What the Hostel? A Q&A

For many backpackers, just hearing the word “hostel” opens a torrent of fond memories.

For the unfamiliar, it raises lots and lots of questions.

I’m firmly in the first camp. Traveling certainly lends itself to our innate raconteur, but handing over the controls to much of our surroundings (read: where we sleep) makes participation in and collection of stories entirely passive. It just happens based on whomever we’re bunking with. Like the earnest man in Paris who swore the Rapture was imminent. Or the Manchester businessman in London bemoaning the city’s high prices. Those nine or ten Berlin club kids. The nuns in Venice. Travelers in Seattle from Taiwan, Hong Kong and China traveling across the States. You get the picture.

Thinking practically now, when traveling on a budget, by yourself, and for many other reasons, staying in a hostel can be a no-brainer decision. They’re cheap, near hubs of activity, and as diverse as you can get. But for many people who have never stayed in one, hostels might be a little confusing. Time for a Q&A!

  • I’ve only seen that horror movie about hostels…
    • There are no Orcs in New Zealand, Voldemort isn’t a real villain in Scotland, and hostels are not sets for horror movies.
  • Aren’t hostels only in Europe?
    • Thank goodness, no! It’s easy to believe they are, considering their place in every quintessential American tale of, “I’m taking a year off to backpack in Europe.” They can be found across the globe.
  • Those must be dirty.
    • I’m sure you’ve stayed in a few hotels that were less clean than you’d like. Hostels are the exact same way. Both hotels and hostels wash and reuse bed sheets, towels, and silverware, but hostels are more open about how we all share them.
  • How do I even find one to stay at?
    • My go-tos are Hostels.com and HostelWorld.com. Both range hostels from 0 (least desirable) – 100% (most desirable). My rule of thumb is to book in hostels rated 80% or higher.
  • Can I stay by myself?
    • Yes! In fact, I’ll be doing that early next year. I’ve stayed in rooms with plenty of solo travelers. They’re just as weird/cool/normal as anyone else.
    • As an aside, some hostels offer private rooms or two bed dorms, though they’re typically nowhere near the rock-bottom prices you’ll find in rooms with more beds. Speaking of which…
  • What’s the price range?
    • I can only speak for hostels in North America and Europe, but I typically pay between US$30 – 50 a night. Any less, and I would be concerned about safety or cleanliness. Any more (barring additional luxuries), and it might just be overpriced. That said, some cities, like Amsterdam or Vancouver, are known for having higher rates. Definitely shop around.
  • Do I have to be a student/studying abroad?
    • Certainly not! People of all ages are typically welcome, though I can’t speak for each individual hostel.
  • What are the rooms like?
    • They are as varied as hotel rooms but are typically filled with rows of bunk beds. Some have carpeting, some have hard wood floors. Some have a sink, some don’t. Some have a bathroom set off the room, others have them out in the hall. Some have pictures on the walls, some don’t. Et cetera. In short, expect a simple and clean room with few frills and comfortable beds.
  • What amenities should I look for?
    • In the $30 – 50 price range I listed above, I wouldn’t book a room without: six beds or fewer, free WiFi, free continental breakfast, free/for rent towels, free bedding, secure entry, 24 hour front desk, lockers, central location close to public transportation, and luggage storage.
  • Are they safe?
    • Yes. I’ve never felt unsafe in a hostel. All have had some form of “double security,” (authentication/lock at the front door and a card or key at the room door). Of course, always bring a lock to stash your things in a locker while you’re out and about.

And for everyone who wants to stay in Cleveland, we have a hostel of our very own in the hopping neighborhood of Ohio City, aptly called The Cleveland Hostel! While I’ve not (yet) had the pleasure of their hospitality, the reviews on TripAdvisor are pretty darn good.

If I’ve missed any questions you’d like answered, please just tweet me at @ryanscollins.

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