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
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
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.