Why Hostels Don’t Make Me Hostile

I met Colm Hanratty, Editor of Hostelworld.com, in April at Travel Bloggers Unite in Italy where I told him all about one of my most popular posts of all time, ‘Why Hostels Make Me Hostile.’ He challenged me to give hostels another chance, and I accepted – but more about that later. In the meantime, Colm has written a rebuttal to my not-so-rosy opinion of the hostel experience. Take it away, Colm….

I don’t have a love-hate relationship with hostels – I just love them. If it wasn’t for hostels I wouldn’t have the job I have right now. If it wasn’t for hostels I wouldn’t have experienced a lot of the things I’ve experienced around the world. And if it wasn’t for hostels I wouldn’t have some of the friends I have now.

The first hostel I stayed in was in Byron Bay, Australia in July 2000. Even though I’d been living in Australia for nine months at that stage, I’d never experienced hostel life before. I was extremely apprehensive – I made sure to book a hostel that had private lockers and I wasn’t extremely forthcoming in terms of chatting to others staying there.

Three hostels later though, everything changed. I struck up conversations with whoever I was sharing a dorm with, went out with others I met destination after destination (that happens a lot on the East Coast of Australia) and experienced new cultures in all four corners of the globe.

There’s no doubt about it – I’ve a lot to thank hostels for. I could think of many reasons why I love hostels, but for the basis of this post, I’ve wrangled that list down to five…

1. I love meeting people from all over the world

The last stop on that trip up the east coast of Australia I’ve just mentioned was Cairns. I stayed in a hostel called Caravella’s. Upon checking in to my room I introduced myself to my three other dorm mates (all female) and began to talk. One hour later they told me I hadn’t shut up in 60 minutes. I didn’t really see this as a bad thing if I’m honest. Thankfully, neither did they. We were having ‘the craic’ as we’d say here.

Since then I’ve had similar experiences in hostels in Los Angeles, Mendoza, Cape Town and other cities around the world. I love how people are so open in hostels. It simply is a case of sitting down in a common room, kicking off a conversation with ‘Hi, how are you?’ and seeing where the chat goes from there. You can’t get this in any other form of accommodation. Fact.

2. Staying in hostels left me with money to afford experiences I’ll never forget (as well as my own privacy)

One of the biggest attractions with hostels is price. They’re budget-friendly. In some cities you can get a dorm bed for as little as $2. But if you don’t want to sleep in a dorm, don’t worry – over 82% of hostels listed on our site have private rooms.

The thing you need to remember is that a lot of the people who stay in hostels could afford to stay in hotels – they just choose not to. Part of the reason for this is because people like meeting other people. Another part of the reason is that, by staying in a hostel, it leaves your average budget traveller with more money to do things like go on helicopter rides around Manhattan, spend three days sailing the Whitsundays in Australia and go hang-gliding in Rio de Janeiro. Which would you prefer – unforgettable experience and a hostel stay or forgettable experience in a sterile hotel and not many other memories to add to it?

3. I like picking up tips

My job is to travel the world making videos, writing blog posts and getting content for our free pocket guides. I know – tough job. But hey, somebody has to do it. To make the content in all of these forms of travel guides as valuable as possible, I need tips and information that are hard to find. While I know many cities very well around the world, I certainly don’t know all of them. This is where hostels are so useful.

The staff in hostels know their cities like the back of their hands. Go up to any reception in any hostel around the world and ask ‘Have you got any restaurant recommendations?’ and you’ll be lucky to get away within ten minutes of asking. I know hotels do their best, but the tips and the manner in which you’re given them in hostels isn’t matched in any other type of accommodation.

4. Free stuff

I don’t care if you’re a millionaire staying in one of the hotels on 59th St in Manhattan overlooking Central Park – everybody loves free stuff. Guess what? Hostels offer more free stuff than anybody else. This includes free WiFi, free breakfasts, free walking tours, free iPads (it’s true) and free beer (also true). Other forms of accommodation don’t offer these. So for me, this is a no-brainer – if you like free stuff stay in hostels.

5. I’ve slept in some unique places because of hostels

I’ve been lucky enough to have experienced some extremely unique sleeping arrangements in different cities over the years thanks to hostels. I’ve slept on a jumbo jet and two boats in Stockholm, I’ve spent a night underground in Coober Pedy, in a capsule in Tokyo and in a building that resembles something out of Middle Earth in Co. Sligo, Ireland. I’m not saying hotels, bed and breakfasts and other types of accommodation aren’t in unique places because they are. But staying in them expensive. Choose a hostel in a location that little bit out of the ordinary and it won’t be too painful on your budget.

My advice? Stay in hostels – you’ll meet people from all over the world, stay in extremely unique (and not to mention central) locations, and reap the benefits of free tours. If you’re worried about snorers or noisy neighbours, as previously mentioned, you’ll have the choice of private rooms most of the time.

Hostelworld.com lists hostels, budget hotels, apartments and guesthouses all over the world. To keep up to date with them follow them on Twitter and like them on facebook. You can also follow Colm on Twitter at @colmhanratty.

***

Even though I’ve documented my distaste for hostels, Colm is pretty convincing, isn’t he? And it doesn’t hurt that he has a charming accent! With a little nudging I accepted his challenge, so stay tuned for details of my return to the world of hostels… and let me know in the comments – what do you think?

Are you pro or anti-hostel?

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  • August 01, 2012

    I’m in between the hostel and hotel life. Hostels have really changed in the past five years catering to the “flashpacker” and offering private rooms which are on par with a two to three star hotel. I like the fact that you can have a private room but also get the social experience of meeting people. If you’re on a budget, it’s one way to save money. It certainly helped me on my three month Euro trip. That said there are more options now like Air bnb. Interesting article to generate discussion around this topic again.

    • August 06, 2012

      I have to agree – hostels have changed and ARE changing. I think there are many more options than there used to be for travelers of all budgets and levels of diva =)

  • August 01, 2012

    I’m not a fan of hostels. Now, I’ll admit I haven’t actually stayed in a hostel since 1997 but there’s a reason for that. I like my sleep and on trips sleep is usually a few precious hours at best. I don’t want to be awake all night as the drunken backpackers stumble in. <- Which had been my experience with hostels in Costa Rica in 1997. Heck, I WAS one of those drunken stumblers one evening.

    I also like my privacy and in particular a private bathroom. Show me a hostel that is clean, quiet, and lets me have a private room with private bathroom and I may just change my mind.

    • August 06, 2012

      I’m with you. I need my sleep. If I don’t recharge properly, I’m a mess and my travel experience suffers. There are decent private rooms out there though, so it is possible to have a good experience in a hostel… just not necessarily as guaranteed as at a hotel.

  • August 01, 2012

    I’m with Natalie. Staying in hostels no longer means staying in dorm rooms. Private rooms in hostels are often less expensive then similar hotel rooms. We’ve found that staying in a private room at a hostel gave us all the benefits (meeting people, getting tips, cool common areas, kitchens, etc) without having to be awoken a dozen times a night by various noises. We also still had a private place to retreat to when we wanted.

    • August 06, 2012

      That’s the key that everyone’s been mentioning – private rooms in hostels. It seems to be the best of both worlds!

  • August 02, 2012
    Lennard

    While I can imagine that people value their sleep at night, you can’t expect that everyone will be in their bed stone cold sober by 11pm every night if you’re sharing a 12bed dorm with 11 others who are on holiday.
    That is not to say that everyone should be allowed to come in shouting and dancing at 3.30am but it’s one of those things that happen when you stay in hostels.

    • August 06, 2012

      Nope, you definitely can’t expect that. Which is why hostels haven’t always worked for me in the past! Private rooms are a much better solution…

  • August 02, 2012
    Ele

    I only stay in hotels because they are cheap. Beggars can’t be choosers, so I have to put up with the plastic bag ruffling, unfortunately. 🙁

    • August 06, 2012

      I hear you loud & clear! Many, many times I’ve done the hostel road just because it was the only affordable option. Sometimes I’ve liked it, other times, maybe not. But you’re right, beggars can’t be choosers!

  • August 02, 2012
    Jeff B.

    My hostel experiences, with private rooms, in Budapest (2008) and Dublin (this past January) were very postive.

    In Budapest, my wife, teenage daughter and I shared a private room and it was exactly what we needed with a good price and great location. (Hostel Marco Polo)

    For Dublin, I stayed at the Four Courts Hostel as a solo 41 year old traveler. While the age difference probably prohibited interaction with the younger guests, I found the location, price and ammenities (free International phone calls via Skype and free acces to the Internet) unbeatable as well as the friendly, helpful staff. I would love to return to Dublin & the Four Courts Hostel with my wife and daughter.

    In January 2013, I will be visiting Brussels/Brugges solo and will be using hostels again. Found one in Brugges, still looking for a good fit for Brussels.

    For travel outside of the US, I will always look to hostels first.

    • August 06, 2012

      Sounds like you had an amazing trip – that’s what I like to hear! So many folks LOVE their hostel experiences, I just had to try it again…

  • August 04, 2012

    Great post Colm! I like to mix-match with hostels and hotels. But I agree with what you’re saying! 🙂

    • August 06, 2012

      Mix & match seems to be the preferred method of true road warriors! Thanks for chiming in =)

  • August 04, 2012

    I have used hostels regularly for travel, but at the moment we have three young children. As a result trying to stay in a single room is a bit challenging, especially at bedtime.

    Our current accommodation preference is for a unit with a separate bedroom so we can get the kids to sleep and still have some ‘us time’.

    When they get a bit older we should hopefully be able to go the hostel route again. We could probably book our own dorm room by then!!

    • August 06, 2012

      Wouldn’t that be fun!? A whole dorm for your family =) I want to read all about that!

  • August 07, 2012
    niles

    I’ve heard they discourage anyone over 30 from staying at a hostel. In fact, I read on one website that they do not rent to older people. My idea of travel is quite different from the intelligent author’s anyway. I believe accomodations are all important in the whole experience, and one should strive for the best he or she can afford.

    • August 07, 2012

      That may be the case in some places but I’ve never seen that sort of age requirement at a hostel. I’ve met people of all ages from teens to 80s in my visits, and everyone was treated just the same.

      Where was the hostel that doesn’t rent to older people?

      • August 08, 2012
        niles

        Astor Quest in London, but apparently there are several in London that are restricted to 18-35 only.

  • August 08, 2012

    I’ve had a good but also bad experiences in the hostels, but nevertheless they are budget friendly and that’s why most of us pick them

    • August 14, 2012

      You are correct! They are SO budget friendly – it’s often hard to justify paying hundreds more just to go to sleep!

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