Staying in hostels: yay or nay?

Barnacles Hostel Galway - 8-bed dorm

8-bed dorm room at Barnacles Hostel Galway. Photo: Barnacles Hostels / Flickr

Hostels are a mainstay of the budget travel circuit. Share a dorm room with strangers, shave off a big percentage of your accommodation costs.  They do come with some drawbacks however, as this article from The Sydney Morning Herald describes: The problem with staying in hostels.

Although for me, the “problem” the author writes about is my favorite benefit of staying in hostels: meeting other travelers.  I can’t imagine how lonely my trips would have been had I opted for private rooms in hotels. As for getting distracted, I think it’s really a matter of self-control and politely saying “no.”  If you only have one day left in your trip and you’re really set on visiting a certain site, then just go.  There’s no shame in politely declining an offer from a fellow traveler to hang out in a pub.

I can see where he’s coming from, since I’ve encountered some of the problems he’s described, as well others that didn’t make the list.  For example, people who snore.  Whenever I walk into a hostel room and see 10+ beds, my heart sinks.  I know the odds favor that at least one person will be a heavy snorer.  Yes, I’ve also had people stumbling in late at night while drunk, or waking up insanely early to pack because they have a 6 a.m. flight.  But you have to take the bad with the good.

Did you start out sleeping in hostels, but have moved up the accommodation ladder a bit?  It’d be nice to stay in small guesthouses with private rooms, but still have a big common area that encourages conversation.  For more discussion, you can check out this post: Three modes of travel.

How do you feel about hostels?  Please share your stories in the comments.

Posted by | Comments (9)  | September 23, 2011
Category: Hostels/Hotels, Notes from the collective travel mind

9 Responses to “Staying in hostels: yay or nay?”

  1. Scott Says:

    I do wish people had better etiquette when staying in hostels. I pack the night before so I can leave quickly and quietly in the morning. Too many times I’m woken up by folks taking an hour to pack and talk about their plans for the day.

    I prefer that you’re loud and leave quickly for five minutes instead of trying to be quiet by being slow. I can probably fall back asleep. I won’t if you try and whisper and make rustling noises for 30 minutes.

  2. GypsyGirl Says:

    A variety–hostels,hotels,apartments–seems to suit me; I’m a big fan of Couchsurfing over hostels. Usually, when you book online there’s something written about the atmosphere of each hostel. That provides a good gage. I tend to avoid the ones that advertise party scenes.Plus, many have rooms that sleep only 4 or 6–less people, less havoc (in theory) Ear plugs and eye shades become your friends!

    Aside from a few creepy guys stalking me, passing around sick funk, and bombs going off out front the building door; I’d not trade any of the conversations or friendships I’ve made/had while staying at hostels. Nor the entertainment or audacity of some peoples behavior.

    Part of becoming travel savvy is knowing your personal breaking point. And a little kindness to a person at the front desk of a hostel, even when your at your wits end, can go a long way in making a not so great situation, better.

  3. Gene Says:

    I’ve stayed in MANY hostels in Europe. The vibe, sleeping situation, everything really, is so variable that it’s really hard for me to state one simple opinion on them. I’ve stayed at a place that had a “communal bed” (Krakow). Stayed at a place that was a big open room with mattresses on the floor (Berlin). I’ve stayed in lots of “cozy” hostels (Budapest, Prague, Paris). Stayed in only hostel that I completely hated (The Bull Dog, Amsterdam)…paid in advance for 3 nights, left after one! Ultimately, I do think hostels are the way to go while in Europe (not so much in US or Asia). Met quite a few people while hosteling, some of whom made a big difference for the better and I’m still in contact with. If you are a solo free-spirit as I am, I think the hostel scene is good, and lots of fun.

    BTW, to GypsyGirl. The guy is only “creepy” if he’s one you don’t like. I’m a guy, and met several girls through hosteling where we went on day-trips together, or random city-exploring, etc. And we had a great time. Maybe he was creepy, or maybe he was just a shy, bookish, socially-inept introvert like I am.

    Scott: the late night drunk frat boy arrivals can be really annoying as well. This was especially bad for me in Amsterdam. And agree completely about the early departures as well.


  4. Meggie Says:

    I have slept at hostels, guest houses and budget hotels, and I love them all, but for different reasons. Even as a very timid traveler, I love the experience I have at hostels. I’m constantly meeting new people and making new friends, which is especially nice when traveling alone. Guest houses and hotels are nice when I need a break, but I’ll choose hostels almost every time. Yes, there are some drawbacks. But let me tell you, after a day of intense sightseeing, I sleep really well no matter what I’m sleeping on!

    I actually just interviewed my dad, with whom I hosteled last year, about his perspective on hosteling as a senior. It’s right here…


  5. Agle Says:

    Earplugs. EARPLUGS. EARPLUGS!!!!!!!!!!!

    This is a basic packing list item people, and easily solves 75% of your “problem” with hostels. Bed bugs and other germs, not so much.

  6. Lyndsay Says:

    Hostels are always my place of stay when travelling. I know its not always perfect because you are sharing the room with other people but hey, that’s when we learned how to adjust. They might have some complaints about us too that we are not aware of, so its just part if the adventure. 🙂

  7. Michelle Says:

    I’ve stayed in many hostels and I generally like them. The biggest drawback in my eyes is SNORING!!! yes you can wear earplugs but sometimes you have to hear an alarm. I really like hostels for meeting new people and hearing others’ travel stories and perspective on America. I like to hear where people have been and where they are going. I’ve gotten some great advice.

    All this being said, if I was rich, there is no way in hell I’d be staying in hostels…

  8. Sally Says:

    I have stayed in many hostels in Europe and big cities in the US. I find that young travelers ignore older people. It isn’t fun being treated like furniture — so I believe the opportunities for making friends and finding people to do things with is being overhyped here — it depends on who you are. I dislike the lack of air conditioning and high humidity at some hostels, largely due to poor ventilation in old buildings. People barely out of their teens are not very interesting to me, especially when they have been drinking, and I rarely meet anyone I enjoy talking to in a hostel — they seem to always be kids on break with a sense of entitlement that the hostel belongs to them and others are intruders, rude and oblivious to other travelers not their age. Also, the food is often terrible when breakfast is included. I find that I have more chance to practice language skills outside hostels. The best thing about them, besides price, is location in the center of tourist attractions. I like staying in University dorms better (e.g., Londons School of Economics, Trinity College). Amsterdam and Edinburgh were the worst.

  9. Wayne Says:

    90 percent of our hostel experiences have been great. Traveling as an older couple we still enjoy interacting with people of all ages, not just fellow old boomers. Unfortunately, a few under thirties seem to resent the fact we old farts are in “their” hostel.