Life on the Road: Staying in Hostels

[singlepic=1447,200,,,right]When most people hear the word “hostel” they think of the run-down, over-crowded dorm rooms filled with college-aged partiers. And I must admit – I used to as well. In fact, I was one of them!

I was fortunate enough to study abroad while in college and took full advantage of that opportunity to backpack through Europe beforehand. I spent six amazing weeks Eurailing from country-to-country and was there at an exciting time to be in Barcelona for the Olympics and Sevilla for the World’s Fair. And friends I met along the way introduced me to some unique cultural experiences like watching the final day of the Tour de France in Paris and a football match in Salzburg. 

Most of these friends I met were in hostels, which offered a great community for travelers. Not only did I get to meet people from unique backgrounds, I also got some useful insight on where to go, what to do, and where to stay along the way. In fact, that is how I ended up at most of the hostels I stayed in during that trip. In the pre-internet era, backpackers relied heavily upon the advice of fellow travelers.

[singlepic=1444,150,,,left] [singlepic=1445,150,,,left]After I graduated from college, I headed off with a friend to Australia and New Zealand for six months of travel. It was still pre-internet yet we loved just planning things as we went, including where we stayed. And we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the hostels in those countries. Sure there were ones that catered to the party scene, but many of them also appealed to older travelers and families. And in fact, most had kitchens as well. By having the ability to cook our own meals, we could save a lot of money by not having to eat out all the time.

I’ve done a lot of traveling since then, but have never thought to seek hostels as an accommodation. With the exception of a recent return trip to Australia and New Zealand, I would mostly stay in small guest houses during my travels. But I missed the sense of community that comes with staying in a hostel, especially if I was traveling by myself.

So I was thrilled to read a recent New York Times article highlighting that the hostels in Europe are “growing up”. The amenities and cleanliness described by the author made me want to relive my youth and go Eurailing again just to stay in these updated hostels.

She described a recent stay in London with her daughters:

[singlepic=1443,250,,,right]Moments later we were standing in front of a stylish, modern building with gleaming plate-glass windows. I was certain I had the wrong address. Though I had read that YHA Ltd. recently invested about $8.4 million to renovate this hostel near Regent’s Park, it seemed too good to be true. Where was the peeling paint? Why wasn’t laundry hanging from the windows? Why wasn’t there a drunken student passed out on the stoop?

Instead, as we walked through the sliding glass doors into the entrance hall, I admired the floor-to-ceiling illuminated map of the London Tube system, as well as a good-looking 40-something man with a briefcase getting off the elevator. Already, things seemed different.

And according to The Guardian:

[singlepic=1442,200,,,left]No longer the domain of mere youth, hostels around the world have just seen their best year ever with bookings up 14% on 2007, according to Hostelling International. They’ve smartened up, too, with nearly three-quarters of their bedrooms now boasting en suite bathrooms. Suddenly, hostels have outgrown their humble roots and are appealing to families as much as gap-year backpackers.

With this improvement in the quality of hostels, they are now attracting a variety of travelers – both young and old, solo and family. And another great aspect to hostels is that many of them have travel desks which can help you in booking activities and travel.

During her career break, Sherry spent most of the time staying in hostels. She admitted that it took her a few weeks to feel comfortable, but she was able to ease her way into it by staying in private rooms at first. But after three weeks or so, she was fine staying in the dorms (which can vary in size).

Some of her tips include:

So don’t discount the option of staying in a hostel during your career break!

Some useful hostel sites include:

Hostel World
Hostelling International

Other comments

3 Comments on "Life on the Road: Staying in Hostels"

  1. Leigh on Tue, 5th May 2009 10:19 am 

    Great article! I will be traveling for several months soon and have considered hostels, but I am 33, and a bit wary of the college party type hostels. This is very encouraging and I’ll be sure to stay on the look out for the more ‘grown up’ versions.

  2. Brian from on Wed, 6th May 2009 8:14 pm 

    Hostels are fantastic and primarily the way I was able to travel for so long while traveling around the world. Once you try it, you may not go back to hotels.

    The biggest factor beyond the price is the interaction you have with other travelers. You won’t get that at a hotel where everyone is locked in their rooms by themselves.

  3. Kim on Wed, 24th Nov 2010 11:59 pm 

    Thanks for this article! I am planning a similar European trip for summer 2011, and was wondering about the hostel situation. As I would love to just get on a train and travel the breadth of Europe, did you find that you could find hostel accommodation easily upon arrival? I know that Europe’s busy season is in the summer, and I am all for ‘winging it’ when it comes to accommodation.

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