Ahh the humble hostel, the backpackers best friend and staple accommodation, often overlooked and misunderstood by the hotel dwellers they provide a unique, cheap and often much more connected way of travelling. We looked at those misconceptions and also how to make the most out of your hostel stay. Forget the opinion that a hostel is a second class choice to a hotel, instead open your mind and realise just how much more they offer you! In fact we’ve had some of our best travel experiences because of staying on hostels and met some people who are now life long friends, these opportunities are much less common in hotels due to their nature as less social places. If you are lucky enough to stay at some of the best hostels in the world you will get such a richer travel experience from it!
So, the hostel, often when we tell people we are staying in one it’s like we have said something shocking and taboo. I guess in the world of mainstream commercial travel it still is. But what many people don’t realise is that hostels are no longer just the haunt of the “scruffy backpacker”. They now cater more than ever for couples, families and older travellers and not only offer dorms but often private rooms too still for a great price, a unique experience and a wealth of potential opportunities, advice and life long friendships that your fellow travellers provide in these social spaces!
So, what is the difference between a Hostel and a Hotel?
One of the key differences between a hotel and a hostel is the sharing of facilities, whether that be a kitchen, dorm room or bathroom. Interacting is encouraged through common rooms, communal TV’s, sharing books and stories as well as eating together and socialising with fellow guests. Hotels on the other hand are very private, each guest having their own room and facilities and often never speaking to another guest. That’s not to say however that all hostels are the same and that you HAVE to stay in a dorm. Most hostels how have private rooms, some with or without their own bathrooms that offer you a more private space with the benefits of a more social environment in the public areas if you should want it. As a couple when we can afford it this is our top chose for accommodation as it allows us the best of both worlds and we’ve been lucky enough to stay at some of the best hostels in the world.
Reasons why we choose a hostel over a hotel every time:
Overall staying in a hotel is a much more homogenised and isolated experience, hostels however are often more unique and lively. Hotels, especially chains can be a little impersonal and antiseptic feeling. You could be in a Hilton in Tokyo, Vienna or one of the often expensive hotels in Dublinand you wouldn’t know the difference! The best hostels in the world have more of a “vibe” about them, and energy and spirit. They don’t suit everyone of course, a business man trying to get on with his report probably wouldn’t fit too well in a dorm full of excitable backpackers but that’s not to say there isn’t a private room in there for him. But don’t be too quick to judge, hostels now come in all shapes and sizes, why not give it a go!
Price and value for money
One of the main reasons to stay in a hostel is the price. Hostels charge per person and so dorm rooms can be ridiculously cheap, we have paid less than £10 a night each even in Western Europe and £2 a night in Thailand for one of the best hostels in the world! Cheap hotels are likely to be dirty, out of town and low quality, whereas for the same money you can likely get a private room in one of the best hostels right in the middle in the city! Most hostels also have free WIFI, kitchen facilities, laundry, access to computers and often entertainment like TVs, movie rooms, games consoles, pool tables, fussball and table tennis are included or available at a really low additional price. We’ve even stayed in hostels with swimming pools and gyms!
Often to get a good hotel in the city centre will be expensive, if you are on a tight budget you will likely end up out in the suburbs or near the airport. Instead hostels are often in some of the best locations, often either central or the more bohemian quarters which makes for more interesting surroundings and seeing areas of the city you might no otherwise have known about. Often too saving money on a less than ideally placed hotel just ends up costing you more money and precious time on travelling to and from the city each day. You will want to be as close to the sight especially if you only have a few day to explore a city. You don’t want to have a fun weekend in the Dutch capital with friends planned and all your Amsterdam hotels are too far out of the city to enjoy the nightlife without a costly late night cab home!
Connectivity/ Like minded people and incredible opportunities!
One of the nicest things about staying in a hostel is that the people around you are usually just as adventurous, intrepid and wanderlust afflicted as you are! They have usually been to amazing places and have fascinating stories from the road. You gain a friend for life, you could change your plans or get priceless tips. When staying in a hostel you have no need to be lonely even if you are travelling solo, it’s also nice to feel like part of the global travel community and you don’t even need to be in the best hostels in the world to meet incredible people!
We have in fact met so many people whilst travelling who have become really good friends that we have met up with again several times and even stayed with when visiting their home towns or had a local guided tour… all of these we have met whist staying in hostels and non at hotels! We’ve been to places such as the Transfagarasan Highway in Romania because someone in our dorm invited us along in the free spaces in the car and we’ve since met up in 4 different cities! We’ve hiked to the abandoned bobsleigh track in Sarajevo with a group who we are still friends with as we didn’t want to go alone, taken road trips across Bulgaria with people from Iran, Ukraine, France, The US, Germany and the UK! And that’s just a start! We have done so many things we wouldn’t have been able to do alone or even know about through meeting people in hostels!
Hostels are much more likely to be privately or locally owned instead of part of a chain. From boutique to theme hostels most have their own unique personality and individual atmosphere and style. No more bland white walls and a faceless box where every room in every city across the world is the same. Most hostels are brightly decorated with the culture of the city that surrounds you, often this adds to the memories and experience of your trip. The best hostels in the world seem to make more effort for the money you pay, the same price in a hotel and you are definitely going to end up somewhere very generic and probably run down! Many hostels we’ve stayed in were capsule pods which are very private and a unique experience, or have creative layouts and generally a much more fun environment!
Social life/ fun
Staying in a hostel is about fun, not business meetings and off the shelf holidays. You will find yourself part of a diverse crowd of like minded people. Often there is a bar, BBQ area, lounge or roof terrace and even table football, pool and computer games for everyone to share. In Krakow there was even a resident cat who used to wander in and out of the rooms and sit with us in the bar and in Skopje they had a beautiful hostel dog! Now if a dog doesn’t make a place one of the best hostels in the world then I don’t know what does! :-p
Not only that but many hostels have free activities that run every week, salsa lessons, cooking classes, walking tours! Most hostels try and embrace and encourage a social atmosphere by putting on events, connecting solo travellers or allowing notice boards for people wanting others to join a trip for example. Most of the staff in hostels too are a lot more involved, they chat alongside the guests and you become friends with them too. This helps them plan out activities better and also helps everyone get along and not get left out if someone is a little more shy!
But you don’t always have to be social and not all hostels are social in the same way. We HATE party hostels and never stay at them, but many are more low key too with communal areas designed to be about conversation and community. A lovely place we stayed at in the Blue Mountains outside of Sydney had a real homely feel being a converted cottage, every night we would all pay a few $ and make a meal together and sit around the fire in the living room chatting. It really get you off your phone and back to interacting with REAL people, something us millennials are often criticised about but ironically we are the mainstay of hostel dwellers! The best hostels in the world are the ones with the best people!
Hostels are often more personal than hostels and the staff and guests more approachable, this means that there is a wealth of information just waiting to be tapped into. Maps hang on the walls, notices with upcoming events and visitor information are all over and if you have any queries the staff will usually be able to point you in the right direction with some great local knowledge. Tours and transportation can also often be booked through the hostel for a good price and they are often more authentic too. Not only that but your fellow guests are a treasure trove of information. Most people in hostels are pretty well travelled and having that opportunity to pick their brains, share stories and experiences or even take a trip together is so so valuable and better than any guide book out there! The best hostels in the world offer the best tips to make the most out of your time with them!
Hostels are almost always self catering which is great when you are travelling on a budget. Of course you can still eat out but having access to a kitchen can come in handy and save a lot of money or have a speciality diet. You will be sharing the kitchen with other travellers and sometimes they will cook for everyone or offer around the spare food. Some hostels do also provide a simple but free breakfast too or even have a reasonably priced cafe. When staying in New York for the first time our hostel even did “Free pizza Tuesdays!” and in Dublin there was a free BBQ out on the deck too! Many have communal food nights too where you chip in a little and you all eat together which is a great way to get a good meal and meet new people!
These days access to free wifi is becoming more and more important to travellers, especially if you are a blogger or skyping home often. In our experience more hostels than hotels have offered wifi for no extra cost and even have communal computers. When talking about value for money and satisfaction this has ranked highly for us and at the same time when paying a fortune for a 5 star room and having to pay extra for internet leaves a bit of a sour taste in the mouth. When we stayed in the Hilton in New York for our wedding we were shocked at the prices they wanted to charge to get internet in your room… at a 5* hotel where you have already paid a fortune! Every hostel we’ve ever stayed in has had free internet and usually it’s pretty good too and were we’ve written the majority of these posts from!
Decided on a hostel? Here’s our tips to make the most of it!
Private rooms, Dorms and Shared bathrooms. Where can I stay?
Most people think of a dormitory when they think of a hostel, sure they are the staple of the hostel and the best for budget travellers but most hostels also offer private rooms too. More often than not a private room will still have a shared bathroom but again this is not always the case. The price does increase sharply for both privates and private en-suits but are usually still well below the equivalent price for a hotel room. This way you can have the best of both worlds, have your privacy when you need it but also a common room and kitchen to do a bit of socialising and cooking! Some of the best rooms we’ve had have been in some of the best hostels in the world!
What to bring with you for your Hostel stay:
Of course the usual travel essentials apply when staying at a hostel just as anywhere else. Check out our packing guide for help reducing the load! You don’t need to haul a great deal extra along but a few small items might just make your stay that little bit more enjoyable:
Extension lead & External chargers
Hostel dorm rooms can house many people, all wanting to charge up there various devices and usually only have a handful of plug sockets. Bringing along a small extension lead can mean you can have your phone charging next to your bed as well as all your other tech! We also have portable chargers which are much cheaper than our phones so we can leave them charging all day unattended and use them to charge our phones on the go! Thankfully 99% of the dorms we’ve stayed in there have been plugs by the side of each bed but it’s always worth bringing these just incase or for communal areas. The best hostels in the world will have private plugs for each bed!
Pretty much every hostel dorm will come with a locker and travelling with laptops, cameras and other valuables keeping our stuff safe is a priority to us. Having said that we have never had anything stolen in a hostel and have often been left feeling more insecure in a cheap hotel than a high quality hostel with good lockers. Each set up is different and many hostel have lockers with just a key or they rent out a lock for you to use. However some don’t so it’s always best to bring a couple of locks anyway, we prefer combination locks too so you can’t loose your keys!
Staying in a hostel is a good way to encourage yourself to travel light as storing massive bags is never as easy as compact cases and backpacks. You might also want to keep your bags on your bunk for easy access and to keep the room tidy, a huge suitcase might not leave you much room to sleep and might clutter up the dorm room or luggage storage area!
Ear plugs and eye mask
I have actually never used these and I am a very light sleeper and I’ve only ever had the odd restless night in a dorm. If you do your research and book a good hostel with the right crowd the chances are most people will be in bed by a decent time, keep the room clean and be respectful when getting up early or coming in late. But wearing an eye mask and ear plugs is sometimes a good idea if you are easily woken. Having said that we’ve also been in some hotels with crazy guests who have kept us up all night too!
Look at reviews and do your research
Not all hostels are equal and that goes for all accommodation. Once you stay at quite a few you get a good feel for the set up of the place and what type of hostel it will be, even the name is a good indicator. We stay away from party hostels and ones filled with teens wanting to get drunk… so no Mad Monkey for us! However we try and look for places that look homely and have a nice communal feel, for example Ostic House in Indonesia was a converted house with a family feel. Read the reviews, ask fellow travellers for their best hostels in the world and do a bit of research. Hostels can be amazing but picking the wrong one and having a bad experience so often puts people off which is a shame and easily avoided. The price too is a good indicator, of course this seems obvious but it is true that those wanting to just party usually won’t want to pay a lot either, try to avoid the very cheapest and go for something in the middle, if you are in Asia it will still be cheap and you will be amazing at what you can get for just a little bit extra. A great example is The Cube hostel in Bangkok which at £15 each a night is steep for the area but it’s high and so are the guests and facilities!
Get involved and be social
Staying in a hostel is not just about travelling on a budget, but it’s an endless opportunity to get more out of your travels than you ever imagined! Forget clicky hotel pools and lining up in silence for your crappy all inclusive buffet! Hostels are a wealth of social interaction! Take the opportunity to meet new people, improve your confidence and embrace the spontaneity that travel is supposed to bring! A hostel really does widen your outlook when a hotel really closes it down!
Hostel etiquette to remember!
Hostels require a little bit more etiquette than hotels due to their communal nature but most thing revolve around being polite and considerate to other guests!
If you’ve got an early start, pack your bags the night before and have most things ready to go.
If you are out late then use your phone as a light and come in as quietly as you can.
Don’t turn the lights on after a certain time, take your laptop into the communal areas at night and take phone calls outside of the dorms late on. Even bedside lights can be annoying so leave the late night reading to the chill out rooms rather then when people are sleeping.
Keep your stuff together in your bag or locker. Not only so it doesn’t get lost but also to create a clean and tidy atmosphere in the room. Just keep the odd item on your bed!
Keep your valuables locked away either in a locker or ask staff to store it for you.
Don’t dry your laundry in the rooms! Use the facilities provided or go to a laundrette!
Be sociable, speak to those around you and interact even if you are in a private room and even if you just say hello!
Keep everything clean as you would at home! Kitchen areas, bathroom, bedrooms and communal areas. It’s much more important to clean after yourself when sharing spaces. Hostels do have cleaners too though!!
Take a chance and give it a go!
You still might not be convinced even after reading this whole article and I can understand why! Leaving our comfort zones is what travel is all about and god knows I’ve told my parents the virtues of hostels so many times but I can just tell they don’t believe me! But hey, why not just give it a go once in your life right? Start of slow and easy, take a short city break and book into the best hostel in the city in a private room and see how it goes!
I’ve met retirees, middle aged professionals and married couples (like us) in hostels and even in dorms too! They all said the same thing and we’re right there with you too… we were unsure at first but after experiencing some incredible hostels we wouldn’t go back! The saddest thing I think I’ve ever heard is a 19 year old couple we met at an AirBnB who had been put off by one bad experience in a hostel by going with the cheapest option in the arse end of town! They missed out on so much because of this and funnily enough the interactions they’ve had at this communal AirBnB have been one of the highlights of their trip! Once you see the potential of some of the best hostels in the world you will be converted!
Check out some of the best hostels in the world:
Check out these awesome articles, if nothing else has proven to you how amazing hostels can be then these really will do! Beats staying in a boring white box!
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What are your hostel experiences and would you ever try one?