What Is It Like to Stay In a Hostel?
If you're a backpacker or the type of tourist who likes to travel on a budget, then you've most likely heard about hostels before. Hostels, if you don't already know, are like hotels or motels, except the main difference is they usually have dorm-style rooms on the property and are mostly geared towards those who like to travel cheaply. If you've see the horror movie Hostel, don't let that scare you away from staying in one. It was not based on a true story and hostels are usually relatively safe. They are a good place to meet other fellow travelers, and while you'll find all different types of people staying in them, a large majority of the guests are young travelers in their 20's and 30's. You usually don't need to book a room in advance or make a reservation since most accept walk-in's, but it's still a good idea just in case. So if you're thinking about staying in one and don't know quite what to expect, here's a rundown of some of the typical things you'll find while staying in a hostel.
Hostels are well-known for being cheap when it comes to overall costs, and that's the main feature that keeps the guests coming back. Most guests would probably stay in a regular hotel if the prices were anywhere near what hostels charge. But you do have many people who enjoy the community atmosphere and the company of other travelers that you find in hotel, so the cheap prices are not always the only factor. But if you're looking for an inexpensive place to sleep at night and if you're not too picky, then a hostel may be just what you're looking for. As for the actual pricing, that mainly depends on what country you visit and which area or city as well. But I'll give you a few examples of the cheapest ones I've personally found in my travels. In Cancun, Mexico, you can find hostels for as low as $8 a night in a shared room. In San Francisco, USA you'd be looking at around $25 for the same type of room (but if you consider homeless shelters to be the same as hostels, then you'll find a bed for free or at around $5 a night at most shelters). In Bangkok, Thailand, one of the cheapest places to travel, a shared room would cost about $2 to $3 a night.
As mentioned before, hostels usually have dorm-style rooms, which means many beds or cots in a single room. But for those who aren't comfortable sleeping in a room with strangers, many hostels also have private rooms available as well. But of course, these rooms will certainly cost a little more than the shared rooms. Some rooms have air conditioning if it's needed, while others may just have fans. It's not uncommon for a place to charge a lot less for the fan rooms than the AC rooms. The beds are usually very small and can only fit one person. So if you stay in a hostel with a lover or spouse, you'll probably have to sleep in separate beds. As far as cleanliness and quality, it all depends on where you go. However, in my experience, most are not very clean and if you've ever seen the movie The Beach starring Leonardo Dicaprio, the first opening scene of the movie has a pretty accurate portrayal of what many hostelss are like, though with not quite as many bugs under the beds. But I have stayed in a few that were surprisingly clean and modern, so it does vary.
Most hostels do not have televisions in any of the shared or private rooms. However, many have a lounge area or even a TV and a couch in the lobby. There's sometimes board games in the shared rooms or a deck of cards, because it's not out of the ordinary for strangers in these rooms to socialize with each other and make friends. Some hostels work with tour agencies or run their own tours to tourist attractions in the area and offer discounts to guests who stay at their businesses. But as far as other forms of entertainment, don't expect to find any casinos on the premises.
Most places have shared bathrooms. This means that the restroom area is usually near the lobby or somewhere close to all the rooms, and to use the toilet or shower, you must use the same ones that everybody else uses. It's very rare for hostel rooms to have their own personal bathrooms for each guest. Depending on the management or staff, these shared restrooms can either be clean or dirty. The shower is usually not in a space of it's own, meaning there's usually no tub, small wall, glass door, or shower curtain to enclose the shower area. Picture a plain tiled room with a toilet, a shower, a sink, and a drain in the middle of the room for the shower water, and then you'll have an idea of what you will probably find. Because of this setup, you'll usually have to wipe the toilet seat off before using it because of the shower water that ends up all over the seat. You should also probably wear a pair of sandals while in the bathroom and put them on before you even enter. I've used many hostel bathrooms in my time, but once I caught a bad case of athlete's foot, so this is why I say this.
Hostels usually have very little amenities and services, but some places do offer some. Free coffee in the lobby in the morning is very common, but most of them don't serve breakfast, whether free or not. Some may do your laundry for you, but they will most likely charge you extra for that. Many have washers and dryers however , and some charge for their use like how a laundromat would, while others offer them free of charge. A few places I stayed at in Asia had washers, but not dryers. But they did allow me to hang my clothes up to dry on the porch or the roof, where there were clotheslines. As far as things you would normally find in a hotel, I can guarantee your chances of finding an ice machine, vending machine, or mini bar are slim to none.
Though there may be some exceptions, majority of hostels you'll come across are very safe and they collect everybody's passports as they check-in. They will either make copies of them and return them quickly, or write down the names in the passports and verify that the photos match. As far as your possessions, you may want to sleep with them nearby or under your bed just in case. Many hostels do offer lockers for free use though and some even offer safes for you to store your most valuable possessions. But you should call each place in advance and ask them first before arriving if you think you'll need any of these things.
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