As we Two Drifters have traveled through Australia, we’ve only stayed in a hostel once: when we were in Adelaide, SA. For many, many young travelers, hostels are the accommodation of choice, and with good reason: they are affordable, numerous, typically conveniently located, and full of fellow travelers. Hostels are great. The only reason we haven’t needed them is because we’ve lived out of our campervan on this great Australian road trip. Our accommodation was free camping sites and caravan parks along the way.
But we are certainly no strangers to hostels. (Did we ever mention that we met in one?) We’ve stayed in hostels all over Europe, Thailand, and Morocco (where Nathan even worked in a hostel for a few months.) Let’s talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly of hostel life.
Variety in European Hostels
On my first trip to Europe, backpacking around with my friend Ryan, we stayed in hostels the entire trip. We both agreed that hostel living suited us fine, particularly with the needs of our trip. We were traveling on a budget and living simply; with that type of trip, hostels are the way to go.
Americans may be less familiar with hostels, as we have few and far between in the States, aside from in major cities. Hostels are the most basic of “hotels” for travelers, are most popular with young people, and are extremely common in Europe. Staying in a hostel basically guarantees you a bed to sleep in, and (hopefully) a hot shower. The hostels are very safe and are filled with travelers just like you. In Europe, hostel prices ranged from ‘a hell of a deal’ all the way down to ‘pretty damn dirt cheap.’ We never spent more than $25 USD, and that was in Paris, in admittedly, a pretty terrible hostel. You can reserve hostels through several booking websites which allow you to see photos of the place and also read reviews from travelers. The site I used most while traveling in Europe was Hostelworld. They have a great iPhone app, so you can book travel on the go.
When choosing a hostel, Ryan and I really only cared about 2 things:
Does it have free WiFi?
Is it the cheapest place listed?
Some added bonuses at your hostel are nice, such as a free included breakfast. Our first hostel, in London, offered this, and every morning between 8 & 10, we could help ourselves to free Cocoa Krispies and toast. Like I said: simple living.
That hostel was pretty standard. We stayed in an 8 bed “mixed dorm” which means guys and girls can stay together. We had 3 other couples in our room, none of whom really spoke much English. We had a decent shower and bathroom right outside the room, and the room was fairly spacious. There seemed to be a lot of students in this hostel coming to party in London. It was pretty noisy and rowdy in there at times. Ryan and I classified that hostel to be something of a cross between a freshmen dorm and summer camp.
The hostel Nathan and I met at in Edinburgh was really unique. It was built inside an old, converted church, complete with stained glass in the bedrooms. Very atmospheric, but pretty cramped. That was a really cheap place to stay, probably because it was farther from the Old Town than the majority of other hostels in the city. The sleeping conditions were pretty laughable. Our room had 10 beds, 5 sets of bunks. Every one of these beds was taken, so the room was full. And every single guest seemed to have brought the largest suitcase they own. In what seems to be a 13×13′ room, I could not even walk to my bed without tripping over someone’s stuff lying there like a deathtrap. My bed was in the furthest back corner, on the bottom, so it was doubly hard to get to. Can you say fire hazard? All in all, that hostel was pretty comical. There’s nothing quite like waking up and finding a new stranger in the next bed less than a foot away from you. But we loved it just the same.
The places in Europe really were of a great range. From the adorable, charactered hostel I loved in Killarney, Ireland, to modern, university-esque digs in Munich, we have both certainly experienced it all.
Certainly the worst hostel I’ve stayed in was in Paris. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to recall the name of it (probably blocked it out.) The hostel was really crowded, and each dorm room only had one key. So if you were sharing with strangers, well, good luck to ya. You’d have to wait to be let back in. During our 4 nights there, the electricity went on and off numerous times, the “free” WiFi NEVER worked, and the showers were constantly freezing cold. Once I had an icy shower in the complete darkness. In addition to these luxuries, I saw rats run across the kitchen courtyard. Even though this place was horrible, it was one of the only affordable places for us at the time, and still was around $25/night per person. And yet, we still had a blast in Paris, and even at this hostel, where we met so many international travelers, and I enjoyed a memorable, fun night drinking wine and chatting with some Argentinians—the more I drank, the better my Spanish!
Showering: It’s a Wild Card
Looking for a game of shower Russian roulette? Try a hostel shower. It’s anyone’s guess whether you’ll get freezing cold water that drips out intermittently, or boiling hot, erratically pumping magma. Generally speaking, at most hostels the showers are clean and the water is hot. But I’ve encountered hostel showers that were a little TOO hot for me, that had no temperature control, Essentially, the water runs on some sort of pump system. While showering, you have to press the button repeatedly or the water shuts off. Lather, push the button, rinse, push the button, repeat.
Meeting The World
Aside from the cost, the greatest benefit of hostels is the people you meet. In Morocco, Nathan met people from all over the world. It was a wonderful experience, as he met people who gave him tips and advice on traveling in Morocco, and he returned the favor. In fact, he made a friend there who we later went to visit in Edinburgh, Scotland (the very same trip that lead to our meeting). The friends you make can be valuable resources for learning the ins and outs of a new place, or they can offer suggestions on where to travel next. Best of all, sometimes you make a new friend who you can someday visit on your travels!
In Prague, my travel buddy Ryan and I stayed at The Clown and Bard hostel, in the Zizkov section of the city. The place was considerably far from the center of town. We made our way there in the late afternoon light, and the surrounding area didn’t look too great. Graffiti everywhere, the pavement all broken up. Let’s just say, our moms would not have liked it…
We finally arrived at the Clown and Bard, set randomly on a block behind a creaky red metal door. We walked in, and it was everything you might imagine about Eastern Europe: dark red wallpaper, heavily shaded lamps, and thick wooden furnishings, arranged haphazardly in a hazy, dimly lit room. There was a group of people sitting around drinking and smoking (perhaps cigarettes…perhaps not). We made our way to what seemed like the desk and were unceremoniously checked in. We paid our 1200 Czech korunas, were given stacks of sheets, and then led up the stairs to our room, the “small dorm”. We joked about the horror film ambiance of the place, but in all actuality, it was fine. Just not glamour, you know? You can’t expect the Ritz when you’re only paying for a cardboard box.
I remember this place was really unique and certainly memorable. The kitchen was so tiny; situated on the very tippity-top floor. You’d burn the calories of your meal just getting there to cook it. On the way up, someone said, “I’m making spaghetti, come on up!” It turned out to be a young Slovenian jazz musician. We also met a guy travelling alone from Copenhagen, and a young couple from Bristol, England. Such a variety of characters you meet in a hostel!
5 Best Hostels We’ve Stayed In
- Sunny’s Hostel– Adelaide, SA, Australia – such a convenient location, free parking, amazing and accommodating staff, reasonable prices, free WiFi, and a delicious pancake breakfast every morning!
- Skye Backpacker’s– Isle of Skye, Scotland- very friendly staff, cozy and comfortable, very clean, nice sense of community
- Smart Stay Hostel– Munich, Germany- cleanest and newest hostel I’ve ever seen, with the most comfortable and spacious beds imaginable. big dorm rooms and private ensuite shower facilities.
- The Railway Hostel Killarney– Killarney, Ireland- such a cute and pleasant hostel, nice staff, great kitchen facilities, good WiFi, nice bathrooms, great comfy dorms. a place with a lot of character
- Guesthouse Il Gong– Rome, Italy- technically this is less hostel and more guesthouse, but the prices, for Rome, were SOOO affordable. a bit out of the center of the city, but easy to access via the metro. free WiFi, the friendliest staff who will go out of their way to help you, and free breakfast at a nearby cafe (SO DELICIOUS).
Well, there you have it. A little bit of our views on hostel living. It’s not so bad, eh?
Have you stayed at a hostel? Tell us about your best and worst experiences.