Ahhh sleep…that essential thing necessary for living. When you’re traveling, sleep is just as essential, though it’s often disrupted as a result of jet lag, noisy neighbors, red-eye flights or train rides, etc. When your comfy bed is miles away, you’ve got to opt for the next best thing. One source of relief can be found at a hostel. But what exactly is a hostel? And is it really safe there?
There seems to be a lot of stigmatization and fear of hostels, thanks to scary movies (which I don’t plan on watching) and general distrust (I’m not certain where this originated from). Will a solo female traveler be safe in a hostel? Are there bugs/snakes/tarantulas everywhere?
I decided to create a simple, old-school list of some hostel basics, and the pros/cons so that more people can get a sense of what a hostel is really like. But truthfully, the only way you’ll really understand what a hostel is like is if you try it out yourself!
- What are the rooms like?
Rooms are divided multiple ways. You can have a single room, 2, 3, or 4 bed room, or a dorm style room, which can have 8 or ten beds. These rooms are further divided into co-ed or female/male rooms.
- How much does it cost?
A common theme with hostels is that they all vary, especially among different countries, with location playing a big role. A hostel in Paris will probably cost more than a hostel on a beach in Nicaragua. Another price factor is whether the hostel is high-end (which is increasingly popular) or just a place to get a few hours of rest. Some are around $10 and I’ve seen some at $150 a night. If your hostel doesn’t have free breakfast, they may offer a meal for a few bucks in the morning, though this may cost more than going to a cafe around the corner.
- What do your hostel fees include?
This depends on the hostel. Many hostels provide a free breakfast which varies in every country. In Monteverde, Costa Rica, guests were given a bowl of cereal and a plate of fruit. In Barcelona, Spain, my hostel had a buffet-style breakfast with oranges, hard-boiled eggs, bread, ham and cheese slices, cereal, and various juices and coffee. If you have time before choosing a hostel, you should check what the hostel costs include. This isn’t always feasible when you’re long-term traveling, but it’s helpful to know that your hostel doesn’t include towels, so you need to bring your own. Every hostel is different. High-end hostels will usually have more than the one that’s $10 a night.
- Will my belongings be safe?
Unfortunately, you are susceptible to having your possessions stolen anywhere you are, even in your hometown. However, when traveling you usually stand out, so it’s recommended to be cautious wherever you leave your belongings. Bring a lock with you (or you may have to purchase one at the hostel) in case your hostel has lockers (which most do). Don’t leave electronics or cash on your bed and try not to draw attention to your electronics when others are in the room.
My first time staying in a hostel was when I was solo traveling in Costa Rica at 19. I didn’t know many people who had stayed in hostels, especially alone, so I was hoping for the best. Ultimately, my fears were mostly unfounded. My first experience was great. A month ago, I stayed in a hostel in Barcelona – quite the different experience.
Benefits of Staying in a Hostel:
- Inexpensive – save money for flights
- Often similar to a hotel. Seriously. You get a bed and bathroom. And how often do you even use all the amenities when you stay at a hotel (pool, gym, spa, etc.)? Probably not much, or even at all. When you’ve got a busy travel schedule, chances are you won’t be spending time inside your hotel building. So why pay the extra fees for unnecessary amenities, when you can get a bed for $10 or $20 a night? Helps you save money for more flights, food, or activities while exploring!
- Meet new people. When you’re sleeping five feet away from a complete stranger, you get close, real fast. And if you’re solo traveling, these are people who are looking for friends or companions as well, so it’s a perfect place to meet some explorer buddies. Some hostels have meet and greets for new guests.
- Tours. Hostels often have discounts with local tour companies and the staff often know of lesser-known activities to do in the area. Make sure to ask them for recommendations!
The Downside to Staying in a Hostel:
- If you’re a light sleeper or someone who needs an uninterrupted, you’ll want to consider your room choice carefully: Dorms vs. single rooms. I like dorms because you are practically forced to meet people, and you meet people from all walks of life, from all over the world. However, that girl on the top bunk bed who’s metal bed creaks every time she moves? Or that group of friends that arrives at 3 am, drunk and *loudly* stumbling over everyone’s shoes? Not conducive to good sleeping. My friend and I experienced this first hand in Barcelona. After only getting about 10 hours of sleep in three nights, thanks in part to jet lag, was terrible. The first night was rough. If you really want to stay in a hostel, maybe try the first night in a single room, just to catch up on sleep. Your body will thank you, and you’ll be more alert to your surroundings, so you can really enjoy that new city you are seeing.
- Party hostels – If you’re not a big party person, then check the reviews on websites like HostelWorld or HostelBookers for guest reviews and ratings. Some hostels are mostly for partying – and have bars, drinking games and dance floors that are open nightly. That being said, if you like partying, then stay at a party hostel or one geared towards young people.
- Cleanliness. Many hostels are cleaned daily and are really nice. However, especially if the people staying in your dorm aren’t as cleanly, they can be breeding grounds for sickness, certainly if you are already sleep- or nutrient-deprived from only eating rice and bread everyday. Bring a cheap pair of flip-flops to wear in the shower/bathroom areas and/or an extra toothbrush (if you have the unfortunate event of dropping your only toothbrush on the bathroom floor, like I did ;/).
With all that said, I’m a firm advocate for hostels. Every time you stay in one, it’s a new experience. You’ll meet new people (which is great when solo traveling), and you’ll save some money. It might not always be the easiest experience, depending on where you stay, but I guarantee it will be memorable!