When you think about travelling on a budget, you think about hostels and dorm rooms, right? They’re the backpacking ‘norm’ and usually provide the best value for money, so the odds are that if you’re travelling solo you’re going to be spending a lot of your time shacked up in rickety old bunk beds with a load of strangers.
In this article I’m going to share the things that I love and hate about hostel life, so you can decide whether it’s the right choice for you.
+ It’s proper cheap
Depending where you are in the world, you can get a bed for just a couple of quid. If you’re on a long trip or a small budget, this can be really appealing. When you’re visiting a new place you really don’t have to be in your room much, and by spending less on a bed for the night you can spend more on fun days out.
Although the saying, “you get what you pay for” is mostly true, I’ve had some incredible cheap but beautiful dorm room digs in the past. My favourite so far has been Soul Kitchen Junior in St. Petersburg. Beds are large singles and have a curtain for privacy, and the common areas are more boutique hotel than budget hostel. If you hunt around and do your research, you can actually get a lot of bang for your buck.
+ It’s the most sociable option
By choosing a hostel dorm room, you’re choosing to share your waking and sleeping hours with people that you’ve never met before. This is the perfect scenario to meet people and make friends. Think about it, if you’re holed up in a room crammed with six bunk beds, how are you not going to strike up conversation?
And, it’s kind of exciting to have a dorm mate move on and see who replaces them. You’re going to meet so many people; it’s like a never ending revolving friendship door.
Your hostel will most likely do trips and activities, too, and if there’s an onsite bar you’re golden. In one of my first solo hostel stays I met a brilliant group of Norwegian girls in the bar of my hostel in Bratislava, and what followed was a night to remember (well, it’s hazy).
+ It’s a great safety blanket
Arriving in a brand new place can be scary, and that’s further amplified if it’s your first time going solo. But, hostel staff know this because they deal with people like you and I every day, so they really know how to put your mind at ease.
A hostel with good reception staff will provide you with all the maps, tips, and tricks you’ll need to really settle into your new home away from home. And, if something goes wrong, they’ll be on hand to help you fix it (or take you to the bar to steady your nerves, as I’ve known to happen). A hostel can make you feel much less alone, which is exactly what you need sometimes.
– You might not click with your roomies/hostel buddies
As I said at the beginning of this article, you’re going to spend time up close and personal with your dorm mates. So what happens if you don’t like them, or if they’re messy and noisy? It might be that they don’t speak your language, or that you simply don’t have the same interests. It sucks, but that’s the way it goes unfortunately.
In my first week in Argentina I was sharing a six-person room with five Brazilian girls that were on holiday together. None of them spoke any English and I don’t know Portuguese, so I felt very isolated. Couple that with the fact that they were super noisy and messy, and it made for a tough couple of days. But, they moved on and were quickly replaced with fun people who I could hang out with. It’s all down to luck, and the people you meet can really make or break a hostel. But, when it’s bad just remember that it’s temporary and you’ll be with brand new people before you know it.
– Shared kitchens. Eugh.
Remember at university when you had to share a kitchen with strangers and it was awful and gross? Well, yeah, it’s sometimes the same.
Your fellow hostel-goers might have a different standard of hygiene to you, or they may just have no interest in tidying up after themselves.
Food thieves are also rife in hostels, and that gorgeous block of cheese that you’re looking forward to consuming might not be there anymore when you go to get it (yes, this has happened to me).
If your hostel isn’t great in that department, keep cooking basic, only shop for small quantities of food, and keep anything that doesn’t need refrigerating tucked away safely in your locker.
– Say goodbye to privacy
Are you ill and in desperate need of sleep? Your roommates might not take that into consideration when coming home drunk at 4.00am. Want to Skype people at home? A group of strangers are going to be listening in. Are you a chronic introvert that needs time alone to be able to function? Tough.
Privacy isn’t a thing in dorm rooms, and sharing your space is just something that you’re going to have to get used to. If you need a break from being on display 24/7, check into a private room for a night for some delicious solitude; it’s often worth temporarily blowing the budget to regain your sanity.
What do you love/hate about dorms? Leave a comment or get in touch!