WHAT YOU’RE BOOKING YOURSELF INTO
There are many preconceived notions about what type of accommodation a hostel actually is. The simplest way to correct these is to say they are all wrong.
A hostel can be anything from an old abandoned factory – gutted, cleaned and converted into a truly modern place to lay your head – to a small boat with a few beds inside, floating in a canal. It can be an old three room apartment filled with cots or a historic castle that once housed wearisome royals.
The sleeping accommodations can range from a private room with 2-6 beds to bunk-bed type sleeping arrangements with 15-30 people in one room. It is safe to say that most hostels nowadays have a variety of sleeping arrangements to choose from but one can usually find the dorm style sleeping as a choice in any place that calls itself a hostel.
What probably defines a hostel more than anything is a more communal atmosphere. Travelers tend to mingle more and facilities may be offered that you would not find at a place considering itself a hotel such as a usable (in reference to permission to use, not necessarily its cleanliness) kitchen. Those choosing this type of accommodation usually provide their own or rent towels and sometimes bed linens and the crowds tend to be younger.
Although a younger generation of travelers tend to frequent hostels more than the 30-something crowd, the days of “youth hostels” are gone. Today you would be hard-pressed to find any place turning away Euros because of age and sometimes (although this seems to be fading out) rules of conduct, such as smoking and drinking are ambiguous at best.
Most of all however you will not find a rating system such as the 1-3 star rating hotels use (besides user ratings found on websites) which means doing your research is important. Unless of course you love the thrill of walking into the unknown and taking things as they come. If that were the case however, you probably didn’t make it this far into the article.
THEY HAVE MORE AMENITIES THAN A MOTEL 6
Once you have figured out what kind of stay you will be looking for you will want to see what your options offer. It is safe to say that hostels tend to offer more in-house perks than budget hotels. Finding the cheapest bar in town right in the basement of your hostel is not uncommon. This can be a great way to unwind on a budget while exchanging future hostel tips with other travelers after walking around the city all day. Many hostels also have common areas where relaxing around a TV, trying to decipher the Simpsons in French or partaking in a game of fussball can pass more time than expected while waiting for your next train. You might be surprised at the number of facilities that are beginning to offer huge projection TVs with cable or Satellite as part of the entertainment included in the price of a bed. On a similar note, with the decrease in the size of laptops and the increase in travelers who can’t leave those behind, WiFi connections are becoming standard in many locations. If this isn’t available there is in most cases some way to access the Internet and write home or download your videos to YouTube.
Be aware that some hostels enforce a curfew or lock-out period. While the practice of curfew is dying it does exists and you will probably want to avoid it. How annoying would it be to be enjoying a city, loose track of time only to find that you are not able to enter the hostel until the sun comes up? Not a great thing. Just pay attention to the description of the hostel when booking; it will tell you if there is a curfew or not. The lock-out period is also a feature that you will likely just have to deal with from time to time. Usually happening between 11-3 or thereabout a hostel will ask you to leave your room (or maybe the entire building) while they clean up, change sheets or prepare for new arrivals. While this may seem annoying, it is likely that you will be out and about enjoying the city anyways.
KNOW WHERE YOU ARE GOING
Of utmost importance when choosing a place to sleep is to consider what you will be doing when you’re awake. Knowing what sites to see in any given city is a give-in but knowing where they are at in relation to your hostel takes a little investigating. Look through your guide book or find a map of your next destination and get an idea of where things are at. Finding a hostel in the vicinity of where you are headed will certainly minimize your walking time and the costs of metro tickets. This will not only give you more time to see more things but by consequence give you some bearings in the city when you arrive. Paying attention to the maps on sites like hostelworld.com usually gives you an idea of what to expect.
Just as important as knowing where the sites are will be knowing where the train station or airport you are arriving at is in relation to your sleeping quarters. There is little worse than arriving tired in a city at 10pm only to find that your hostel is still two bus rides and a four block walk from the station. Never ever forget to write down directions to your hostel from the train station or airport you will be arriving in; trying to find an Internet cafe just to look up directions which were right in front of you when you booked the place is annoying and a waste of time. Understand the scale of the maps and talk to other travelers about what areas you should avoid. It isn’t necessary to plan out each day and route you will take while city scouring but knowing you won’t have to travel far every time you forget you camera or need your jacket is a comfort. Also, just like knowing what you want in a hostel, knowing what you want in its surrounding area is helpful. If you plan on bar hopping you might want to figure out where your type of crowd goes. Younger travelers tend to be found in one area, travelers with money to burn in another and the gay and lesbian crowd likewise has its own popular districts. If art is your thing a close proximity to popular museums might be something to look for and etc.
IT’S GOING TO COST YOU
Being close to major tourist attractions and ritzy neighborhoods however comes at a price. On a budget it sometimes pays to stay a bit farther out of the city center. Overlooking the arc de triomphe or having the Roman Forum as your front yard will obviously cost more per night. Staying a bit farther away from these types of locations will translate into savings and walking through or getting lost in a new city has its perks. You really never know what you will find off the beaten path. If you plan on buying city transportation pass, such as the Roma Pass, that provides unlimited travel anyways you can save a few dollars by looking beyond the borders of the average tourists’ range of sight.
Generally you can expect to pay anywhere from 10 Euros to 35 Euros (15-51 dollars currently) per night per bed. A rule of thumb however is that if you’re paying more than 25 Euros you can probably do better. This will in the end depend on what city and country you are in and how much the majority of travelers there are willing to pay. Likewise, being right in the middle of the action also brings with it the crowds and noise that some may be wishing to avoid; all things to consider.
WORD OF MOUTH
When using booking sites like hostelworld.com and Hostel Bookers take the time to read a couple reviews. These reviews are written by people who have stayed there and can give you a sense of what to expect. Keep in mind however that a great review does not always translate into a great place and vice versa. More than anything talk to the people at your current hostel. They have just come from somewhere and know exactly what that somewhere is like. More often than not the best hostels are hostels someone will tell you about. Let’s face it people are going to talk about places they love and places they hate. Timeliness is also a benefit of talking to your fellow travelers. A great hostel one year is not always the same 12 months later. Keep your ears open and you may just find a jewel not even listed on the web.
Ultimately there are going to be times when you just have to pick the cheapest place to stay or only have 3 minutes left in an Internet cafe and have to pick a location. This only adds to the excitement of a European trip. With a little planning though, you can limit the stress of hunting down a bed after you arrive in a city, dealing with a lack of vacancy and hating every minute you have to spend under the sheets of a poor decision.
What Hostels Are:
Hostels, also called simply backpackers, are a cheap way to lodge safely with like-minded travelers around the world. Hostels usually feature security, social life, showers and rooms with multiple bunks. Some hostels are bare bones beds and baths at $8 per night; some are almost luxurious. Read on to learn all about staying in hostels, what to expect, and finding and reserving the best bed for you. We’ll largely be talking about European hostels, though Latin and US places have basic similarities.
Who’s Staying in Hostels:
These places are populated by young and young-at-heart backpackers and a few (usually older) budget businessmen. Flashpackers sometimes choose single rooms. You’ll also find couples on weekend breaks in European joints. Most of your fellow guests will be international, with less Americans than you might expect.
What Hostels Have:
Hostels always have dorm rooms with multiple beds, shared bathrooms, a check in area, a cooking/food area and a sometimes secure spot for your pack. They’ve usually got common areas for socializing, even if just picnic tables in a courtyard. Laundry facilities are often offered — sometimes bars, tourist desks, and internet access, too. Most hostels have linen and pillows. European digs may have breakfast. Some places have (sometimes seriously sweet) suites and private rooms.
What Hostels Don’t Have:
Backpackers’ don’t have concierges, daily in-room maid service or bedspreads. They’re seldom spotless, and they have waaaay less bed bugs than your mother thinks. They seldom have in-room phones and tv’s, but often have tv, pay phones, games, vending machines and computers in a common area; some have no towels (lame!), or require towel deposits. Management doesn’t supply, but may rent, locks for in-house lockers.
Many times when one is making their travel accommodations they find themselves asking the question what exactly is the difference between a hostel and a hotel. Indeed, this can often be confusing for someone who is not familiar with the concept of a hostel. There is, however significant differences between these two types of travel accommodations.
A hostel is like a small communal living inn. Generally these are reserved for those who are traveling on a budget. Hostels are favored among young people especially when traveling overseas, as they afford the opportunity to save money and at the same time experience local culture and meet other people who are from different places.
A hotel is a more established and has a more together and proper environment. Rooms are often well-appointed and private, dining options are abundant and offer a wide selection, facilities are professionally maintained an immaculate. A hotel provides a level of sophistication and comfort that is appropriate for travelers who are more established.
Hostels on the other hand are perfect for those who are interested in traveling for the adventure of seeing new and exciting places without getting caught up so much in where they’re staying than rather what they’re going to do while they’re saying there. Hostels are a favorite among young people were traveling with friends, or for those who have hit the open road seeking out the next adventure that their journey takes them on. Hostels generally charge a much smaller amount for their accommodations and usually include very limited additional services. Mostly, hostels provide accommodations in communal living environments similar to dormitories. These dormitories are most often separated by gender and house anywhere from 6 to 10 people in one space using lockers and bunk beds. Generally they are individually owned places with a unique attitude that is indicative of the environment around them. It is often been said that if one wants to get a true feel for the culture of an area they need only spend a weekend in the local hostel.
Hotels are often part of a chain and are more uniform between locations in one place to another. This means that whether you are staying in Shanghai or Walla Walla Washington you can be assured that a hotel of the same brand will more than likely carry the same type of accommodations and amenities, despite location. This is one of the main advantages to a hotel as you are able to know what to expect when planning for your stay. Hotels are perfect for those who want the peace of mind that comes with knowing what to expect from their accommodations while ahead of time.
As you can see there are significant differences between a hostel and a hotel. While a hostel has its advantages there are of course good reasons to go with a full service hotel. A full service hotel on the other hand may not always be the best choice for someone who is traveling on a budget or who are young and interested in enjoying the experience of traveling merely for traveling sake. In this instance a person may find the hostel is more suited for their needs. No matter if you choose a hostel or a hotel or next vacation accommodations, be assured that with proper planning and forethought either of these choices can provide you with the accommodations you need for a great vacation.
A youth hostel is a place that offers very economical accommodation in comfortable surroundings suited to people traveling on low budgets. These hostels exist all over the world and are boons to many students and backpackers traveling both locally and abroad. While they primarily provide safe accommodation for travelers, they also promote social interaction with other guests in a variety of ways. Though the term is associated with youth, people of all ages can be seen using these hostels.
Richard Schirrmann, a German teacher and visionary, founded the first youth hostel in 1912. He noticed the lack of cheap lodgings for youngsters on a school trip when he was forced to spend the night in village school buildings and barns. His first hostel opened with the aid of numerous donations and a lot of public support. Certain incidents in his life led him to ponder the idea of creating friendly meeting places where people with various backgrounds from different countries could socialize with each other. Later, he created a youth hostel association and retired from teaching to focus his energies on the idea.
His original idea spread like wildfire across the world, eventually resulting in the establishment of a nonprofit organization called Hostelling International, or HI. This organization manages youth hostel associations globally, and there are now over 4,500 youth hostels spread out across 80 countries. While the hostels are managed by the national associations, they are required to meet the standards set by HI, which regularly carries out inspections to ensure quality. The core vision of its founder has been preserved, and for many people, youth hostels are an easy and safe way to meet people from different cultures.
In earlier times, youth hostels were places where travelers pitched in and undertook chores that were considered to be character building. These days, youth hostels are well staffed and provide many facilities similar to hotels without the added costs. They offer very reasonable accommodation, which may be in the form of dormitory beds, single rooms, or double rooms. Dormitories are a cheap option and may contain rows of bunk beds. A person checking into such a hostel can leave his or her belongings in a locker provided, which guarantees safety.
A youth hostel also promotes socialization amongst its guests in the form of communal spaces for all of them to spend time. They may carry a range of books with some being donated by travelers. Usually, there is a notice board that carries details on the attractions and activities available in and around the area. Additionally, students and other travelers are free to post tips or questions related to travel and planning there. For many travelers on budgets, the youth hostel provides a safe avenue to find fellow travelers taking the same routes who are willing to split costs on transport and food.
While many youth hostels are managed by associations and require membership cards that can be easily obtained, non-HI hostels also exist. These hostels may be as diverse as its owners — in some places, owners make it a point to remember every guest by name and introduce them to other guests in communal areas. Some may even employ long-term guests as housekeeping staff or desk clerks, offering them free accommodation in return. These hostels are also sometimes known as backpacker hostels thanks to the huge numbers of backpackers who seek them out.
What is a hostel? It is not a hotel, but it is not a homeless shelter either. In one of these establishments, a guest frequently does not rent a hostel room, but rather a bed or a bunk in a room with other people, usually strangers. This is done so not only to cut costs and make for affordable hostel accommodations, but also to promote social interaction. The vast majority of patrons are young students or backpackers who visit countries other than their own, and sharing a hostel room with like minded individuals is a surefire way of getting in contact with and learning from different cultures.
The widespread growth of international hostels has led to the creation of organizations like Hostelling International, a federation with more than 4000 affiliated youth hostels including Hostel Venezia. Such federations facilitate the flow of information among travelers, for instance hostel reviews that will help interested persons to find cheap hostels and in general ease the process of staying at one of them. In spite of their low rates, hostels are more than a bed, four walls and a roof. As a matter of fact, many of them provide different additional services like airport shuttle transfers,internet cafes, pools and spas, tour booking and car rentals. Likewise, they may have a wireless internet connection, allowing guests to access the world wide web in their hostel rooms, provided they have a portable computer.
Hostels should not be confused with a hostales. Hostales are a type of lodging located mostly in Spain and Hispanic America, which tend to be cheaper than hotels and have a bar or a restaurant where drinks and food can be purchased by both guests and locals. As opposed to a hostel room, accommodations usually include private bedrooms, and sometimes apartments, available for either short or long term stays. Guests may share a common bathroom, but rooms with en suite bathrooms may also be found. Hostales are frequent in Spain but also operate in Mexico, Central and South America and California.
A similar establishment is a bed and breakfast hostel. However, a bed and breakfast is meant mainly for overnight stays, including breakfast served the morning after, but usually no further meals. They are usually family run businesses operated by the owners themselves. If outside staff is hired to perform the duties related to a guest house, then it would not be deemed a bed and breakfast, rather falling into the category of inn or even hotel. Unlike a hostel room but more similar to a hostal, guests are typically accommodated in private bedrooms with private bathrooms. This information may be useful when it comes to deciding between a hostal, a bed and breakfast, or a hostel room.
As much as we love hostels, sometimes we find it hard to convince a few of just how much they have changed. Suggest a hostel for a vacation away and you may still be met by cries of ‘Why would you want to stay in one of those?’, ‘Yuck!’ and ‘Won’t I have to share a bed with a bunch of crazy strangers?’. And with so many budget hotels popping up, what makes hostels different from other cheap accomodation?
So for all you hostel virgins out there, this week hostel convert Paul Dow explains why he always chooses hostels. If you need to persuade anyone of just how great hostels are, read on!
I often get asked what it’s like to stay in hostels whilst traveling, usually by those who have never stayed in one before. I also have many friends who as they get older prefer not to “rough it” so to speak.
Hostels have a lot of advantages to them that are often overlooked by people who just presume they are all a “no frills” experience. So I thought it was time to address this issue and answer the question of what are the benefits of staying in a hostel:
Value For Money
If you’re intending to travel the world and you’re on a budget then it’s unlikely you’ll be able to stay in hotels every step of the way. Hostels offer the perfect alternative in terms of great value for money. They tend to keep the costs down to a minimum whilst offering many other benefits that you just can’t get from hotels.
Range Of Budgets
Hostels aren’t always just basic dorms, there are often a range of different options that cater for various different budgets. You don’t always have to share a dorm room, you can pay a little bit more for some privacy whilst retaining all the other benefits associated with staying in a hostel. For example -the Base St Kilda, a melbourne hostel offers private rooms.
When you’re backpacking you won’t always have a fixed plan of action and you may want to go with the flow. Perhaps you meet new friends and decide to make a detour somewhere. It’s unlikely that you’ve booked somewhere to stay. Thankfully hostels are pretty flexible and unless you’ve stumbled across a busy period, you can usually find a bed for the night with ease.
However, if you arriving in a place after a long journey or late at night it’s often a good idea to have booked in advance . This means you can arrive and roll straight into bed instead of having to trek around various different hostels trying to find one of a suitable standard and budget.
Knowledge and A More Personal Touch
Often people working in hostels are themselves backpackers and because of this they are usually a fountain of knowledge for anything and everything in the local area. Receptionists in a hotel may provide you with a map and a few pointers, but in a hostel these people really know what they are talking about and often go out of their way in order to help.
Trips and Tours
As well as having plenty of local knowledge, hostels usually have a wide range of trip and tours on offer. These can range from short day trips to more extensive trips depending on your taste. Obviously you can shop around for various tours but it’s always nice to have the ability to book something that is right on your doorstep.
Hostels Are Social
Probably the biggest advantage of staying in a hostel is that they are very social places. If you stay in a hotel it isn’t often that you’ll interact with that many people, but in a hostel it’s nearly impossible to avoid. Communal lounges and kitchens ensure you’ll be chatting away to fellow like-minded backpackers in no time at all. If you decided to do some solo travel then hostels are a great places to meet new friends and other travelers that are going it alone.
How to Book, What to Bring and What to Expect
What to Bring
Hostel rooms are comfortable but small. It’s best to travel light. You’ll definitely want to bring the following items:
Cash and credit card (payment preferences vary by hostel)
HI membership card, if required
Shower shoes and towel, if you plan to shower
Personal toiletries, including soap and shampoo
Padlock and coins for lockers
Sleep sheets, if the hostel doesn’t rent them
Before you arrive, find out when your youth hostel’s front desk is open. Don’t be late, because you may lose your room. In fact, it’s a good idea to arrive when the desk opens, especially during peak travel season, as some hostels overbook their rooms. Expect to fill out a form or two when you check in. You will be asked to show your HI membership card if you’re staying at an HI hostel where membership is required. You’ll also be asked to pay for your stay in advance. You may have to pay a key deposit or leave your passport at the desk during your stay.
When you check in, be sure to ask about sheets and hand towels, breakfast hours and checkout procedures.
Once you’ve checked in, the desk clerk will give you a key and, perhaps, a door access code. (Don’t lose either, unless you enjoy being locked out.) You’ll be told where to pick up sheets and hand towels, and what to do with them the next morning.
Most problems can be resolved at the front desk because they involve checkin, checkout, meals or showers. Late-night noise problems may be a different story if the front desk has limited hours.
Breakfast and Checkout
When you awake, you’ll want to tidy up, strip your bed and pack your gear before breakfast. This will give you plenty of time to enjoy your morning meal and check out. Be punctual; you’ll miss breakfast if you arrive late.
Expect a line at the front desk as the checkout deadline approaches. Once you’ve returned your keys and settled your account, you’ll be ready to enjoy the local sights.
Is a Youth Hostel Stay Right for You?
Like all budget accommodations, youth hostels aren’t perfect. You won’t get turndown service each night, but your stay won’t blow your travel budget. Before booking a youth hostel room, consider the pros and cons of hostels.
Youth hostels are inexpensive. Unless you bunk on a friend’s couch or find a low-cost bed and breakfast in a private home, you’ll probably spend less on youth hostel lodgings than you would pay anywhere else.
It’s easy to find out about a particular youth hostel and learn about hostelling. Hostelling International’s extensive and informative website connects you with hostels around the world. You can telephone or email individual hostels to get specific information about their facilities and programs. HI also publishes annual Youth Hostels Guides.
Location, Location, Location
You can find youth hostels in every imaginable location. Avid shoppers might prefer downtown hostels, while hikers can stay in the country. You can stay in unique historic castles, modern buildings and on top of mountains.
Be aware that some youth hostels, while beautifully situated, can be quite difficult to reach by public transportation. Others are centrally located, but don’t offer parking. Research your transportation options before you pay for your stay.
You’ll meet people from all over the world when you start hostelling. You can talk with parents taking their children to see museums and cathedrals. Perhaps you’ll get acquainted with someone from your host country as you relax in the TV lounge. Staying in a hostel in your own country gives you the opportunity to be an informal ambassador, offering a welcoming smile and helpful tips to travelers from far away.
Hostelling International has developed worldwide standards for HI hostels. Because each hostel is run by a national hostelling organization, there are two levels of inspection, national and international. Each hostel is inspected for safety, cleanliness and comfort. Most youth hostels are cleaned by the staff; the days when students pitched in to help pay for their hostel stays are gone, ensuring that uniform standards are met.
Some hostels are privately owned and are not bound by HI’s quality requirements. If you plan to stay at a private hostel, try to read customer reviews before you book your room.
Many youth hostels have TV lounges, playgrounds for children, bars and cafés to help you enjoy your free time. In some countries, such as Germany, youth hostels offer themed activities ranging from environmental study to cultural opportunities. Still others can connect you to local tours, special events and even performances. If you’re not sure what to do to pass the time, you can always ask the helpful front desk staff; they’ll provide maps, information and brochures about the local area.
Breakfast and Kitchen Privileges
Your youth hostel stay usually includes breakfast. Most hostels serve breakfast during a set period each morning, but you may be able to make arrangements for a portable breakfast if you must leave the hostel before breakfast begins. Many hostels allow you to use a common kitchen area to prepare food. Be sure to ask about kitchen privileges (“self-catering”) when you book your room. Don’t forget to find out what cooking utensils you’ll need to bring.