It wasn’t until recently that I had any experience with hostels. For so long, as I think is true with a lot of people, the word hostel conjured up somewhat negative images. The movie Hostel didn’t really help that idea either. Up until my last trip I had only ever stayed in hotels. Most of my previous travels were with other people, or when I still had enough in my savings to say, “go ahead, spend the extra!” The privacy is definitely a plus, as well as a bathroom of my own and the feeling that I’m being luxurious.
However, freelancing is somewhat of a slow start and the savings are running low. I knew that I needed to start budgeting a little more and spending a little less, but I still wanted to travel. I was nervous because I had never stayed in one before, but it was time to try a hostel.
If you’ve read my previous posts, you’ll know how much research goes into every trip I take. If you haven’t, it will become obvious very quickly. I love doing a ton of reading about the places I know I’ll soon be because I like to feel like I know a little bit about the location. It makes me a little more comfortable and a little less anxious. The same goes for my lodging, especially because I would be trying something new.
Dorm housing in and of itself is not new to me. I went to college. I worked at an amusement park for four years and stayed in their dorms. I’ve lived in NYC for five years with between two to five roommates most of the time. Sharing space is something I’m quite accustomed to. It would be a little different knowing I would have different roommates each night, though.
What You’ll Need
As I did my research, it became clear I would need a few small items before I boarded the plane. To be clear, hostels have great amenities. Some offer as much or more than a regular hotel! However, not all hostels are alike, and some require reading their amenities list before booking. In a way, hostels are like budget airlines. You pay the base fee for the room, and extras are, well, extra. Most hostels include linen bedding for free, but you will run into a few that charge a buck or two extra. Towels are another amenity that may or may not be included. Even so, you’ll still end up paying much less than a regular hotel.
First and foremost, a lock is a top priority. Most hostels contain lockers for your luggage because let’s face it, no one wants to leave their belongings in the open around strangers. It’s important to have a TSA-approved lock. They aren’t very expensive, and they are usually pretty small and lightweight making them perfect for backpacking.
I also chose to purchase a travel towel before I went. Most hostels either include towels or have them available for rent, but I wanted to have my own. I try to travel as light as possible and a regular towel is just too bulky, heavy, and slow-drying for me to keep on me while backpacking. Travel towels are thin, light, quick-drying, and super absorbent which makes them perfect for the type of travel I do. They are also fairly inexpensive and the cost of the towel itself usually pays for itself when you add up the rental costs over even just one trip.
My Experiences So Far
I can truly say that I only had one negative experience in a hostel over the eight days I was backpacking through Europe, and it was not the hostel’s fault. A couple in the room next to me was arguing loudly, their baby was screaming (babies are not common in hostels, in fact, most don’t allow them), then they were listening to loud music until late. Otherwise, I had nothing but good experiences.
In Portugal, I stayed at Yes! Lisbon Hostel and I loved it! The rooms were nice and clean, the staff was friendly and knowledgeable. The best part was the dinner offered in the common room. €10 for a three-course meal and an open bar? Yes, please! They also offered a bar crawl but I didn’t sign up for that because I didn’t want to drink too much and I wanted to get to bed early (if you read my post about Lisbon, you’ll know that that ended up not happening…) I stayed with a group of American guys who invited me to join their card game. I also met some pretty fantastic people and we traded social media handles.
In Denmark, I stayed in Steel House Copenhagen. They aren’t wrong when they describe this hostel as a luxury hostel. This place was super chic and definitely marketed to a younger crowd, though there were plenty of people of all ages. The rooms were nice, and the bunks were cozy. They even have their own café, pool, and gym! As with a lot of hostels, they offer nightly activities including karaoke and games nights. This was by far the most expensive hostel I stayed in that week and even so, it only cost me USD$34 per night.
I also really enjoyed my hostel in Utrecht. Stayokay is a hostel chain in the Netherlands and I definitely recommend it. Again, this hostel was chic with a café, bar, and workspaces. The staff was extremely helpful in giving recommendations of locations to visit across the city. I ended up spending most of my evening, after wandering the city, having a great conversation with one man from Germany and another from England that lasted for a few hours. The bunks were also built almost like their own cubicles making them much more private than any of the other hostels I stayed in.
Why I Would Do it Again
There are a host of reasons why I will choose to stay in hostels when I travel, not the least of which is saving money. I think the biggest draw for me is the social aspect. You never know who you’re going to meet staying in hostels, or where that potential friendship will lead. In Lisbon, I ended up going out and sitting by the water with a girl I met at dinner. The German man I met in Utrecht photographs Cons all over the world. I think it’s so neat, especially in the age of the internet and social media, to be able to keep in contact and follow everyone’s travels.
The amenities were a huge plus. The number of free events and tours offered was astounding. If you’re not sure what to do in a city, I can almost guarantee your hostel will have something going on. I used to love staying in hotels with pools which you’d be surprised that some hostels still offer. The only thing that hostels didn’t offer that hotels do is the privacy of your own room, which, as a single traveler, I was willing to trade off.
Another great thing about hostels is that they tend to be a lot more centrally located while staying cheaper than even the more distant hotels. I stayed in or very near the city center in every country I traveled to.
Overall, I had an amazing time staying in hostels, meeting people, taking part in activities, and saving money at the same time. For travelers who are looking to save money and love making new friends, hostels are definitely the way to go and I’m excited to book my next stay!