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.

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

  1. 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 =-.

  2. 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.

  3. 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 =-.

  4. 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 =-.

  5. 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 =-.

  6. 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 =-.

  7. 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.

    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.

  8. 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.

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