I was recently having a conversation about hostels with a friend who just started travelling. I was trying to convince him to choose a hostel in London; he was quite adamant about staying at a hotel. When I asked him why he was so against the idea of hostels, he responded, “because I don’t want to sleep on the floor.” I just stared at him dumbfounded.
Where would someone get that idea?
As a hostel veteran I know what’s out there, but it occurred to me that first timers may not know what to expect.
I have stayed in the best and the worst, the ones with glorious views of cream coloured walls and red rooftops, and the ones located in the crumbling red light district. The ones that boast a delicious breakfast consisting of croissants, jams, cheese, deli meats, local fruits, and smoothies, and the ones where you wouldn’t dare sip water. The ones with crisp bedsheets and the plushest duvets, and the ones where the mattress is stained and the pillows are plastic. There have been those with cute pets, and the ones infested with mice…
No two hostels are alike. There are the good ones, and the ones you will never revisit. That being said, let’s clear up a few misconceptions.
I will have to sleep on the floor.
That is highly, highly unlikely. Hostels have beds in all shapes and sizes – twin beds, bunk beds, double beds. In some parts of Asia you may be rolling a padded mat on the floor and using a duvet to cover yourself, but that’s because it’s part of the culture and many people sleep that way in their own homes. I have never come across a place where I had to sleep on the cold floor – though I’m sure someone out there must have a horror story…
You will be packed like sardines in a 20 people dorm.
Yes, there are giant dorm rooms with one shared bathroom for far too many people, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Those are the cheapest rooms available; if you are willing to pay a few extra dollars (nothing to break the bank account), you can often upgrade to a smaller dorm or – gasp - even a private room! The choice depends on the traveller. Do you value your privacy and a good night’s sleep, or can you hack it with a loud snorer and sometimes a room full of strange characters?
The place will be a crumbling hole in the wall.
There are some pretty run down places where the tub does not drain properly and where critters crawl in through the windows, but these can easily be avoided by carefully reading the hostel reviews. What better way to get an idea of the place than by reading what previous guests had to say? If the hostel has a rating lower than 75-80% I tend to avoid it.
Also, many hostels are upping their game and embracing the chic boutique feel for a fraction of the price. There are modern and luxurious hostels out there that have honestly rivaled my stays at Caribbean resorts. I’m talking 15 foot ceilings, glittering chandeliers, ornate wainscoting and panels. Yes, those were my digs for the night and I only shelled out $17!
People will steal your belongings.
Perhaps if you are sharing a dorm with some shady people and you leave your iPod or fancy camera lying around up for grabs. The best way to avoid this is: a) Don’t leave your valuables dispersed all over your bed, and b) Make use of the lockers. A lot of hostels have lockers under the beds where you can store your valuables while you are out. And when in doubt just bring your things in a daypack; it may seem like a nuisance but you are better safe than sorry.
Hostels are for party animals.
Yes, there are hostels that cater to those seeking a drunkenfest. I once accidentally stayed at such a hostel after I failed to book accommodations till the night before and by then everything in the city had filled up. The minute I got there I knew this was the wrong place for me. The guys running the front desk invited a bunch of girls over, there was a Bob Marley mural in the common area combined with a thick (and I mean thick!) cloud of smoke that hung in the air…ahem. My friend and I retreated for the night and were not able to sleep till 4 AM. I could have avoided this by not doing things so last minute.
Again, reading the reviews will help you decipher the vibe of the place. Not all hostels will be frat parties. There are the cozy ones where you feel like you are part of a family, and those that are more like a studio apartment. There are hostels in castles, former prisons, and ones located on the outskirts of town where the sound of birds and crickets will soothe you to sleep. Do your research before you make the reservation.
Have you stayed in hostels? Any misconceptions that proved to be true or false?