I recently returned from a trip the the Netherlands where I split my week staying in two different hostels. Since I went alone, I had a lot of time to consider the various pros and cons of the hostel travel experience. Hosteling is definitely not for everyone – but it does offer a unique travel experience that has some upsides you can’t find in the average hotel.
I’ll skip the stuff everyone knows: great place to meet people, cheap, etc. I want to focus on some of the perks that might not be obvious at first.
This isn’t true of all hostels and it certainly pays to read the reviews on a site like tripadvisor, but for the most part because hostels are smaller they often have a more central location than say a large chain like Marriott. Old homes or public buildings are often converted into hostels which means that in addition to a great location, the building itself is a something to be seen. I’ve heard of hostels all over the world that were formally prisions, castles, and house boats.
2. Flexible Check In/ Check out Times
Typically hotels have very set check in and check out times that must be observed unless you plan to pay additional fees. This can be a real pain if your flights happen to be arriving at 7 am or departing near midnight. Although most hostels will ask that you vacate your bed by their established check out time, they are more than willing to hold your bags or let you hang out in the common room for as long as you like. While you could argue that a hotel will let you hang out in their lobby – this is often times much more awkward than the cozy bar like atmospheres offered by hostels. In addition, depending on the hostel they usually don’t care if you use the showers and toilets while you wait.
I actually showed up at one Hostel in Puno, Peru at 4:45 in the morning off of a night bus from Cusco. The hostel was in no way open, but we knocked on the door until the owner woke up. Rather than get upset, he offered us tea and warm blankets so that we could rest on the couches until he was able to get a room ready for us.
3. Everything is cheaper
You already know that the room is cheaper, but so is everything else. All the things that upscale hotels charge heaps for are usually provided by hostels either free or at a reduced cost. Free computer Access, Wifi and basic breakfast foods are the most common offerings. I’ve stayed a luxery hotels that charge up to $20 for a day of wifi. Also common are complimentary movie rentals, book exchanges, filtered water, live music, airport pickups, lockers and maps. (Beware though, some hostels charge for towels, soap and sheets or require a deposit). Many hostels also have small bars and restaurants which provide basic fare a cost much reduced from nearby restaurants.
4. Great Tourist Information
My first stop on any trip is the hostel reception desk. Not only do they usually provide a free map, the people working the desk are often times young locals who can give you great advice on what to see and where to go. And unlike a hotel concierge, they aren’t trying to sell you anything. They can usually map out the highlights for you and provide cost saving options for those on a tight budget. When you are ready to leave, they are also the best source of information on getting to the airport or finding the right bus out of town.
One hostel I stayed at in Sarejevo was owned by a local family. The father of the family had fought in the recent Bosnian war, and he offered a personal tour of his memories of the war. He and his son took us up to the mountains where we saw destroyed bunkers and found fragments of bullets. This was a one of a kind and very personal experience which we would have never gotten staying at a large hotel.
Believe it or not, hostels provide a very safe environment especially for the solo traveler. Sure, in terms of petty theft its not very secure but the safety in numbers thing will help to cut down on violent crime. I read lots of stories about women attacked alone in their hotel rooms – something that can’t really happen when you are surrounded by 15 other people.