Hostels, my most and least favorite part of budget traveling. The place where you can connect with people all over the world. Also the place where you can toss and turn on your uncomfortable bed while listening to those same people from all over the world snoring. I know this may come as a surprise to many of you, but snoring sounds the same no matter where you are from. Snoring- the universal language.
But seriously, I love hostels and today I’m talking about how they help me travel and give some advice that will hopefully help you pick a good hostel next time around.
Hostels are budget accommodations where you can book a single bed in a dorm room. The number of other beds in the room varies on the hostel and the amount you paid. In Koh Phi Phi, Thailand I stayed in bunk room with 29 other beds. In Johannesburg, South Africa I stayed in a dorm room with 2 other beds. Recently, in Scotland I paid 16 pounds for a room with 10 beds, where I could have also spent 45 pounds for a room with just two beds. Most hostels also provide private rooms for rent.
All of the hostels I’ve stayed in have had a common lounge and a community kitchen where you can cook you meals. Most hostels also provide personal lockers in the rooms (bring your own lock) and WiFi. Some have plugs and bed lights next to each bed, offer towel rental (I recommend bringing your own towel), and provide free breakfast. Just like hotels, hostels range in size, price, and quality.
As a solo traveler hostels are a great place to meet new people and get an idea of top activities in the area. Most hostels are a wealth of tourist information, to the point where I have gone into hostels just to ask for a map and suggestions for activities in the city. Many of the workers at the hostel are typically other travelers who liked the hostel so much they decided to stay and volunteer in exchange for accommodation. I have also changed my plans after talking with other travelers who gave me advice based on their personal experiences. The few times I traveled as a solo traveler to hotels I was not happy. There is just a different vibe in hostels. There’s very much a “hostel” community.
There are some trade offs, per usual, when going with the budget accommodations.
Nine times out of ten the beds will not be comfortable and the pillows will be flat. Almost all hostels use bunk beds and whether you are on the bottom or the top, your bed will shake/move every time your bed mate moves or turns over. SNORING and people coming in and out of the room are another downside- although 99% of the time people are very considerate and if they are coming in late make a big effort to stay quite.
The strong sense of community in hostel goers means the “do unto others as you would have done unto you” is very prevalent. I’ve only ever heard of 2 stories about stealing in the five years I have been going to hostels. In fact I have seen many people at hostels rally around and help people they don’t even know. Belief in karma seems widely held within hostel goers.
I have stayed in many hostels, but I am in no means an expert. My “advice” is simply different things I have learned and now use when looking for a good hostel. Sometimes my experience at the hostel made or broke my experience in that location.
Pick a small/medium sized hostel, even if this means paying slightly more. I do not like big hostels. The staff are typically overworked, there is little sense of community, and it’s much harder to make friends. In small/medium sized hostels you have a higher chance of befriending the workers. They often have more time to give you suggestions and help you enjoy the town/city. With less people I have found more luck making friends as it’s more likely I see the same person multiple times, and more people tend to hang out in the common areas. This is not universal, but I’ve found the bigger hostels are centered around making money or partying and smaller hostels are more focused on building a community and sharing the country. (This does not mean people don’t go out partying. One of the coolest things about a hostel with a strong community is going out to bars with a bunch of people from the hostel.)
Look at the reviews. In the past I would go to Hostel World without fail. However, this current trip is different. I’ve had more luck first looking at the google results. I then check the reviews on couple of sites. Just because a hostel is highly rated doesn’t mean it’s a great hotel. Let me say that again, just because a hostel has a high rating doesn’t mean it’s a hostel you will enjoy. You need to think about what you’re looking for. Are you looking for a party hostel? Are you looking for a place just to stay one night, or are you hoping to stay at the hostel for a while? Personally, I look for hostels that are not party hostels. Comments about the breakfast ( I will pick a hostel with free breakfast if it’s offered EVERY time), about the tours offered, about the cleanliness, and the staff are top priority in my search. Oh, and good WiFi.
Location this may be obvious, but the location is also something I take a good look at. Though I don’t place it nearly as important as the size and the reviews.
Suggested items: I recommend bringing a lock for your locker. I like these type because sometimes the lockers are special and you need to be able to bend the cord to make the lock shut. I recommend a towel. I have tried a couple of towels, and have yet to find one I really like but something like this is the best I’ve found. EARPLUGS, and I find myself missing my eye mask this trip when I forgot it. There are other items that I love while traveling, but these have made my hostel experiences much better. Many travel blogs talk about sleeping bag liners like this. I have brought one with me on every trip and I think I have used it once. I will not bring one with me again.
Pro tip: When possible I won’t book a bed before I get into the city. Instead I look up the general district where many hostels are and then walk around until I find one I like the most. Be careful and make sure it’s not high season as I have been caught stranded without a room and forced to pay $60 for a crappy hotel room.
On the off chance that you are reading this and potentially thinking about opening a hostel I would like to say this: bolt down the bunk beds to the wall so they don’t move, provide plugs and bed lights for each bed, and keep a guitar/ ukulele in the common room.