The idea of what hostels are has been misconstrued with the unsolicited help of major motion pictures like “Eurotrip” and the “Hostel” series. The non-traveling, movie-going part of society has haughtily mislabeled them as dangerous, among other less-than-desirable terms. So if hostels are so dangerous, why is it that the hostel industry has seen growth every year, even during the economic crisis?
Apparently, Hollywood has nothing on backpackers, who continue to stay at hostels and reap the benefits of all that they have to offer. And what exactly is that, you ask? Essentially, it’s a community.
What is a Hostel?
What sets hostels apart from hotels is exactly that: community. While a hotel presents one room to one guest for $150 per night, a hostel will present one room to perhaps ten guests who pay by the bed, bringing in nearly the same (or even more) revenue. They are able to save by sharing the cost of the room with their bunkmates.
In the meantime, hostel-goers have the opportunity to meet new friends and other travelers without even putting forth much effort. This personal connection is one of the most valuable elements of backpacking, regardless if for short or long term.
Hostels generally offer plenty of amenities as well, like free breakfast, walking tours, towels, hair dryers, lockers, WiFi or public computers, tour-booking services, pub crawls, book exchanges, luggage storage, and guest kitchens, just to name a few. The guest kitchen is usually the kicker because it enables budget travelers to prepare their own, inexpensive meals (with new friends) rather than eat out all the time.
These amenities not only serve the individual backpacker, but they serve backpackers as a group, creating a sense of community that awaits at every hostel along the way. This is the main reason that travelers say it’s so easy to make friends while on the road, and it’s one of the reasons solo travelers say they are never really alone.
While hostels mainly offer dormitory-style rooms, most hostels now include the option of private rooms, which is my personal choice. If you stay in a private room, your party must pay for all the beds in the room. For example, if you have 2 people but 3 beds, you still pay for 3 beds.
However, with a group, this can be a great option, because essentially you get your own private dorm room. I’ve seen private rooms with anywhere from 1 to 5 beds and this way you get to choose your bunk buddies instead of getting assigned any bed in any sized dorm. They can get pretty big, so for light sleepers like me, this can be a problem! “Did someone say earplugs?”
Hostels are not perfect, and some of them might not be as clean as you want them to be. Keep in mind though that a hostel is a budget option that brings backpackers together, providing them with enough to meet their basic needs. If you want 5 stars, don’t stay at a hostel. If you want to experience backpacker life or snag a private room at a decent price, stay at a hostel.
Let’s get to debunking some hostel myths that seem to have lingered too long in the public mind.
5 Hostel Myths, BUSTED
1. Hostels are dangerous
One of my favorite sayings is: “Common sense is your best defense.” No matter where you are in the world, there is always a chance that something bad might happen to you. Walking into a hostel is not going to increase this chance. At the same time, walking into a hotel instead of a hostel is not going to decrease this chance.
Armed with your best common sense, lock your valuable belongings in the lockers provided (bring your own lock), to prevent theft. Trust your instincts if you feel you need to remove yourself from a situation, whatever that may look like. Make friends so you aren’t alone. Be sure to ask the front desk about safety in the neighborhood if you plan to walk from place to place at any time of day or night. Hostels are magical, not dangerous, just don’t leave your common sense at home.
2. Hostels are full of weirdos
Who stays at hostels? I do. My brother does. My parents have even stayed at several hostels with me. Many of my friends I have met overseas stay at hostels. My future travel buddies stay at hostels. Ambitious, smart, friendly, adventurous, wanderlusting, globe-trotting, budget-minded travelers of all ages from all over the world stay at hostels.
Travel is becoming increasingly more popular for millennials, who are finally figuring out how to buck the system and travel the world on small budgets, staying at hostels along the way. Those in the bunks or the rooms next to yours will be like-minded to you: curious and motivated adventurers interested in meeting other travelers and experiencing the world they live in through an international community. What is weird about that?
3. Hostels are only for youth
This is just simply not true. This myth came from the term “Youth Hostel” which used to be much more prevalent than it is now. The hostel movement started out by targeting young people, and technically it still does, but it isn’t advertised that way anymore. Hostels are simply hostels.
While most hostel-goers do fall between the ages of 18-30, travelers of all ages are welcome at hostels. I have noticed one hostel in my travels that had an age limit of 35, one hostel in ten years. If you happen to find that hostel and you do not happen to be within that age limit, you simply don’t stay at that hostel. There are probably many others to choose from. I mentioned that my parents stayed in hostels with me, so I consulted my mother when I wrote this to find out if she felt strange staying in a hostel because of her age. She said no. If she had planned the trip herself, a hostel may not have been involved, but she left the planning to The Budget-Minded Traveler, so… 😉
Come one, come all, hostels are for everyone.
4. Hostels all have bed bugs
First of all, bed bugs are parasitic insects that feed on blood, aptly named for their preferred habitats of warm sleeping areas. They can spread from being carried by someone or something, or from being in close proximity. That being said, it doesn’t make sense to target hostels as the only places capable of carrying bed bugs. They could literally live in your bed at home.
That is not meant to scare you, but to show you that a hotel isn’t safe from bed bugs simply because it has the title “hotel” instead of “hostel”. I have stayed in hundreds of hostels during my 11 years of traveling, and I have never, ever, seen bed bugs or been affected by them. That’s not to say it can’t happen on my next trip, but in the case that the odds are in your favor. If you worry about bed bugs, be sure to stay in hostels with a high cleanliness rating, and carry your own sleep sheet, they are worth the investment anyway.
5. Hostels are just for partiers
While some hostels do specialize in parties, they are easily avoidable if that’s not your cup of tea. In fact, most hostels do not host their own parties, and some even have an observed lights-out or quiet time at night. These kinds of rules and curfews are less and less common these days, although you may come across a hostel here or there with an instated lockout time. I experienced that in Spain once, of all places (Spaniards don’t even go out until well after midnight). We had gone out with about half the hostel to a bar and when we came back, they had locked us all out. Only one neighbor threw water out her window onto us while we yelled and tried to get the hostel staff to let us in, so I consider that a success.
It is easy to avoid hostels that are obviously party-oriented. Most of these hostels will have their own bar and their own events, so watch out for that if you aren’t into a rowdy crowd. There is probably a quiet hostel around the corner where you can get some sleep, and that’s probably where you would find me, too.
Get the Hostel Experience
The next time you travel, stay at a hostel if you haven’t before, I dare you. My favorite hostel search engine is Hostelworld.com, especially since they have done away with their booking fees. It’s very user-friendly. You can search by hostel, city, or country and it gives you all sorts of information, such as traveler reviews (definitely read these!), ratings on location, staff, cleanliness, fun, etc., as well as a map, pricing, availability, amenities and everything you might need.
You can also book hostels on Booking.com, which is great because you can compare them with other nearby accommodations as you search (watch out for hostels that don’t accept credit cards).
Remember, the hostel experience is not so much about the hostel itself; it’s about the people and the friends you just haven’t met yet!
Your turn! I’ve just debunked 5 hostel myths, but what are YOUR thoughts or questions about hostels? Do you have a good, or even a bad (but valuable), hostel experience that you can share with us?