The Things We All Love And Hate About Hostel Travel
Ah, hostels – I have been walking in and out of your doors faster than a hotel revolving door (if only I could afford to go through them). Hostels have become a staple part of how I have managed to stretch my on/off again travels in the last five years and counting. If it weren’t for sharing bedrooms with snorers, partiers, grey nomads and people from all walks of life – who knows how long (or short) my travels around the world would have lasted. The price may be right, but that does not mean the hostel experiences themselves equate.
Here I outline what I have come to love and loathe about hostel life and what you should look out for when you are booking your next backpacker five-star accommodation.
Location, location, location
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Sometimes it may just well be worth stretching your budget allocation to the hostel that has the most pristine postcode. Sure, it may be a considerably cheaper elsewhere, but when you compare the time it takes to get to from point A to point B, sometimes it is well worth it – especially if time is not on your side. The reality is, once you get to your hostel with the not-so-attractive address, you might end up spending more on commuting to attractions and consulting Google Maps every five minutes than just staying at a hostel that cost slightly more but was accessible everywhere by foot.
Big v small hostels
There is a different vibe between the big guy and the small one. Many of the hostel chains go above and beyond with creating a pristine, clean hostel environment, but the vibe can sometimes be too sterile.
Sometimes a big hostel can feel more like walking through a labyrinth than a temporary home which is what some smaller hostels boast. It sometimes is trickier to get to know other backpackers and staff on a friendlier, intimate level than in the smaller hostels.
However, the big hostels have been in the game for a while and know what can make or break a stay so you can expect an ample of events and facilities on offer.
Socialising at hostels
It can be scary to get words to fly out of your mouth and say hello to a fellow backpacker, but that’s the beauty about hostels – they present you with this incredible social field to find your next play date.
Something to loathe is the conversation starter on repeat. Those same questions you have heard yourself answer time and time again to every backpacker you have come across – Where are you from? How long have you been travelling? What do you do? – Yawn.
Luckily those hostels with socialising at their core have made the process of breaking the ice easier with organising events pub crawls, walking tours and other various activities to get to mingle in an upbeat way.
If you want to extend your travels for as long as you can, look out for hostels that have a kitchen. It can be hostel godsend, especially in places that may cost a small fortune for something that you know is a bargain back home (cue homesickness).
Sometimes you may also tire of eating out and just want something prepared by yours truly. If your hostel has a spice rack to cater to your bare minimum supermarket raid (hello chickpeas and pasta), then you know they really care about your flavour palate.
Free breakfast: the true MVP
A free breakfast is possibly the money saviour for any hostel stay. Maybe it isn’t a Shangri-La breakfast buffet, but when you see hard boiled eggs working the spread alongside warm bread and fruit, consider it a decent free feed.
Upon checking in these days, to receive the Wi-Fi password upfront with your room key is pretty stock standard. The connection and how far that connection stretches is another thing.
A good hostel is one that understands your needs to update your socials on your latest holiday antics and to research your next ride. A so-called bad hostel is one that takes your back 10 years with limited connection, forcing you to socialise with other travellers (the nerve!).
It’s the little things
You can tell that those hostel owners who have previously lived and breathed the life of a backpacker know what small things can make the biggest difference in a dorm stay. This includes having personal electric plugs, lamps, bunk bed curtains at your disposal. Once these little luxuries have entered your life, it is hard to go back to hostel basics.
The bed sitch
Shotgun the bottom bunk!
The holy grail of hostel life is when you discover your bunk bed is already made, saving you from having a war with a fitted sheet. Better yet, rejoice that you don’t have to try to figure out the corners of your donna cover at 2 am with your smartphone flashlight after a late check-in (not a good time).
You may be on holiday, but your personal hygiene should never take a vacay. If that hostel bathroom doesn’t have soap, then I would reconsider your hostel choice for your own health’s sake.
Showers can sometimes also be a dirty word. Not enough water pressure, those I-need-to-press-the-button-every-thirty-seconds showers (I shudder) and those that are just a hose are big shower no-nos.
Look out for the hostels that really know a thing or two about personal space to give you enough room to make it your own bathroom vanity for five minutes. Trust me, it is worth that extra coin if required.
This one is a tricky one because it is a case of timing and luck. But to get a good idea if good vibes are felt all around, check the hostels’ ratings before you book ahead.
I have stayed in my fair share of hostel duds and felt #hostelregret because I went for a budget buy and not the one ranked with a banging atmosphere. The things that can make or break this is the communal spaces (lounge, hostel bar, balcony) to meet other guests. After all, don’t let the hostel kill your holiday vibe.
While you’ve hostels on the brain, check out how to get the most hostel bang for your buck.