Hostels: Or, Magical Palaces Of Mysterious Bugs and Smells

Ho there once more, fellow traveller!

Look at you, exploring the world! I'm so proud.

You have made the courageous and life-affirming decision to travel all by your sparkly self to a variety of foreign and exotic countries, like Sweden. You have braved the perilous and soul-destroying flight across the sea that somehow didn’t crash, despite all the prophets having foretold it so, slept in an airport which was almost certainly full of, I don’t know, probably typhus, and now- NOW- you have reached the next stage of your journey: your hostel. 

Because, as we all know, there is no finer accommodation than the illustrious hostel; no better place for a wanderer such as yourself. You are a Backpacker. Hotels are beneath you (and above your budget). Hotels are for the rich who don’t know the thrill of excitement; of adventure; of wondering if that was a bedbug you just saw or merely a speck of dirt falling off the bed the moment you turned on the lights. It was dirt, you assure yourself out of terrified self-preservation. It was just dirt. You make a mental note to burn all your possessions when you return home anyway, just in case. 

You enter the thick of your new city, hike your pack up once more and set out for your future palace. Your eyes glint with the excitement of adventure. You look at the map, remember you can’t read maps, and put the map away. Who needs that fucking map anyway. You don’t. You are Aragorn. On a budget. Budgegorn? Budgegorn.  

So: let us examine your new hostel a bit closer, for those who are interested but have never had the chance to stay in one. 

WHAT IS A “HOSTEL” AND HOW DOES IT WORK, RANDOM WOMAN ON THE INTERNET?

So glad you asked! Lemme break this down for you. 

A hostel is a place where you go to get horribly murdered by Eastern European businessmen for what I'm assuming is a hefty fee- oh god, I'm sorry. I'm having Hostel movie flashbacks again. They never truly go away. I swear to god, Eli Roth, if I ever meet you I'm going to murder you SO hard you'll wish you'd never made that travesty of cinema. Consider this your first and only warning.

MOVING ON.

A hostel is a place, similar to a hotel, where travellers stay while they’re in a particular location abroad. Unlike a hotel, however, most of the time you’ll be sharing your room with anywhere from 3 to up to 40 strangers, because that’s what you get when you want to not spend egregious amounts of money on your accommodation, you basic pleb. You can choose whether you want a mixed dorm, or to stay with those of your own gender. These strangers can range from “the greatest people you’ll ever meet” to “the people you want to stab with a fork because Holy Christ it’s 4:00AM and they won’t stop talking and I’m pretty sure three of these dudes don’t even go here”. Basically every room you get assigned is the equivalent of those awesome mystery candy grab bags we used to buy as kids (Note: if you were born in the 2000's, you might not know what I'm talking about. Please be aware that your lives are less magical for it. That's what you git for being young and beautiful. That's what you GIT.). You might open the bag and find lifelong friends, aka sour keys; or you might get a strange 60-year-old German man who likes to walk around in his underwear. He will snort a lot and spray cologne directly in front of your bed, and is basically the equivalent of those disgusting root beer gummy things. This...this analogy has gone on too long. Let's move on. 

Most hostels will have breakfast (free or for a decently cheap price), wifi, laundry, a bar, a kitchen/communal area, and some will have computers for those of us who like to leave our technology at home. The rooms are clean (unless you choose, like, a completely unknown hostel owned by some dude named Bubba who doesn't believe in hygiene, in which case you'll probably read about that in the reviews) and the beds are generally pretty damn comfy. You can come and go as late as you want, and check out around 10AM, depending on the place. 

There. That's the boring details out of the way. Look at me, giving you useful travel advice all professional-like. It's as if you could pretend, for a moment, that you were reading a normal-person travel blog. I'm so proud of myself.  

IN SUMMARY, a hostel is a super rad place where you can meet other travellers from around the world who are probably not serial killers, find friends to hang out and have adventures with, all for a heck of a lot cheaper than staying at a hotel. Doesn't that sound awesome? I know! And yet, sometimes I'll tell people about my travel accommodations and they'll give me a look that clearly states that I may as well be telling them I'm sleeping in a rat-infested meth den with shady prostitutes who will absolutely steal my squishy internal bits as soon as the bedbugs finally, FINALLY let me sleep. Some people just don't like adventure, I guess. Some people prefer guaranteed comfort and a good night's sleep. Well, this Budgegorn* will be having none of that.  

*I've given this name some thought, and I've decided I'm keeping it. It hilarious and confusing, much like this blog.

CHOOSING YOUR HOSTEL

The time has come to choose your hostel, fellow traveller/Budgegorn! How exciting for you! But however will you make that crucial decision? Thank god you have me to guide you. Thank. God. 

Depending on the city/town you’re going to, you might have 30 hostels to choose from, or you might have one. As I have mentioned briefly in a previous post, hostelworld.com (I should start getting royalties from mentioning their site. I’m pretty sure that’s how the Law works.) will be your best friend when deciding which place will be graced with your presence. You’ll find prices, dates/availability, contact info, maps, and reviews on there, and can book everything on the site. Alternatively, you can also book directly through each hostel’s website after learning about them on hostelworld- they’ll get all the money that way. Support your little middle-of-nowhere hostels, yo! 

The reviews section in particular will be super helpful to you. Read a few reviews and you’ll quickly get a sense of what kind of place it is. Some hostels are really great for meeting people- they’re well known as party hostels. So if you’re a solo backpacker who wants the option of meeting people from all over the world to go out with, those ones might be better for you. You’ll most likely have to deal with young hooligans and whippersnappers* coming into the room wasted out of their minds from time to time (see: every night), but you’ll also probably immediately find cool people to hang out with. Places like Berlin, Barcelona, Santorini, etc., are all young people cities, in my experience. Prepare to feel super old if you’ve already graduated university, but you’ll have a great time regardless. On the flip side, hostels that are a bit more off the beaten path and smaller generally tend to be more low-key and family friendly, perfect for travellers who go alone and want to stay that way. 

*I realize I’m not even 30 yet, but trust me: in these types of places, being over 25 will make you feel ancient, unless you still love jagerbombs and calling people "bro". Just FYI. I’m simply defending my use of the word “whippersnapper”, because to the majority of people in these hostels, I might as well be 80. So get off my goddamn lawn and all that.

Reviews are also great for just getting a general sense of “Does this hostel seem like a place in which I want to spend the next few days of my life?” People will leave helpful comments for future visitors, such as “Their breakfast is awesome and cheap!”, or “The common room is small, so it’s hard to meet people”, or “This hostel is literally full of snakes, what the actual hell?”*. Several times in my travels I’ve ignored negative comments about certain hostels only to have the exact same complaints when I got there, because several times in my travels I have been a fool.  

*I’ve never personally seen a review that says this, but I’ve also never researched hostels in Australia. I assume this is the #1 comment for all of the hostels there. PROVE ME WRONG, AUSTRALIA, YOU HAVEN OF HORRORS. PROVE ME WRONG.

Most hotels in Europe will run you anywhere from 25-50 Euros/Pounds a night (so around 35-60 Canadian for my fellow maple syrup guzzling hockey lovers). Depending on what time of year you’re going, prices will fluctuate. June-September will be the most expensive months; moreso if the country or city you’re going to is holding some cool national event, like the Olympics or the Annual Tuna Tossing Competition*. Hostels in Edinburgh pretty much double their prices during the Fringe, because they’re all capitalist jerks who prey on those who love indie theatre. At least, that’s the way I’m choosing to look at it, and y’all can’t dissuade me. 

*This is a real competition. It is, unsurprisingly, in Australia, because everything strange and/or terrifying happens in Australia. You may think I'm being hyperbolic, but I have yet to meet an Australian who has refuted this claim. Most of them, when presented with my theory that everything in Australia wants to kill you, simply shrug their shoulders, mutter "Well, yeah", and then start listing off the places you shouldn't go if you DON'T want to be killed, which basically amount to "everywhere". 

HOSTEL ETIQUETTE

Herein lie Clare's Rules of Not Being The Worst Person In Your Hostel. Ignore them at your own peril. 

1) I've talked about this before, but if I may be allowed to tread familiar territory for a brief moment: if you are even thinking about packing any of your travel items in plastic bags, I have a word of advice for you: take those aforementioned plastic bags, put them in a larger plastic bag, and then burn all of them with the ferocity of a thousand suns. Do it. Do it now. Don't look back. 

2) If you have to leave your hostel for a plane/bus/what have you at some horrifyingly early hour of the morning, for the love of your roommates, pack your bags as much as you can the night before. It's unavoidable that you're going to make SOME noise leaving, but there's honestly nothing worse than being that person arranging and re-arranging all of their worldly belongings at 5:00AM because they didn't bother to get their shit together the night before. It's just disrespectful. 

3) Similarly, if you come in at 3:00AM from a night of HARD PARTYING BRO, WHOOO EUROPE PARTY URRDAY, maybe don't turn on all the lights, have a shower, or talk to your friend on the phone for 30 minutes about howww drunk you are, Becky, omg. These are all things that I have experienced, and every single time the person was lucky we all didn't murder them en masse. Man, I talk about murdering people a lot on this blog. Good thing the government doesn't spy on us online, ha ha!

4) Be clean-ish. No one is expecting you to treat the hostel room/facilities like the Queen's Palace, but ain't no one wanna see your used condom wrapper in the shower, either. Ain't. No one. 

5) For the love of literally everything, don't have sex in your hostel rooms. Just don't. It's awkward and weird for everyone, and you may think you're being stealthy and quiet, but I assure you: everyone knows. They know. And they judge your moves. 

6) Snoring. It sucks. And I get it- you can't control it. AND YET. If you know you're a really bad snorer, sleep on your side, warn your roommates, practice sleeping without breathing, etc.- do whatever you can to alleviate the grief you know you're gonna cause people, because honestly, few things are worse than being trapped for four nights in a row with someone who snores so badly it sounds like they're dying. Otherwise, just know that 3-40 people are lying there contemplating smothering you with your own pillow. Just...know that.

7) This isn't so much a rule as a suggestion: bring earplugs, a travel towel, travel-sized toiletries and cheap shower shoes. They will all make your hostel life SO much more pleasant. 

That's it! That's all the rules you need to know in order to not be the world's worst hostel attendee. You'd THINK it would be easy, but in my experience, not so much. Not so much, Gregor, you 40-year-old cologne-obsessed speedo-wearing Austrian personal trainer. You're going straight to Hostel Hell, and there ain't no free coffee and tea there. 

YOUR CONVENIENT AND FUN HOSTEL CHECKLIST (see how many you can spot! It's like a game, but with more judgment!)

  • The gaggle of Australian dudes. They're there to party, and party hard. You will find them either at the bar, in the pool, or on the roof somehow with no idea how they got there. They never sleep. Ever.  
  • The white dude with dreadlocks who looks like his entire life is stuffed into his backpack that is held together with safety pins and hope. He is either homeless or studying to become a doctor, and good luck figuring out which one it is. Either way, do NOT smell him. 
  • The guy who constantly plays the guitar. Seriously, where does he KEEP it? Does he just FIND one at every hostel he goes to? His dedication will be impressive; his playing, probably less so. 
  • The trio of 19 year old girls who just finished their first year of uni and have discovered the need to live their truths and discover foreign cultures. They will do this by clubbing at shady locales and consuming heinously cheap vodka every night with suspicious-smelling bros. You will be tempted to go partying with them, and then remember that you are old and haggard and unable to keep up. It's probably for the best.
  • The 50 year old who has a good job and still loves staying in hostels when he/she goes on vacation. This person will probably be one of the coolest people you meet. Befriend them. Learn from them. Become their adopted protege. Steal their face and become them in honour of the Many-Faced God- um. Ha ha. I mean, DON'T do that. OBVIOUSLY. 
  • The person who appears to...live there? You think? You don't dare ask, but they have their own room and never seem to leave the hostel couch. Becomes territorial and hiss when you sit in their allocated spot on said couch. This is a fight you won't win, friend. Back slowly away and avoid eye contact. 
  • The rich dude who quit his lucrative job at 30 and decided to just travel the world for the foreseeable future. He has all the latest technology- laptop, tablet, phone, GoPro and most likely a freakin' drone. Will volunteer to tell you everything about the city you're in, or just show you pictures of his house in the O.C. If engaged, prepare yourself to watch a LOT of drone footage. Like...a lot. You won't have a choice in the matter. His ego must be satiated. Hope you enjoy aerial footage of Peru! No? Too bad! 
  • The Eastern European roommate with serious hygiene issues. He'll grunt a lot, but never speak. Never share a bunk with him. Just...don't do it. Take my word on this, y'all. Don't make me explain why. Don't make me relive those memories.
  • The hostel cat. It will become your best friend. Or maybe that's just me. 

xo,

Clare