Can I bring a sleeping bag on my European hostelling trip?
June 4, 2007 2:17 PM   Subscribe

Can I bring a sleeping bag on my European hostelling trip?

My sister and I are going to Europe for a month and will be backpacking/staying in hostels for a good part of the time. Neither of us have ever been to Europe before. Our friends who have done the hostelling thing have brought sleeping bags with them to sleep in. However, in the book my mom bought us about hostelling, it says not to bring a sleeping bag because some hostels don't allow them. (Apparently they're worried about people camping outside and then bringing in bugs and other outdoor critters.) The book recommends getting a "sleepsack" or just bringing sheets instead.

I kind of mistrust the book (it has some inaccuracies.) Can we bring sleeping bags or not? What do people recommend?

(My sister and I are Americans, a 24 y.o. guy and a 21 y.o. girl; we'll be there for most of June and some of July, and we're going to be staying in hostels in Bratislava, Vienna, Florence, Rome, and Paris.)
posted by fugitivefromchaingang to Travel & Transportation (27 answers total)
Since you already know which ones you're staying in, maybe check to see if the particular hostels have web presences where they specify their policies about this, or if there's any way you can get in touch and just ask them.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:21 PM on June 4, 2007

Never heard of this in youth hostels myself
posted by A189Nut at 2:24 PM on June 4, 2007

Me, I'd go with the sheets or sleepsack anyway. This has nothing to do with hostel rules, and everything to do with the fact that a sheet or sheet sewn up as a sleeping sack will be lighter to carry, easier to wash, faster to dry, and not as hot. Europe gets really warm/hot* in the summer!

*difference between warm and hot has to do with what you're used to, whether you'll be in the mountains much, and to some extent how bad a particular year is)

PS: If you already lack confidence in your guidebook, get another one! Check out Rick Steve's Europe Through the Back Door (he has great books on everything in Europe), or perhaps LP or Rough Guide Europe (never used those specific ones). Your book is big, heavy, and probably a foundation of your plans. Don't bring one you don't like!
posted by whatzit at 2:26 PM on June 4, 2007

I stayed in a number of Youth hostels in Ireland and England (some 30 or more hostels), and I always had my little sleeping bag (a nice compact thing that weighed less than 1 pound!). Never once was there an issue about it However, things may be different on the continent.
posted by LoopyG at 2:27 PM on June 4, 2007

Also, whatzit is right on the book. It will be the single most valuable thing on your trip, if you are anything like me, easily worth its weight in gold! Make it a damn good book.
posted by LoopyG at 2:28 PM on June 4, 2007

From my experience, you can use your sleeping bags in most European hostels. However, I do not recommend you bring one since it is summer and most places supply you with adequate bedding.

A sleeping bag only adds weight and takes up valuable space in your rucksack.

If it does become an issue for you during the trip - quality sleeping bags can be bought in the cities in which you will be visiting.
posted by jacobean at 2:29 PM on June 4, 2007

When I did the all-across-Europe hostel thing, I brought a sleeping bag. It was a total waste of precious space. I would say don't bother with a sleeping bag, and don't bother with the "sleepsack" either. Every hostel I stayed at had totally serviceable, clean sheets and blankets. If you think you're going to be camping at all, that's a whole different experience, but if you think you'll be in hostels the whole time leave the sleeping bag at home.
posted by cacahuete at 2:35 PM on June 4, 2007

It's not complete crap. I was at a hostel in Boston with someone who was coming off a camping trip, and they made her keep her sleeping bag at the front desk, in a plastic bag.

Also, you need to have something as a backup, otherwise you might end up sleeping on a bare, gross mattress, or on stained sheets.
posted by smackfu at 2:40 PM on June 4, 2007

I would absolutely take a lightweight sleeping bag - and ALWAYS use it. Although the AYH hostels have to maintain certain standards, you might find one lacking. I always used my sleeping back at hostels and student (e.g. inexpensive hotels).

Honestly, I was in Europe for a whole year backpacking, and the ONE TIME I used my sleeping bag as a comforter and slipped into the sheets, I got Shingles (aka Chicken Pox Lite) along with other backpackers on my same route (we all travelled using Eurobus then) who were in the same room, same bed. It was ultimately the thing that forced me to come home.

There's no rules against it that I've ever seen, and a normal thing for backpackers to have. A light sleeping bag is easy to roll up, lash onto your rugsack and doesn't require regular cleaning like sheets. Contrary to what's said above, I found I needed the extra warmth depending upon where I was (Alps area, Budapest, Prague, Germany, Switzerland, and England. Spain was hot, but we camped on the beach some days and that was definitely cold).
posted by eatdonuts at 2:41 PM on June 4, 2007

Uh, we were not in the same bed at the same time... actually which goes to show the hostel in Southern France didn't change the sheets for likely two weeks in that room....
posted by eatdonuts at 2:42 PM on June 4, 2007

Be sure you also get one of those backpack money belts to hide under your jeans for your important papers, credit cards and money. I can't tell you how many of my 'road friends' got their bags slashed in that year. Be sure to always wear it and even take it in the shower with you (uh, you can hang it over the shower faucet to avoid getting it wet... etc)
posted by eatdonuts at 2:44 PM on June 4, 2007

Nthing forgetting the sleepsack.

PS: The less you pack, the happier you will be: everything is smaller over there, from doorways to train compartments. Do a little sink laundry if you've got your own bathroom, or drop your stuff off at a laundromat when you get to a new city - it's definitely worth the few dollars you'll spend to not reek (because you WILL be sweaty), and most guidebooks have a listing for laundry places. Failing that, just ask your hostel's proprietors where the locals have their laundry done. This was one of the best things I did when backpacking over there, because it meant I could carry one of these instead of one of these.
posted by mdonley at 2:50 PM on June 4, 2007

On the book front, you can cut down on space and weight by tearing out the relevant pages from your Let's Go or Rough Guide. Then throw them away as you leave each place. The downside is a certain lack of freedom to leave your predetermined route. If you're stuck with a travel book at the end of your trip, trade it to someone at your last hostel for beer.

It was a long time ago, but I never had an issue with hostel bedding or saw anyone having an issue made over their sleeping bag. (Hostel toilet paper in Eastern Europe, however, one might have an issue with)
posted by Martin E. at 2:53 PM on June 4, 2007

PPS: Should the idea of wearing a money belt be not to your liking, it's a good idea to scan your vital documents and debit/credit cards and keep copies on your e-mail and on a flash drive, so you won't have as much trouble replacing them should they be lost.
posted by mdonley at 2:53 PM on June 4, 2007

Every hostel I've ever stayed in (and I used to write for Let's Go, so I've stayed in my fair share of them) has provided me with sheets, and they were all clean enough for my needs. I never even used my handy little sleepsack, let alone felt the need for a sleeping bag.

In my mind, the most important thing to remember for a good backpacking trip is that less is more. Don't bring things in your bag--especially bulky items like a sleeping bag-- unless you really need them. That overflowing backpack seems fine now, but after a couple of weeks it will be a real drag. Unless you have a strong reason to want to use your own, I'd leave it at home.

That said, to answer your original question, I haven't heard of any hostels that actually prohibited sleeping bags. I doubt they care if you use it or not (although they might still charge you a 2 euro bedding fee), so I wouldn't be too concerned about being turned away for carrying one.
posted by stilly at 3:06 PM on June 4, 2007

Some hostels don't allow sleeping bags. Many hostels charge you an extra $2 or $5 a night if you don't bring your own sheets/sleep sack. A sleep sack (just sew two sheets together) takes up very little room and is good value, if you happen to have two old sheets.
posted by acoutu at 3:10 PM on June 4, 2007

Do I need to bring my own bedding? Bedding is usually provided, although you may need to bring or hire sheets/a sheet sleeping bag in some hostels - please check when booking. Some countries allow you to use a "normal" sleeping bag; however, many do not due to hygiene regulations - please check with the Association in the country you are travelling to (see the Countries section for contact details).

Way back when I was backpacking around, the sleepsack was required. You can make a sleep sack from a sheet sewn up the edges, and bring a small fleece blanket in case you camp out. Your fleece pullover, in a stuff sack, is a fine pillow.

You'll find once you are travelling, that there are many other young people travelling the same way, and you'll be able to get advice on where to stay. Many unofficial hostels are quite fun. Pay attention to the closing time, in cities, you may want to stay out late.

Pack light, then take out some more stuff. Keep a photocopy of the passport, credit cards, etc., inside the tube of the frame or some other place, and a copy with someone who can fax it if needed. Your ATM card will work overseas, and the exchange rate will be better than you get individually, and probably lower fees.
posted by theora55 at 3:15 PM on June 4, 2007

mdonley said: The less you pack, the happier you will be.

Ohhhhhhh so true. The first time I backpacked in Europe, I packed twice as many clothes as I needed AND brought a sleeping bag, for the same reasons you are considering taking one. I regretted it heartily and ended up tossing things along my journey and mailing the sleeping bag back to Canada halfway through my trip (unfortunately, it got lost in the mail and never did make it back home).

If you feel you must bring some sort of protective sleep covering for yourself, I think a thin sleepsack (as acoutu suggests) would be much better.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:16 PM on June 4, 2007

I've been to hostels which wouldn't allow you to use your own sleeping bag, and as stated above I believe it was to stop bugs or whatnot getting around. This was in North America though, so mainland Europe might be different.

If you want to compromise between taking a sleeping bag or not, take a silk sleeping bag liner. They fit into a tiny bag slightly larger than a fist, and can keep you warm but not hot. Might also be hygienic if you suspect that the sheets aren't up to scratch.
posted by djgh at 3:22 PM on June 4, 2007

Another vote for the sleepsack only. I brought an expensive lightweight sleeping bag for my trip through Europe, Turkey, and Japan, and only used it twice on the entire journey. Most hostels are okay with you using one, but almost no-one does anyway.
posted by Paragon at 3:25 PM on June 4, 2007

A friend and I did the europe for a month thing last september, we both brought sleep sacks and ditched them after a week. Most hostels will supply you with sheets either included in the price or for a really small amount of money. We both over packed like crazy, and both ended up getting rid of a bunch of our stuff (like an extra pair of shoes, a travel roll of toilet paper, and several books (once they had been read!)) Sleeping bags, even the super compact ones take up space and weight that will become much more precious to you once you're walking around in the humidity with a heavy pack on.

I'm also seconding the suggestion of ripping out the pages in your guidebook after you leave the relevant country. You didn't mention which guidebook you already have but I carried Lonely Planet's Europe on a Shoestring and friend carried Let's Go Western Europe and they complimented each other fairly well. If you're only planning on going to a few places, your other option would be to carefully rip out the sections for each country you plan on seeing and bring only those with you in a ziploc.
posted by nerdcore at 3:26 PM on June 4, 2007

I'd listen to Jacobean and not take the sleeping bag. As long as you're paying for the room, they don't care. The rules exist so that you don't have additional people sleeping on the floor as someone said above. A good night sleep is critical when you're backpacking cause you're walking a whole lot, but they should have necessary linens for you.

I went backpacking a while ago and during my visit to 7 cities in western europe, including London, Paris, Rome and Florence, Paris was the only place that didn't provide linens without the extra charge. I stayed at two hostels in Paris and paid for only one of the places, because as whatzit said, it gets hot there and you don't need to cover yourself with stuff as long as you have a pair of comfy pants (which you're gonna have to walk around all day) and a long sleeve shirt (invest in a good quality fleece shirt to wear when it's windy, chily or even a bit cold (rarely happens).

As many people mentioned on here, don't bring the sleeping bag with you. You're going to regret taking it everyday of your trip. It's too bulky and no matter how light it is, it's still heavy when it's 90 degrees and you still have 2 weeks left and have to walk everywhere.

Have fun! :)
posted by icollectpurses at 3:29 PM on June 4, 2007

the dreamsack is not cheap, but it is teenytiny, heavenly comfortable, and much more lightweight and quickdrying than sheets sewn together.
posted by judith at 4:41 PM on June 4, 2007

not sure if anyone mentioned this, so i apologize if this is a duplicate.

i went backpacking/hostelling through europe a couple of years ago and used a queen bed sheet sewed into a pouch like a sleeping back. it was cheep, comfortable, and gave me sanitation piece of mind.

you just take a queen bed sheet. fold it in half. sew the bottom shut, then half-way up the long side. easy as that. it was light weight and worked great.
posted by blueplasticfish at 4:54 PM on June 4, 2007

I travelled around Europe last year. I'm pretty sure I only used my sleeping bag in Swedish hostels, BUT if you are staying with friends or crashing on someone's floor at any stage, it's likely to be useful (and no other hostel cared that I had one). Perhaps not as useful as the space it took up, however (even for a tiny camping one).
posted by jacalata at 6:34 PM on June 4, 2007

You should be aware that different countries hostels ahve different rules, and that hostel rules also vary within countries. There are quite a few countries where the hostels require you to have sheets, these can cost up to US$8 a time to hire (e.g. Denmark). If you have your own sheet, you can save on this money. You can buy a sheet specifically or just sow up a single so its shaped like a sleeping bag. Don't bother with a sleeping bag, they're bulky and unnecessary, (even on a 3 week tour of Norway that went up into the Arctic circle I only used a sleeping bag for 2 nights.)
posted by biffa at 2:41 AM on June 5, 2007

I'll nth ditching the sleeping bag, but I actually love my sleep sack. You don't need it in all hostels, but every once in a while you get a real lemon and then it's great to have a sleep sack to insulate you from the grodyness.

If you get a silk or cotton/silk blend sack (rather than just sewing a sheet together) it'll weigh very little, scrunch up very small, and will usually have a pocket for a pillow. Though that can get expensive, so you'll have to balance weight and small size of real sack against cheapness of sewing a sheet together. I've also used it on trains and as a picnic blanket. I always pack it, and I'm the guy that only travels with carry-on and does his laundry in the sink - that's how much I like it.

PS: If you're packing more than maybe 3 days worth of clothes and a going out outfit (if that's what you like to do and don't want to wear your day stuff), you're overthinking and overpacking. Two hoary old chestnuts: "take half the stuff and twice the money" and "change clothes or change cities"
posted by yggdrasil at 7:58 AM on June 5, 2007

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