Hostel Hell

Why Hostels Make Me Hostile

I don’t have a love-hate relationship with hostels; I just hate them. I realize this puts me in the shunned minority of long-term travelers who aren’t as hardcore as the rest, but I truly dread everything that makes hostel life so stinkin’ magical to everyone else.

Hostel HellBased on the past year of travel, I’ve come to expect some combination of horrors on the inside of every new hostel I check into. It’s like Russian roulette. Will my night offer something as annoying but manageable as a rude (or perhaps worse, a bit too friendly) front-desk person? Or something as disgusting as a drunk traveler hurling in the sink at 4 a.m.? Freezing cold showers too small to turn around in? A putrid bunkmate? A thief? Free WiFi that isn’t really free?! Anything but that! You never know what you’re walking into, and I can’t say I enjoy gambling with my evenings in such a way.

If you’ve never had the chance to stay in a hostel, hopefully this post won’t deter you from at least giving it a try. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to choose a hostel – meeting other travelers, for one – but the main perk is to save cash. A hostel might cost $10-$50 a night, whereas a hotel has limitless potential to drain your RTW trip budget fast.

Before I set out for my adventure, I read raves about hostel culture from some of my travel blogging cohorts. I wanted to believe hostels were going to rock me like a hurricane, but I know my personality (exacting, time-conscious, bossy, quiet, clean, deathly afraid of cockroaches), and all the glowing reviews about having the best.night.ever.LOL.OMG made me more than a little skeptical that Angie + Hostel would eventually = UNADULTERATED TRAVEL BLISS. Still, I was willing to give it a try in the hopes that my preconceived notions of hostels as glorified international fraternity houses would be proven wrong.

Having now stayed in a few dozen hostels and having shared dorms & showers with a few hundred random folks, I feel justified in my disdain. By and large, hostel life is not for me.  I admire the folks who have the personality to deal with the ups and downs- but I am not one of them and I never will be. Here’s why.

1. I’m not a teenager or a college student, and I don’t wish I still was.

I’ve never longed for the days of communal living in the university dorms and I’m not super keen on window-rattling nightlife or finding some young hottie to hook up with. That’s never been me, in high school, college or since.  Aside from lots of all-night dancing with my friends in Mykonos, I’m a pretty mellow traveler who needs at least eight quality hours of sleep each night, so the go-go-go, party-party-party atmosphere I’ve found in many hostels does absolutely nothing for me… except make me feel like a curmudgeonly 80-year-old neighbor who calls the police at 9 p.m. if the music is too loud.

Hostel Nightmares

2. I get homicidal when people wake me up, and that’s a nightly guarantee in hostels.

I accept that my reaction is extreme. When I’m roused from a deep sleep against my will, I get super irrational and all I want to do is torture the fiend who did it. This basically means that I am enraged to the point of psychosis at least once every night I stay in a hostel. Not fun and certainly not sustainable.

It’s not that I have an intrinsic problem with sharing. When my family of five takes a vacation, we always share a room to conserve funds… even if it means squeezing into the tiniest cabin on a cruise ship. But don’t think for one second that I won’t beam my mom straight in the face with whatever I can lay my hands on at 3 a.m. if her snoring wakes me up.

My midnight rage does not discriminate.

Sometimes people just turn the light on at 3 a.m. as if they’re the only folks in the room. That’s easy to remedy with an eye mask. Earplugs are a must, too, but they can only block out so many decibels, and between the ringing cell phones, violent snorers, chatty and/or puking drunk girls and vibrating clubs just outside the window, there’s little chance of catching 40 winks.

Even waking to the sound of a stranger snoring makes me furious, though I know that’s not really something that can be helped. I suggest a dedicated Snore Dorm, that way if you know you’re prone to sawing logs, you can save your fellow travelers a sleepless night by bunking up with the rest of your kind.

Hostels Experience

I’ve been jolted awake in 5-star hotels and hostels alike. The difference is in a 5-star hotel, I can dial 0 and tell the manager the maids are making too much ruckus in the hall – and they shut up. Drunk gap year travelers never shut up. They also never seem to pack their bags the night before if they have a 5 a.m. flight to catch, so I get to hear that every morning before the sun comes up. And someone always has a plastic bag that needs to be rustled for 45 minutes before slamming the door on the way out. And I’ve been trapped in a room more than once where a popular bunkmate has left for an all-nighter after locking their cell phone in a locker – with the ringer on and volume up. There’s no peace and quiet in hostel life, and that makes me more hostile than just about anything.

3. Clutter stresses me out.

I’ll never be a hoarder. I can’t read or clean or study or relax if my house is a mess; so, stepping over other people’s overflowing, stank-laundry filled backpacks, muddy shoes and dripping wet socks to get to my bed agitates me. It shouldn’t, I know. But it does.

Hostesl Nightmares

4. I need loads of “me time.”

It may come as a shock, but I’m an introvert (an extroverted introvert, but an introvert at the core), so I need solo time to recharge my batteries & maintain my even keel. Nothing is harder for me to endure than constant conversation with strangers, not because I don’t like meeting people, because I do, it’s just draining for me. And it’s virtually impossible to avoid when sharing a room with seven Dutch teenagers, three drunk Aussies and a snoring old German guy.

On the upside, you can get a private room. On the downside, private rooms usually book up in advance, so spur-of-the-moment travelers like me are stuck with the only remaining bed – often in a 16-bunk shared dorm full of crazy. (To be fair, I met some lovely people in Spain, Greece & England at hostels. So despite my general dislike, there’s definitely a positive side!)

Hostels ExperiencesMy advice? Be super rich & skip hostel life altogether. Failing that, bring earplugs, an eye mask and some Tylenol PM. You’re going to need it.

Furthermore, If you’ve never been disturbed in a hostel, maybe you’re the jerk who keeps waking me up. 😉

Have you ever had a bad Hostel experience? Am I alone? Leave a comment and let me know!

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  • September 07, 2011
    RJ

    That’s cool!!! Now I know if I travel never go to hostels, or if i do then get the private room. And by the way Tylenol PM is the best thing that has been created since sliced bread, peanut butter and grape jelly.  =)

    • September 07, 2011

      I wouldn’t say NEVER go… maybe just bring lots of Tylenol PM if you’re a light sleeper =)

  • September 07, 2011

    And I thought I was the only one who didn’t love the omigod-let’s-have-an-all-night-party-and-makes-loads-of-noise-wow-it’s-going-to-be-so-amazing life of hostels. It’s not that I don’t like to have a good time, but like you, I need me time and I find it difficult to be the out-going person everyone wants you to be when you meet new people constantly.

    Great post 🙂

  • September 07, 2011

    So, my possible snoring in your dorm room… bad, heh? 😉

    • September 07, 2011

      I wouldn’t hesitate to throw something at your head though – we’re friends in real life =)

  • September 07, 2011
    Mom

    I do not snore loud!

  • September 07, 2011

    Great post, on many levels. I always appreciate sentiment that cuts across the grain – especially when done in an entertaining way. Nicely done.

  • September 07, 2011
    Lauren

    My favorite is Tequila Night. Try sleeping through that! If a hostel advertises a Friday night Tequila Night that kicks off at 10pm, run away.

    How is it that I have never tried Tylenol PM?

    Angie, do you have a guest room yourself? Because you might enjoy Casa Casa, $15 a night, private guestrooms in other members’s homes.

    • September 07, 2011

      Ugh I stay away from Tequila night if I can… what a nightmare!

      I’ve checked out Casa Casa – something to keep in mind for the future!

  • September 07, 2011
    Joe

    Great post, Angie…love your writing style, too! I always wondered what the deal was with hostels…now I know. And knowing is half the battle! lol.

    • September 07, 2011

      You’ll have to let me know if you ever stay in one!

  • September 07, 2011
    Amy

    Amen! I despise hostels for all of the reasons you listed. I can’t say I’ve stayed in a dorm – I travel with my husband and we’re way too old and married to be sleeping in a room with strangers – but even with a private room, the habits of travelers in common areas disgust me. They are cost effective though, and often are centrally located with lots of pertinent information for travelers.

    • September 07, 2011

      Hi Amy! That is one perk of hostels I forgot to mention – they are often centrally located and really convenient. To stay in a hotel in the same spot, often you’ll pay 1,000% more.

  • September 07, 2011

    Great post. I’m actually working on a post now about my experience as a first-time hostel-stayer at the ripe old age of 35. It was something I was dreading during my year-long trip, but unfortunately a necessity in order to afford it. So far, it hasn’t been too bad but I am relishing the fact that right now I’m in a guesthouse in a small town with my own room – like you, I’m an “extroverted introvert” who needs plenty of me time.

    • September 07, 2011

      It’s comforting to know I’m not the only one who needs a bit of space! Thanks for reading!

      • January 23, 2013
        Nadia

        I have the exact same feelings about hostels. But as I cannot stop travelling and as I am not rich, I have not choice but going to hostels sometimes. My advice is to A-L-L-W-A-Y-S ask to have a look at the dorm before and run away when seeing you don’t know how many bunk beds with no space for bag. Some hostels are nice, others ok, others just places to avoid. Sometimes how realise how great this hostel business is…

  • September 07, 2011

    This exactly sums up my ideas and why I hate hostels also! Even at 21, my inner 40 year old just cant stand clutter, drunk kids, watching the guys who work there grossly hit on the people im traveling with, etc. I need my privacy and sleeping in a room full of strangers just creeps me out!

    • September 07, 2011

      Hi Catherine! I was super creeped out one time when I stayed in a pension in Spain that was made of 5 cots shoved in some lady’s dining room. I was basically snuggled up with strangers… very very creepy!

  • September 07, 2011

    Oh my god, I actually lived this or had a version of a horror story. And for once, Michael is not responsible. 🙂

    • September 23, 2011

      Haha poor Michael. I hope you’re getting some sleep even with his snoring!

  • September 07, 2011

    I don’t love hostels either and unfortunately have had my fair share of hostel horror stories…. but it is hard to beat 10 bucks a night some places!!

  • September 07, 2011

    I so agree with you on this. I love my personal space and I am the lightest sleeper ever, so I hatehatehate dorms. I only do them when I am spending one night in a place, anything more, I splurge on the single room, or hotel if I have too. Luckily, I am a bit of a planner (even if it’s just a week) which is usually enough time in most places:-).

    I like the social aspect of hostels, but I need to have my own room at night.

  • September 07, 2011

    I have such fond memories of hostels from when I was younger and was promised that now they’re ok for us “older” travelers, too. I had a fine time in one really nice one in a private room. But like you, I’m a light sleeper. When I was left with only a bunk room, I checked out at midnight and went to a hotel!

    • September 07, 2011

      I think it would be fine if I weren’t such a light sleeper, but if I’m going to pay to sleep somewhere, I really really want to! Glad I’m not the only one in this boat =)

  • September 07, 2011

    I have a love hate relationship with hostels but I have to say it really does depend where you stay.

    I have stayed at some that felt like boutique hotels and others that felt like a prison. They are so varying.

    Also in South America a lot of places that call themselves hostels are really hotels with private rooms, televisions and wifi – you can’t be that.

    • September 07, 2011

      You know, I haven’t stayed at any hostels in South America yet, but I will plan on it when I make it back down there… sounds like a far cry from the ones in Europe!

  • September 07, 2011

    I’m with you – this was the year John and I decided we would never again stay in a hostel – and we’ve been doing private rooms. People are just too inconsiderate. Yes, it has raised our costs a bit but it’s worth it when we get a good’s night’s rest and don’t turn into anger monsters at the youngsters playing ‘My first trip abroad away from Mum and Dad.’ That said, you can meet a lot of quality people in hostels and quite a few of them are well-run, with great hosts who really make sure you have a great time and a local experience. But like you said, it’s a crapshoot and we got tired of being on the losing end of that. We’ve been off hostels since July (except for one that we’d already booked months in advance) and we’re doing ok.

    • September 07, 2011

      Where are you staying if not hostels? Finding anything that’s budget friendly but also grown-up friendly?

      • September 09, 2011

        Inexpensive hotels and apartments, with the occasional splurge in nicer hotels =)

  • September 08, 2011

    I agree with you completely, I HATE dormitories! I wish I didn’t because I actually really like the rest of hostel life; common areas, cooking in the kitchen etc… but I am way too old to be sharing a bedroom.

    As I am currently travelling around South America with my boyfriend we have been using mixed dorms and, call me old fashioned, I don’t feel entirely comfortable with having other guys in the room. I have not yet been in a mixed dorm that had any other girls in it! We have only ever travelled around SE Asia before where a private room with bathroom costs around $5 (per room, not person!)but here in S America it seems that private rooms are much more expensive. Maybe I should check out some of the hostels that Ayngelina mantioned!

    • September 08, 2011

      I’m not cozy sharing with guys either, especially since I’m traveling on my own. So far I haven’t had any problems, but they seem to be messier & noisier than the all-girls dorms.

  • September 08, 2011

    Angie, I hear you on the hostels. I’m a huge advocate of them because I feel like the money savings vs hotels or even something like Airbnb is worth all the stuff you have to put up sometimes. All that money can be put to the next flight or the next excursion. And I find the great people I meet at hostels usually make up for any BS I have to put with. Guess I have high tolerance and even better patience.

    • September 11, 2011

      It is nice to save money, and I always go into my hostel visits with that in mind. But then I just get all rage-y when I can’t sleep =)

  • September 10, 2011

    This: “I’m not a teenager or a college student, and I don’t wish I still was”

    I’ve done hostels, they were fun at the time, I’m over it now.

    • September 11, 2011

      I think I would’ve enjoyed hostels much more had I started this whole RTW thing at age 19 instead of 29… but now I know who I am and what I want. And it’s 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep!

  • September 12, 2011

    I hear ya, girl. I had a blast in hostels when all I wanted to do was party, but this time around, I’d much rather get sleep and see the sights than wake up with a killer hangover. I’m in Europe to experience it, not to drink my way into oblivion. Also, glad I’m not the only introverted traveler-I seem to be in good company!

    • September 12, 2011

      We should have an introverted traveler meet up! It would be a whole lot different than TBEX =)

  • September 12, 2011

    There are a lot of things I love about hostels (typically great location, much more useful advice than at hotels, meet interseting people, etc), but sleeping is a dorm is definitely NOT one of them!

    Consider getting a private room in a hostel next time… you may have a very different experience, at a lower cost than a hotel. I haven’t had the same experience with the booking up super-quickly… but if you’re running in to that, you can book a day or two in advance on hostelbookers, etc. It’s hard to book weeks in advance, but I usually know what town I’ll be in at least 1-2 nights in advance.

    Also, some hostels have a reputation for being “party central”, while others don’t. Often I look at the “fun” rating on sites like hostelbookers, and if that rating is low while the others are high, it’s a good indication that it’ll be a nice place without all-night parties.

    • September 12, 2011

      The fun rating is definitely helpful! And I love HostelBookers & HostelWorld & Hostels.com… all very useful!

      It’s a sign I’m getting old if I look for low fun ratings =)

  • September 14, 2011
    Alex Berger

    Hahaha, pretty much 5/5 disagree from me.

  • September 16, 2011

    AMEN to all of the above, sister.

  • September 19, 2011

    I haven’t traveled long-term, but when I do travel I often stay in hostels to save my money. Before a trip I’ll take a look at hostel reviews on sites like Trip Advisor, Hostel Bookers, Hostel World, etc. just to see what the general consensus is on the hostel.. When I went to Vancouver for TBEX in June I purposely booked the HI Downtown because I read in several reviews that it was quieter than other hostels in the city. There was one night, game 5 of the NHL finals, where the Vancouver Canucks had won against Boston Bruins. The streets were insane, people were everywhere cheering and hollering. I went to my hostel and I heard nothing, and it was only a few blocks from a busy area of the city. Of course it’s always a crap shoot because you could end up with dorm mates who are noisy or something else like that.

    Another alternative I’ve found that are great to hostels are guesthouses. They’re usually the same price as a private room in hostel, but a guesthouse is usually a lot quieter than a hostel because they don’t usually have the party guests there. It’s just always good to know that there are other options to hostels that can work for your trip.

    • September 19, 2011

      I’ve definitely checked out my share of guesthouses and found them much quieter than hostels! Thanks for the comment!

  • September 24, 2011

    Love this! Hostels are my last resort…and only if I can get a private room…haha. I almost always travel with my boyfriend and have done very well with cheap, locally owned hotels and guesthouses. I like my privacy, locking my door, being in charge of the lights and not wondering about who is sharing the room with me. I’ve also always been turned off by hostels with lockout times during the day – sometimes you just need that afternoon nap 🙂

  • April 27, 2012

    Oh I get you – I hate hostels too! I actually hate sharing my room with anyone, even my best friends. I need my ‘me’ time, and my silence.

    • April 29, 2012

      Me too! Me time is a HUGE part of keeping me sane on the road.

  • April 27, 2012

    I’d rather had my kidney stones removed by having a 3 foot long wooden spoon shoved through my nose and down into nether regions than stay at a hostel. No amount of savings is worth sharing my precious, private space with Stinky McFartballs.

    The fact that I’m anti-social and hate people in general probably has something to do with it too. O:-)

  • April 28, 2012
    Holly

    Fab post, love! And thoroughly agreed with. I spent a fortune in India on smaller and smaller dorms. I ended up in a beach hut, and then got pissed off because the sea was too noisy. 🙂

    See you soon! X

    • April 29, 2012

      haha I love that! Can’t wait to reunite in London soooo soon!

  • April 29, 2012

    Ahhh, what a bad budget traveler you are! Don’t you know, if you listened to the stereotypes, all “real” travelers are supposed to love hostels and living out of a backpack for months at a time 😉

    We have stayed in some really quiet hostels which were a great experience, but these were remote and secluded and not in the middle of a big city.

    The biggest advantage that I can see to hostels (Other than low price) is the kitchen facilities (I love being able to cook real food while traveling).

    I am with you 100% in needing 8 hours of sleep, though.

    • April 29, 2012

      I really am crap at budget travel… I can eat on a budget, but sleeping is another matter altogether! Glad you can relate =)

  • August 01, 2012

    I agree with every single point you made! I long ago decided I was so over hostels (It’s been 14 years since my first backpacking trips which included a LOT of hostels.) And YET somehow on my current Southeast Asia trip I’ve stayed in a number of hostels and haven’t had to deal with any of this. Can’t really put my finger on why, though I did manage to purposefully avoid a few “party central” hostels.

  • August 07, 2012

    Wow, it’s weird. Feel like I’m reading a post about my personality. We are so alike. I have phobia of cockroaches too !

    • August 07, 2012

      I’m so glad we’re on the same page! You and I could probably travel really well together =)

  • August 28, 2013
    Ann

    *Gasp* you mean you think you can travel and enjoy yourself AND not be a hippy (or even better wanna be hippy), love hostels and carrying on every waking hour and hate the idea of sleep as it takes away from interacting, have an aversion to 3* hotels or higher, maybe wash three pair of clothes once a week and walk to your destination? You don’t make the cut lol I LOVE this article cause its so me! I really for a whole thought something was off about me, cause I love traveling and seeing new places, but could spend days alone with just the stimuli of the city or excitement of exploring a new place and be perfectly content and happy. Talking to people (granted hostels have a variety and not just what I described above) is tiresome and I seldom have much in common with them. I’d rather have a glass if wine of the waterfront alone or maybe with a guy I meet than go to a pub crawl with loud the 20 y/o crowd. I’m 30 and have always been an introvert. I stay at hostels on occasion to save money but now that their prices are going up, if its a week or less I get on Priceline and can usually bid on a three star hotel or just a bit more, and have it be very clean, quiet, and peaceful.

  • January 01, 2016
    Sarah

    Wow what a great article!! I am currently on the to bunk in a 10 bed dorm with horrific sickness. My bf is fast asleep on the bunk below and his friend and other fellow dorm people are all happy and sleeping or barging in. Every time I think i gonna spew I have to run to the other side of te building and hope I don’t wake my fella in the process. This is a nightmare and certainly will be avoiding dorm life in the future!!

  • January 08, 2017
    Ant

    Soo glad I’m not alone on this. I feel the same on every point you made. I started travelling last September and was hopeful of an awesome time meeting like minded people in hostels.

    Turns out I don’t have anything in common with most backpackers I meet. I don’t do all night parties, rarely drink, nor do I care for small talk.

    I didn’t fly half way across the world to do what I could do at home.

    Luckily I’ve still met likeminded people travelling, but very few and far between.

  • February 27, 2017

    Earplugs and private rooms are pretty much the only way I can handle hostels at this point. I HATE being woken up and anywhere that’s not clean.

  • March 06, 2017
    Mathew Humphrey

    I absolutly dont get the juvinile dominance of hostesl
    You get in one and its run by a non paid group of young long stayers. and theres one man (well a mid 20s) hes the only one paid whilst the funds from the operation are syphoned off to some guy on a forgien charity mission. Hostle bank rolls his flights and hippy lifestyle.

    Meanwhile the showers break down and there is one shower for like 25 people and they all come through my room to get to it.

    I wanted to write my job i write some stuff for social media usage and i have to keep reasuring them of what i was doing and didn’t bang on about my mission or have to watch a polish couple play guitar at breakfast time..

    im in Marseille and i thought your blag was comical. 🙂 they think you are a criminal if you are “male”/ older than 30, but not like a petty crim a full blown like dark entity. Sorry i cant talk to you all the time – i dont need to constant vertue signal all the time.

    funny article 🙂

  • July 12, 2017

    I am currently–as in right-this-moment–in a hostel and found this article by Googling “I hate hostels.” It’s hot, one of my roomies turns the light on at 6am like it’s his job, I can’t relax, and there’s literally been someone plucking an out-of-tune intro to Sweet Child O’ Mine for 10 minutes and good God now they’re singing.

    I’m only 27, and this is only my first hostel stay, but I think I might be too old for this sh*t. The sufferfest *is* worth the savings, but you’d better believe I’ll be carefully combing AirBNB and couch surfing first from now on.

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