When I think long and hard about it, I must have shared bathrooms, bedrooms, leftover food, travel tips, (and countless germs) with well over 1,000 people.
My travels have meant I’ve experienced staying in a hostel in places like Colombia, Thailand, Morocco, Vietnam, Costa Rica, Cuba, Nicaragua, Mexico and others.
The largest hostel I stayed in was a room of 24 (I just so happened to get food poisoning so bad I was hallucinating, so all I can remember of that hostel experience is feeling as if I was on a submarine, I was that out of it). And when travelling Colombia, I bounced around hostels for three whole months by myself.
Hostels are a great way of meeting people and saving some serious money when travelling solo.
I’ve always used Hostelworld (affiliate link) as I’ve found that it’s the easier to use and seems to be more popular than its main rival, Hostelbookers. There are reviews, plenty of photos, information about how to get to each spot from the main airports and bus stations, and your money is protected by the site when booking.
And even though I’ve recently taken a few trips with friends where we’ve opted for the comfort of an Airbnb (Lisbon) or private accommodation (Sri Lanka), if I was to go solo travelling again, I’d definitely revert back to the hostel life – the social butterfly in me just loves it.
Here are the pros and cons of staying in a hostel which I discovered on my year of solo travel.
Pros: Hostels are great for meeting people
Common spaces are a key part of staying in a hostel, and some of my best travel buddies are people I’ve met in a shared dorm, or living space.
Remember that if you’re staying in a hostel, you’re going to be sharing a bathroom, bedroom, kitchen, and common space (unless you opt for a private room within a hostel, which means you will get your own bathroom).
You’ll end up partying with your new best mates, doing excursions with them, and when the time comes to go travelling again, you can always call on that global group of friends to show you around in their home country.
Cons: You don’t want to meet everybody
Don’t get me wrong, I love meeting people from all walks of life, but there have been TOO. MANY. TIMES when I’ve checked-in to a cool looking place, dropped my bag onto my bed, and started to get changed as so I can hit the pool, only to lock eyes with a 65-year-old European guy who is also staying in my room and hell-bent on undressing me with his eyes.
Often, that same older guy is the first one to dictate to the rest of the dorm; he’s got opinions on the optimum room temperature, what time we should hit the lights, and the volume we should all be talking at. Go home grandpa.
Pros: You can be selective
Remember though that you can still be flexible when it comes to the kind of people you surround yourself with.
You can opt for a private room within a hostel, meaning you can still socialise in the common rooms, and enjoy not falling asleep to the sound of other people’s snoring.
Similarly, dorm rooms with 1-3 other people are often available depending on the hostel, and sometimes there are womens-only spaces, or hostels with age limits, if you only want to be around people you reckon you’ll be comfortable with.
Con: Alone time is hard to come by
One of the best hostel experiences I had, was working at a surf hostel in Costa Rica where I managed their SEO and social media in exchange for free surf lessons, excursions and accommodation.
It was incredible.
But adjusting to the air-con preferences, morning schedules and snoring patterns of a new set of people every few days had me retreating to the office, pretending to work, just for some peace, because I couldn’t get a second to myself at times.
Pro: Hostels are good value
There’s no better way to save on accommodation costs than to check into a 12-person dorm.
In places like Thailand and Vietnam, you’ll be paying no more than £5 a night for a room, and most of the time that will include a basic breakfast, free Wi-Fi, a bed and access to communal areas.
One of my favourite ever hostels was Posada del Abuelito in San Cristobal de la Casas, Mexico. It felt like a second home; the staff were unbelievably friendly, the bedrooms had this cute and colourful decor, and there was homemade breakfast every morning of bread, eggs and jam. No wonder the place had one multiple awards.
Cons: You can’t be too trusting
You need to protect your stuff and invest in padlocks, because hostels attract people from all walks of life – some of whom won’t be well-off (or trustworthy) as you and your new besties.
On the last leg of my year-long trip, in the Dominican Republic, I had my camera stolen from my dorm bed after leaving it out for a few hours.
I also remember chatting for hours to a guy in a hostel in Nicaragua, only to hear after I’d left, that he’d taken off with two laptops and three passports. Taking everyone at face value is a huge risk.
Pro: Staying in a hostel exposes you to different ways of thinking and living
Hostels are pulsating with the energy of interesting people from all over the world; characters who will keep you up all evening, dishing out the kind of you advice your parents and friends told you stay clear of.
Where else would you get to debate the meaning of life with a Physics student from Albania, a US ex-marine, a former nanny from Hong Kong and a hostel worker from Mexico?
You expand your horizons just by chatting to people you wouldn’t usually have access to back home. And if you need a friend to call in next time you’re in their part of the world, all you have to do is call on these travel buddies.
I remember in Cuba, a friend was lent enough money to live off by complete strangers she’d met in a hostel, after she was robbed of her passport and wallet on her first day in Havana.
And when I contracted food poisoning in a hostel in Granada, Nicaragua, surrounded by strangers and throwing up into a bin, a girl who I’d only spoken to literally once offered to do everything she could to help me, including carrying my bag and fetching me water.
A stay in a hostel often restores my faith in human nature, should I be feeling isolated or travel-weary when flying solo. They aren’t dirty or dangerous, just great places to meet people and save on accommodation costs.
What your view on hostels – yay or nay? And what’s your favourite hostel in the world? Let me know and press the heart below to show love for this post