Tips For Hostel Newbies
1. Bring a sturdy padlock. If you're staying at a dormitory-style hostel, this is absolutely critical. You don't want to wake up to find your camera and wallet gone. Make sure you lock up everything that you wouldn't mind losing, because people will take almost anything, even your underwear!
2. Bring a towel. Many American hostels (especially Hostelling International ones) provide you with a towel, but if your travels take you elsewhere, you'll find that that is pretty rare. Remember, a hostel is not a hotel.
3. Bring your own toiletries. Again, hostels aren't hotels, and you're basically just paying for your bed. If you somehow end up without shampoo or soap, check to see if the hostel has a box where fellow friendly hostellers leave stuff they don't need for others to use. Karma exists! If you have some extra shampoo at the end of your trip, leave it at the hostel; you have more at home and it could really help someone out!
4. Bring a sleep-sheet. A sleep-sheet is basically a large sheet that has been sewn together to make a big pocket. In most hostels outside the US, your bed will have a cover-sheet and a blanket, but you'll be expected to have your own sleep-sheet. Most hostels in the US provide sheets, but, better safe than sorry! Oh, and don't bring a sleeping bag, they are not allowed in most hostels because they spread bed-bugs. People go camping, pick up little critters, sleep in hostel beds with their sleeping bag, and the little critters make a new home in the bed. In many hostels, you can actually be fined the cost of fumigating the room if you are caught sleeping with a sleeping bag in a bed. If you are camping and hostelling, store your sleeping-bag in a locker.
5. Find out if the hostel has a curfew. Most hostels in metropolitan areas have no curfew, but their offices close at night (usually around 10pm at most HI hostels). Check anyway though, because you don't want to get locked out and have to spend a night on the street. Also, if you're staying at a hostel that has a punch-code entrance, write the code down and take it with you! After a night of fun out on the town, you might not be in such a state where remembering much of anything is easy!
6. Clean up after yourself. Hostels are cheap because there isn't an army of maids to clean up after the guests. Many rural hostels will assign you a chore to do as part of the fee for your stay. Even if they don't, be courteous and leave things the way you found them.
7. Use the kitchens! If you're traveling for an extended period of time, you'll want your money to go a long way, and one of the best ways to do this is to cook your own food. I'm not saying that you shouldn't go out and experience the local foods, but, if you eat out for every meal, most of your money will go to food. I always try to eat dinner (since dinner is my biggest and therefore most expensive meal) at the hostel, and usually eat out for lunch. You can also do a group-dinner where you and some fellow hostellers all pitch in and buy stuff and cook it together. That can be a lot of fun, and a cheap way to have a nice meal.
8. Talk to your fellow hostellers! Hostelling is a social activity. Meeting new people is as much a part of traveling as are the destinations you visit! The people at the hostel can probably tell you cool places to visit, the best way to get there, the best little-known restaurants, and also about other hostels they liked and disliked. If you don't want to get to know people, please, stay at a hotel.
9. Learn at least a few words of the native language of the place you're staying. People will really appreciate the effort and you won't look like an annoying pushy American who expects everyone to speak English. If you try to speak to them in their language, they're much more likely to try to speak to you in yours.
10. If the hostel offers a free breakfast, get there early. Most hostels serve breakfast from 8-11 am, and at 11 the food is put away, immediately! I've seen many a hungry hosteller get there one minute after 11 and walk away without any food. They are super-strict about this. Also, if the food runs out, you're screwed! I've also seen some jerks horde food... one guy actually took half of the food, and put it all in little ziplock bags. Don't do this, it's messed up!
11. Be flexible, be smart. Don't over-plan your trip. You'll find that lots of awesome opportunities pop up unexpectedly, and you should take advantage of them. Someone at the hostel with a car might offer to take you to an extremely cool place, or give you a ride to where you're going... that's cool, but be smart. Get their driver's license or passport number (if you wake up and your cash and "friend" are gone, it makes tracking them down much easier), make sure to let someone know where you're going and who you're going with (a quick call, an e-mail to a friend, etc.) and you're set!
Well, there ya go, if I think of more, I'll add it later. If you have any suggestions, /msg me and I'll be glad to add them. Hostelling is a great way to travel. You experience so many things that you wouldn't if you took a "normal" vacation. Just try it! You'll be hooked!