Hostel Life – A survival guide

Hostels are the undisputed first choice of most budget travellers, cheap and usually filled with fellow backpacking aficionados there are few that have not experienced their facilities.

Hotel in Sharm el Sheik on the Red Sea, Egypt on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography

Five star hotels have their attractions

I am not a big fan of five star hotels; yes, it is quite possible there is something wrong with me! They are usually quite impersonal as well as the obvious disadvantage that it feels necessary to sell the whole family to afford a two night stay.

Small hotels, bed and breakfasts and hostels are usually much friendlier; they offer a more personal touch. They are often family run businesses, which are more involved with their guests. The backpacking crowd are also generally more sociable and always looking for somebody chat or share a beer with.

Riad in the medina of Marrakech, Morocco on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography

Most hostels offer private rooms

“Best to skip quickly over the ‘Hostel’ series of films”

Hostels are usually seated just above couchsurfing in the budget pile and probably due to this most regular hostel users have several horror stories to recant. Personal websites, the internet, guide and travel books are often overflowing with amusing but also shocking tales of woe.

Best to skip quickly over the ‘Hostel’ series of films; just tell keep telling yourself they are only fiction!

Most of us have read many posts about sleepless nights with noisy roommates, coming in at all hours without any consideration for others or getting up in the middle of the night, turning lights to start packing for an early morning departure.

This begs a question, where are all the people that make all that noise? Maybe they not only lack any consideration but are not able to operate a computer. That cannot be true however as they always seem to check their Facebook accounts after the bar closes. It maybe that they only write in the language of the text message generation, which is indecipherable to the rest of us, so who knows what they are actually saying?

“little liaison in a room of twenty people

Snoring and often multiple snorers is a hazard of budget hostel travel. Then there are the hostel romances that think they are being daring. Regardless of any other noise, they never seem able to stop giggling when conducting their little liaison in a room of twenty people some with an early start in the morning.

Whilst admitting to a degree of shame on this topic, I usually had the good taste to pick a time of the day the room was vacant. Anyway time to move on!

In an environment where ten or more total strangers are sharing a room meant only for five carrying everything they need for several months theft is another common hazard.

Laptops, mobile phones, and cameras are just too tempting for the ethically challenged though two pairs of used underwear I once had stolen was a bigger surprise!

Communal area in a Marrakech Riad in a Moroccan medina on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography

Communal areas can be comfortable

“budget does not require cutting out soap”

Hostels often have a bad reputation for cleanliness, it should not be too great a surprise, and not every traveller is especially hygienic. Top tips; travelling on a budget does not require cutting out soap and a shower really does not hurt.

The worst budget accommodation can mean risking bed bugs which are getting especially bad press lately. Actually I do not ever remember them getting good press, in need a new publicist maybe.

There are plenty of options for booking accommodation online, such as Hostelbookers which provide plenty of choice in most popular destinations. A useful feature is the reviewing, make use of these, read them thoroughly and pick the best obviously. Pay particular attention to comments about noise and hygiene, but also check out the facilities available.

“In the hostel world , size matters”

They usually provide a rating, but ensure that the hostel has plenty of recommendations. A 90% rating from 1000 reviewers is more reliable than 100% from just 2.

In the hostel world , size matters. The bigger the hostel or larger the dormitory the greater the chance the stay will be a sleepless one. Greater numbers means more snorers, more late night parties, more early morning excursions or flights and more couples that need to express their obvious lust for one another.

The tip here is obvious pick a smaller hostel; pay a little more for a room with 4 beds instead of 20. The cost is seldom much more and will possibly prove to be the greatest investment ever.

Hostels can be intimidating to the shy, not just in a social setting but often the ablutions are shared facilities. The benefit of a smaller room with ensuite facilities over a large dormitory which means using communal showers and toilets is obvious. Check the accommodation has single sex rooms and facilities if this maybe a concern for you and many offer private rooms though these can be significantly more expensive.

“groaning and giggling in the adjacent bed”

The next best investment is probably a pair of well fitting ear plugs. When that semi-drunk couple are groaning and giggling in the adjacent bed at 2am and your flight is at 7am you will thank me for this advice.

The challenge with a group of drunken roommates coming in noisily at 2am in the morning is that even politely requesting they keep the noise down is likely to result in abuse or worse confrontation.

To be totally honest this has been my failure on a few occasions. Tolerance for inconsiderate idiots is not a strong point. The best option is to pay extra for a smaller room, not only is the reduced number preferable but the more intimate size usually encourages a more social attitude.

Sheesha lounge in a Marrakech Riad, Morocco on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography

Find the more unusual facilites

“provide peace of mind”

Choose a hostel that has lockers and carry a couple of solid padlocks in case they are not provided. Enquire at the reception if they also have facilities for leaving valuables in the reception area. Some have safes which can provide peace of mind if an especially valuable item needs securing.

There are a number of personal options such as Pacsafe for securing personal items however they can be quite heavy and will require some compromise. If in doubt keep all valuables with you.

When seeking a clean hostel, the best advice is choose wisely. Carefully read the reviews and make sure some are recent in case of changes in the management or staff as this may have an impact on the hygiene.

The third suggestion for investing your hard earned cash is a bedbug protector and a sleeping bag liner. Both can be purchased cheaply, weigh next to nothing and take up little space in a backpack. The alternative; just do not expect too many sexual liaisons of your own after spending 3 days in that flea pit that cost $2 a night!

“ensure that you are aware of all the hostel facilities”

Most hostels and the travellers that stay in them are fine so do not be put off. It is possible to have a good night’s sleep, make some new friends and have an enjoyable stay.

Choose carefully, ensure that you are aware of all the hostel facilities, communal areas, hammans, availability of breakfast, kitchen and washing facilities, internet, free tea or coffee and even excursions. Most hostels have facilities for drinking, there may not be a bar, but even in Muslim countries the staff will often purchase alcohol for resale if it is requested.

Marrakech Riads a very posh hostels, Morocco on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography

No bar but nice communal area

The best recommendation for hostels however is that there are usually some other guests that have a similar outlook and it is possible to find a companion for a little adventure. Be sociable, mix with the other travellers, maybe share the cooking of a meal and where plans coincide do some exploring together.

Enjoy the experience; staying in a hostel can be as much a part of the adventure as the journey and destination.


Comments 13

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      I am findng the same at the moment Bret all my most recent trips have been in high end hotels, but my choice would be for hostels and B&Bs if travelling independently.

  1. Chad Claeyssen

    I’ve never heard of a bedbug protector, good to know, I’m paranoid of them. I thought hostels were a better idea when I was the one coming in drunk at 2 a.m.. Now I prefer something private if it’s not a lot more $.

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      Love the honesty Chad funny how our perceptions and preferences change as we get a little older and we slow down huh? Trust me bed bug protectors are great and so small and packable.

  2. Hostel World

    Can I just say what a relief to find who actually knows what theyre talking about on the internet. You definitely know how to bring an issue to light and make it important. More people need to read this and understand this side of the story. I cant believe youre not more popular because you definitely have the gift.

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