Hostels are the ideal place for the flashpacker to lay their head. However, instead of sleeping in a dorm room with five other people, flashpackers will put up a little more money for their own private room. This gives them all of the benefits of staying in a hostel while eliminating one of their biggest concerns – security.
Meet Fellow Travelers
The Biggest reason you need to stay in a hostel is so you meet people. This is especially true if you’re traveling solo. Even travelers who want their own room can benefit from staying in hostels because of the common area.
Every hostel I’ve been to, every single one, has had a common area. Big or small, nice or run down, these areas are the key resource of the hostel. Where else can you meet a large number of like-minded travelers?
The interactions you will have might simply lead to a nice conversation after a long day sightseeing. More likely, these interactions will lead to any number of unexpected bonuses to your trip including dinner or drinks with strangers, sightseeing with your new friends, or even a brief fling on the road.
In a hotel, your interactions with staff will be very structured and sterile. I can almost guarantee you won’t be having drinks later that night with the bellman or desk clerk.
The hostel is a different animal. Staff interaction with guests is much less formal and after their shift you’ll often find them hanging out in the common room with the guests.
In English-speaking countries, you’ll often find that hostel staff are other travelers working to prolong their own trip. However, whether the staff are locals or travelers, they’ll have spent more time in the country than you and can provide you with important information.
Information from Travelers and Locals
The information you get at a hostel is very different from the concierge at the hotel because the information is coming from locals and other travelers.
From local staff, you’ll find out about key spots in that city as well as their own recommendations. Imagine a close friend from another country came and stayed with you for a week. Would you take them to the exact same places the guidebook recommends? It’s the places you would take them that differ from the guide book that I’m interested in.
You’ll also get some info on the local scene from fellow travelers based on things they’ve done or are planning on doing. More often, in addition to an invitation to look them up if you ever get to their hometown, you’ll get information about where they’re going or where they’ve just come from.
During a previous backpacking trip with a friend, I was staying in a hostel in the Greek Isles. The two of us were just starting our trip into Europe and we met two young women who were on month 8 of their own trip and had just come from the direction we were going.
They recommended a hostel in the mountains of Gryon, Switzerland that wasn’t in the guidebook and certainly wasn’t on our list. That hostel ended up being one of the highlight spots of that trip and we would never have found out about it any other way.
In addition to providing access to people who share your traveler’s point of view, hostels usually have some form of library and a small amount of computers for your use. After 17 months on the road, I’ve yet to find a hostel that doesn’t have some form of internet, though connection speed a Facebook access is something else entirely.
Some hostels even create their own handmade recommendation books for places to eat and things to do within walking distance of the hostel. During my trip through Kyushu, Japan, I stayed at a hostel in Beppu, a city famous for its natural onsen (Japanese public baths). The hostel had two beautifully handmade books, one with recommended places to eat and the other full of onsen recommendations and information on how to get there.
When you stay in a hotel, there is the temptation to stay in the room. Whether due to bad weather, homesickness or something else, those temptations are lessened when staying in the hostel.
What you’re paying for is a bed to sleep in and you should view it as such. In a hostel, there’s no TV in your room or room service to make it easy to stay in bed. Spend your time seeing the city, talking with travelers in the common room or doing research on your next stop.
Part of the experience
When you travel, you should be looking to get away from what is “normal” at home. Tourists think of hotels like their home away from home – a comfortable security blanket where everyone speaks English and you don’t have to talk to anyone.
Hostels are a bit less comfortable and edgy. They offer something different than what you get at home and should be considered part of the over all travel experience. Hostels will also often host free events of their own such as local food tastings, movie nights, and walking tours led by hostel staff.
Cost of Hostels
This is probably the number one reason most people choose to stay at a hostel instead of a hotel. Put simply, it’s very difficult to travel long term when you’re paying outrageous fees for a hotel room you’re only going to sleep in.
Yes, sometimes staying in a hostel means having to follow a curfew or sharing a bathroom with the rest of your floor. These little irritations are a small price to pay for all of the benefits to be gained. Just like hotels cover a wide range of style and quality, the same can be said of hostels. If you don’t like a hostel’s curfew or other peculiarity, just pick a different hostel.
What do you like best about staying in a hostel?