Stay in A Hostel? You’ve Got to be Kidding Me
[ Psst: This article was written for the curious scroller, or travel lover getting ahead on planning that next trip. Please limit your adventures to within government guidelines until it’s safe. ]
I get it. Reading this title you are probably thinking, “This girl has totally lost it!” Three years ago, my mind would have spun with a similar thought: Hostels? Bunk beds and bed bugs and shared bathrooms – oh my!
Hostels don’t exactly have a positive rep amongst the general population. In fact, when I was planning my study abroad in Spain and my friend suggested we stay in hostels for some weekend trips, I was nothing short of appalled. I was gripped by the image of a dark, dingy basement with cobwebs on the ceiling and broken bottles scattered on the ground; a room jam-packed with sweaty, loud travelers who probably hadn’t washed their clothing in weeks. Did they even change the bedsheets in a place such as this? How could one ever get to sleep while sharing a room with a dozen (potentially dangerous and most-definitely smelly) strangers? And you can only imagine my trepidation anticipating the state of the communal bathrooms…
But lo and behold, 14 countries, and more than 40 hostels later, my perspective has taken a complete 180. Now, as a 24-year old self-proclaimed Hodophile, hostels, and the incredible culture they tend to cultivate, have become an essential element to my travel plans. Even with cost aside, I’d choose a hostel over a plush hotel room 9 times out of 10.
Intrigued? Let me explain. Here are the 5 Reasons I’d rather stay in a hostel than a 5-Star hotel.
#1 – A Stay in a Hostel Can Be Nicer Than You’d Imagine
After some research, I was ultimately convinced to give hostel living a try during my semester abroad in Spain. Walking into the first hostel I ever stayed at, Koisi Hostel in the beach town of San Sebastian, I took a deep breath and stepped inside expecting the worst.
I was greeted by a sight that took my breath away for all of the right reasons: cozy, private bunks, crisp, clean sheets folded neatly on each bed, and a smiling host more personable than any hotel receptionist I’d come across in my day. What was this madness?
Many hostels later, if there’s one thing I can attest it is that hostels come in all shapes and sizes. Sure – I’ve run into a few that could use a deep clean or mattress upgrade, but by using a website like HostelWorld.com, you can almost always find an option to meet your standards in quality, privacy, and cleanliness. Yes, you’re sharing a space. But if you read a few reviews and are willing to pay the going rate for a bed in the city you’re in – hostels are often clean, bright and friendly spaces, each with their own quirks and charm – which is all a part of the experience.
#2 – Hostels Are More Fun
Thinking back on your past travel experiences, how often have you befriended the group or couple staying in the hotel room across the hall? If your past travels are anything like my own, the answer is a resolute “uh…never!” Ask me the same question about hostels, and I could ramble on with stories about people from all around the world who impacted my travels for the better. And the best part? The people you find in hostels aren’t a bunch of ungroomed vagabonds like I’d feared. They are spirited, down-to-earth, budget-conscious adventurers, looking to fill their days with new cultures, foods, and experiences. In short – the perfect travel companions.
If all this isn’t enough to satisfy your need-for-fun, many hostels coordinate group dinners, events and excursions. They offer a place to stay, expert travel advice and dozens of activities to fill your itinerary… all under one roof. Whether it’s a walking tour, a pub crawl, or a (hostel-style) family dinner, you’ll never be short on entertainment, or the opportunity to connect with others.
#3 – Staying in a Hostel Can Be Extremely Safe
It might seem counterintuitive, but there was truly no place I felt safer in cities like Madrid, Bangkok, or Phnom Penh than the comfort of my hostel room. It really comes down to the age-old adage of safety in numbers. Sharing a space with five to eight strangers might sound a bit worrisome at first, but I personally believe hostels promote safety for three reasons:
First, hostels are typically centrally located. And while you’ll still want to keep your guard up for pickpockets, you’re much less likely to encounter serious trouble on a crowded, bustling street than the dark, residential ally you’ll be speed walking through on the way back to an Airbnb.
Second, you’ll have a group to explore with! Whether you’re travelling solo or accompanied by a few other friends, when surrounded by dozens of like-minded travellers, you’re almost certain to find new friends with a similar itinerary to your own. While being in a group isn’t an excuse to let your guard down entirely, you’ll feel a lot safer checking out a nearby waterfall or sampling a drink at the neighborhood pub with a familiar group by your side.
Finally, sharing a space with other travellers is safer than you might imagine. Sure – you don’t know much about your roommates. But again, the safety in numbers rule holds true. Sleeping in a dorm room I know that if anything was to cause me distress in the night, there are plenty of people around to come to my aid. Plus, most hostels allow you to book female-only dorm rooms if that is preferred.
#4 – There’s No Better Way to See the World on a Budget
While it does depend on where you are traveling, the value one can achieve with a stay in a hostel is absolutely mind-boggling. The best example I can offer is Central Backpackers hostel in Phong Nha, Vietnam, where I paid $4.20 USD per night which included:
- A comfy, clean bed with a privacy curtain
- A free welcome drink
- Usage of a clean towel and a parking spot
- Unlimited free breakfast with coffee, tea, eggs, beans, fruit, and banh mi bread
And if all that isn’t enough, unlimited free beer between the hours of 7 PM and 8 PM.
I mean come on… once you account for a tip, one can rarely afford a beer at that price in most cities around the world. Here’s my Hostelworld booking confirmation to prove what I paid (I couldn’t believe my eyes at first either).
And while this hostel offered extra exceptional value, the story wasn’t so different throughout all my backpacking travels in South East Asia. Furthermore, budgeting aside, the special experience of staying in a hostel, and experiencing a new place with other wanderlusters from across the globe is truly priceless.
#5 – You’ll Meet Some of Earth’s Most Extraordinary People
Speaking in general terms, hostels appeal to a special type of clientele. It takes a certain level of open-mindedness, humility, and intrepid spirit to sacrifice your privacy and share a space with strangers. And let me assure you – this yields a very special crowd of people.
In a world consumed with judgment… over the clothes you wear, the car you drive, and the number of followers on your Instagram page… hostels offer a welcome respite from the pressures and expectations of a sometimes superficial society.
Stepping into a hostel common space, factors like age, nationality, or social status shrink to minuscule importance. Nobody cares what you are wearing; we’re all making do with what we could fit into our backpacks after all. Nobody asks what you do for a living; people want to know where you are from and about the most amazing places you’ve been. Hostels cultivate a welcome, quirky space where people care more about the quality of your character or contagion of your spirit than the status items we are often accustomed to marking our judgments on.
While of course, I am drawing some broad generalizations, hostels have introduced me to some of the most extraordinary and inspiring souls I know. They’ve reminded me that there is a lot more that unites us as the human race than we realize. And finally, hostels have opened my eyes to the fact that we only have one chance here on this earth – and we can either spend our time “buying things we can’t afford, with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like”…. or, filling our lives with the people and moments that set our soul ablaze.
Some Final Thoughts
Are you convinced? Would you consider staying in a hostel yourself, or perhaps encourage your adult children to give hostel-living a try?
While of course your experience will vary depending on where you stay, who you meet, and an assortment of other unpredictables that come with traveling, I hope this post offers you the opportunity to step inside the world of a truly-converted backpacker.
And if nothing more, I hope you will step outside your comfort zone today … the results could be extraordinary.
“Fully remember that you are most alive when your heart beats quickest. And we are most awake when our fears scream loudest.” – Robin Sharma, The 5 AM Club
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