Hostels get a really (unfair) bad rep; people wonder if they’re safe, if they’re clean, if they’re worth the savings – the list goes on. If I’m being honest, I’ve had a couple less-than-stellar experiences myself, and I’ve never hesitated to share these stories in past blog posts. However, these experiences are not the rule; they are the exception. If you’re going to be doing a lot of traveling, especially abroad, chances are you’ll be staying in a lot of hostels. They can be an odd experience for first timers, but in reality hostels are one of the best options for staying somewhere on a budget, and more often than not, staying in one will actually enrich your experience.
The most common misconception surrounding hostels is that they are all dirty. However, as with all generalizations, this does not apply to the majority of them. The truth is that most hostels are pretty clean. I stayed in dozens of hostels while I was in Europe and there are probably only two or three I would say were not up to my standards of cleanliness. Just like a regular hotel, hostels have cleaning staffs who clean all public areas each day, and all rooms are cleaned in between stays.
The biggest worry for me was always the cleanliness of the restrooms, but most of these proved to be perfectly fine. Some hostels have only a few showers for many guests, but others have one for every few guests. It just depends on the specific hostel. I stayed in one hostel in Croatia where there were only three showers for each gender, compared to up to 20 or 30 guests of that gender, but I also stayed in a hostel in Greece where we had a shower for ourselves in our three-person room.
Even though most showers I used were fine, I would still recommend taking shower shoes with you to avoid directly touching the floor, just because you can never be sure. But for the most part, I have nothing but good things to say about the cleanliness of hostels.
Another common worry is whether or not they are safe. I understand this concern completely; after all, you’re staying with complete strangers. I should also point out that I recognize my privilege in discussing this. I’m a fairly tall, large guy, and as awful as it is that this is the case, I understand that I don’t experience the same challenges with safety that others do.
Having said this, I have never felt unsafe in a hostel, and I have heard very, very few stories from anyone else I know about having felt unsafe themselves. I would still recommend to always try to travel with a friend, but if that’s not possible, you still shouldn’t worry too much about safety in hostels. Most of the kindest people I have met during my travels were complete strangers I met in a hostel lobby. I’ve found that most other guests are simply adventurous, loving people who are also traveling on a budget. In addition, most hostels have lockers you can use for free or for a small fee to secure your belongings, so you don’t need to worry about the safety of your possessions while you’re asleep or away.
Aside from these, there are some other tips that are simply useful to keep in mind when booking and staying in hostels. The first is to be aware of the concept of party hostels, which are just hostels specifically designed to party while you stay there and to have a good time. I stayed in a few in Europe, such as Balmers (pictured earlier) in Switzerland, and the Pink Palace (pictured here) in Greece. They’re a very interesting experience, but it’s worth noting that things like cleanliness and peaceful nights of sleep may not be as consistent in these hostels
Past this, there are some other small things to remember when preparing for hostel life. You should always try to take your own towel, or be prepared to pay a small fee (usually a couple dollars) to rent one. A few hostels have complimentary towels, but it is not very common.
You should also always have multiple outlet converters and splitters, because often you will only have access to one outlet, and if you need to charge more than just your phone and a camera, this can be a problem. This next one may seem obvious, but remember that hostels don’t have complimentary soap or shampoo like a hotel, so take your own (I did stay at a couple with soap in the showers, but they were really just hand soap dispensers).
It’s also valuable to look into special offers or events that hostels have for their guests. When I was in Paris, I went on a free tour of the city, completely set up by my hostel, that took me to many of the major landmarks and ended at the Louvre. I also went zip-lining in the mountains outside of Split, Croatia for a large discount through my hostel, and did many other activities as well. Many hostels have restaurants that are open to the public, but offer significant discounts to guests, and at the very least, the front desk clerk is usually a great resource when looking for fun things to do or great sights to see.
As a general rule, hostels aren’t particularly luxurious, but they are generally clean, safe, and cheap. I would recommend looking at reviews on sites such as HostelWorld or other travel sites to see what other guests’ experiences have been, and as long as you do your research, you should have a good experience as well. I can confidently say I saved hundreds of dollars while traveling by opting for hostels instead of hotels, and there are even more benefits past the savings, such as the community of travelers or the useful information at the front desk. So, next time you are traveling on a budget (which is literally every time you travel if you’re anything like me), don’t hesitate to book a hostel.