My Dwindling Hostility Toward Hostels

You may recall my impassioned post Why Hostels Make Me Hostile from a while back:

“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.”

When I wrote those words, I had all but sworn off hostels except in emergency situations. I’d had so many rotten experiences in dorms, and as a very light sleeper, somehow I always found myself in a room full of jack-hammering snorers and 5 a.m. plastic bag rustling jerks and teenager sink pukers. Really.

Then I met Colm Hanratty from at TBU and he convinced me to give hostels another try. (He even wrote his own impassioned rebuttal to my original post.) He organized two stays for me: one in a private room at the YHA London St. Pancras and one in a 12-bed dorm at a colorful former prison in Ljubljana, Slovenia, the Hostel Celica.


Sleeping with 11 strangers? Surprisingly not THAT bad.

Apprehensive and convinced I wouldn’t be convinced to change my mind about hostels, I still tried to keep an open mind. Colm made some great points in his rebuttal about hostel life – about staying in cool places, enjoying camaraderie of fellow travelers and most importantly, saving money on accommodations that you can then spend on other big ticket adventures, like shark cage diving, bungee jumping and scuba.

So I dove right in to our little experiment… and guess what I realized?


Colm was riiiiiight.

At the hostel in Ljubljana, I met a really fun Australian guy who was bunking the bed next to me. We hit it off and ended up hanging out for 48 hours, hiking around Lake Bled on the most gorgeous day and having a picnic in the park. A few days later, I met up with him again in Zagreb and we visited the Museum of Broken Relationships. While I still wasn’t crazy about the 12-bed dorm, it was certainly manageable (with earplugs!) to make such a fun new friend.

And the St. Pancras YHA in London was in such a great location! Had I stayed in a hotel down the same street I would’ve spent a minimum of $300/night… and at that rate, I couldn’t afford to do anything else.

YHA St. Pancras - great location!

YHA St. Pancras – great location!

Hostels aren’t for everyone, and I’m always going to prefer a 5-star hotel for comfort and quiet – BUT, for the solo traveler on a budget, the very best way to meet fellow travelers is in a hostel. And since you can almost always book a private room, you can still get your peace when you need it.

My hostel hostility is now toned down to a respectful appreciation of what hostels are, and what they aren’t.

When I’m wrong, I say I’m wrong. Maybe hostels aren’t so bad. 

Thanks for the second chance, Colm &!

*** 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.

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  • January 15, 2013

    Never says never, I guess. For me, hostels have been hit or miss. All of the actual facilities I have stayed in have been nice … it’s the dorm mates that have been a bit sketchy. I stay in hostels if I am traveling without my husband, though we’ve stayed in them together, too. I’m just grateful I can afford other, more private accommodations if I’m not feeling the hostel love at the time.

    • January 22, 2013

      I totally hear you. Hostels really are hit or miss. I’ve learned to really take reviews to heart… I won’t stay at a hostel that has less than 95% awesomeness rating!

  • January 15, 2013

    Thanks for sharing – I have never personally stayed in a hostel (I opt to utilize more often than not, otherwise budget hotels). I have stayed away because of all the horror stories I have heard. On the flip side, I have heard equally positive reviews, but inevitably the bad outshines the good. Thanks for the post – it’s truthful and much appreciated!

    • January 22, 2013

      Don’t be afraid to try hostels – at least once! Just stick with ones that are highly rated and try for a private room if you’re stressed.

  • January 16, 2013

    Hey I’m glad you have been giving hostels another try! They aren’t all bad plus a lot of them offer private rooms or smaller 4 bed dorms these days!

    I have to admit though those plastic bag rustlers make me see red 😀

    • January 22, 2013

      What is UP with the plastic bag rustlers anyway? How come there are SO MANY?!

  • January 16, 2013

    I don’t personally see the appeal, but I also travel on short breaks as opposed to long term. So even when I travel solo, the solitude of my private room after a day of activities that no doubt included chatting with fellow travelers is where I go to relax. And I require a private bathroom. Maybe it’s the only child in me, but I like my privacy!

    • January 22, 2013

      I am all about the private bathroom, too. That is a big one!

  • January 16, 2013

    I could never in a million years stay in a hostel, but I love that you were proved wrong and admitted it!

    • January 22, 2013

      I’m still with you on the luxury – it’s definitely my preference! But when push comes to shove, I’ve decided I can change, haha

  • January 16, 2013

    Hostels aren’t really my favorite accommodation option, either, but they’ve definitely grown on me over the past 2 years. I still don’t really like sharing my sleeping space with a bunch of strangers, but I’m adapting. Hostels CAN be great places to meet people, and so I try to focus on that instead of the inevitability of there being a heavy snorer in my room.

    • January 22, 2013

      There’s always at least one heavy snorer and one plastic bag rustling jackwagon, isn’t there?

  • January 16, 2013

    Great post. The wonderful part of travel is the adventure of trying new things. Hostels? Why not?

    • January 22, 2013

      Exactly. The whole point of travel is to go outside my comfort zone… so hostels are a good place to start =)

  • January 17, 2013

    Hostels can be awesome or they can be horrible, and the worst part is that you never know which one of those you’ll get.

    I’m very hesitant to big dorms where 12 people share the same room, as there certainly almost always will be someone snoring….!

    • January 22, 2013

      I couldn’t do it without earplugs, that’s for sure!

  • January 19, 2013

    Glad you gave hostels another shot. They can be noisy, loud, and dirty. But there is just something that about the atmosphere that I can;t help but cherish.

    • January 22, 2013

      Absolutely. They definitely have a vibe all their own – something you just can’t find at a hotel.

  • January 19, 2013

    I swore off hostels long ago, mainly because I travel with so much expensive computer and camera gear I don’t trust to leave in a dorm room. That said, some of the best friends I made from my Europe travels were via hostels, and many of them I still keep in touch with nearly a decade later!

  • January 20, 2013

    I am still saying no to Hostels, we had a private room in one in Australia, and that was still a bit of a nightmare – we too said never again. We are a travelling couple, so they are not really designed for us I guess.

  • January 23, 2013

    I think it completely depends. “Hostel” can now mean so many things. I’ve stayed in same great private rooms in hostels that I wouldn’t have picked most five-star hotels over.

    Dorm-style is definitely NOT my favourite, but I’m working with the kind of budget that means I stay in hostels, or I don’t travel at all. And the travel option is always better!

  • February 01, 2013
    Kathleen Duffy

    I am nearly 70 and remember when hostels were only for those who walked – no cars allowed. They are more inclusive nowadays. I still occasionally use hostels but always a private room – however, I was saddened to read on a website (don’t know where) a while back that some young people were complaining that there were too many old people using hostels….

  • February 04, 2013
    Jeff B,

    After extolling the benefits of hostels as 40-something sometime solo traveler, I had disappointing experience with the private room I had in a hostel (private room)in Bruges. There a a night club below it and the heating system made noises that were comparable to bowling ball being rolled across the floor! But besides that the accomodations were fine. Next time, I will be more through when selecting a hostel.

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