Random Musings

Hostels. The good, the bad and the outstanding. What’s the difference?

Over the years I’ve stayed in countless hostels. – Yes, I’ve stayed in guesthouses, home stays, airbnbs, and the house of a cousin of a friend of a friend too but this post is about hostels so bear with me.  I’ve stayed in hostels so chic and dignified they would have given your average hotel a run for its money. Others so basic they were the definition of spartan. And one so vile I only spent a night there because I had absolutely no other option.

But mainly most hostels around the world are alright, whether you stay in a dorm or in private room they cater to what you really need when traveling: a place to put your things down and sleep.

So, if most hostels do a fine job of catering to the basic needs of any traveller why then are there some that years later I still remember fondly and when occasion has arisen have returned to, whereas others are quickly forgotten?

Making lists always helps me analyze things so I obviously decided to answer this by making a list of things I like in Hostels. They are not in any particular order, just noted them down as they came to me.

  1. Mattresses: I do love a good mattress but honestly I’m not too bothered. As long as they are reasonable I’m ok.
  2. If staying in a dorm then a shelf near the bed with a bedside lamp and an electric socket to charge my appliances is extremely welcome. If you add a privacy curtain then its dorm heaven!
  3. Lockers! You need a place to safely put your valuables in. Plus they tend to make dorms neater by allowing people to stash their belongings somewhere instead of just sprawled all over the room.
  4. Enough toilets and showers to cater for every guest. Few things are as annoying as having to wait around to empty your bladder.
    1. The showers must have hot water! A hot shower after a day out exploring is a match made in heaven.
    2. Somewhere to place your clothes and towel in shared bathrooms.
  5. It must be clean.
  6. Have a kitchen you can use. In expensive destinations it’s a great way to save money but I found that even while traveling in SEA where street food is both tasty and super cheap there were times I just wanted/needed a break from the local food and/or I just craved something that reminded me of home.
  7. Common area. It doesn’t need to be big, or equipped with Tv’s and what nots but it has to exist. For me, one of the highlights of Hostels is sharing experiences with other travelers. I can’t count the amount of awesome places I’ve visited and never would have if another traveller hadn’t told me about it.
  8. A quiet time enforced after a certain time, say, 11 or 12pm. Seriously important! Nothing will spoil the next day as a restless night because you couldn’t sleep with the noise filtering in.
  9. Free wi-fi
  10. Breakfast. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or free it just has to be available. Being able to start the day with your first meal of the day easily accessible is so welcome when you are in the constant move. Plus for those of us that are not morning people it provides an extra incentive to get out of bed by a certain time.

All of the above are great things to have and most will definitely be available in any good hostel but they are not what make a stay memorable. The more I think about it the one trait in common that all amazing hostels have is friendly staff. Whether it’s the owners themselves who are very involved or paid staff it doesn’t matter. As long as:

  1. They are knowledgeable about the area, can answer your questions and at times even go out of their way to recommend activities.
  2. They create a friendly and warm environment for the guests to mingle.
  3. If you stay longer than a day they know you by name. This might sound unnecessary but take my word for it, when you are traveling long-term having someone call you by your name instead of “Miss, Mrs, Madam etc” makes you feel both special and at home.

Over the years I’ve stayed in few places like that but when I have it’s always been spectacular! To illustrate what I mean a few examples come to mind:

  1. A hostel in Hong Kong (that  sadly I can’t recall what it was called) where the owner was always planing activities for the guests to join in at no extra cost. In the one week I was there he:
    1. Took us to see the horse races and
    2. Took us to a typical place for breakfast
  2. Vagary Hostel in Yerevan-Armenia where the staff was so friendly that most guests would drop by the reception simply to strike up a conversation with them. Add to that that one of them had a guitar and we spent an evening singing along to his playing. Oh, and on another occasion the same person spent the evening teaching my father how to play backgammon. Oh, and the other amazing staff – better known as Lily-  was a very open person that also happened to have an infectious laugh that just made everything great. I like to believe that I walked out of that hostel with two new friends 🙂
  3. The Marco Polo in Tbilisi-Georgia. I can not imagine Tbilisi without it. I’ve been to the Marco Polo so often it’s basically a home away from home. The couple running it are magnificent. Giving examples of everything that makes them amazing would take an entire post of its own. A simpler way of putting it is that they tick of every single item on that list above.  And I mean every single one. Well, minus the shelves next to the beds but to compensate for this minor failing they  are picture perfect  in every other regard.

3 thoughts on “Hostels. The good, the bad and the outstanding. What’s the difference?

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