Hostel (noun): an establishment that provides inexpensive food and lodging for a specific group of people, such as students, workers, or travelers. (aka the greatest gift a city can give a backpacker)
If you’re from the US and haven’t tried them for yourself, forget everything you’ve heard about hostels. They aren’t all unsafe, you’re (probably) not going to be robbed, and no one is going to mess with you (unless you’re doing something really dumb). We even have hostels in the States!
If you don’t mind spending the night in a room with 3-15 strangers, then hostels are for you. Prices range from about $4-60 a night, depending on the city and popularity of the area. The US has the most expensive hostels I’ve ever seen, but they’re still cheaper than staying in a hotel in big cities if you’re traveling alone or with one other person.
I love hostels because 1. they’re cheap as hell and 2. you meet people from all over the world. Who doesn’t love that combination? In the last 4 years, I’ve stayed in approximately 100 hostels in Europe, Australia, and the US, and have never had a bad experience. Of course some places were better than others, but when you’re paying around $20 a night for a bed, you really can’t complain.
When searching for hostels in a city, my preferred website is Hostelworld. Hostels.com and Hostelbookers are also popular options. On these sites, enter the city and the dates you’ll be traveling and it will provide a list all of the available hostels. You can filter the results by price, amenities, and rating. I would suggest setting the rating to 7+ and making sure that the hostel has wifi (unless you’ll have a data plan).
It is also important to do a little research to find where in the city you want to stay. A cheaper hostel isn’t worth it if it is waaay outside of the city and you have to spend $10+ a day on transportation into the city center. I like to walk as much as possible wherever I am, so finding a hostel that is within a couple miles of the city center or attractions I’m interested in is a must!
Once you have picked a hostel or two that you like, do a quick search to see if you can find the hostel’s direct website. Sometimes you can save a dollar or two a night if you book directly on their website. For example, The Dictionary Hostel in London offers £2 off each night booked through their website using their promo code “Dictionary”. You can also check the website to see if they have weekly rates. Check the fine print before booking– sometimes booking directly is less flexible. If your travel plans change, you may still be responsible (depending on the hostel) for paying for the beds you already reserved unless you notify the hostel ahead of time.
When you’re actually in your hostel, don’t expect a lot of privacy. The smallest room I’ve stayed in was 4 people, and the largest was close to 100. That means you’re not only sharing a sleeping space with that many people, but also a bathroom. No need to worry too much though, bathrooms and rooms are cleaned daily. Hopefully. Your safe space is your bed and locker (or someplace you can lock up your things), and travelers are generally good at respecting those. Don’t forget to bring a lock to keep your valuables safe while you’re out and about!
Overall, if you’re trying to travel inexpensively, give a hostel a try. Don’t expect the Four Seasons because you’re not going to get anything close to it. You will, however, have a place to rest your head after a full day of exploring. You’re really only there to sleep, right?