The Good, Bad & Ugly of Staying at Hostels
As a young traveller, I love staying at backpackers and youth hostels. They’re obviously a lot more affordable than hotels, as you’re usually sharing a room with other people. But even if I could afford to stay in hotels all the time, I would still choose to stay at hostels.
Why? For starters, hostels are a great place to meet other like-minded people. When travelling solo, you’ll often connect with other people and then go out and explore or share meals together. Many hostels also organise activities like tours, games and pub crawls.
Many hostels also offer modern conveniences like washing facilities, a guest kitchen, internet and communal areas to hang out or get some work done. They’re perfectly suited to the lifestyle of nomadic young travellers, and typically have staff on hand who can help you with just about anything.
Over the years I’ve stayed at many hundreds of hostels all over the world. Some have been mediocre, while others have felt like a second home.
The experience often comes down to the people you meet. At some hostels, I’ve met people who have made a huge difference to my life. Other times, an otherwise excellent hostel has been ruined by horrible roommates.
The best hostels I’ve stayed at
I’ve stayed in plenty of excellent hostels, but there are a few that stand out as being particularly good:
Draper Startup House (worldwide locations)
I personally love staying at Draper Startup House locations (formerly Tribe Theory) as they’re specifically designed for people like me – digital nomads and young entrepreneurs. As well as being clean and comfortable, they have co-working spaces with high-speed internet available – which is exactly what I need when travelling. But perhaps the best part is the people. I’ve met lots of like-minded travellers staying (so far) at their Singapore and Lisbon locations. (They have around a dozen other locations worldwide.)
Admittedly, these hostels won’t be for everyone. If you’re looking to party, a party hostel might be much more suitable for you. The point is to look for a hostel that meets your needs – not all are the same, and by doing this you’re more likely to meet like-minded people.
Chameleon Backpackers (Windhoek)
Chameleon Backpackers in Windhoek, Namibia felt more like a resort than a hostel when I visited in 2019. It had a swimming pool, bar and provided a free guest breakfast every day. It was a haven for international travellers, with daily free walking tours and a culture of helping to connect travellers that were travelling onwards to similar places. It also had great staff and top-notch security.
Out of the Blue (Ponta Delgada)
Out of the Blue in Portugal’s Azores Islands would have to be one of the nicest hostels I’ve stayed in. Not only did it have a huge backyard and outdoor area (and an excellent, hot free breakfast every day) but the staff and other guests went out of their way to make everyone feel welcome.
Hostel Strowis (Utrecht)
I ended up spending five weeks at this hostel in 2018, while trying to find permanent accommodation in Utrecht. The hostel staff were so accommodating and helpful, and it was a very comfortable (and affordable) place to stay for all that time.
Mosquito Hostel (Krakow)
This hostel is memorable not just for the great facilities and staff, but also for the guests I met there who first made me realise that it was possible to live overseas with a working holiday visa. Without meeting them, I might never have developed the courage to live overseas.
Some not-so-great hostel experiences
Of course, not all hostels are up to scratch. I’ve stayed at some terrible ones, such as one in Kazakhstan where the toilet didn’t flush, the shower didn’t work, there was no heating (it was snowing outside) and the beds didn’t even have mattresses. We literally slept on wooden planks.
But some of the most memorable poor hostel experiences are not the fault of the hostel – rather, other guests. I once shared a hostel room with an American, an Italian and a Dutch guy. During the night, the (very drunk) Dutch guy peed all over the American, then climbed into bed with the Italian and fell asleep.
On another occasion, I had to share a room with a very racist English man who spent most of the evening on a racist rant and wouldn’t leave me alone, even when I was using the bathroom. So, although 99% of the people I’ve met in hostels have been great, you do end up meeting some odd people. I guess that’s all just part of the fun.
Some tips for choosing hostels
If you shop on price alone, you could end up in a real dump. So if you can afford it, don’t be afraid to pay for a hostel with a very high rating – it’ll still be cheaper than a hotel or Airbnb, and you’re more likely to have a great experience.
Personally, if I’m unfamiliar with accommodation options in the city I’m travelling to, I’ll start by searching on a hostel booking website and ranking the options by highest-to-lowest rating.
Choosing a hostel that caters to your style of travel can also help. Some hostels specifically cater to partygoers, for example, while others may ban parties to create a quieter, more family-friendly atmosphere.
If you’re staying in shared dormitories, you’ll probably have a choice of room size. In general, try to avoid larger rooms. Rooms with 4, 6 or even 8 beds can be quite alright – but booking a room with 16 or 20 beds is just asking for trouble. The fewer the beds, the fewer the people that might be coming and going – or snoring – during the night.
Speaking of noisy interruptions, earplugs are a must when sleeping in hostels! An eye shade can also help if you want to get a good sleep.
Finally, rooms with an ensuite bathroom may be slightly more expensive, but they’re much more convenient. Nobody really wants to have to walk down the hallway to use the bathroom in the night, or wait in a long queue to have a shower in the morning.
Have you come across a great hostel? Or do you have a great hostel tip? Share your thoughts in the comments!