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Booking a private room in accommodations that include shared community spaces can be a great way not only to save money while traveling, but also meet like-minded travelers. Alternatively, to save even more money, you might consider staying in a hostel dorm, where you share both sleeping space and community space.
According to a 2020 survey by Hostelworld, an online travel agency specializing in hostels, 53% of respondents opted for a shared room over a private room. Nearly three-quarters of the bookings made on Hostelworld are for dorm-style accommodations.
These types of travel accommodations have some upsides, but it’s important that you feel safe in these situations, too. Here are some safety best practices you can follow to make sure your trip is fun and incident-free.
1. Choose an apartment that has a lock on each room
If you’re going to rent a room in an apartment, look for a room that has a lock on the door. This way, when you leave your room, you can feel confident that other guests won't have access to your belongings.
Some short-term rental websites share this information ahead of booking so you can make the safest decision possible. For instance, on Airbnb, you can navigate to the “Home safety” section of a listing to see if it includes the detail: “Lock on bedroom door. Private room can be locked for safety and privacy.”
If you don’t see anything mentioned, read through the reviews or reach out to the owner to ask before you book.
Consider also asking the host who has access to the apartment and/or building.
Do all guests get a set of keys for the building entrance and front door?
If the building or apartment has access via a secure code, who has access to the code?
Can past guests, for example, access the property?
» Learn more: 8 safety tips for solo female travel
2. Carry a padlock for your luggage when staying in a hostel dorm
When you plan to stay in a hostel dorm, pack at least two padlocks: one for your luggage itself and one for the personal locker that you’ll ideally have access to.
Hostels come in different shapes and sizes. Some have dorms with lockers large enough to fit your entire suitcase. For example, when I stayed in a dorm at the Selina hostel in Lisbon, Portugal, I had access to three lockers: one under my bed, one above my bed and a small personal one.
However, some hostels don’t offer lockers for travelers, and even worse, sometimes the entry to group rooms may be unsecured. When I was traveling in Bariloche, Argentina, I stayed in an old hostel with both of these realities. This wasn’t an ideal scenario, but thankfully, I had a padlock for my luggage. I was still able to keep my belongings semi-secure and, luckily, didn’t have any issues.
» Learn more: 5 tired travel myths — put to bed
3. Don’t leave your stuff unattended
If you’re staying in a shared space, try not to leave your things unattended or outside of a secure locker, even if it's just in your room. In a hostel dorm, if you leave your purse, phone, passport or laptop in the room while you’re not there, you’re taking a risk.
If something is stolen, it may be difficult to figure out who took it; the culprit could be a departing guest, someone who's visiting another guest, etc. It’s better to avoid this scenario altogether by never leaving your belongings unattended or unsecured.
» Learn more: A beginner's guide to budget travel
4. Leave your valuables at home
According to a 2019 survey by insurer Jewelers Mutual Group, 20% of people have had their jewelry lost or stolen while traveling, and only 1% ever recover their jewelry. This is an unfortunate position to be in and can definitely ruin your trip.
When on vacation, you’re better off not packing your valuables at all — especially if you’re staying in a hostel dorm or room in a group short-term rental. The last thing you want to worry about while on vacation is having an expensive watch or purse get stolen and filing an insurance claim.
If you like wearing fine jewelry, purchase some costume jewelry or a cheaper alternative ahead of your trip. Or better yet, purchase something local at your destination — you’ll look good and have a new piece of jewelry with a memory attached.
5. Get travel insurance so your belongings are covered
Speaking of theft, there are additional steps you can take to protect your belongings while traveling. Before you leave, consider purchasing a travel insurance policy. If you already have a travel credit card, find out if it includes complimentary travel insurance.
Travel insurance policies include a baggage and personal items loss benefit, which provides reimbursement for lost, stolen or damaged luggage. Look for policies that cover your belongings on the entire trip, as some policies may cover only your luggage while you’re traveling with the common carrier (that is, flight, bus, train, etc.).
Often, the baggage and personal items loss benefit will have a total item limit, a per-item limit and a specific item limit. Check the list of exclusions in the policy fine print so that you’re aware of what is and isn’t covered.
» Learn more: The best travel credit cards right now
Protecting yourself while staying in a shared space
Staying in a hostel dorm or room in a short-term vacation rental is an easy way to save money while traveling. If you’re staying in a hostel dorm, bring two padlocks so you can secure your belongings. If a vacation rental is your preference, search for bedrooms that have locks on them.
Don’t leave your things unattended or unsecured when you’re not in the room and avoid traveling with valuables to avoid being the victim of theft. If you're concerned about theft of any of your items, even less valuable ones, travel insurance can help give you peace of mind.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card