For many people heading out on a round-the-world adventure, budget requirements mean that spending every night in a lavish hotel is out of the question. Frankly, unless you’ve got the sort of inheritance that allows you to splash the cash at will, then there’s a high chance that a significant amount of time will be spent sleeping in hostels. Thankfully, the old image of hostels – Spartan rooms full of Austrian hikers, 9pm curfews and an almost monastic code of miserable silence – are long out of date. But hostels do require some adjusting to and modification of behaviours and routines.
Picking the right hostel
There’s a surprising range of options out there when it comes to hostels. Some are big, modern affairs with surprisingly high quality facilities and innovations such as female-only floors. These will generally have their own bar, travel booking desk, internet café and swish common rooms with TVs, games etc. Unfortunately, they can also feel like a giant battery cage for backpackers – rather impersonal and like you’re part of a big machine rather than having a unique experience. Others can be a lot smaller and – occasionally – bedraggled. Some are aimed towards an older crowd, some have a party vibe, some pride themselves on their eco credentials. An awful depends on what you’re after – a good night’s sleep, cleanliness, a chance to meet other travellers or a launchpad for a big night out.Personally, my tip is to go for a medium-sized hostel that is generally regarded as clean and having decent facilities but doesn’t have its own bar.
Any more than 100 people in a hostel and it’s bizarrely hard to meet and talk to anyone – there’s too much of a crowd. Also, if there’s no bar, you can bring your own booze in. This is both a lot cheaper and a lot more sociable – people will sit around chatting to strangers in the common areas with a drink in hand. Also, there is an enormous difference between a 16 bed dorm and a four bed dorm. The fewer people snoring and getting in at silly o’clock, the better. Specialist hostel booking sites tend to have reviews on them – and these are generally more reliable than those on Tripadvisor, purely because the people using the sites are those likely to consistently stay in budget accommodation.
Unless you have a remarkable ability to sleep anywhere, staying in dorm rooms will send you loopy after a while. Getting a full night’s sleeping is something of an art – ear plugs are an essential investment – and sometimes it’s worth taking a financial hit in the name of sanity preservation. Every now and then, it’s wise to book yourself into a cheap hotel, or at least take a private room within the hostel. That space to sprawl out as you wish, shut out the world and have a good kip can be invaluable.
- If you’re leaving early the next morning, pack as much as you can beforehand. Then, when 5am (or whatever time you’ve got to be up) rolls by, get out of the room and pack the rest in the corridor. No-one likes an early morning bag rustler.
- Book a private room (or at least surreptitiously venture into the showers) if you’re intending to indulge in any funny business. It’s no fun trying to sleep next to (or underneath) a creaking bed and frenzied moaning.
- This get a private room rule should really apply to anyone who knows they are an appalling snorer as well...
- Everyone likes to cook something nice once in a while, but if you’re planning on rustling up a feast that takes up most of the pans in the communal kitchen, a whole hob and much of the preparation area, then do so at a non-peak time. To try this one at 7pm when everyone is starving and trying to cook their own meal is a one way ticket to massive unpopularity.
- Learn to listen rather than just bang on about your own travel anecdotes. Otherwise you’ll become known as The Thailand Bore and suspiciously left out of invitations to hit the town.
- If using the communal laundry, don’t leave your newly clean pants in the machine for days. Try and pick up your washing as soon as possible so that others can use the facilities.
- Stealing food is a no-no. If it’s in the communal fridge and it isn’t yours, don’t touch it. Curiously, this room never applies to toiletries left in the bathroom. They are absolutely fair game.
- If there’s only one computer with internet access (very common in smaller hostels), don’t take up permanent residence there. Other people might like to check their e-mails too.
- If you are having a big night out, at least try and have some respect for your room mates. Don’t charge in, turning all the lights on and singing Come On Eileen at the top of your voice, for example.
- Never – unless specifically asked to by the majority of your fellow guests – get out a guitar and start sharing your renditions of Jack Johnson/ Red Hot Chilli Peppers songs. Better still – leave your guitar at home; it won’t half help with the packing...