What immediate thoughts come to mind when you think of staying in hostels?
Let me guess – late night parties, bed bugs, smelly bathrooms, dirty kitchens, naked hairy men roaming the corridors, sleeping next to strangers, run down facilities, and sleepless nights.
Now, let me ask you this?
Can you not find all of the above in a hotel, motel, apartment or a camp ground? Sure you can. My sister came home from Thailand with bed bugs from a 5 STAR HOTEL.
How about these thoughts – great locations, cheap prices, full kitchen facilities, free WiFi, free movie nights, free dinners, friendly people and staying in cool places like old mansions, converted prisons and tree houses.
My point is, there are pros and cons of all accommodation types.
Are Hostels Good for Families?
Before we had kids, a lot of our long-term travel consisted of staying in hostels as they are a great option for saving money on the road and meeting other travellers.
These days, we would only ever consider a hostel stay if it has private family rooms and kitchen facilities – we are done with dorms!
Hostels have probably changed a lot in the years since we’ve had children and aren’t the feral places you might be used to.
Many Hostels are recognising the gap in the market and are rushing in to fill it with family style accommodation and facilities.
The Pros of Staying in Hostels
They are almost always in great locations. In major cities they are generally very well located close to public transport lines and tourist sites. In coastal areas they are usually within walking distance to a beach and with views.
How much would it cost for a family to stay in a hotel on a beach or a major CBD? Check out the view below of the Opera House from the Sydney YHA. A family room here is much less than you would get for any other hotel in the area.
Depending on whether you are solo, a couple, or a family, a private or family room in a hostel are almost always cheaper than hotels, and dorm rooms are cheaper again.To stay in a hotel or a resort as a family can get expensive.
Great places for meeting fellow like-minded travelers, particularly if you are solo and need some company and support. And you don’t need to stay in a dorm to get a good conversation going, most hostels have common rooms and notice boards.
For families, they provide a homely atmosphere and an opportunity for your children to mingle with people from all over the world.
4. Cheap Services
Hostels generally have cheap and sometimes free services such as WiFi, laundry, luggage storage, fully-equipped kitchen facilities, local tours, live music, pool tables, and free meal nights.
5. Communal Kitchens
A great way to save on food costs and meet other travelers. And if you’re a family it helps your children to learn how to respect other members of a community and the sharing of facilities.
Just make sure you clean up after yourself and label any food you leave in the fridge or pantry.
6. Friendly and Helpful Staff
In our personal experience, staff in hostels have ‘generally’ been very friendly and helpful. More often than not the staff are either other travelers or a local who enjoys the interaction with the traveling community.
Hostel workers are usually a fantastic source of information for things to do and see in the area, especially when it comes to budget travel. They often organise tours of the area, and sometimes for free.
7. Games Rooms
They have hang out rooms, often filled with games, TV’s, and DVD’s. Great for children so they are not confined to one small room in a hotel, and a god send for parents with older children who need time out themselves.
8. Cafes and Bars
We enjoy hostels that have built-in cafes and bars, as long as we are not sleeping directly above or below it. Another way to socialise and generally they have great drink specials.
Bare in mind that some hostels can be party places, and the revelers can find you wherever you are in the building, so just know what your style and tolerance level is.
9. Supporting Local People
We once stayed for a week in a local families guesthouse in a rural area of Laos. A very simple establishment with only three bungalows on stilts and just a bed with a mosquito net.
This family had actually lived inside a cave for 10 years during the Vietnam War, only coming outside in the daytime to risk their lives to tend to their crops.
They were amazing people. It was a great feeling to support their family business. Experiences like this give you a whole new perspective on life and really makes traveling what it is.
The Cons of Staying in Hostels
1. Personal Space
If you stay in a dorm, things can get pretty cramped. Your “personal space” is pretty much limited to your bed and locker. That’s the trade off for staying cheap. Just understand and tolerate this.
If you’re traveling in a group of 4 or 6, you may even get a dorm to yourselves.
2. You May Not Meet Any Locals
Don’t become a “Permanent Resident” of your hostel. Some travelers literally hang there 24/7 and drink, sleep, watch TV, play pool, gossip and what not. You may as well save yourself a bunch of money on flights because that’s something you can do with your friends at home.
I don’t know about you, but we love to get out and meet the locals, mix in with the day to day living that goes on in the town, and experience the culture.
3. Can Be Party Houses
If you are young and looking for a rock-in good time, hostels can be a blast. We’ve been there done that, and whilst we still love a good time, these days we prefer a local bar/pub that’s more of a traveling experience in that town and interacting with the locals.
Ask around and check reviews concerning the atmosphere and character of a hostel.
4. Interrupted Sleep
If you’re staying in a dorm, consider the fact that people will be coming and going due to late or early flights and tours, they may be out clubbing, or they may be sleep talkers or snorers (nothing worse).
If you have an en suite attached people showering at all hours can be quite annoying also. Just be prepared to tolerate this – investing in some ear plugs and an open mind can do wanders.
5. Communal Bathrooms
If you sleep in a dorm, you could be sharing a bathroom with up to a dozen people, which can lead to dirtiness and long waits for showers or no hot water. Again, your personal space is compromised.
Points to Consider When Booking
1. Think Location
Being located somewhere practical is SUPER important. Make sure you have easy access to airports, public transport, attractions, and the ability to get out and walk to most things.
Also, make sure your hostel is located in a safe neighborhood – there is nothing worse than feeling trapped inside your hostel because the area seems unsafe.
Most sites will have reviews from previous travelers. By all means read them, and generally they will help you get a feel for a place, but in the same token some people have nothing better to do than to complain for the sake of complaining.
Go with your gut – it’s usually correct.
3. Independent Hostel OR an Organization?
Personally we have mostly stayed in independently owned hostels and have really enjoyed them.
However, in Australia we’ve mostly stayed in YHA or HI (Hosteling International) properties. You may have to join their annual membership, but it provides for great discounts and privileges.
4. Dorm Size
The larger the dorm, the more potential annoyances but the cheaper the bed. Try to stay in smaller dorms if your budget allows.
Remember you’re roughing it. Just consider the trade off between money, personal space, and a decent nights sleep.
5. Are The Dorms Segregated?
Some hostels only allow male and female configurations. On two occasions we found ourselves separated by this rule – once in Victoria Falls Zimbabwe, and another time in Santa Monica, LA.
As a married couple, this was quite annoying, and considering we like to travel light and share things, also unpractical. So if you are a couple, just double check to see the hostels rules and regulations.
6. What Facilities?
At the top of our priority list are cooking facilities. Does the hostel have an equipped kitchen to cook your own meals, and also refrigeration space to store any items you purchase at a local store.
Does it have 24 hour reception, free WiFi, a tour booking desk, laundry facilities, a pool, BBQ areas, a garden, private rooms with en-suites, lockers?
7. Any Extras?
Does your nightly rate come with free breakfast, bedding, towels, transport to and from the airport/bus station, complimentary dinner’s?
All of these are nice little bonuses but not always included.
A booking site we like is Hostel Zoo which has a free search and comparison service allowing you to book the right hostel at the best price. They utilise the booking engines from the top hostel sites to provide the most comprehensive listing available.
In Australia, we prefer to stay at YHA properties which have excellent standards, and many of them are hotel quality.
YHA also has a great membership program providing for discounts on accommodation, tours, attractions and more.
What are your tips?