“WHACK!” The sound of skin hitting floor reverberated through the eight-person dorm room. Shuffling noises followed, fabric scraping tile and the purveyor of the sounds tumbled out of the hostel room. The noises woke the remaining seven of us in the hostel dorm room awake at about four in the morning. We’d hoped that this 18 year old Irish guy who had obviously enjoyed all that Barcelona had to offer would settle in a bit more quietly on his return voyage to his top bunk. That’s right, he’d fallen out of the top bunk.
I fell asleep about 15 minutes later, he hadn’t come back to the top bunk he’d fallen out of. I found out the next morning that he’d returned to the wrong hostel bed on his return voyage.
Aaaah hostels. They were new to me when I started my extended my big trips in 2008. I was 32 and thought that I wouldn’t be staying in them because they were a) for teenagers and b) crowded. However, a shrinking budget from two months in the Middle East and two weeks on the horizon in Europe had caused me to reevaluate my “hostels are for kids” thinking in the land of 100 Euro hotels. I found out that there are pros and cons to staying in hostels as an “adult” solo traveler, depending on travel needs and mood. Overall, hostels can be affordable and socially rewarding.
The Good: Find Friends and Travel Partners
Hostels are hives of activity and can be 100% social. There are eight bed dorms and shared bathroom, kitchens and living rooms. Planned activities and group tours are available with a question at the front desk. It’s hard NOT to meet people at a hostel. Sitting at the computer in the Barcelona hostel, I met two college students from the Midwest – we hit it off immediately and toured the city together. In Goreme, Turkey, I joined a group of eight travelers sitting under the fairy tale spires of Cappadocia. We sipped Efes beer under a full moon and got deep quickly in conversation. In Malaga, Spain, I met three Aussies, also just over 30. Instead of beer bongs, we scoured the local grocery store for guacamole and blood mary makings for a proper brunch.
The Good: It’s Cheap!
Europe, for the solo backpacker, can be prohibitively expensive. My 2008 hostel experience in Barcelona was the same price as a shared hotel off of Las Ramblas in a 1999 pre-Euro trip – about $35 USD. Europe is expensive and hostels make it affordable. In Rome, it was the same. I stayed in a hostel near the train station for about 30 euros a night. The good news is that during off and shoulder season, the rooms are not entirely full in shared dorms, so it feels like you have your own room. I experienced this in Spain, Turkey, and Italy. I’ve paid as little as $6 USD for a bunk in an eight-person dorm in Hanoi, Vietnam and as much as $40 a night for a bed for that four-person room in Rome, Italy.
Tip: There are party hostels and there are social hostels, read the descriptions carefully. I veered away from the party ones and choose ones with descriptions like “chill atmosphere” or “relaxation.”
The Bad: Other People Make Noise. Lots of it.
I arrived late in Hanoi, Vietnam and settled into my bunk very quietly, careful not too crinkle my bags too loudly or unzip to abruptly. Others, who arrived later, were not so considerate. One girl talked on her cell phone in the middle of the night. The remaining five of us in the room sighed. What could we expect? It was a hostel.
Sometimes, the noise of shared gender dorms are not the ones a sleeper wants to hear in the middle of the night (or day). My friend Owen told me the term “sexiled” and that’s exactly what one becomes when there’s some bunk sharing going on in a group dorm.
The Bad: There Are Not Too Many 30-somethings at Hostels
Which is OK because the fun outweighs this “bad” point. I don’t feel over 30 most of the time anyway, but sometimes, I just didn’t want to talk about spring break or study abroad or majors. And there’s the jealousy I feel when bouncy co-eds get out of bed hangover free and my mouth feels like a desert and nausea keeps threatening. It’s a little aggravating while these young uns go off to the Barri Gothic neighborhood or the moped tour around Hanoi and I can barely remember my own name through the pain fog.
Recently, Airbnb.com has given me pause on my hostel needs, but the rented rooms and apartments are still twice to three times the price as a hostel in Europe. Now that I’m working full time, I can afford and enjoy the benefits of Airbnb.com, but hostels will always have a place in my accommodations mix.
What are your hostel experiences? Have you experienced the good and the bad?