Two and a half years ago I wrote a post asking why people are so afraid of hostels. It was based on the weird misconceptions and ideas of coworkers and friends who had never been in a hostel, but had some terrifying ideas about them thanks to a certain horror movie that shall not be named.
Well, several years later I’ve stayed in at least 50 more hostels in nearly every corner of the world, from Sydney to Beijing, Charleston to Reykjavik. I’ve been in fantastic hostels and some really dingy ones (this place in Montevideo for example). And I’m still cheerleading for hostels.
Yeah, hostels can be cramped and uncomfortable sometimes. They can be full of party-animals who refuse to shut up at 3AM even when you ask them SO NICELY. Everyone has a good horror story. It’s hard to find privacy or space. At times I’ve forsaken the hostel life for an apartment rental, and greatly appreciated it.
Even with all of that, I haven’t stopped going to hostels, and I’m not sure I ever will. It’s not just because they are cheap either. So here are the reasons that I think hostels are great, even if you can afford a fancier place:
You Meet People
I put this first on the list because it’s hands down the number one most valuable part of staying in a hostel. It’s so easy to meet people! The usual barriers of etiquette and privacy that you’ll find in most hotels melt away in hostels. The combination of communal space and energetic and friendly backpackers makes everyone chatty and welcomed.
It’s not just generic backpacker kids either. While staying in hostels I’ve met 74 year old men, budding Cambodian con artists and one Colombian commercial star (who was actually Australian). I once split a Japanese cheesecake with a man from Korea- he didn’t speak any English and I certainly don’t speak Korean but we had a jolly time. I’ve met people who’ve made me think and people who’ve traveled on with me. These stories are irreplaceable and never would have happened if I wasn’t in the right place at the right time.
You Control the Atmosphere You Want
Here’s the thing about party hostels: they are self-selecting. Thanks to hostel review websites you can screen your hostel really thoroughly to make sure they meet whatever standards you’re looking for. Places on offer can run the full gamut from frat house party halls to massive impersonal franchises to quiet guest houses. It’s all about what you’re looking for.
Personally I always read the reviews- I look for places that are clean, helpful and not too party party (I’m old). Good location goes a long way too, and I always keep an eye out for YHA hostels , which are strongly vetted and usually quite nice.
They Are a Support System
You can tell a really great hostel by it’s front desk. Is it full of information, tour booking posters, nearby food suggestions and fliers? Then you’ve found the right place to be. Hostels can help you learn about a new city, book tours and do activities the language barrier might otherwise permit.
In China I depended on hostel staff to help me navigate a world where I couldn’t even say hello properly. The helpful young workers would book train tickets, arrange tours and write down local dishes to try. One lovely girl in Chengdu took us to the park and taught us how to play mahjong- one of my favorite afternoons in China.
They are Really Cool Places Sometimes
Of course some hostels are just really, really nice places to stay. They’re usually easy to find because they shoot up the rankings on Hostel World. Places with fun activities and cool common spaces, comfy beds and central locations. Places that are able to offer an atmosphere and personal touch that many hotels can’t manage.
When a hostel really loves it’s guests it makes all the difference and it can lead to a really amazing stay. Like the Hostel Backpacker Los Pinos in Banos, Ecuador, where the Argentinean owner baked copious pastries and hosted a pizza night. Or the tiny house-like hostel in Mostar where the owner’s grandmother made us special mint tea to soothe our head colds.
So yeah, hostels can be ridiculous places, but they can also be really great. On our upcoming trip to Europe we’ll be staying mostly in hostels (more on this later) and I’m looking forward to it. After all, who knows what we’ll encounter and who we’ll meet? I’m sure if nothing else we’ll get some good stories.
This article was written by me, brought to you by YHA.