Whenever I say the word “hostel,” my family cringes and probably pictures me sleeping with twenty other people in a filthy basement. On the contrary, I love hostels and think they are a great alternative to hotels for travelers on a budget. I am here to your challenge preconceived notions about hostels and tell it how it really is: the good, the bad and the ugly (but mostly the good).
Although hostels aren’t as common in North America, some European destinations have over one hundred hostels in a single city. You can only choose one so with over a hundred options, how does one go about selection a hostel? That varies from person to person. Personally, here are the steps I take: first, I filter by price and rating using my choice of search engine, HostelWorld. I like to stay at hostels under $30 a night that also have at least an 85% rating. If I get too many hostels, I narrow it down to better ratings and cheaper prices, and likewise, if I don’t get enough hostels, I broaden my preferences to lower rated hostels, until I get about a dozen hostels. Then, I select what facilities I prefer, such as a kitchen, lockers, free WiFi, free breakfast and luggage storage. Of the remaining hostels, I compare locations (I prefer hostels close to a Metro station for easy public transit), types of rooms (I prefer four to six bedroom dorms with an en suite) and photographs to make my final choice.
Most of my hostel experience have been quite pleasurable or neutral (nothing fabulous, but nothing to complain about). The best thing about staying in hostels is that you get to meet a lot of people and there’s a very positive atmosphere about. Everyone is young, energetic and enthusiastic about traveling. You get to meet all sorts of people from all over the world who want to do the same thing: travel and share their experiences. If you’re traveling alone, it’s also a great place to meet other people who are traveling alone or a small group willing to take you in. However, the biggest down side of hostels is that there is no privacy. While I don’t usually mind this as everyone is usually out exploring all day, it gets frustrating when bedtime comes and you have a snorer, people stumbling in late at night and more. All that being said, these discomforts can easily be reconciled with earplugs and a sleeping mask.
Worst hostel experience: I will enlighten you with some of my hostel experiences, starting with some of my worst. First, my hostel in London. As my flight to England arrived late, I decided to stay in a hostel near the airport for a night before I was driven to the south coast. Being in London, it was relatively expensive, but you never would have guessed it. The service was slow, the rooms were small and the staff was rude. My room was dominated by a linen closet that the staff were constantly accessing without knocking. Another less-than-pleasurable experience I had was in Dublin. Joe and I booked a sixteen bed dorm to save money and boy, was that a mistake. In our room was a group of about ten “lads,” young British men characterized by their loud, arrogant ways. They would come in during the wee hours of the morning, which is to be expected, but they would be as loud as humanly possible, carrying on conversations as if they never left the pub and munching on the loudest snack imaginable: chips. I suppose we brought this experience on ourselves because the hostel itself was lovely, but sharing a room with fourteen other people can get a little hectic.
Best hostel experience: On a more positive note, I have also some exceptional hostel experiences. First, my hostel in Milan was located right by the central station, which made for easy access to and from the airport and points of interest. The five bedroom dorm was spacious with a glorious en suite. Each bed had its own outlet and basket (to accommodate short cords) so you can charge your phone and keep other items like a sleeping mask and ear plugs close to you. The lockers where big enough to fit any reasonably sized carry-on and the decor was simple, yet aesthetically pleasing. My other favorite was my centrally located hostel in Cologne. It was on the top floor of a car park with great views of the city, but it was very luxurious, with more of a hotel feel. Unlike a lot of hostels, this hostel valued quiet time, which was what I prefer to come back to after a long day of exploring. My four bedroom en suite was fabulous, and the fact that I happened to have it all to myself made it even better.
Despite a few undesirable experiences, I will always prefer the communal and affordable ways of hostels life over hotels and I’m sure I have plenty more interesting hostel experiences to come.