“You will never be completely at home again because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of knowing and loving people in more than one place.”
As you embark on an epic journey halfway across the world, one might ask oneself where am I going to stay? Hotel bills add up incredibly fast and can take a huge chunk out of your travel budget. You might have heard someone mention the word ‘hostel,’ but the first thing that comes to mind is that old horror flick where the backpackers are slaughtered by serial killers, not a cozy place to use as your base camp. I am here to dispel your fears and let you know how wonderful hosteling actually is. For those with USA, Canadian, or Australian passports, your exposure to hostels is probably little to none as the industry has yet to catch on in these parts of the world. However, in places like South America, Europe, and Asia the hostel industry is a highly used resource by budget backpackers. It’s like a college dorm for travelers, without the overbearing RA.
The way this works is you go online (hostelworld.com is my preferred website) and search for the date and area you shall be visiting. From there you will have a list of hostels that have vacancies for your dates, and you can see guest reviews on cleanliness, location, safety, etc. These reviews are your lifeline and will help you determine what’s best for you! Make sure to read carefully because there is a huge difference between a hostel that hosts parties every night and one that has quiet hours after 10 pm! Some hostels also have an age limit, usually around 30-35yr, so check first! Now, what are the sleeping conditions you might ask? Dorm style! You will have a choice between different dorm types that vary on how many beds are packed into a single room, and whether it is co-ed or separated sexes. Private rooms can also be booked, but expect 2-3 times the price. Next, you make an online reservation, pay a deposit and download your directions. Easy-Peasy!
So now you might ask why you would give up a private hotel room for a dorm room? Well first off you will be saving buckets of money per night! Hostel prices differ based on location, with Europe being a bit more expensive ($10-25) and South America and Asia being dirt cheap ($5-15)! Compare that with hotels that are almost always over $50 a night! Also be careful of trips during the national holidays (New Years, Cinco de Mayo, Carnival, etc) and special events (World Cup), because both hotel and hostel prices skyrocket in major cities. The second reason to choose a hostel is for the wealth of travel info you can get from both the staff and your fellow travelers! Backpackers are always coming through, so the staff has the best maps and info for what to do in the city and how to get there. Chances are you will also meet some other travelers who have been in town for a few days and can give you the lowdown on the best places to go. Finally, the best reason to choose hostels over hotels is the companionship! In a hotel the only people you are likely to converse with are the staff and your bartender. In a hostel, you are always surrounded by fellow travelers from the most diverse backgrounds, who have the best stories! Think of this as an extensive info exchange group, as these people have been to places you might be thinking of going, or you didn’t even have on your list until now! It’s also a great way for solo travelers to make dinner buddies or find people to go out and explore the city! My secret technique for inserting yourself into these groups: Eavesdropping! Usually, you will overhear other people in the hostel talking about going to get food, or see an attraction, or just are talking about a topic you enjoy. Go up to these people and just insert yourself into the conversation, or as their walking out the door run up and ask “I heard you guys are going out for food, mind if I tag along?” Everybody else in the hostel is in the same boat, so don’t be shy! It’s a fast way to make friends and new connections around the globe!
Here are some tips on what you need, and instructions for common decency while staying in hostels:
– Bring a towel (the quick dry portable kind). The hostel usually rent towels for a buck or two, but why waste the money.
– Have a padlock, because hostels usually have personal lockers you can use for valuables (ie: passport, PC)
– Flip Flips are a must for the communal showers.
– Earplugs and/or iPod, because there is a good chance there is going to be someone snoring or late night arrivals.
– Eyemask, because inevitably someone is going to come in drunk at 3 am and turn on the lights. You will spend less time plotting their murder with this.
– Don’t make a ruckus in the dorm after 10 pm. The dorm is for sleeping, not partying.
– If you snore obnoxiously, consider a private room. Otherwise, you may have others spend the night dreaming of smoothing you with a pillow.
– Don’t leave gross stuff in the shower. Or have sex in the shower. Or did anything unmentionable in the place others have to bathe after you.
– Do not treat the staff like your servants. They are either underpayed, or volunteers, and do not have time for your bullshit.
– Talking, even quietly, while others are sleeping is not cool. Go outside.
– No drugs. Seriously, not okay.
* These don’t always happen, but when they do just remind others that this isn’t a party palace. Or just yell at them to shut up. That works too.