Just like restaurants, hotels, schools, and bars, hostels run the gamut. Some are fabulous, some not so much, but they tend to have some things in common.
Hostels are social. They are place to mingle with other travelers.
Hostels are inexpensive. Most hostels have dorm beds (reduced rate) and private rooms available. Bathrooms are usually shared. These days, hostels do not require you to vacate during the day, nor do they require you to be a “youth”.
Many hostels offer more than just a place to sleep. There are common areas which may include, TV, internet, book exchanges, cooking and laundry facilities. Hostels can hook you up with day tours, advise you on local transportation and maybe even help you with your booking for next town. Many hostels include restaurants and bars.
Hostels are not the creepy places depicted in horror movies. Indeed, as a woman traveling alone, I always feel safer in a hostel. If something bad is happening, there are other people around to help me. And if I’m unsure about journeying out after dark, I can find fellow travelers to join.
Many of the hostels I’ve stayed in have been in spectacular settings such as the 12th-century castle on the Rhine at Bacharach, Germany; the Zhengjia International Youth Hostel, a historic home with a charming courtyard in Ping Yao, China; or the residence of a master jade carver in New Zealand (travelers would sit around in the dining room table in the evenings drinking beer and sanding down a jade necklace which had been cut just for them).
Should I stay in a Hostel?
Stay in a hostel if:
– You are on a budget. Hostels are substantially cheaper than hotels and second only to sleeping free, they can really help to stretch the your lodging funds.
– You’re traveling solo and are in need of some conversation (or are not traveling solo, but really like contact with other travelers). Of course, you’re always welcome to hide away alone on your bunk. But if you need some contact with other travelers, this is a good way to get it.
– You’re desperate for some “home” cooked food. Amazingly enough, a person can get really sick of eating out, especially if you’re someplace where every restaurant seems to offer the same the menu. Access to a kitchen can be truly priceless.
– You just want to. When I fantasize about a future in which money is less of a factor in my decisions, I still imagine staying in hostels. They’re fun. A richer me might splurge on a private room, but I wouldn’t want the isolation of a hotel.
– When might you not want to stay in a hostel? When you’re on a romantic getaway and looking for privacy with that special someone; or when you’re suffering from “Bali belly,” “Montezuma’s revenge,” or any other euphemism for diarrhea and would really be better off with your own room, and more importantly, your own bathroom; or when you’re just extra crabby and absolutely can’t stand to be around other people.
How to book a Hostel:
These days there are a million and one ways to book a hostel.
Consider which hostel is right for you, then head to any of the following sites:
Tips for Staying in a Hostel:
– Ear plugs will serve you well. Years of travel and hostelling have taught me – snoring is a universal language, and one you really don’t really want to hear. Be prepared. Other essential items include a flashlight (you may find yourself stumbling to the bathroom in the middle of the night while trying not to wake anyone) and pad lock. Most hostels have lockers where you can leave your pack during the day. Some travelers carry a sleeping sheet. This is a good idea if you’re freaked out by the idea of less than impeccable linens (of course, you’d be running that risk in a hotel too).
– Chat up the staff. These are locals who know the travel business. They also know that you are on a budget and if they’ve been at their jobs for a while, they have a feel for what kind of activities different types of travelers like. Make use of their knowledge.
– Chat up other travelers. This is one of the main advantages of staying in hostel. When you arrive, spend some time the first evening in one of the hostel’s common areas talking to travelers about their recent experiences. These are people who have just been to the place that you’re about to go to. There is no better resource. They will know if the day tour offered by the hostel really gets back by 5:00, how much a taxi really costs, and whether or not the attractions in the next town over live up to the hype. Since they, like you, are just passing through, you can trust that they have no stake in selling you something and will give you an honest assessment of their experiences.
– Eat in. Staying in a hostel will not only save you money on lodging, it can also save you a lot on food. Most hostels have kitchens and many provide breakfast. Hostelling makes it easy to only eat out one meal per day. It also means that if you want to top off an adventurous day of traveling with some pleasant conversation and a couple of cold beers, you can get those beers at supermarket prices rather than bar prices.
Staying in a hostel is an excellent way to extend your travel budget, and take advantage of other traveler’s knowledge. Once in a while, you may have a bad night, but that could happen anywhere. And if it does happen, it will make a funny story later. Happy hosteling!