Curious about Hostels? Here's What you Need to Know
The most frequent question people ask me about traveling is how I afford to go away for long periods of time.
Hostels are a fantastic way to save money, meet like-minded travelers and experience a less traditional - and more fun - approach to travel. Think of a hostel sort of like a university dorm. The arrangement can vary, but generally each room is sparingly equipped with a few sets of twin size bunk beds and a small chest or shelves for personal belongings.
Hostels are commonly booked by the bed. Smaller shared rooms usually have four beds. Options include all female, all male or co-ed. Large rooms with multiple beds are typically cheaper per night, but also can be louder and offer less privacy.
A set of folded sheets are placed on each bed or given to guests upon arrival. Once a room is assigned, it’s up to you to choose a vacant bed unless the hostel uses a numbering system in which case they will assign it. It is considered disrespectful to use the space that is not technically yours to sit or store your personal belongings, even if the bed is vacant for the night.
Bathrooms can be ensuite or community. It’s common for guests to provide their own towel, but some hostels offer complimentary or rental towels.
Many hostels offer private rooms at a much cheaper rate than a hotel.
Private rooms will have either an ensuite or a private bath. Rates are usually higher than the dorm rooms, but can still be drastically cheaper than a hotel.
The vast majority of hostels offer laundry facilities, fully stocked kitchens, easily-accessible refrigerators, as well as a dry food storage. Some hostels have beautiful common areas, gardens, games, pools and hot tubs.
Most offer lockers, so it’s good to take a padlock to secure your valuables. I typically travel with no valuables other than a small wallet and my iPhone, which I carry with me anytime I am outside of my room. At night, I use a locker if one is available or I just tuck them in my pillowcase.
Depending on where you are in the world, a bed in a hostel is likely to range from $3 USD in Asia to $40 USD in Europe, a far cry from the hundreds of dollars typically spent on traditional vacation lodging. Additionally, some offer complimentary or budget-friendly amenities which hotels typically upcharge.
Unlike hotels, I rarely book a bed ahead of time unless it's a holiday or a peak tourist is event happening.
Even after arriving at a hostel, generally I only book a single night at a time. Don’t care for the town? Easily move on. Meet other travelers over a card game of Shithead who are headed somewhere interesting? Alter plans and tagalong. Bathrooms not clean or other guests too loud? Roll out of bed the next morning and find another place that better suits your style.
Hostels can feel like home, a hotel or a unique experience.
From a former jail in Christchurch, to a castle in Nuremberg, to The Monastery Hostel tucked inside the Franciscan Covenant in Milan, a hostel can offer an unparalleled experience to add adventure.
Hostels can be found in sleepy residential neighborhoods and can be mistaken from the outside as just another local home. You’ll find big front porches, hammocks, picnic tables and cozy living rooms. Others are more corporately run, sometimes high rises with hundreds of beds situated in the middle of a budding tourist district with coffee shops and bus lines just a few steps from the front entrance.
There are hostels in America too.
Even with the rise in popularity of Airbnb, American’s often overlook hostels as an option in their own country. However, there are so many cool places to hostel in the USA. For example, Arizona’s accredited award-winning Phoenix Hostel & Cultural Center is in the trendy Roosevelt Row Arts District. HK Austin, a historic Victorian mansion offers reasonable rates on shared rooms, free wifi, a garden, complimentary lockers and coffee.
Often hostels are rated on a star system based on amenities offered and can offer a certain quality expectation if you don’t have time to research ahead of time. This helps to know what to expect. By far, the best way to learn about the vibe and location of other hostels are from other travelers.
A good place to start searching for a hostel in America is Hostelling International USA at www.hiusa.org.
Hostels aren’t just for twentysomethings looking to party.
Admittedly, there are party hostels. But most hostels welcome all types of travelers, even families. I didn’t stay in my first hostel until I was in my mid-thirties.
Hands down, the best part of hosteling is finding your instant travel family.
One of the things I love most about traveling is pushing myself out of my comfort zone. Hostels allow solo travelers a way to easily connect with people they might not otherwise encounter in their daily lives at home. Even if you don’t find community with your bunkmates, a common area of the hostel is spilling with people.
Some hostels even facilitate connection by organizing events or meals, often times prepared inside the facilities by guests who are willing to share a traditional meal from their culture for a small donation to purchase the ingredients.
My heart beats a little faster when I open the door to my dorm room, ready to meet the other travelers who will share home with me for a night.
In Spain, I explored the Montserrat Monastery and the Barcelona night life with a young student, Nhi, and Kymberly, a nurse, both from Australia. I traveled with a Phil, a British guy I met in a hostel for six weeks in New Zealand followed by four weeks in Vietnam. I met Laura, a British thirtysomething when she was my bunkmate in Auckland. Since we have traveled together in New Zealand, Australia and Japan.
There’s something magical about spending time traveling somewhere new with someone new. It’s a unique way to embrace the unexpected and expand your world.