Why Are People so Afraid of Hostels?

When I talk about my experiences with non-travelers, the subject of hostels comes up often. I’m always surprised by how many people have never stayed in a hostel, and how many people aren’t willing to. It seems to be one of the hardest backpacking concepts for many to grasp.

A hostel is an inexpensive lodging house for travelers, usually catering to young and budget backpackers. They are very low-frill affairs often with dormitories and common rooms. Hostels help you to travel longer, for less money. When a hotel room will run you 100 Euros a night and a hostel bed only 20, it is the clear choice for the budget traveler.

So why are people so resistant to the idea? Here are some common falsehoods about hostels:

Myth #1: Hostels are Dangerous

I’ll blame this one on Hollywood and Eli Roth. The truth is that, unlike certain torture-porn horror movies might suggest, you do not risk being dismembered any time you step into a hostel.

Most hostels are very safe. The people staying in hostels are just like you: travelers on a budget.  You won’t want to leave you valuables strewn about the room but even in dormitory rooms you will find that people are very respectful of your stuff and privacy.

The easiest way to feel at ease with a hostel is to do your research online beforehand. Websites like hostelworld.com offer user reviews which will give you an idea of what your in for. With that and your own good judgment safety should not be an issue.

Myth #2: Hostels are dirty

I think that because they are such a cheap option people assume that hostels will be trashy or dirty inside. Yes, some hostels are dirty. So are a lot of motels. However with a little research you should be able to avoid rundown establishments.

Almost every hostel I have stayed in has been neat and clean. Everybody does there part to keep the communal spaces such as the kitchens as neat as possible. Some hostels will even lock you out for several hours during the day

Myth #3: Hostels are for partying

IMG_3161 - Schaan-Vaduz - Jugendherberge Schaan bei Vaduz
Creative Commons License photo credit: thisisbossi

Community is a huge benefit of staying in a hostel. With so many common areas it is very easy to meet interesting new people and make new friends. However, this doesn’t mean that staying at a hostel is equivalent to a night in a frat house. Many hostels, in particular those affiliated with Hostelling International have a more sedate atmosphere and quiet hours. While it’s not going to be as peaceful as a private room in a hotel, it’s far from complete anarchy.

There are indeed “party hostels.” They will usually be located in the center of town and will have a well-known reputation. Again, research should help you to find or avoid these hostels depending on your preferences.

Myth #4 All Hostels are dormitories

Not all hostel experiences involve 6 bunk beds crammed into a tiny room. Did you know that many hostels offer private rooms? If you really prefer privacy you can reserve a room with a double bed or bunk beds. They cost a little more but are still much cheaper than a hotel.

There has been a rise in “designer hostels” over the past few years. These are hostels with impeccable design, odd concepts and artistic input. You can stay in a tree house in Turkey, a re-designed prison in Slovenia or an opal mine in Australia!

Myth #5 Hostels are impersonal

IMG_1341 - Zell am See - Pension Hubertus - Gartenstrasse
Creative Commons License photo credit: thisisbossi

Aside from being a place to meet new friends and to sleep at night, many hostels offer activities and resources to visitors. They
can recommend restaurants, set up tours and give all sorts of advice. I stayed at a hostel in Montenegro that lead daily cliff walks, sponsored day trips and held community barbeques.

Many hostels, especially outside of Western Europe are family run affairs that can give you some insight into a particular culture. When I was in Bosnia a member of our party came down with the flu and the hostel owner’s grandmother nursed him with soup and tea.

Far from dangerous and dirty places, hostels are a terrific resource for young travelers. If you’ve never had the hostel experience try to work a stay into your next trip. You’ll probably leave with some stories and you may be surprised.


Stephanie Yoder is a girl who can't sit still! She is the co-founder and editor of Why Wait To See the World. Learn more about her here.

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38 thoughts on “Why Are People so Afraid of Hostels?”

  1. Great article, Steph. You’ve touched on all my bugaboos about hostels, and some I didn’t have. The dormitory-style rooms are what have kept me from hosteling in the past (I’m a very light sleeper, even with earplugs in), as well as some horror stories from my cousins about some hostels they stayed at in Europe. But once I learned that hostels now have private rooms, it made a big difference in my attitude toward them. Just surfing the web, I’ve found some that have rooms that are nicer than some hotels I’ve stayed in. I may have to make it a 2010 goal to give hosteling a try. I do like saving money when I travel, and the social aspect of hostels is very appealing.
    .-= Gray´s last blog ..Dining Solo at Treasure Island =-.

    1. Thanks Gray! I think that hostelling can be really great for solo travelers because it is a very convenient way to meet people.

    1. Very true, when I was in Iceland I stayed at a lot of HI hostels where there were a lot of older travelers and families. It’s definitely not just for the young.

  2. It’s funny – I think this fear is much less common among non-Americans. I’ve met tons of older people staying in hostels in Europe and Asia, but aside from my parents, none of them have been American. Maybe this will change as more Americans travel overseas when they are younger and stay in hostels by force-of-budget! They can be wonderful places to meet people from all over the world.
    .-= Jess´s last blog ..Halong Bay: Exceeding Expectations =-.

    1. I think that may be tied to the fact that less Americans travel in general. Hostels are not as well known or accepted here.

  3. I think most Americans just know very little about travel experiences as few do much traveling. Hostels are just one of many great options.

    We’re on an open ended family world tour (non-stop since 2006) but we have only used a few hostels, not because we didn’t like them but because they are just too expensive for families & we’ve found better ways to travel luxuriously on just 23 dollars a day, even in Europe.
    .-= soultravelers3´s last blog ..Family Travel Photo – Spain =-.

  4. I stayed in a hostel in Edinburgh – and it was great! Its a great way to meet fellow travelers, learn new things! 🙂
    .-= Abhi´s last blog ..My first solo trip : BR Hills – Sensational Scenery and Silent Beauty =-.

  5. I usually don’t consider hostels because most of them (even those with private rooms) don’t have a private bathroom. That’s a deal breaker with my traveling partner(s). Some are starting to change, and include a private bathroom with a private room, but then the price is about the same as a hotel.
    .-= Mary Jo´s last blog ..MJ’s Travel Favorites 1-10-10 =-.

  6. Great post, Steph. I’m always shocked at the responses I get from non-traveling friends when I tell them I’ve stayed in hostels during my traveling. One of the biggest things I’ve missed about doing New Zeland in campervan is hostels! They’re an epic way to meet fellow like minded travelers and save a couple bucks along the way. Win-win, if you ask me!
    .-= Matt´s last blog ..Experiencing Franz Josef Glacier =-.

  7. While I’m a hell of a lot closer to 30 than 20 I have full intention of making use of hostels as I travel. I’m never going to meet like minded people in a hotel and as you said one night in a hotel is going to cost me as much as it would for 5 nights in a hostel.

    1. that’s the bottom line for me definitely, price. Hostels are just so much cheaper it’s ridiculous. I’m willing to put up with a lot if it means I can travel longer.

  8. Yep, I completely agree with this. Hostels are always better than expected! Everyone should try staying in one at least once, and then if they don’t fall in love with the experience… well, they’re just picky!
    .-= Adam´s last blog ..My Tentative Itinerary =-.

  9. Great post. So needed. It really is unusual in the US how little people consider hostels a serious option. So many times I’ve traveled to places in the US where I wish there was a hostel option when there wasn’t. They really are so great! I hope we continue to find more available in the US and I can’t wait to stay in my next European hostel, the few I have stayed in were all incredible for the money.
    .-= Kirsten´s last blog ..kirsten_al: *Wants* & needs r very different. But I told a friend 2night, without thinking "I have everything I need" And u know what, it’s really true. =-.

    1. I agree the US is shockingly hostel deficient. I know there are a few in New York and a cool one in DC but they are definitely scarce. Part of what makes budget travel in the US so very difficult.

  10. I once thought the same way, my only knowledge of hostels was from the movie and I never actually saw the movie itself. I just assumed the worst, which meant that it wasn’t hard to surprise me at how amazing my first hostel was. Since then I’ve become an advocate, in fact my last trip to Paracas, Peru I had to convince the family of my friend that she would be safe in the hostel. More people should read this article, so I’m off to tweet this!
    .-= Cornelius Aesop´s last blog ..Water Show in Lima =-.

  11. Having both travelled on a budget and for business with expenses covered, I’ve tried a wide range of accomodations. I’ll take the hostel any day. Beyond hotels and guesthouses, the quality to price ratio just keeps degrading – a hotel that costs you 4 times the price of a guest house hardly offers twice a better service – and that’s just dissapointing.

    The only exception to this are traditional Japanese inns. Best thing ever.
    .-= aelle´s last blog ..Welcome, 2010 =-.

  12. Great post! I love hostels. Some of the best memories and the best people I have met in my travels have been at the hostels I have stayed at. I know there are so many preconceived notions that hostels are dirty, scary, etc. but they aren’t. Even the ones with the less than stellar reputations aren’t terrible. I think doing some research before you go is a great way to learn what hostel is a fit for you and what isn’t. In terms of budget travel, I agree — hostels (and guest houses) are the best way to go, aside from couch surfing for people who want to save money. The tree house in Turkey sounds AMAZING!! I think I’m going to have to add it to my list!
    .-= DTravelsRound´s last blog ..Booze, boobs and a beach bar =-.

  13. Damn Steph, your site is blowing up! Good job. I agree 100% with everything you said, and have often argued the points with my prudish friends. You really cannot beat the community of a hostel, and I think I’d continue using them even if I could afford hotels.
    .-= Candice´s last blog ..Mystery and Murder in St. John’s: A Review of The Republic of Doyle =-.

  14. Awesome post! I would add that if people are scared about their belongings, a lot of hostels have lockers. If I have to make a decision between staying in a motel or a hostel, I usually go with a hostel because it’s more likely to be clean even if it is basic or rustic. Motels always seem to be dirty. I usually request the smallest dorm possible when I hostel and “splurge” on a private room every so often when I want a little quiet. I think as for sharing bathrooms, if you are traveling for awhile, you tend to get used to it.
    .-= Ekua´s last blog ..Wanderful Words No. 12 =-.

    1. Hi Ekua! The shared bathroom thing generally doesn’t bother me. I did it for years back in college after all!

      Good reminder about the hotel safes.

  15. Myth #6 – Hostels are cheaper
    I’ll stay in hostels when it makes sense to do so – but sadly one thing I’m finding is that hostels are constantly going up in price, while budget hotels aren’t. In South America I found examples where a dorm bed in a foreign-owned hostel was double the price of room in a locally owned hotel across the road. Unfortunately that’s not an isolated example. It pays to shop around.
    .-= Holgs´s last blog ..Sneak Preview: http://www.digitalnomadsforum.com =-.

    1. It would say it definitely depends on where you are traveling. In Europe hostels are your cheapest option by far most of the time.

  16. I work part-time in a hostel in what I shall just call a “rural” region…and the myths and stereotypes are even further perpetuated here. Nobody in the immediate area really has a clue what a hostel is and I spend a good portion of my summer season explaining to locals what on earth I actually do! Most of them think I say hospital and after about this is repeated about twenty times, I just sigh and let them think I’m a nurse. ha.

    1. Oh wow, that must be so interesting. I do get tired of explaining to people the ins and outs of what a hostel is so I can imagine that getting old!

  17. Great article! There should be more pro-hostel articles! i wish more people were educated about hostels here in the US. Hostels are a great way to travel. You learn from other travelers your meet and make memories! A hostel I stayed at had karaoke night on Thursdays and my friends and I had a blast. People who are afraid are missing out!

  18. I live in the US and am traveling my first time to Rome in March, I am 39 and just booked a hostel for my arrival. I am looking for a new experience and just went for it. I think most of the comments on this post are correct about Americans. We know nothing about Hostels and could learn a lot about the way world travelers experience the world. I bet I am in for an experience I will never forget.

    1. That’s wonderful!I loved Rome a lot and I’m sure you will have a fantastic time there (and save a lot of money staying in a hostel).

  19. I’d still check the bed for creepy crawlys. And I ain’t talking about just bedbugs. Depending what state ur in, and what bugs call it home, I always make sure to check the bed top to bottom and always pat the boots before stickn my foot in em.

    It can be a nasty surprise otherwise.

  20. Wonderful article. Have stayed in hostels in a few countries and always felt they are very safe despite the horror movie. Hostel staff were also very helpful giving directions and getting tickets. Also great place to meet fellow travellers and exchange stories.

    Would recommend hostel staying for anyone who has not tried it yet.

  21. It’s strange that some people think there are “almost no hostels in the US”. In fact there are hostels all over place. Just about every city has one, and some cities have several. There are lots of them in rural areas as wel. Hostelworld lists 255 hostels in the U.S.

    Note that the quality of independent hostels can vary quite a bit.

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