Top Bar Menu

What is a Hostel Like?

We had never stayed in a hostel prior to our first long-term backpacking trip in Central and South America.  I honestly had no idea what a hostel was, and I wasn’t about to watch the horror movie flick “Hostel” to find out.  It had always been hotels for me, so what was I to expect?  This travel tip will serve as an introduction to hostels for backpackers preparing for their first round the world trip or just long term budget travel in general.

what is a hostel like

Rockin J's Hostel in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

What is a Hostel?

Hostels are typically budget accommodations that provide a friendly common social environment for it’s guests.  Guests can rent beds, dorm rooms, and usually private rooms.  Common areas such as kitchens, bathrooms and living areas are usually shared.

Types of Accommodation

There exists a tremendous amount of variation between hostels and locations.  Typically, you have the option of booking a private room or a dormitory bed.  When traveling as a couple its makes sense to book a private room, considering it’s usually only a few dollars more than reserving 2 bunk beds in a dormitory.  The private rooms come with double beds and single beds and sometimes have the option of including a private bathroom for an extra fee.

what is a hostel

Dona Maria Hotel in Flores, Tikal

Dormitory sizes also vary.  A room with 4 beds is a bit easier to adapt to compared with a dorm of 8 beds.  With 8 people you have to expect persons coming and going at all hours of the night.  Some will party late and some will have to awake early for a tour.  When staying at a beach hostel you might even have the option of renting a hammock or setting up your tent.  It’s best if you travel with a mosquito net for these open air places.

what is a hostel like

Accessing WiFi in the open courtyard of the Hotel Anahuac in Juayúa, El Salvador

Hostel Services

Just as most businesses in the travel industry, hostels are evolving to meet all of your travel needs; a one stop shopping center.  Here is a list of services that hostels often provide:

  • Bar / Game Night  (particularly party hostels)
  • Book Exchange
  • Breakfast
  • Common Room
  • Computer Station w/ Internet
  • DVD Movie Selection
  • Guest kitchen
  • Laundry Service
  • Luggage storage
  • Security lockers
  • Tour Desk / Operator
  • Transportation Booking
  • Wi-Fi

    what is a hostel like

    Rooftop Play Area at the Pariwana Backpackers Hostel in Mira Flores, Lima, Peru

Hostel Atmosphere

So what should you expect when staying at a hostel?  Well, it depends on what type of person you are.  If you enjoy partying late night, then consider a party hostel, or one with a bar and music.  If you don’t enjoy drunks walking into your dorm room, and loud music late in the evening stay away from hostels with bars.  Some hostels are designed and advertised as guest houses.  The accommodation will more so resemble a big house divided up into individual rooms.  It is a much more quiet and mellow atmosphere.  Most importantly, hostels provide a perfect environment for meeting other travelers.  This is where you can get the best information regarding future plans, other hostels, suggested tours and possibly new unplanned adventures with some new friends!

what is a hostel like

Big Foot Hostel in Leon, Nicaragua

Working Remotely in a Hostel

For us, it was essential to have Wi-Fi available in the hostel.  If it’s important for you too, be sure to ask if the Wi-Fi is available in the rooms, common area or lobby only.  When possible, we visited several hostels in town, testing each one’s signal strength with our iTouch.  Hostel staff might also shut their systems down for the night, eliminating a good time for uploading photos and videos.  If the wireless signal only reaches to the common area, but sure there are some power outlets.

what is a hostel

Travel Blogging work at the Casa Tranquilo Hostel in Monteverde Cloud Forest, Costa Rica

Booking  a Hostel

So how do you book a hostel reservation?  On-line is one of the best ways in our experience.  Hostelworld.com and hostelbookers.com are the two most widely used reservation services on the web.  Check both of them, because not all of the hostels will use both services.  In addition, you may find more guest feedback on a particular hostel when viewing both sites.  Look at the facilities and user feedback to determine if this is a hostel that suits your lifestyle or travel style.  Be aware of the check out time as well, since they usually range from 10am to 1pm.  Some hostels require a minimum of 2 nights stay.  If you are traveling during busy season consider booking your hostel before arriving, but only book for 1 or 2 nights to get a feel for the place.

what is a hostel like

The Salt Hostel on the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia

Now get out there and start booking some budget hostels, meet other great backpackers and share precious information!

, ,

Dianne Whetzel says:

are meals provided in a hostel ?
If not what do persons do for their meals?

Jason says:

Hostels usually have community kitchens for you to cook your own meals.

anca a says:

Hostels are perfect choices for young people because besides the very low fees they also offer social atmosphere. I have realised in time that sharing a room with several other persons might be a little uncomfortable at times – a private room is the best “compromise” for me. I tend to opt for prior reservation because it gives you the possibility to chose the hostel that you like without fearing a “no vacancy” situation. Nice article especially for those who have not tried hostels yet.

I have just checked out hostels on the site you recommended and half of the hostels listed for Turkey are hotels. Maybe it is a definetion of the word but a lot of places in turkey are available so that you can only rent a bed. Found one hostel and that was cappadocia.

Sheena says:

I couldn’t agree more on that, budget-wise hostels are the best deal you going to have. After all there are a lot of hostels that now keeps up with hotel standards.

Kelly says:

Great post! I love hostels… when I travel, I hate paying for a bed to sleep in, so if I’m not couchsurfing, I’m definitely in a hostel! I used to work in a pool hall/ backpackers in New Zealand and it was a blast!

I definitely agree with starting out with a smaller number of dorm beds in a room.. it can get rowdy with more than 8 people. In Fiji I stayed in a hostel that was an 80-bed room!

Also important to note, I think, is good hostel etiquette. When you come in late at night, be sure to use a phone as a light (don’t turn on the room light) try and keep quiet when you come in and pack before you go to bed so that when you leave, you don’t wake everyone up with zippers and the like.

Awesome!

Sunil Patro says:

Btw…there is a software bug in your “leave a reply- comment” field.

You cannot copy-paste to/from that field.

I am using firefox/OSX.

Jason says:

There is no bug, it’s a plugin that protects our blog content from being copied and input into another blog as their material. It does happen believe it or not.

Sunil Patro says:

great….article. My friends always ask me how are the hostels…this is the RIGHT post for them to read.

Jason says:

Excellent! Glad we could help Sunil. Hostels are a backpackers haven. And what makes them so special is that they are all incredibly different.

My husband Tim and I have had great success staying in hostels all around the world, but particularly so in South America. Like you mentioned, there’s a wide variety of personalities when it comes to hostels! So the trick is just finding the one you’re into for that particular stay. Sometimes we stayed at more party-oriented places, sometimes we stayed at ones that felt more like a B&B. We did always opt for private rooms, but that’s just because we like having our own comfy space. (And, like you mentioned, the private rooms are often only a few bucks more!) And sometimes we’d have opt for a private room with its own bathroom, while other times we’d do the shared bathroom thing.

When we travel, we never book our lodging ahead of time (but that’s just what works well for us, it’s not necessarily an approach for everyone). But, when we get a chance, we do check out the hostels online (either via their own websites or the websites like hostelworld, etc) to kind of get a feel for a place. Then when we arrive in a new town or city, we set about checking out whatever hostel or hotel we pass by. It’s a great way to get a feel for how far your dollar can go and a perfect way for us to find a place that feels like our home on the road. :)

Long story short: Yay for hostels! :)

(Also: hi! I’ve been popping over now and then to read your stories, but I think this is the first time I’ve commented!) :)

Jason says:

Thanks for commenting Jessica, we appreciate it. Aracely and I did the same thing you and your husband did until it became busy season. Then we had to start booking a few days in advance. We still never booked it for more than 1 or 2 nights, just in case we found a better place while roaming the streets. We would go into a hostel, check out the room, test the wifi, test for hot water and check out the kitchen. That was our routine.

Melvin says:

I loooove hostels! I’ve stayed at so many amazing hostels, which weren’t rowdy at all. It depends on the country & especially the location.
Sure, many big city hostels are to party. I also prefer private rooms.

Jason says:

I agree Melvin, I think the concept of a hostel is terrific. The hostels do depend on the country and city etc and there are usually always choices between different types of hostels.

Chris Day says:

I would love to work at a Hostel in another country I think that would be awesome especially if the hostel catered to allot of English speakers…

Jason says:

Chris, if you are in tourism, then typically you have to know English. It’s the most common language amongst travelers. But, it’s important to learn the local language if you are going to be living and working there. Working in a hostel is an excellent way to learn a different language!

Andy Hayes | Dream Travel Jobs says:

I’m not a hostel fan. If I do choose, I always go for a private room. Just too rowdy for me. But indeed, very good on the budget :)

Jason says:

Andy, I am like you… I am not a fan of rowdy places, but honestly we have found plenty of hostels that weren’t loud. We struck out a few times, but overall, I think we did pretty well in finding quiet private rooms for a good cost.

Claire says:

I work part-time in a hostel…..it’s just as interesting/fun workin there as it is staying!

Jason says:

I think it would be a lot of fun and a great experience to work in a hostel. I also think owning one of your own would be pretty interesting too!

Castellani Media LLC.