Plainly put, hostels are a practical, decent and inexpensive accommodation option. Yes, their rooms may be functional at best but, for nightly rates of up to 60% less than that of hotels, few can argue that they offer appreciably more mileage for your money, allowing you to travel longer and further. So why then do so many travellers shun hostels? Well, if you're among the uninitiated or the unconvinced (and more so if you're over 40), do read on as I now tell you some common myths and untruths about hostels which I hope will allay some of your likely concerns.
1. Hostels are for young or poor people; it's embarassing to stay in one. Oddly, this is probably the No. 1 misconception surrounding youth hostels. The truth is, these establishments have evolved from their advent as student accommodations into decent, affordable social havens for travellers of all ages. Whether you're 18 or 81, moneyed or otherwise are immaterial; here, anyone looking for a budget-friendly and safe place to sleep in is welcome. Hostels are simply a great way to save money while travelling. Also, discrimination has no place here; you'll neither be accorded VIP treatment by flashing your platinum card during check-in nor get turned away or looked down on if you asked for food from someone at dinnertime. It's called the hostelling spirit.
|Yours truly at the HI Youth Hostel in Zermatt, Switzerland|
2. Hostels aren't safe. Trust me, you're not going to get knifed the moment you step into a hostel. In fact, the vast majority of these properties have modern security systems installed, a 24/7 reception and, in some cases, an after-hours curfew. Remember, hostel guests are simply budget-minded travellers who seek little more than a hot shower and a comfortable bed after a long day out. When sharing a dorm, you'll find that people are usually respectful of your "space" as well as your belongings (after all, they too expect the same from you). Spend some time looking up reviews before actually booking your bed. This, plus sound judgment, should give you a notion of how safe or otherwise the place is.
Having said that, I should also stress that one of the advantages of staying in hostels is the opportunity to meet people from across the globe. The spirit of community - something you won't find in hotels - has always been the hallmark of the hostel experience, which I feel is important to one's personal growth as a citizen of our multicultural world. Now I'm not saying you should blindly join the crowd and hop on the party bandwagon, but being a loner in a hostel environment really is no different from depriving yourself of so many potentially enriching life experiences and opportunities. Think about it.
|Bonding with chicos at HostelSuites Mendoza in Mendoza, Argentina|
5. You have to share rooms in a hostel. I'll bet you didn't know most hostels offer private rooms. How about double rooms with private en-suite facilities? Well, the beauty with hostels is that you don't have to bunk in in shared dorms if you don't want to (or if your circumstances don't allow you to). A private room will of course cost more than a dorm bed but it's still substantially cheaper than a hotel room. So, no, it's not all about bunk beds in small, crammed rooms when it comes to hostels these days. Just make sure you clearly specify your needs and preferences when making your reservation. Having said that, bear in mind what I mentioned earlier about the spirit of community in hostels, because the education and social exposure gained from interacting with fellow travellers are immensely enriching.
Hostelling is fun and if you've not tried it before, I strongly urge you to allow yourself the experience at least once. Greenhorns may (understandably) feel a bit out of place initially but the unease quickly dissipates once they familiarise themselves with the environment or have a gab with other travellers. If you're not sure where to look for good hostels, I recommend Hostelling International; you'll definitely find something that suits your tastes and, of course, budget. But remember, as you normally would with hotels, do spend some time reading up guest reviews before committing.
A hostel experience goes far beyond cheap lodgings and barbecue nights. It's an inexpensive way to see the world and allows you to use the money which you'd have otherwise splashed on expensive hotel rooms on other activities such as sightseeing, food and moving around. More importantly, it builds bridges and teaches us about community and about sharing. A hostel experience is an educational as well as a life experience; don't deprive yourself of either.
Good luck and happy hostelling.