Planning a trip to Japan may sound intimidating, but believe me it does not have to be. Japan is such a self-sufficient country, it’s by far the easiest trip I’ve had to plan and without speaking the language. That said, I did a lot of trip research, I mean like a lot, before going the first time. Staying in hostels in Japan and especially Tokyo, is the best way to meet other travelers and ideal if you’re on a strict travel budget or traveling solo, like I did. While the hostels come with most amenities, you’ll have a lot less space to pack and leave your things. That’s why I’ve come up with the ultimate list of hostel packing essentials, to make sure that you don’t take any unnecessary items that can use up extra suitcase space.
Free Hostel Essentials Packing list included 🙂
This list can also apply to stays in hostels in other countries, as it covers most of the basics.
Take a small suitcase or backpack
Spaces and rooms in Japan are generally smaller to what Westerners are used to and that includes the space you have to leave your suitcase in your hostel dorm. Problem is, there’s always that one person who comes with their extra large suitcase and uses the space intended for everyone’s bags as their own. Don’t be that person. Get yourself a medium to small sized suitcase/backpack that you can turn neatly on its side in front of your bunk if there is no other space. Also, Japan Rail suggests that the luggage you take on the trains should not be more than 250 cm (height+width+depth). I travel with a medium sized hard case Samsonite bag – the size just after the cabin luggage (24″).
But how will I fit everything in my tiny suitcase, you ask? On to the next item on our list 🙂
Packing cubes are the best invention ever. Especially if you’re a backpacker, these nifty waterproof cubes helps your bag stay organized. I hate trying to reorganize my suitcase after buying tons of stuff and there’s no space to do it. So instead of dumping it all on the hostel floor, everything is neat and tidy in their own cube. Marie Kondo would be proud. If you buy a set of six, it includes a underwear bag, shoe bag and sometimes even a toiletry bag.
I am a very idealistic and naive traveler and because I always try to see the best in people, I always make the mistake of thinking that nobody will ever steal my stuff. I have said goodbye to a very expensive bottle of Channel because of this. So security first. If your suitcase doesn’t already have a built in lock, get yourself a TSA approved padlock. Also some of the hostels have lockers but you need to supply your own lock. I also use pad locks to lock my backpack when I am out for the day and only taking my smaller day bag.
So continuing with my Japanese (Marie Kondo) obsession of keeping things organized, I have found myself a day bag that actually fits inside the backpack I use for cabin luggage. I take quite a big backpack on my trips and I don’t want to walk around with it during the day. So you can leave your backpack locked back at the hostel and take your smaller day bag with only the essentials i.e. money, camera, cellphone.
Clear Toiletry bag
My toiletry bag is like a black hole, everything just disappears into it, never to be found again. Keeping all my stuff in a clear bag was the best idea ever as I can see exactly where everything is kept. It also helps if you need to go through airport security and they want to see what you have inside. In the hostel you will most-likely have to queue to use the mirror in the morning and people can get really irritated if you stand there rummaging through your makeup bag for five minutes because you can’t find your mascara.
Earplugs is always something you need to pack if you’re planning to stay in a hostel. Whether you’re trying to catch some shut eye in the middle of the day because of jet lag, or just want to drown out the sound of person in the bunk next to you watching funny animal videos without headphones at 02h00 in the morning, there will be a time when you wish you packed them. Also, people snore or arrive from the airport really late (like me), so if you don’t want your beauty sleep disturbed, get some proper earplugs.
Universal travel adapter
Juggling all of your devices that needs charging can already be a hassle. Add to that the frustration of foreign electricity sockets, and it’s enough to give you a headache. I use this lovely (amazing) universal travel adapter.
I am forever losing or misplacing my charging cables, etc. Or you lend them to your neighbor in the next bunk and never see them again. It’s always a good idea to pack some extra.
The ultimate hostel packing list for your trip to JapanTweet
Extra blanket or sleeping bag inner liner
I’ve added this in because when I visited Japan in late May, the bedding we were supplied at the hostel was amazing fluffy duvets, but way too hot. If you take the duvet off, then you’re way too cold. That is why I pack my trusted fleece blanket. It’s also really handy when your bunk looks super dodge and there’s weird stains on the bedding – you can just sleep underneath your own blanket or even your own sheets using a sleeping bag liner. This item is optional, if you don’t have space to pack it.
Shower shoes or flip flops
You will most likely receive a pair of slippers once you enter the hostel, which they request you to wear at all times. At hostels in Japan there’s even separate slippers for the bathroom. I prefer to take a pair of flip flops that I use to shower with, mainly for hygiene reasons. Especially if you are the last person to use the shower. There will be remnants like hair and soap scum left – that’s just what happens in hostels and communal shower rooms. Better to wear flip flops then. *Make sure you dry your flip flops and do not leave them behind in the shower room.
Some hostels will supply you with a towel either for free or charge you an extra fee. Or they might request that you bring your own towel. This is why I love microfiber towels! They are ultra fast drying and can be packed really compactly. Perfect for hostel life.
Flashlight or headlamp
Why do I need a headlamp, you ask? Well, if your flight arrived really late or you have an early morning train to catch, you don’t want to disturb the other guests by turning on the light. You don’t want to be searching your bag for clean underwear in the dark either, thus a small flashlight or headlamp is perfect.
Your own coffee brew
If you are like me and can’t do anything in the morning before you’ve had some coffee, you might be caught off guard when you realize your hostel only offers free barley tea (which is delicious too). It you’re a coffee snob you can bring your own coffee (or an aeropress), or buy some from a convenience store and keep it in your bag. I discovered Blendy instant filter coffee bags in Japan and I kept them with me all through my trip.
I am addicted to my headphones and they can be a lifesaver in a noisy hostel environment. I prefer using wireless headphones, it just makes life so much easier. Also, you do actually get people watching Netflix in their bunks until the middle of the night without wearing headphones. Don’t be that person, remember to pack them.
Power banks are always useful, especially if you forgot to pack your universal adapter or the socket in the dorm room is over crowded and there’s no room to plug in your device for a charge. If you rely heavily on Google maps while traveling in Japan, it’s also a good idea to keep a power bank in your day bag, just for in case your phone dies and you’re stuck mapless in the middle of the backstreets of Shinjuku.
Some people find it hard falling asleep with the lights on. Even though most of the bunk beds in the hostels in Japan have curtains, the light still manages to penetrate. This is where a sleeping mask comes in handy. I use a proper silky one, not the one they hand out on the plane.
This is actually a tip I picked up while in Japan. One of the Japanese girls I stayed with in Tokyo put her smelly socks and worn underwear in Ziploc bags, keeping them separate from clean clothes. You can then place your Ziploc bags in a packing cube for dirty clothes. They also come in really handy when you want to store uneaten snacks, face wash that starts leaking, etc.
Laundry bag and washing powder
If you’re packing light, you will end up wanting to wash your clothes. Or eat ramen on the first day in Japan wearing a white dress…rookie mistake. You will want all those slurpy splotches out immediately. The hostels in Japan have laundry facilities, usually coin operated. You will have to buy detergent from reception. A laundry bag is really important to make sure your clothes don’t get mixed up in the washing bin with the other guests’. I just bought detergent in Japan, but if you’re super picky about how you wash your clothes, you can pack your own.
You might also like: How to book accommodation in Tokyo
You always need to have change with you when staying in a hostel in Japan. Some of the hostels include certain services in the price per night, but most hostels in Japan do not. You might have to pay 200Yen for your own towel, or pay for your locker. Most hostels have washing machines but these are coin operated too and detergent at reception will cost you 100Yen. There’s also vending machines in most of the hostels, so you will need change for that if you want to buy a drink.
Filtered water bottle
It’s important to stay hydrated when you travel, especially in hot weather. I always have a bottle of water with me but I realized that I was wasting a lot of money buying water. The tap water in Japan is really clean but I still prefer to use a filtered water bottle for piece of mind.
Anything else you think is essential to take with if you’re staying in a hostel? Let me know in the comments 🙂
Save my free hostel packing list for later to help you organize for your next trip!
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