Hostel or Hostile Living?

Most travelers never set foot in a hostel, and for good reason. Hostel – or hostile – living is an acquired taste.

I used to limit my hostel stays at the beginning of my trip, but now as I’m nearing the end and funds are getting tight, I almost always find myself sleeping in a bunk bed.

Here’re the 8 ups and downs of hostel living:

Hostel Pros

Information: Your fellow hostel dwellers are great sources of information. Need to know where to catch the night bus? Which is the best trekking company? Where the fresh fruit market is? Guaranteed others staying in the hostel will know.

Companionship: A number of times, I have met nice people in hostels and shared a meal. Less frequently, I’ve made a friend and we’ve traveled together for a short period of time. Even just sitting around the lounge you can strike up a decent conversation with someone you have something in common with. (Both of you are in this far-flung place for instance).

Free Stuff: Internet use in hostels is free and unlimited – an imperative for me. Also, hostels in Central America serve a free breakfast of pancakes. And most offer coffee and tea all day. These are little things, but they can certainly add up.

Safety: I actually think hostels are safer than hotels, especially for people traveling alone. It can get a bit creepy in a deserted hotel in a foreign country. At least in a dorm room, there will probably be someone around if you scream.

On the other hand, you need to lock up your belongings in hostels, always. Most of the time there are lockers for passports, cameras, and computers. And I wear my small fanny-pack like purse to bed. Can’t be too careful.

Hostel Cons

Noise: On the hostel circuit there are party hostels and chill hostels. I prefer the latter. At one of my first hostels in New Zealand I got up to the smell of barf in the hallways. I outgrew that a long time ago.

But even if you’re in a chill hostel, you’re in a dorm room with others, so you go to bed with the last person and get up with the early risers. And there’s always someone catching a 4:30 am bus. Sleep is at a minimum.

Privacy: As in lack of. I generally try and book a female-only dorm room, but this isn’t always possible. So you find yourself in a room with 5, 7, 9, 11 other people, some of which are snoring, drying their wet socks on the bed rails, and if you’re really unlucky, having sex. And there always seems to be one old dude walking around in his underwear.

Bathroom Queue: It’s like you’re living with 12 brothers and sisters and everyone needs to use the loo at the same time. At my hostel in Cartagena, we’d literally stand outside in line with towels in hand. When making a reservation, a high bathroom to dorm bed ratio is considered a good feature.

Cleanliness: With so many people using the facilities it is nearly impossible to keep the common areas clean. In the communal kitchens, people are responsible for washing their own dishes, so you learn to inspect your cup before use. And you never enter a shower sans flip flops. I actually surprised I don’t see more bed bugs and cockroaches on the road.

The Hostel Life

So what do you think? Will you be staying at a hostel anytime soon? While it can be fun, if I had the money, I’d choose a private room with my own TV remote, clean sheets and an ensuite bath any day.

Interested in reading more about where I stay on the road? Check out:

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This entry was posted on Saturday, November 10th, 2012 and is filed under On the Road.

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