Growing up in the Middle East meant that the term ‘Hostel’ was almost non-existent in any cultural dictionary. It was only through extensive travel and mingling with foreign cultures that I discovered this intriguing concept of Hostels. At a later stage, my travel philosophy shifted outside the box and so I made the move almost entirely from hotels to hostels. What I realized was that some of the best experiences I ever had, with some of the best friends I ever made, took place in hostels. The only way I can simply describe it is that it’s a place where people from around the world can meet other people who are in the exact same situation and mindset. There’s a special bond that forms between travelers sharing a hostel dorm room, maybe it’s because they realize that at a certain point before they started their journey, they actually went through the same decision making process that led them to where they are right now. Imagine this; complete strangers from across the globe, triggering a chain reaction weeks, sometimes months earlier, that will put them on a collision course at a specific location in a certain country. Sounds magical doesn’t it?
If you’ve never experienced the hostel lifestyle, then you probably have plenty of questions about it. Many people are perplexed by this unusual notion of living with strangers and sharing your space. Others are too consumed by hostel myths and tales of horror to even consider it, and so they go for the safer choice of a private hotel room, however shitty it might be for the price they are willing to pay. Hostels started as student housing, although they are no longer just for students. They have become a way of life for a certain type of free spirited people. The truth is, whether you’re traveling solo but would like a companion for sightseeing or dinner, or you’re simply traveling on a shoestring and want to keep your budget on a leash, hostels are a godsend! More than simply being super affordable in comparison to the classic hotel experience, they’re also well engineered social hubs, with comfortable common areas, group activities and shared living spaces. Picture if you will, living in a big house or a villa with roommates who have somewhat similar interests, sharing physical spaces like a TV room, kitchen and bed room. Many of the more social hostels also have bars and restaurants, and sometimes even movie theaters, rooftop lounges, barbecues, and pools.
Hostel culture is based on social interaction. Instead of isolating you from other guests, hostels are a great place to meet and actually get to know people. Travelers staying in budget accommodations are usually friendly and enjoy interacting with their hostel mates. Don’t be surprised if a complete stranger invites you to go hiking or clubbing; it’s just the open and free personality of the hostel traveler. So don’t think twice and just say yes! These spontaneous adventures might be some of the best times you ever have.
Hostel dorms can range from anywhere between 2 to 24 beds, sometimes more! However most range from 4 to 16 beds… But don’t despair! If you want to socialize with other travelers but still want your own room for sleeping, book a single or double room. Private rooms exist in hostels, and even though they are more expensive than the dorms they are still way cheaper than hotel rooms.
“The world is divided between two kinds of people, the calculating and the spontaneous, the classical and the adventurous… Hotel people and Hostel people.”
Here are some of the main differences between hostels and hotels. This should help you decide which one suits you best:
You can’t meet new people as easily at a 5 star resort as you would at a hostel. Even at the trendiest and busiest central hotels, I found it almost impossible to meet people because hotels aren’t designed for casual socializing. In the lobby of a hotel, guests tend to read the paper or work on their laptops in peace and quiet and avoid eye contact most of the time. They give off an unapproachable vibe and guests tend to respect each other’s privacy and space. On the other extreme, Hostel common spaces are livelier. Guests share stories, watch television, go out, have dinner, cook together, play guitar and plan upcoming trips with friends they literally just met there. Hostels are designed for people to interact and approach one another.
Another major difference between hostels and hotels is privacy. While you’ll be paying much less for a hostel, you’ll be sacrificing some privacy. In hostels, unlike hotels, most spaces are shared, like bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens and lounges. If you need a lot of alone time, a hostel may not be for you; however, you can always try staying in a private room or smaller dorms or even splitting your stay between hostels and hotels to get both experiences.
Amenities & Services
Hotels always include services such as ordering in and housekeeping, and offer certain amenities like toiletries, linens, towels, hair driers and the occasional ‘vanity set’. These items are rarely offered in hostels for free, meaning you’ll need to pack your own and you may need to rent a towel.
Price also plays a big role in the difference between hotels and hostels. Because hotels provide luxurious amenities, complete privacy and a polished ambiance, you will pay a much higher price, obviously. Even budget hotels are often more expensive than hostels, and yet can be in a much worst shape. Sharing a room and bathroom with others allows you to essentially split the cost of the room and pay much less. If you’re on a budget and travelling for a long time, hostels will keep you going! You have to make a choice between travelling for a couple of weeks and staying in a hotel, or travelling for six months and staying in hostels… it makes THAT much of a difference!
Both hotels and hostels usually have tour desks; however, hotels tend to act as the middleman between guests and tour companies while hostels offer their own activities organized by their staff. Hostels offer experiences like city tours, walking tours, pub crawls, social gathering, dinners, BBQs and live music shows for free or a small fee. At check in, hostels give their guests a map, detailing where to go and what to see in the city. Because hostels tend to be run by locals and backpackers who fell in love with the city and didn’t want to leave, you’ll have excellent tour guides accessible to you at all times.
Things To Look Out For
When choosing a hostel, these are some of the amenities to look out for, depending on what’s important to you: – Lockers – Luggage Storage – Towels – Linens – Hot Water – Air Conditioning – Breakfast – 24-Hour Reception – Credit Cards Accepted – Computer Room/Wi-Fi – Communal Kitchen – Tour Desk – Organized Activities – Bar/Club – Restaurant – Game Room – Airport/Train Station Pickup – Laundry Service – Book Exchange – DVDs – Security Guard
Make sure the hostel you choose is in a central location near main attractions and public transportation. If you find a hostel that’s dirt cheap but a taxi ride away from the sites, you won’t end up saving money in the long run.
Nothing is more important when traveling. Sharing a room can be great for making friends but it also means you have to worry about keeping your belongings secure. Always make sure your hostel offers lockers. That’s the best solution.
Many hostels offer women-only dorms to relieve any anxieties a female traveler may have about sharing a room with men. In fact, while it’s not the norm, some hostels only allow women as guests.
Twenty-four-hour reception can add even more protection, as can a security guard and a password protected front door.
Curfews were once common when staying in hostels. You were required to be back at a certain time or you would be locked out. While not the norm anymore, some hostels still have curfews. Most travelers find them to be an inconvenience as you may get held up past curfew or want to stay out late exploring the nightlife. Check with your hostel to see if it enforces a curfew.
Visiting the hostel’s website can give you insight into what is offered, but you’ll get the real story by reading reviews. Remember, the photos on the hostel’s website are edited. You’ll only hear about the positives from the hostel’s site. Reading online reviews will allow you to gauge if that “centrally located” hostel is actually near the sites or if the “immaculate rooms” are as clean as they claim. Always read other guests’ reviews, the good, the bad and the ugly!
Here are some of my favorite hostels. Check them out if you’re ever in:
-Argentina, Bariloche: Moving Hostel Travel
-Belgrade, Serbia: Downtown Central Hostel
-Brazil, Rio de Janeiro: Rio Deal B&B
-Bucharest, Romania: Antique Hostel
-Colombia, Medellin: Black Sheep Medellin
-Czech Republic, Prague: Art Hole Hostel
-Georgia, Tbilisi: Envoy Hostel
-Italy, Naples: Hostel of the Sun
-Northern Ireland, Belfast: Global Village
-Slovenia, Ljubljana: Hostel Tresor
-Turkey, Istanbul: World House Hostel
-Poland, Krakow: Pink Panther’s Hostel
-Poland, Warsaw: Warsaw Downtown Hostel
-Russia, Moscow: Vagabond Hostel
-Russia, Saint Petersburg: Red House Hostel
You just got a crash course in Hosteling 101… Now all you have to do is stay positive , open to others, and Hostel on!(?)
If you still have any questions, feel free to ask me in a comment…