My thoughts on hostels
On my recent trip to Central Asia, and now again in Thailand, I stayed in hostels for the first time in a while. I hadn’t really traveled by myself for several years, hence I never really considered hostels or dorms. But traveling by myself, I reconsidered this accommodation option once again and thought I’d share my thoughts after staying in one for the first time in a while. I was curious to see how my perception has changed.
Why would I stay in a hostel?
I think there are two reasons why I (and this probably applies to most travelers) would stay in a hostel:
- To save money
- To meet other travelers
While I was still a student, saving money was the primary objective and meeting other people was just a nice add-on (and sometimes not so nice). As you start working and have a bigger budget, at least I valued the comfort of a private room. Staying in a dorm can be nice, but let’s be honest, more often than not you are annoyed by at least one roommate.
Booking a private room (maybe with a shared bathroom) can be a good option – still cheap(ish) and you do get to meet other travelers.
When I first traveled in Uzbekistan on my own, there weren’t really any hostels and I really started to miss them as it was quite difficult to meet other travelers in ordinary hotels without common rooms. On one hand, I missed that in order to meet other people to have a meal with or go sightseeing but also to get insights and advice on where to go or not to go. In Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan I then stayed at guest houses or hostels again and met lots of interesting folks.
Now my perception has changed when traveling on my own: saving money is a nice side effect, but meeting other people is the real benefit of staying in a hostel.
So what’s import to me in a hostel
Over the years I have stayed in several dozens of hostels in Europe, South & Central America as well as Asia. I think I have a fairly good idea now of what I am looking for in order to have a positive experience.
- Safety: first and foremost, the place needs to feel save. Just like with a hotel, you don’t want it to be in some shady, dark alley in a dodgy part of town. But in addition, since you might be sharing a room with strangers, I want the room to feel safe with proper access control and a box for me to lock my things away. While bigger hostel may struggle, they need to keep control over who enters the hostel and only let guests inside.
- Cleanliness: almost as important to me is cleanliness. This should be an easy one to get right but you’d be surprised how many place get it wrong. Clean at least once daily. Make sure the bed-sheets are clean and crisp.
- House policy: some people actually want to sleep at a decent hour (myself included). Communicate a clear policy that you have to be quiet after a reasonable hour.
- Location: unless I am going to the hostel because of its unique location somewhere in the middle of nowhere, the hostel should have a fairly central location (even if that means it is slightly more expensive)
- Hosts: the people running the hostel should have a decent idea about the destination and be able to help out with basic information regarding transportation etc. I am not expecting a five-star hotel concierge but rather just the basics the being pointed in the right direction. English-speaking staff get bonus points but I know this can’t be expected everywhere.
- Common area: one of the two reasons in staying in a hostel is meeting others. Hence, a hostel should have an area where you can mingle with other travelers.
- Dorms: personally six beds per dorm is the maximum for me. I’ve stayed in 12 (or even more?) bed dorms and which point chances are very high that someone will annoy you with snoring, late night partying or a combination of both.
- WiFi: last but not least (and I am a bit embarassed to write this), free and reasonably fast WiFi is expected nowadays. The hostel experience has taken a bit of a hit because of it since travelers now spend more time on their gadgets rather than talking to each other, but it does help to plan the next destination on your trip. Individual power sockets next to each bed give bonus points.
So why am I writing all of this?
I was just reminded recently of what I really value about a hostel as I had two very good experiences in Thailand. In Bangkok I stayed at the FU Hostel and in Chiang Mai at the PM Guesthouse. Paying between 200 and 350 Baht per night (8-14 SGD) for a bid in a four-bed dorm is very good value for money while all of the above boxes were ticked.
Several years ago I’d only rely on the guide book’s recommendation. Nowadays with Tripadvisor et al. you can get a pretty good idea of what to expect.
Oh, and my last advice: don’t forget to pack ear plugs and a sleeping mask. I usually pack a linen sleeping bag as well, just in case.