Reasons Not To Give Up on Hostels

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

Lovely courtyard hostel, Beijing

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

View from our hostel in Quito

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.

22 thoughts on “Reasons Not To Give Up on Hostels”

  1. I love personally love staying in hostels. Yes I’ve stayed in some that I won’t recommend and wouldn’t go back to but the majority have been clean, comfortable and a great place to meet fellow travellers and join in activities that I wouldn’t have been able to do if I’d stayed in a hotel or something. I have to say that YHA hostels have THE best kitchen facilities across the globe.

  2. Totally agree that hostels are not to be overlooked when traveling, especially in more expensive destinations. When my friend and I backpacked through Europe & the UK in 2005, we relied on hostels pretty much full-time. Now as a married, late-20s backpacker, I realize that my husband and I are not so much the normal hostel users, but in places like Japan and Hong Kong, they are a necessity for our budget! The facilities so far have all been great and although we’ve had a few rowdy bunkmates here and there, by and large we have selected hostels whose reviews don’t mention wild and crazy party atmospheres and been pretty lucky on that front!

  3. This is timely! I was just talking to some friends how I was pretty much over staying in hostels in Europe. I find a lot less need for them in Europe—at least the dormitory style hotels—because meeting people is easier through other sites like Couchsurfing or through friends of friends.

    They are still very affordable though and if I had the choice between affording a trip and staying in a hostel or not taking the trip….I’d always go stay in a hostel!

  4. I would love to travel either to eastern Europe or the Orient fairly soon and certainly will stay in a hostel. These experiences are a treasure trove for any journalist or writer, as well as a very organic way to meet other adventurers and vagabonds wandering off the beaten path.

  5. I spent a month in the USA is 2010 and whilst I loved the holiday on hindsight I think I missed out on a lot of activities, meeting people and just having someone to chat to as I stayed exclusively in hotels

    I am now planning a big euro trip for 2014 (maybe with a NYC side jaunt, god I love that place) and am thinking of trying out hostels (with one or two hotels selectively chosen to restore my sanity along the way)

  6. I think the standard of hostels has really risen as a result of websites like Hostel World, Hostel Bookers, Trip Advisor etc. I can think of very few places in the past two years that weren’t good value for money. More often than not they are excellent. And I have yet to see bed bugs! (Touch wood.)

  7. You’ve made me want to start staying in hostels again! You’re right, they’re a great place to meet people. Although, the most fun I’ve ever had meeting new people was at a couchsurfing party in Buenos Aires.

  8. Before we went to Europe, I had this idea that a hostel meant sleeping in a room with 10 other people, but then I found out that many actually have private rooms (although the bathrooms are usually still shared). For me, this set-up has the best of everything because we get the cheap price, can still enjoy meeting people in the common areas (which you wouldn’t get with a hotel), and also have privacy when we want it.

  9. Hehe, I like how we both wrote about hostels a day apart! I’ve stayed in the good ones and the bad ones, but I still haven’t given up on hostels. One of my favourite things about them is the opportunity to interact with other travellers and swap tips and stories. 😉

  10. Nice to see someone stick up for the oft-maligned hostel. They are indeed a great place to meet people – and that’s there main perk in my eyes. I struggle to meet people when I’m traveling from hotel room to hotel room.

  11. Hostels can be a case of extremes but when you find a really good one it will beat any hotel hands down. The sight of people from 10 different countries cooking in the same kitchen, chatting, drinking and making long lasting memories is a beauty not found in most other establishments.

  12. Hostels – I love them! My little brother has a pretty negative opinion but hey, I’ve booked him in for one when he comes to Seoul so he’ll have to succumb, mwahaha!

    I usually prefer to stay in hostels when I travel. One was a lovely place in Selcuk, Turkey called Kiwi Pension where they had a private swimming pool in a mandarin orchard! Another was Ferah Pension in Fethiye, Turkey where the owners were super helpful and the owner’s wife would cook amazing traditional Turkish dinners for everyone.

    You’re right in saying you can make great friends, too. I’m still in touch with 2 of the guys I met in Ferah Pension, and hopefully I’ll meet a lot more people when I’m on the road next year, too 🙂

  13. The only reason we tend not to use them is that they are rarely pet friendly. We travel with our long hair Chihuahua. I have stayed in some amazing ones (a Castel in Scotland, a Monastery in France) but … with the dog – we now find apartment rentals the way to go.

  14. That coutyard hostel in Beijing looks lovely, which one is it? Also, could you give me any details about the Great Wall hike, or even what pert of the wall it was at? You have a fab blog, thanks very much!

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