The Advantages of Staying at Hostels
Why hostels are a great option for budget friendly travelers.
By Lizi Woolgar
“Hostels provide budget-oriented, sociable accommodation where guests can rent a bed, usually a bunk bed, in a dormitory and share a bathroom, lounge and sometimes a kitchen.” – The world of hostels according to Wikipedia (the most trusted source on earth)
So, as I you might have known, I travelled some of America recently (oh no, here she goes again…) and stayed exclusively in the finest accommodation around: hostels. I met a few people along the way who were splashing their cash staying in hotels and my response was always the same: “WHY?” For me, if you are travelling – typically on a budget – it makes so much more sense to stay in hostels. But it’s not only money that’s the deciding factor here. You’ll be rich(er) in literal money terms, but also in self-confidence, cultural awareness and life experience. (I know, someone pass the vombucket).
So, why did hostels even start up?
The first ever Youth Hostel is thought to have been opened in 1912 in Germany. The general idea was to create a way for the youth (who were short of cash) to be able to see more of the world yet still sustain themselves, through either running or helping out with hostel chores. This theme is still relatively across many hostels today, with many providing ‘employees’ free accommodation and food (but no real wage) in exchange for helping out at the hostel. This is something I’ve been wanting to try out for a little while, but would probably work best if you’re planning on hanging around in a city for at least a week or so (I’ve tended to move on pretty fast!). I have, however found, that this format seems to work in positive correlation with good vibes at given hostel. The friendliest staff I’ve come across have been at Madhouse Prague (to be discussed) and I know that a fair few of them were just working for their keep. I reckon it’s that this sort of life attracts the right personality type needed for hostel staff. Friendly, relaxed and eternally optimistic character traits are a real must for working in hostels.
Now, with thousands upon thousands of hostels throughout Europe, the economic recession (from 2008) has really led to a boom in the hostel business. More and more travellers –even families, young professionals in cities and business travellers – are now turning to the pocket-friendly option instead of hotels
Why should I stay in hostels?
So, you might be wondering why you should bother choosing a hostel over, say, a super cheapski hotel. The main difference (aside from the price) is the emphasis on a relaxed atmosphere and sociability. I don’t know about you, but I tend to feel considerably out of place in the more formal environment of a hotel (that big scary bright reception lobby always panics me), particularly if adopting a tramp-traveller-look that day. Hostel staff literally couldn’t care less and many actively encourage laziness.
Also, of course, hostels encourage socialising with all guests through a common room and shared dorms. At a hotel, the closest you’ll get to chatting to another guest is awkwardly asking someone to borrow their sugar for your tea in the morning. [Sidenote: at hostels you can avoid at all costs that awkward lift—sharing-with-stranger experience of hotels. Always ends up in the worst silence trying to fight back that uncomfortable, uncontrollable hysteria.] These are just the most notable differences, but now let’s talk a little more in depth about benefits many hostels offer that you might not even consider before your stay.
If you’re travelling alone, or are an inexperienced traveller, hostels are perfect for you. If you just sit in a common area looking relatively open and friendly – even if you’re painfully shy – I guarantee that someone will come and talk to you. Yes boys and girls, this means you have to smile even at 6am on no sleep, the remnants of a hangover and an overnight bus (if only I could take my own advice ey). By meeting these fellow travellers, you’ll learn about different cultures and swap stories about worthwhile experiences so far. It’s easy access to the insider’s goss on how really live like a local in your chosen destination; advice a guidebook just can’t offer you.
When staying in hostels, you have to keep in mind that everyone there is like-minded. It’s a bit like the starting uni experience (possibly the most terrifying few hours of my life). Generally, hostels are filled to the brim with young people just looking to have a good time. Who knows, you might even gain confidence from the experience of being thrown into a room full of strangers and trying to mingle (whilst having a silent but very much present panic attack inside). Unless you’d rather socially isolate yourself then, fine, maybe book a hotel room…
Hostels really do help with the travelling experience in terms of what to see. Staff are really great with answering the millions of questions you will inevitably have about where to go, how to get there and which days are best to go. Similarly, it can be a bit like Russian roulette trying to figure out where’s good to party. Local hostels – obviously – will be able to tell you which nights are big and will generally take you to decent spots, so you can be guaranteed a few good nights out.
Finally, you can always find at least one or two hostels in the best location evaaa. There’s nothing better than hauling an 18kg backpack up a million stairs from the train station (convinced by this point that you are about to actually die) and spot a hostel right across the street. Of course, folks, hostel owners do think about our poor little feet when they set up shop. It is better to book in advance just in case, but if in desperate need, you will most likely stumble upon a hostel within 100m of a major train station.
What are ma faves?
So, my favourites. I’ve gone for BeBop Youth Hostel (Budapest), The Madhouse (Prague) and Lucky D’s (San Diego), all of which can be found on hostelbookers.com.
1) BeBop, with a 95% overall rating on the site, is the smallest hostel I have stayed in. But it’s also my favourite. And that isn’t a just coincidence. With all the basic amenities sorted, BeBop really stood out (to me) because it felt like I was just staying in a friend’s house. The bubbly staff and close proximity to, well, everyone there wasn’t suffocating; it was comfortable and homely. The rooms are designed with these huge wicker bunk beds, so the ‘downstairs’ beds are in your own little den. It introduced an element of privacy without being cut off from other hostellers, which created the perfect balance.
2) The Madhouse claim to “give you much more than just a bed to sleep in, [they will] give you an unforgettable experience and memories to last a lifetime”, and with a whopping 97.7% rating, they’ve got to be doing something right! For a reasonable £13-£20ish per night (dependent on time of year and the like), you can get yourself a room in this slightly larger hostel. What really made the difference here – as I mentioned – was the staff. After being presented with a free beer on arrival, every single member of staff during our stay genuinely made an effort to interact with us. They always had time for a chat and pretty much all of them came out with us at night. I know a few of the workers there were definitely just working for free accommodation, and this seemed to produce some of the friendliest chaps around. Also worth a mention: The Madhouse has the comfiest beanbag/sofa room used exclusively for monging and watching films, even after you’ve checked out. Made for a very enjoyable final day in Prague!
3) Finally, Lucky D’s has been rated as 92.5% overall and prides itself on “Offering more free stuff than any other hostel”. What I loved about Lucky D’s (aside from the #ah-maz-in free waffles at weekends) was the wide array of ‘extra-curricular’ activities available there. There was something on pretty much every night (even if it was just a group dinner) and, upon entry, you are plied with various leaflets that I can guarantee will be of great use. The hostel had a quirky edge, with countless works of art displayed that looked like they’d been drawn by either a drunken hostel reveller, or a child. But that’s exactly why I loved it.
So, now you know. When booking your next weekend break, I’m sure you’ll be booking into a hostel. And here’s what you should consider when you do so:
- The smaller the better
- Quirk appeal – ‘The Quirk Factor’
- A large, shared common room or kitchen area
- Mixed, shared dorms
- Activities and help provided by staff
- Location and nearby transport links
- Free meals