats his subjects not only as works of art but also as symbols of the cultural and political forces that inspire them. Check him out on Google+.

Comments (3)

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  1. Kathryn says:

    When I first began reading about all of the safety precautions to take while abroad I was a little overwhelmed…WOW there are a lot of things to remember! However, they will become second nature I’m sure and a lot of them are common sense!

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