Many people think of staying in hostels as an option specifically for young travelers. But as someone who travels longterm, on a budget, I can tell you it’s an option you may consider, and even enjoy at any stage of life. In fact, I’ve found at times that hostels are cleaner, more traveler-friendly and more comfortable than even cheap hotels or Airbnb rooms.
I’ve stayed at hostels periodically since I started traveling solo in my 30s. Most recently, I stayed at several hostels while traveling in Scandinavia for five weeks. The Nordic countries are an expensive region to travel within. Meals out are costly. Hotel lodging is pricey. But in truth, all countries can get expensive if you’re dropping $100+ per night on a place to stay. To make longer-term travel possible for me, it’s essential in pricier countries that I have access to a kitchen and a cheap bed to fall into at the end of the day. Because I generally continue working/writing during my travels, I also need dependable wifi.
But because I am an introvert, I also need my alone time. So I intersperse hostel stays with cheap Airbnb apartment or room rentals. The result is that I get a nice mix of time with interesting fellow travelers; restorative, quality alone time; and time with local hosts. All while staying within my budget.
So what are the benefits of hosteling? Let’s take a closer look.
15 Benefits of Staying in Hostels, at Any Age
- You get to meet fellow travelers from around the world.
- You can get great advice on the local area, must-do’s, discounts and valuable traveler tips.
- There’s usually free and fast wifi.
- Often discounts are offered on breakfast, or even freebies. I stayed at a hostel in Paris that served travelers free coffee and hot baguettes with jam and butter in the mornings. I still get wistful about that. It was 14 years ago.
- The pricing is affordable. Cheapest rooms are in the large, shared dorms with bunk beds, usually 16 or 20 beds to a room. But even private dorms are usually cheaper than a hotel or Airbnb.
- You often get to see young men, topless, fresh from the shower.
- There are often half-empty boxes of pasta, tea, abandoned loaves of bread and other goodies free for the taking–great if you’re on a tight travel budget and eating out at restaurants is too expensive.
- Plenty of local guidebooks and pamphlets are typically available to help you plan your visit.
- You can often partner with other travelers in exploring a place, if you like.
- They’re often in a great location where you might not be able to afford to stay otherwise.
- You’ll meet loads of other solo travelers and can get tips for places they’ve been that you are planning to travel to.
- You can learn how to cook exotic meals from other travelers.
- There are often laundry facilities available, sometimes for a fee. If you pack light, this is key for keeping you from being a stinky traveler!
- You can usually find shelves of books, free for the taking, and can leave one you’re done reading to lighten your load.
- Hostels frequently offer unexpected perks. One I stayed at in Denmark provided bicycles for exploring the area!
10 Drawbacks of Hostels
- It doesn’t matter how conscientious others are, if you’re staying in a 16-bed dormer, you’re going to wake up to the noises other people make.
- The kitchen can be busy at prime mealtimes.
- People may leave a mess in their wake. Unintentionally or intentionally.
- You have to live with other people’s habits, hygiene, cultural differences and smells.
- Waiting for a shower. Waiting to do dishes. Waiting to cook. Patience is a must.
- You may not get much privacy. If you’re an introvert, or just need some alone time, that can be taxing.
- You have to be mindful of protecting your personal property.
- There may be a curfew, limited office hours, or an established check-in time. When arriving in a city outside of those hours, you may end up wandering about with your gear for several hours until you can get into your room.
- You don’t get the luxury treatment like you do in nicer hotels, so you’ll have the same sheets and towels throughout your stay, and you’ll have to bring your own toiletries usually.
- Eventually, you have to say goodbye to all of the great people you’ve met. (Shout out to Sandra and Dory!)
10 Tips for Staying in Hostels
- Bring earplugs and pack an eye mask. That way when people come in and out of the room at different hours of the night, and turn on the overhead light, you can keep snoozing.
- Bring a padlock and lock up your valuables in the safe provided.
- Consider bringing your own towel and sheets to save additional cash.
- Connect with other travelers and get to know them.
- Bring flip-flops or other lightweight shower shoes.
- Coexist. Be tolerant. Be kind. Be open-minded to other cultures.
- Pack a headlamp or small flashlight. This allows you to get at your things in the dark without turning on the room light and waking everyone up.
- Keep your voice low, whether chatting with other travelers or talking on the phone with people back home.
- Don’t hog the shower. Or the stove. Keep it quick and make room for others.
- If allowed or encouraged, leave extras behind for other travelers who would find them useful. Shampoo, body wash and food are all appreciated by your fellow wanderers.
Here are some common myths and truths about hostels.
Myth: Hostels are purely for young travelers.
Truth: Hostels are generally open to people of all ages, and I’ve never been turned away for being beyond my 20s.
Do I feel “old” when I stay at hostels? Sometimes, yes. But I’ve rarely been the only person over 40 staying at one, and I frequently meet travelers in their 50s and 60s who are staying in hostels.
Myth: Hostels are filthy.
Truth: Anytime you have large groups of people crammed into one space, there’s bound to be a mess. Shared hostel kitchens can and do sometimes fall below my personal standards of cleanliness, and showers often have hair in the drain, old soap, and other evidence that hundreds of people are cycling through the lodging on a weekly basis.
That said, most hostels I’ve stayed at have a cleaning staff that comes in daily.
Myth: Hostels are loud.
Truth: Sure, sometimes hostels have have a party atmosphere, especially if there’s an in-house bar. Others are low-key, and have designated quiet hours that are enforced. And in my experience, most hostel guests are happy to hush up if you ask politely. Be sure to read online reviews. If you want a party hostel, you’ll be able to quickly find the hot ones. If you want something that’s quiet and more refined, stay away from hostels with reviews that talk about the awesome, wild parties that go all night.
Myth: Hostels are for hooking up.
Truth: The whole world is for hooking up, hostels are just another place where people meet and hit it off, or don’t. I’ve never seen evidence of wild hookups at hostels, but I have heard one story. In other news, my apartment neighbors are quite amorous. So, there’s that.
Myth: You can’t get privacy in a hostel.
Truth: Many hostels rent out private rooms or dorms for you and your squad. They’ll come at a higher price than the 16-bed dorms, and rightfully so. Those private rooms are generally still affordable, often cheaper than even cheap Airbnbs. Some even have their own ensuite bath. Fancy!
I recently stayed at Woodah Hostel in Copenhagen, where they had separate pods for each guest. A small curtain offered privacy. Aside from having to climb up into my pod (and the fear of having to climb down to use the loo at night) I loved the relative privacy.
Myth: You need a hostel card.
Truth: I thought this myself when I first started really traveling in my 30s, but I’ve never been asked for a card when I’ve stayed at hostels. Most hostels can be booked online, just like a hotel room or Airbnb.
Myth: You need to bring your own towels and linens to stay in a hostel.
Truth: Some hostels will charge you a small fee to use their sheets and towels…that’s pretty common. Others don’t want you using outside linens, sleeping bags and such, for cleanliness, and will provide bedding as a part of their lodging price. I honestly do not recommend bringing a sleeping bag with you during longterm travel unless you are planning on sleeping in parks or camping; it’s just more weight for you to shlep around. I do bring a travel towel that dries quickly. It’s come in handy time and again and weighs next to nothing.
Myth: Hostels are cheap because they’re in dodgy locations.
Truth: Most hostels are in absolutely great locations, close to or in the center of desirable neighborhoods. Of course, read reviews online. Chances are if there’s a neighborhood you really want to explore, but can’t swing a hotel room, there could be a hostel thereabouts and you could stay in the area for a fraction of a hotel room price.
Myth: Your stuff will get stolen in a hostel.
Truth: Most hostels have lockers for guests. I’ve found it’s best to bring your own lock, but you may be able to rent one from the hostel. As is true when you are anywhere in the world, including your home country, it’s best to keep your eye and hand on your stuff. Don’t leave valuables unattended. Anecdotally I’ve heard the items most often swiped from hostelers are souvenirs. Weird. It’s never happened to me. I often figure if someone wants to steal my dirty laundry, they’re certainly welcome to…it’s the electronics and the finances that I try to keep an especially close eye on.
Now food is a different story. Most hostels have a kitchen and a fridge you can use as a guest. Put your name on your food, but know that hungry hostelers may help themselves from time to time. I have heard many people complain about someone taking their food or beer while staying at hostels. I personally have not had that problem. In fact, many hostels hang on to left over food for hungry travelers…so you could score some free noodles.
Ready to stay in a Hostel?
Hostels aren’t for everyone. If you prefer luxury travel, you will find them to be lacking.
But if you’re a budget traveler who wants to connect with other travelers from around the world and learn from them, hostels can be a great lodging option, at any age.
Charish Badzinski is an explorer and award-winning travel and food writer. When she isn’t working to build her blog: Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World, she applies her worldview to her small business, providing strategic communications, media relations and writing support to individuals and organizations.
Find Charish on Twitter: @charishb
Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World by Charish Badzinski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.