For more than seven years of traveling, hostels have been a huge part of my traveling life and if I would count (but I wouldn’t because it would be ridiculously hard and probably useless) how many nights I’ve spent sleeping in them, I’d come up with over a thousand (not kidding). Putting all the nights together (if I would), I have lived in different hostels around the world for at least 3-4 years of my life (or maybe even 5 because I really don’t want to count). I have stayed in maybe 50, 60 or even more than a hundred hostels and still counting!
Yes, I have been there, done that and have experienced the good, the bad, and the ugly.
But hostels aren’t as bad as what some people would think and over the years they have improved massively (many of them at least). Wait, what hostel? Do you actually know what I’m talking about?
What is a hostel, Miss Lazy?
Hostels are budget-friendly accommodations aimed for backpackers and travelers who don’t have much money to splurge on hotels like me. They mostly have dormitory-type rooms in which beds are booked instead of rooms and the bathrooms are shared with other guests (and also possibly with the hostel staff).
The type of dormitory rooms can range from 2-bed dorms for up to 30-bed dorms, the less the beds the more you will have to pay. But private rooms have also become available in some that still cost a lot less than hotels. Sometimes, kitchen facilities and common rooms or lounges for the guests to socialize are available.
Hostels are very popular to young backpackers and even to some much older travelers but I have also met quite a number of people who have said ‘No’ to this type of accommodation. I admit, hostels can be one of the best experiences in your travels but at the same time, you could still end up in shit holes that could ruin your night or even your entire trip (depends how long you travel though).
It’s definitely not for everyone but what are the good and the bad things about it anyway? Let’s start with the good first.
1. Inexpensive and good for the budget
A good deal of your budget goes into your accommodations and unless you get them for free by staying with friends or Couchsurfing, staying in cheap hostels will help you save a lot of your money (which is a good thing, right?). It’s costly for solo travelers to stay in single rooms in hotels so booking just a bed in a hostel is a great idea. The more beds in the room, the cheaper you will have to pay and there are some discounts for guests who stay a few nights longer like getting a night or two for free and for this reason, backpackers in New Zealand and Australia who are on Working Holidays stay in hostels for long term as they’re easy to book and they all have the amenities one will need.
A lot of hostels are located in the city centers, near the train or bus stations, not far from the beaches (or even next to it) or right where the tourist spots are. Most travelers look for a great location as it’s very convenient to be be only a walking distance to where they need to go to save money on fares and as well as time.
3. Kitchen Facilities
Having a kitchen in the hostel is a major plus because cooking our own meals can cost very little or close to nothing. Cooking with travelers from all over the world can be fun too and also a learning experience. You will find people making sushi, stir-fries, instant noodles, or cooking pasta with sauce (sometimes just soy sauce) or even without!
4. Meeting People
Traveling alone can be lonely sometimes and even if you already have a travel buddy, you’ll appreciate having a fresh face to share your new travel stories with and hostels can definitely help you with your social life. They are a great place to find and meet other travelers to mingle with, either you make new friends for an hour or even for a lifetime, and it’s also possible to find people to travel with (if you get along that well).
5. To Party
When young and sociable travelers get to meet together, it usually ends up with a party especially if you are in big cities known for it’s nightlife and there are boozer-type of backpackers roaming about. I’ve had a lot of great nights meeting some cool people who I ended up partying with in the hostels or out in the local bars. There are hostels that are especially known as ‘Party Hostels’ and they usually have their own bars offering cheap drinks (or even free) and fun drinking games and activities. And for backpackers, everyday is always a weekend!
6. Fun Activities
When the competition is tough, hostels try to outdo each other by organizing exciting activities and entertainment to keep their guests happy and be the most fun place in town (for backpackers anyway). Movie nights, cheap dinners, games, quizzes, and cheap/free tours for those who want to have a bit of fun!
7. Free Breakfast
For a few bucks a night on accommodation, getting a free breakfast is a mega deal and there are hostels who offer them to their hungry and tight guests. Although you will just mostly get bread (toasted if you’re lucky) and jam (maybe butter too if you’re lucky) with coffee or tea (with milk if you’re lucky), anything free that fills up the tummy is good! It depends on how much you pay for and how expensive the place you are at, so if you pay for $3 a night with breakfast, don’t expect any bacon!
8. Friendly and Helpful Staff
I can’t promise that all hostel staff are friendly and can speak at least a word of English, but majority of them are nice and helpful. On many occasions, hostels hire backpackers who tend to be more sociable, can interact better with their fellow travelers and understand what the guests need during their stay.
9. Unique Hostels
Hostels may not just be a place to sleep because staying in some of them can also be an experience itself. You will find some that are rather unique like old buildings that used to be prisons, infirmaries, or hospitals and have been renovated and turned into traveler’s accommodation. Aside from your normal boring bunk beds, you could end up in some nights sleeping in tents on a rooftop, in a caravan on a hostel car park, in an old jumbo jet (renovated and cleaned up of course), haunted houses, tree houses, etc!
10. Free Facilities and Stuff
Us budget travelers love anything free that we could get! Free luggage storage, internet, laundry, coffee, towels, tea, and of course, food too. Nothing annoys us more when we get to the hostel to find out that we have to pay for linens per night of our stay. We love the kinds who won’t ask us to pay for much more than the bed that we have booked. Read the hostel information and reviews before booking and you might just find one that will give you a free beer when you check-in! Awesome.
1. Lack of Privacy
It can be difficult, and sometimes just plain impossible, to find privacy and space for yourself when you are sharing a room with three or thirty other people. All the personal space that you will have is on your single bunk bed. The worst time is when you get to share a room with a big group and everyone’s just chatting about and acting like they have the room only for themselves. You can just throw ‘privacy’ out of the window as soon as they check-in. The best way, if your budget allows, is to opt for a smaller and fewer bed types of dormitory rooms and then you might just get some peace. In rare cases, if you go to a less popular and quieter hostel, you might just get a room for yourself by only paying for a bed.
2. Noise and Very Interrupted Sleep
By saving money and choosing to stay in dormitories, be ready to sacrifice some (and maybe even lots) of sleep. There will be people snoring, getting in and out of the room in the middle of the night, some will be stumbling to bed at 3am pissed out of their heads by alcohol, and then some will be waking up and packing two hours later, their constant noise of zipping and unzipping the bags annoying you until your alarm goes off to remind you that it’s time to get up.
3. Shared Bathrooms
Waiting for your turn to use the shower after an hour (or even more) in a busy hostel (that obviously lack shower rooms) is bad enough but being the twentieth person to use it may not be a nice experience to boast to your friends at home. It even gets worse when you find out that the hot water has all been used up. Cleanliness has been an important factor for hostels nowadays but not everyone keeps their showers and toilets from becoming disgusting. Luckily, I have only been discouraged to shower twice by dirty shared bathrooms! Luckily?
4. Dirty Kitchens
Hostel kitchens are great and the more equipped the better but only if everyone actually clean up after themselves. Dirty dishes, clogged sinks, unwashed pots, and messy stoves are massive turnoffs. It absolutely sucks to have to wash someone else’s pots before you can get to use them but having to wait for your turn to use the stove or a place to eat your food is also another set of dilemmas! If the hostel is packed and busy, the only way to get the kitchen to yourself (or at least to share it with just a couple of people and not fifty), is to cook your dinner early (around 5pm or 3pm because it’s that ridiculous sometimes) before everyone starts getting ready for dinner time. Or you will have to wait late at night which is inconvenient if you are going to try to get some sleep for you are leaving early the next morning.
5. The Boozers and Party Animals
Yes, I’ve written above that hostel parties are great but only if you weren’t the one being disturbed at night and not getting any sleep because of all the party noises and the constant roaming about of people along the corridors which you can hear through the walls. Some of the drunkards may hang-out in the room too until late at night before they go out to the bars and clubs, that is if they do decide to go out. Otherwise they probably won’t leave you alone until they pass out or a staff of the hostel (finally) tells them to shut the hell up. Some nights a fight will break out and then there are nights you will find your self waking up to your bed shaking because your drunk roommate in the lower bunk bed below yours is sexing someone up.
When there are no lockers in your room that you are sharing with strangers, there will always be a risk of theft so you will find yourself in constant alert with your stuff and always be locking your bags even if you only want a quick trip to the toilet. Some hostel are situated in dodgy neighborhoods and it’s agonizing to be worried about your safety and security all the time when all you want to do is enjoy your travels.
7. People with Lack of Consideration and Etiquette
Unfortunately, in real life not everyone cares about their fellow roommates, who are really at the end of the day just strangers that they happen to share a room with. There will be people who are rude, noisy, and won’t keep the room clean. They are not going to give a rat’s ass if they wake up someone for turning on the lights at midnight when ten people are already in bed or if the rest of the hostel is waiting for them to finish their one hour long showers. They don’t respect the staff and demand more than what they deserve or paid for. They complain too much as if the hostel owe them a hotel-like service when they’ve only paid $5 for a dorm bed.
8. Moving Rooms
I’ve worked in hostels myself and booking beds is a little more complicated than what people would think (just a little). As much as we could, as hostel staff, avoid moving people around as less as possible as we know the hassles that it can cause. But people book beds, not rooms, and some beds are available only certain dates when the hostel gets busy. Some people who are already in the hostels decide to stay longer too but may have to switch rooms to do so. Moving rooms happen a lot in hostels and it’s annoying to pack up all your stuff only to be moving next door.
9. Snoring People
I think there are way too many snoring people sleeping in hostels nowadays that shouldn’t be allowed. People who complain about them are told to get a private room instead as that what they would get if they stay in dormitories which I think isn’t fair at all. We pay for a place to sleep and not a night of torture. We didn’t pay to sleep in a dormitory only to be kept awake all night by people who snore very loud because clearly, they’re the only ones getting some sleep! Snorers, who are most likely aware that they are snorers for crying out loud, should get private rooms or be put in a room shared with other snorers! I’ve stayed in a dormitory room once with four snorers snoring their hearts away all at the same time and I swear I wanted to just punch them to death. Snoring obviously annoys me!
10. Bed Bugs
Bed bugs are just as bad, if not even worse, than snorers and I’ve had many of my worst hostel experiences because of them nasty little buggers. Hostels with bed bugs are disgusting but we can’t always judge a place if we don’t know much about bed bugs. These little evils can pass on from a nasty bed-bug infested hostel to a nice clean one through your clothes and other stuff. If you have had your stuff infested, you may have to say bye-bye to your clothes, even your bag and everything in it if you don’t want to go home with bed bugs as souvenirs.
Hostels really are not for everyone. For me it was and it still is!
I’ve had my share deals of good and bad experiences with hostels and it will still be a top choice of accommodation for me since I am still a budget traveler and absolutely not getting any richer (not at all). It’s cheap and sometimes you get a little more of what you pay for if you research your hostel well and book in advance. If you have a little more of your budget to spare for a night’s sleep then you will certainly find good hostels on your travels and trust me that there are tons of them out there.
You can avoid party hostels if you simply don’t book party hostels. Read the reviews of the hostel that you are looking into booking. See if the previous guests have had a good sleep or nightmares instead.
I’ve met a lot of great people in hostels that I’ve stayed and lived in over the years and they are still my good friends that I keep in touch with (thank you Facebook). I’ve had some crazy drunken nights and stories. I must admit that at some point I was the drunken party animal who stumbled to bed at 3am and I may have also (innocently) forgotten to wash a couple of pans in the kitchen. But certainly, as far as I know, I have never snored so I’m proud about that.
Hostels are not just for the young travelers as older backpackers and holidaymakers are welcomed too. But while you’re young, you must try to experience it and see if you like it or not. I find hostels to be a lot more perfect for young backpackers who enjoy meeting new friends and fellow young travelers. They tend to learn about the world together , share their stories and travel tips, and also help each other out as they go along their adventures.
For the young ones, hostels are not just a a cheap place to sleep. It has been our home, some for just a night and then some for weeks or months. I’ve made tons of memories in the many hostels I’ve been to and I don’t care much about the negative things about them. I’ve had a lot of fun!