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?
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.
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.
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
- Common Room
- Computer Station w/ Internet
- DVD Movie Selection
- Guest kitchen
- Laundry Service
- Luggage storage
- Security lockers
- Tour Desk / Operator
- Transportation Booking
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!
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.
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.
Now get out there and start booking some budget hostels, meet other great backpackers and share precious information!