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From my experiences at hotels, I'm used to toiletries (soap, shampoo, etc.) being provided.

Do hostels also provide these, or do I need to bring my own? Do hostels provide towels as well, or will I need to travel H2G2-style?

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I do not think there are that many places you can not purchase soap, shampoo, etc. So no, you do not need to bring your own. You may need to do some shopping outside the hostel but how is that different from food (you definitely it, the hostel may not have it, but you do not need to bring it). If you can not buy soap, shampoo, etc somewhere close to your hostel, that means the locals can't either. When in Rome do as the Romans. –  emory Sep 23 '12 at 19:47
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I sometimes have trouble finding body wash / shower gel in some countries, or even finding a translation for it. It's much easier to transport than soap. –  hippietrail Sep 25 '12 at 3:08
    
I don't know what is your issue. I hate those stinky hotel things that they call "soaps", I always bring my own. –  tohecz Oct 1 '12 at 13:14
    
@emory Toiletries are different from food in that in hotels, the former are always provided, the latter not necessarily and almost always charged extra. It's a reasonable question… –  Relaxed Dec 11 '13 at 8:45
    
@Annoyed it is a reasonable question. Every traveler is unique. Some will bring their own, others will buy locally, others will do without, and others will check into hostels that provide these amenities. The strict answer to the question do you need these items is no. –  emory Dec 11 '13 at 15:35

4 Answers 4

up vote 22 down vote accepted
  • Towels are 50/50 possible, depening on country and hostel.

    More hostels will rent towels, sometimes at a nominal price. One hostel I worked in in Australia used to provide free towels but we discovered we were often paying overtime to our laundry staff because people would use many towels just because they were free! We introduced a $1 fee per towel, which was often waived for family rooms or organized groups, and the waste went away. Some people were a bit grumpy at having to pay, but they were mostly people unfamiliar with the difference between hotels and hostels.

  • Shampoo and bodywash are rare in most parts but were pretty common in Japan.

    Often though hostels will keep bottles of toiletries left behind by travellers. Whether to use such free shower gel, shampoo, conditioner, etc is totally up to your personal squeamishness level of course.

  • It's annoyingly common for hostels to lack either or both of soap and something to dry your hands on in toilets by the way!

  • In hostels in poor countries, or that attract many "brats", or where the staff care mostly about partying, there can be a tendency for the toilet paper to run out and not be quickly replaced. Sometimes cheap backpackers will steal rolls, sometimes brats find personal fulfilment in flushing whole rolls in the toilet! Carry a roll of your own and check the stall before you sit and commit.
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Almost always, you bring your own, however...

Hostel sites like Hostelbookers often indicate whether or not items like towels are available for rent, or provided.

Some I've seen will sell toothpaste and deodorant and the like.

Personally, I bring a towel and toiletries, and almost always I've needed them. It's generally a surprise when I don't.

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+1. I've stayed maybe once or twice (out of many) in a hostel that provided a towel. Shampoo/bodywash available in the shower room is likewise possible, but rare. If staying in hostels, you definitely should not count on it. (Instead, get a light microfibre towel & small, handy bottle of bodywash.) –  Jonik Sep 23 '12 at 7:25

As already mentioned toiletries are very rare. Towels depend a lot but if the hostel doesn't provide them for free they usually provide them for a fee (all the cases I've witnessed were for an affordable fee).

I was never in an hostel without toilet paper. In the worst case if you ask at the reception they will quickly solve that.

A rare case, but that you should be prepared for (check in advance) is the possibility of the hostel not providing bed linen by default. Either you have to bring it or rent it in the hostel. Sometimes sleeping bags are not accepted as a bed linen replacement.

A good source of information before traveling is www.hostelworld.com

You can find an intersting article here about what to expect from an hostel.

Here's another a bit more generic.

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1. +1 especially for the sheets. Years ago I was backpacking in Sweden and the cost for sheets was shockingly high and I had stopped travelling with my own because in previous countries they were usually provided. At the time one hostel in Sweden was trialling new paper disposable sheets! They were a very heavy duty tissue paper and being a scruffy male on a shoestring budget I managed to make it last a couple of months! 2. Hostels ban sleeping bags because we cannot judge by the prettiness of your face or the earnestness of your assurances that you didn't bring bedbugs from Thailand! –  hippietrail Sep 23 '13 at 2:14

Hotels are targeting businessmen travelling with a briefcase. You usually don't carry soap or towel in your suitcase.

Hostels are targeting backpackers which are expected to bring a lot of things with them. While all the hostels I've stayed in had soap in the bathroom, and they've also provided towels (some for free, some for an extra charge). Shampoo, razors, body creams, if available, were what previous guests had left behind. So simply take your own things with you.

In case the weight is the extreme consideration (air travel) check if there's a supermarket nearby. It's hard to expect such things would be hard to purchase in the place there are hostels, maybe with the exception of German-speaking countries on Sunday ;)

The towel - you can take a little one with you. In the worst case it would be a bit harder to dry your whole body, but it's recommended to have a little towel with you always when you travel - if you'd need to clean yourself in a plane or train etc.

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1. I just take what's left of my current toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, and shower gel. Except particularly large bottles. Luggage gets squished and large plastic bottles may be more likely to pop open. And if one does pop open it's easier to deal with a small mess than a big mess. 2. Sometimes it can be hard to figure out what's shampoo / conditioner / shower gel in a country with an unfamiliar language. Shampoo is easiest and shower gel is hardest. And if you just go shopping there's all kinds of lotions and stuff in the same section of the shop in similar bottles. –  hippietrail Sep 23 '13 at 2:05

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