We all know the United States isn’t known for gap years or career breaks (that finally seems to be changing though). When mentioning long term travel, many think it can only be done by retirees or college students studying abroad.
When people find out that we, a young, married couple, quit our jobs and took off on a year long RTW trip, they have questions. Lots of questions. Family members, co-workers, friends, friends of friends, and even strangers are always intrigued when they find out about our adventures.
One of the questions people ask is where we stayed while traveling for so long? Many Americans are so unfamiliar with the term hostel that we usually get weird, inquisitive looks. Once we start talking about it, the questions start rolling in.
A hostel is like that movie, right?
In short, no, at least I don’t think so. I don’t know, I haven’t seen any of the Hostel movies. But I know neither of us has been bludgeoned to death while staying at one, which is what I believe the movies are about.
Many people have grave misconceptions of what a hostel actually is. The horror movie franchise (God, I can’t believe it’s actually a franchise) doesn’t help matters, while our doom and gloom media doesn’t exactly change perceptions either.
Too many people have this weird vision of what a hostel is without having ever been to one or spoken with anyone who has stayed in one. There are others who have some idea of what a hostel is, but when they find out that we, a married couple in our late 20′s/early 30′s, stayed in one, it throws them all off.
So it’s for college kids, kind of like a dorm?
We have gotten this question as well, and it’s usually combined with a judgmental look or smart-ass comment after we told said person that we stayed in hostels for the better part of a year.
While some hostels have similarities to a college dorm, what most don’t know is that ALL hostels are different. We have stayed in hostels in 16 countries across 4 continents, and ALL were unique in their own way. Most did NOT resemble a college dorm.
But you sleep in a room with other people, right?
99% of the time that answer is NO. We are married, a bit older than gap-year travelers, spring breakers, and study abroad students, so we like our privacy. While we have slept in dorms with other people, it was done a handful of times in more expensive places in the interest of saving money (like Patagonia and Europe in high season). But the vast majority of the time we had private rooms with our own bathroom.
Wait a minute, wait a minute, that sounds like a hotel
Hey, hey, we have a genius on our hands here! Most hostels have a lot more similarities to hotels than college dorms, particularly in places like South America, New Zealand, and SE Asia. The great thing about hostels is that they can be like a hotel, but for outgoing people who love to drink socialize.
So they aren’t like college dorms?
Well, that depends. Most hostels have options for rooms, just like a hotel, except those options are a bit different. If you’re one of those gap year travelers or college students traveling during your summer break, you have the option of sleeping in the aforementioned dorm rooms. Some may have 4 beds, 6 beds, 10 beds, even 20 or more in a single room. The more beds in a room, the cheaper that bed is.
While some hostels only have dorms, there are many which have private rooms as well. Some may have their own bathrooms, some may have shared bathrooms. Some may be tiny, closet-like rooms. Some may be huge. Some may have tv’s with cable and desks. Some may only have a bed and that’s it. Some beds may have sheets and blankets and pillows, some may just be the mattress (see, I told you they’re all different).
That sounds pretty nice, actually.
Most of the time, it is. Some of the times, it’s like the YoYo in Valparaiso, Chile, the worst hostel we have ever stayed in. We took an overnight bus there and arrived at 7am, greeted by a worker holding a glass of vodka in his hand, still trashed and drinking from the previous night (he was actually highly entertaining). I’m also pretty sure there was dried up vomit on the wall of our room. And let’s not talk about the bathrooms.
Um, OK, maybe I don’t want to stay in a hostel?
That was 2 nights out of 358 (yeah, I know, I can’t believe we stayed the second night either). Like a hotel, there’s always a risk. Most people who have traveled extensively and don’t have a high budget have hotel horror stories as well. So it’s all relative really. We’ve stayed in some pretty nasty, dingy hotels here in the good ol’ US of A.
There are some huge benefits for staying in a hostel, whether you’re young, single, married, or even traveling with kids. We LOVE hostels. Honestly, in our future international travels, I can’t see us NOT staying in hostels. Even when we’re 40, 50, and older. Even when we have kids and bring them on our travels with us.
Really? Why do you love them so much?
There are so many reasons that hostels are better than hotels, in my opinion. The only real benefit to staying in a hotel is that if you travel enough and stay in a particular chain enough times, you know what to expect. The consistency of hotels is a major positive for many people. But that lack of consistency is one of the reasons I really love staying in a hostel.
- Hostels are always different- They all have their own unique flair to them, which is pretty cool. You never know what you’re going to walk into when going to a new hostel. This is a risk, but if you have the time and aren’t traveling in a particular region during high season, it’s nice to walk around a city and check out several places until you find the right one.
- Hostels are great for meeting people- Common areas, communal kitchens, included breakfasts, and a bar are all amenities that many hostels offer. These are all aimed at getting the patrons to chat with one another and make friends. In hotels, people typically stick to themselves, and that’s OK, but when traveling long term, it’s nice to be able to meet other like-minded travelers. We have had so many great times just hanging out with other travelers from our hostel.
- Hostels are cheap- Even if you are staying in a private room with private bath, a hostel is going to be considerably cheaper than a hotel. Since all are different, sometimes this works out well, sometimes not. The room may be tiny, and the bathroom may not have a vanity, but at a quarter of the price, it’s worth it to budget travelers. We averaged about $25US/night for accommodations during our year long RTW trip. Try coming anywhere close to that staying in hotels for a year.
- Hostels have Communal Kitchens- A good number of hostels have communal kitchens for travelers to use to cook meals. Obviously this saves money, which is always a plus. But this is also a great way to meet new people. Kitchens are typically small with limited amenities, so sharing and helping is the norm in a hostel kitchen. It’s always a cool experience to work with one another to make dinner in a cramped kitchen with two pots and three pans and 20 other backpackers trying to do the same. To some, this may not sound like the most ideal cooking conditions, but there’s something about the communal aspect of helping each other out that brings out a camaraderie amongst everyone.
- Hostels have bars- If you like to imbibe with some adult beverages while traveling, then the hostel bar is usually a good place to start. Many hostels have a bar somewhere on the premises, and partaking in some cheap drinks with your fellow travelers is always a good way to start the night.
- Hostels have tons of information- From the owners to the workers to the travelers staying there, there is always a wealth of information around every turn for those staying at a hostel. For us, the people staying there typically travel in the same style as us, so getting tips or information from those people makes more sense than if we were to stay in a hotel. It’s usually easier to get the ins and outs of street food, markets, and grocery stores, plus the low down on bus and train travel from those working and staying at a hostel.
Even as a married couple, staying in a hostel is a great idea for those travelers who like to meet new people and save some money in the process. Private rooms are available in most places, and privacy has rarely been an issue for us. We have simply felt more a part of the local community when staying in a hostel as they are often owned and staffed by locals. No matter how old you are, what your relationship status is, or even if you have a family, consider staying in a hostel next time you take a trip. You may be surprised at what you find.