Hostels. Oh, hostels. Oh my god, hostels. I actually mostly like hostels a lot. I’ve been staying in them on and off for two months now and although they’ve taken some getting used to, and they for sure have their drawbacks, the pluses definitely outweigh the negatives. But oh man, have I learned a ton. There’s a lot to like about hostels, particularly when you’re young and/or traveling alone. They’re way cheaper than hotels generally: mine have averaged about $22 per night. A lot of times they include breakfast, free coffee, a kitchen to use for meals, awesome common areas and sometimes even a cool bar or restaurant. There’s also the built in social aspect: tons of free guided tours, bar crawls, free dinners with the other guests, and roommates to get to know. I’ve had amazing nights with hostel mates staying out til sunrise, singing at the top of our lungs as we walk home from bars, sprinting down the streets like maniacs, staying up late in common areas sharing stories of life and travels. But all that was a given. I knew I’d meet cool people, and if you stay in hostels you will too. Now let’s get to some things I learned.
It turns out not everyone is aware of the noises they make. Or maybe they just don’t care. Living in the dorms in college kind of prepares you for hostel life, but in a lot of ways, levels of courtesy seem to be even lower when people are on vacation, not waking up early for classes, not studying for exams, and not ever going to see most of the people they’re living around after about two days. There’s a special genre of human that simply does not give a shit if it’s 4:00am, they’re going to slam that door anyway, they’re going to talk on their phone in the bed next to you at the top of their lungs, they’re going to rummage loudly through their locker and open every zipper and paper bag they can find. And then there’s the snorers. None of us are above snoring every now and then. Especially if we’ve been drinking or are kind of stuffed up that day. But Jesus Christ. I’ve encountered some people who must have serious health concerns. It starts as a low rumble and you think maybe it won’t be so bad. But then it builds to something that sounds like a box of wrenches is being dragged repeatedly across the floor above you. For hours and hours until insanity sets in and you can’t even remember what it was like to not hear that sound. So the lesson from all of this is: invest in some comfortable earbuds, download Spotify, find one of their white noise tracks that suits you and play it on loop all night long. Because there aren’t earplugs strong enough to drown out most of the bullshit that happens between 3-9am in hostels.
Sharing such a small space with as many as 12 other people can have some other drawbacks. I’ve woken up in the middle of the night to hostel mates casually having sex in the bed next to mine. For real. At first I hoped they were maybe just making out. The girl whispered, “wait, let me put on some chapstick,” right before they went at each other sloppily for a while. She apologized for her cough a few times. It was really romantic. But it quickly became clear they weren’t stopping at first base. And no matter how much fidgeting or throat clearing I did, they were doing the deed. I should have live tweeted it. I’ve also walked into a room and encountered body odor that could change your eye color. It seriously was like a mortally wounded animal crawled into my nose looking for a place to quietly die. I’ve had roommates that will talk your ear off for hours no matter how disinterested you eventually end up being. You can even pretend to fall asleep and fake snore and they still chat you up. The only lessons I’ve really learned here are that sometimes you just need a break. So after a while I started breaking the hostels up with some reasonably priced hotels and AirBnBs. The privacy feels SO GOOD when it only happens a few nights a month.
Then there are issues of trust. Most hostel rooms have lockers of some kind. A lot of times they even come with their own locks. But it’s still a good idea to have your own lock with you just in case. Sometimes the lockers are big enough to fit all of your belongings in them, but sometimes they’re only big enough for a few small valuables. They usually work really well, but when I was in Marseille, mine didn’t quite match right. And my lock wouldn’t fit through the hole. So I just trusted that the other three people in my room, that I had already met and talked to, wouldn’t steal my stuff. So I put my bag in the unlocked locker overnight while I slept and awoke to a stolen passport and credit card. From this I can give a few pieces of well-learned advice: if there’s no working locker in your room, either sleep with your valuables under your pillow, or give them to the front desk to lock up somewhere. Also always keep a picture of your passport info page somewhere and always keep a back up credit card hidden somewhere nowhere near your other card. Those last two things saved me when I didn’t do the first one.
Overall though, hostels are amazing. They help fend off loneliness. They keep your expenses low. They make for some great stories. And they’re often in the center of everything: close to the rail station and close to the main attractions in the middle of the city. There are a few really great ways to book hostels, but I’ve always used the Hostelworld App. You can search through all the available rooms, look at ratings and reviews, see how close they are to all the action, and book right there in the app. Super convenient!