When I go away, nine times out of ten I stay in a Hostel. Now, I’d be lying if I said that my reasons weren’t primarily financial ones. I’m a budget traveller: with a decent but far from extravagant income, and the sights I see/activities I get involved in of more importance to me than the place I sleep, Hostels enable me to travel a lot more than I would if I stayed in Hotels everywhere.
There are plenty of blog posts out there – many of them good ones – on why you should stay in Hostels for reasons other than them being cheaper. This one will sort of go down that route, but it will also explore a few reasons why you might NOT want to stay in a Hostel (and no, they’re nothing to do with the Hostel movies, which try to convince you they’re death traps). So, gentle reader, read on and decide – are Hostels the accommodation for you?
- Staff offer a more naturally friendly service. In my experience, Hostels have a far more chilled out and far less ‘corporate’ environment than hotels. Yes, you’ll get good customer service in hotels (unless the hotel is lousy, of course), but it can often be overly clipped and professional. Hostel staff are more informal, and you feel like you’re talking to a genuinely friendly person rather than someone who has been through a structured training program.
- Very often, staff in Hostels are also travellers, just like you! So the person at the Hostel reception in Edinburgh could actually be Australian, say, or the lady at the Zambian place you’re staying who helps you book your excursion is Canadian. They can empathise with your visitor lens in a way a born and bred local couldn’t, and give you a different sort of insight in to the place you’re staying.
- It’s very easy to meet fellow travellers, which is always a welcome thing if you’re on your own. As well as swapping stories/advice etc, you might end up finding that you both want to go to the same places and do the same things that day and, voila, you have a new friend…without the daily hassle of mutual compromise that invariably comes up when you’re travelling long term with someone else.
- The self-catering option. Last I looked you can’t really cook your own dinner in a Hotel; both a money-saver and a potentially healthier/more convenient alternative to the extravagance and sometimes-nuisance of eating out.
- Quirks and idiosyncrasies. To me, hostels tend to have more flourishes and touches that give them a unique vibe and character. For instance, there’s a Hostel in Ljubljana in Slovenia that has been converted from an old prison! And things like noticeboards full of local information are more pleasingly ramshackle and distinctive than the identikit, bland offerings Hotels usually serve up.
- Quite often, and for some reason some people seem to forget this, there are private rooms in Hostels! Yes, they’ll be more expensive of course, but are still often cheaper than a Hotel, and you get all the benefits listed above plus the added bonus of privacy and your own space, which could well be important to you.
- Sometimes, hostels are full of backpackers who spend all their time with fellow backpackers in backpacker hangouts, who then think they’ve authentically experienced the local culture. Er, no you haven’t…
- Whilst there are many long-term, full-time travellers who are a pleasure to listen to and engage with, sometimes in hostels you’ll get people sat around a table talking at each other about that awesome experience they had in Thailand, only for someone to counter that with how Bolivia changed their life, and the original person will see their Bolivia and raise it with that unforgettable moment in Rwanda…you get where I’m coming from.
- Why do some backpackers think that it’s their duty to get s**t-faced drunk every night? I like drinking booze and having a good time too (honest!), but just because you’re travelling the world it doesn’t mean you have to contrive an overly hedonistic lifestyle. If you genuinely, absolutely adore getting drunk every night then (a) you might have a problem and (b) perhaps this travelling thing isn’t actually what you really want to do…?
- Security is probably much better in hostels than it was 10 or so years ago, with lockers for personal belongings etc coming as standard. But ultimately, they’ll never be quite as secure as hotels for the simple reason that other people in your room increase the likelihood for theft. That probably increases further still in the kitchen.
- Certain creature comforts we take for granted are definitely something you’ll need to compromise on in hostels. There are never, and I mean never, enough power sockets to go round in our age of everybody having at least two digital devices with them. Bathroom quality and quantity can be variable. Bunk beds tend to be standard, which can be uncomfortable whether you’re on the bottom or (especially) on the top. And yeah, one or more of your fellow roommates might snore, so if you are a light sleeper…
- The worst inconvenience of all in a dorm, though, is probably the mess that other people make. Seriously, some people have a rather infuriating talent for scattering their stuff in large piles that take up half the dorm room. Most people don’t, in all fairness, but it only takes one, doesn’t it?
In the final analysis, I will still continue to stay in Hostels for the most part, interspersed with the occasional Hotel. Because for me, the pros do ultimately outweigh the cons. But that’s just for me. Hostels and Hotels shouldn’t be seen in black and white, and so ultimately, the choice of which you opt for should be yours.
Which pros/cons of Hostels have I not mentioned here? Do you prefer Hostels or Hotels? Let me know in the comments below.