Don’t spend all your beer money on a fancy hotel…

Or why hostels ROCK*
Publish date:
July 10, 2012
travel, hotels, backpacking, hostels

I’m not known for my frugality (if you’re reading this mother, I KNOW I NEED TO PAY MY OVERDRAFT OFF , LEMME ALONE!), but there’s one area of my life where I refuse to spend money – flash hotels.

The most I’ve ever spent on accomodation is £120 for a night, because I was out of other options. If I’m planning a holiday, I stick to a £20 a night maximum, which often means heading to a hostel.

Smugly thinking about how I only ended up on a boat having a beer because I went to a hostel, and HOSTELS ARE MAGIC.

Not that I mind. In fact, it’s not just the cost that makes hostels a preferable option to a posh guesthouse, and they aren’t anywhere near as scummy as 1980s youth hostel clichés will have you believe (although, if you’re over the age of 25, you might want to avoid anywhere that’s got a reputation as a party hostel…just sayin).

If there’s three or four of you, you can often book a private room, sometimes even with your own bathroom, and if not, you rarely have to share with more than two other people. And the advantages of staying in a hostel vastly out-weigh the annoyance of having to wait for three other people to finish in the bathroom before you can have your shower in the mornings.

For a starter, the people who run hostels are often much better informed in terms of what’s happening in their city than the concierge at a posh hotel. If you’re in a new place and you want to know where the locals go for inexpensive, authentic food and fun nightlife, the owner of a hostel is more likely to know where to send you than the guy behind the counter at your local Hilton.

In some instances, they’ll come with you, introduce you to all of their friends and make it their business to make sure you have an amazing night. In my experience, the young people who run most of the hostels I’ve been to really love the city or town you’re in and take great pride in what they’re doing, and it shows.

Ukrainian cooking lesson! In a hostel!

Of course, there are definitely hostel pratfalls – if you don’t research where you’re going you can end up in the aforementioned ‘party hostels’ when all you want is a relaxing city break. Or in a hostel miles away from the town centre when you’re planning on going out every night.

So, put the time and effort into researching where you’re going to stay beforehand. I use Trip Advisor as a guide – if something has mostly positive reviews, chances are, people mean it.

Also be wary of anywhere loads cheaper than everywhere else in the town – if they’re charging rock bottom rates, they’re skimping on something else, like cleaning products.

And finally, I have stayed in many hostels (good and bad) over the years, and I have never, ever caught bed bugs. Nor has anyone tried to murder me (to the best of my knowledge).

My top 5 hostel moments

OdessaMore like a long-term lodging house for a motley collection of people from around the world who were in Odessa for the foreseeable future on unspecified business. The owner and his girlfriend took us shopping in the market and gave us a Ukrainian-cooking lesson, and the rest of the guests took us out in the evenings. Which is how we ended up in an underground Ukrainian bar with an Elvis impersonator.

VenezuelaWe turned up at midnight in the pouring rain, having spent most of the day unsuccessfully trying to get money from various cash machines and banks and nearly crying with frustration at our pathetic lack of Spanish. The owner a) helped us get some currency b) let us leave our backpacks at the hostel, while we made a brief sojourn to the coastline for a couple of nights and c) let us tag along to a safari he was organizing the following week, which was nothing short of amazing.

BelgradeThe owner and her boyfriend took us to an illegal rave under the city walls. The police started chasing us when we were climbing through a whole in the fence, to get in to said rave, at which I nearly shit myself, but it was an amazing night nonetheless.

DubrovnikWe found this place really randomly and only stayed for one night, which was a shame as it was a) right in the middle of the old town b) a beautifully decorated private room with its own bathroom and roof terrace and c) £10 a night each. Boom.

HollywoodWe accidentally booked ourselves into a party hostel after spending far too much time partying in Vegas. All we wanted to do was sleep; all the manager, a chap from Yorkshire called Pete, wanted to feed us vodka jelly shots. Amazingly, we had a great time. I’m not sure how or why, though.

And the worst… (because it does happen)

If I look a bit terse here, it's because I sense, on some level, that in approximately seven hours time a drunken Swedish man is going to try and get into bed with me.

AmsterdamWe found ourselves staying in the only Christian youth hostel in the red light district, thinking it would be less sleazy. There was a big sign when you came in bearing the legend Jesus Loves You (which I felt was a bit presumptuous) . It wasn’t sleazy, but it was full of weirdos, the shower flooded and I’d sprained my ankle falling off a step in a sex shop, so I wasn’t in a great mood.

KievThis was actually quite a nice hostel, but it was run by a fat, short, middle-aged Ukrainian guy and two fairly tall young women, who seemed to share a room with him. Whenever you knocked on the door to ask a question, one of them would come out in a state of undress. So that was odd. And the pervy git forgot to book our day trip to Chernobyl, a fact I’m still annoyed about now.

MostarThis seemed like a bit of a bargainous hostel, right near the bridge in Mostar. The owner picked us up from the station and told us, reassuringly that she’d secured us a bed each. It was only when we arrived and discovered that she’d managed to squeeze 15 backpackers into a two-bed high-rise apartment, that we realised how lucky we were. There were even a couple of Norwegian girls sleeping on the balcony.

When I got up to go to the toilet in the night (the Swedish guy we were sharing a room with us had come home drunk a few minutes earlier and tried to get in bed with me, and my friend), I saw the owner’s elderly Bosnian mother scrubbing the floors. It was 2AM.

*There is one huge exception to the rule – don’t attempt do a dirty weekend in a hostel, it just won’t work. Dirty weekends are all about plush bathrooms, amazing sheets, room service and bedrooms that no-one else is going to walk into (unless that’s your thing).

How do you feel about staying in a hostel? Holiday bargain, or would you rather chuck some money at the problem never to have to sleep in a bunk bed again?