It had been years since I slept in a hostel until I wound up in Anchorage for a night at the Bent Prop. It was decent enough and certainly matched the budget, but it did remind me why I upgraded to hotels years ago.
I actually outgrew hostels when I started tour guiding and basically stayed in a hotel most nights for 2.5 years. I liked having the space to myself because I met so many new people during the day, I enjoyed the peace and quiet, and could leave my things everywhere and pack with haste 20 minutes before I was scheduled to leave in the morning.
Do you know your hostel etiquette?
The reason I used hostels wasn’t purely based on price point, it was also a great way of meeting people and I’ve had some wonderful experiences as a result. I’ve never had anything stolen from a hostel, they typically have a kitchen open to all, it’s cheap and centrally located.
Every hostel has a list of the obligatory rules when you walk in; typically they are confined to the following:
• No music after 10pm
• Please close the door properly when exiting
• A maximum of 20 minutes on the free Wi-Fi, then allow someone else to use it
• Please clean up after yourself…and so on
But anyone who has frequented hostels will know there are unspoken rules. Most are pretty happy to abide by them and others feel they are exempt.
My pet hate is plastic bags, and anyone who has stayed in a hostel will be nodding your head in approval. Plastic is the devil of the hostel world (and world in general but let’s not go there).
Why do people insist on wrapping every individual item in their backpacks into a plastic bag, and why do they need to repack at 5am? Have they no awareness of the noise they’re making and that people are waking up as a result? Those with a conscience will do everything slower, hoping that the painful expression on their face is somehow soundproofing the rustling. NEWS FLASH: it just elongates the process. If you’re going to wake me and 8 other travellers from our slumber, rip it off quickly like a Band-Aid.
To me it’s a fairly straightforward process, if you have a 5.10am bus to catch, pack your rucksack the night before, leave a change of clothes, towel and toiletries beside your bag. When the alarm goes off, head for the shower, get changed and then pull your pack into the corridor and off you go. There really is no need for a plastic bag rustling fiesta!
Folks, hostels are not a full service resort so if you use a plate, glass or anything else in the kitchen, Julio the man servant isn’t there to clean up after you. Clean your own mess and you’ll find the kitchen just as clean as others expect to. One last point is if you didn’t buy something, a shopping bag with a knot tied in it isn’t an open invitation to help yourself.
Let there be light!
Wrong, if it’s after 11pm or not bright enough to see inside the room in the morning keep the lights off. Others will be asleep so use a flash light or the light on your phone. Don’t shine a torch in my face thinking you recognise me from Tomatina in Spain, because I’m likely to think you’re an intruder and taser you.
Glow sticks and whistles
During the day its fair game in my opinion, but when it gets dark and people are trying to sleep, it’s not cool to have a psychedelic trance party in the common area, or crank up Taylor Swift on your iPod. If you feel the need to party, go out and sample some of the local nightlife where people are not trying to sleep. Also, if it’s OK with you, please don’t have sex in the dorm room, I don’t care “how drunk you were”. Basic house manners please folks.
Here is the last of my hostel gripes…
How many times have I turned on the shower to wash away a 20 hour overnight bus ride hangover and found dirty water up to my ankles due to blocked pipes. Or pushed the shower button to be allocated my 20 seconds of hot water ration, before needing to push the button for another 20 second release of hot water. We’re all adults and I don’t think clean and fair plumbing is reaching for the stars.
Don’t get me wrong, travel is amazing and hostels allow us ‘country hoppers’ to stretch our hard earned money for longer. I’m at the stage now where I can’t put up with peoples idiosyncrasies, and am happy to pay for a private room. Does this make me unsociable? No I don’t think so, it just means I know what I like and what will keep me happier doing what I love…travelling!
I’m going to leave you with an example of my most treasured and least favourite hostels, but not in that order as it’s always nice to finish with a positive.
City Hostel – Berlin
Ok so it’s not a bad hostel, it was more my experience and it was only for one night, seriously what could go wrong right?
After a day of exploring Berlin I retired to my up hostel dorm bed, read for a bit, hit the lights and fell into a deep sleep. So far so good. At 3am I heard loud thunderous banging on the door, I pulled the covers over my head hoping that someone else would get up. Wrong, there was no one to get up. You see it turns out my roommates were part of a stag go and I was the odd man out. One by one they came back and banged on the door, came in, stripped to their boxers, went to the toilet, forgot their key and banged on the door again. Each time the previous guy would fall immediately into a drunken slumber, start snoring and it was me who kept getting up. This seemed to happen one after the other like a comedy sketch. It’s safe to say I didn’t sleep very well and made a vow never to sleep in a hostel again.
Explorers House – Miraflores (Peru)
This undiscovered gem (or at least it was 11 years ago) was like a mirage on the horizon. Not wanting to stay in Lima, I asked a taxi driver to take me to a hostel in Miraflores. He knew of one but after much searching couldn’t find it and stopped to ask a local who pointed him in the direction of Explorers House.
It is a family run house where they rented out shared rooms and having just opened, I was the only one staying there. The first night as I sat watching television, they brought me a cup of tea and bowl of freshly made popcorn. I stared at them in disbelief and stayed talking with them all night. The place ran well, was a quiet paradise and slowly but surely more backpackers arrived. With four to a room it wasn’t busy and they had a roof terrace for washing clothes and lounging in the afternoon sun. They held Spanish lessons and made home cooked dinners for those with a few extra dollars. I was invited to their daughters school play and when I left after 3 nights, the entire family came and waved me off when leaving for the airport.
After 5 months in South America, it was the most beautiful way to finish my trip. I flew out with a big smile on my face, a much better understanding on Spanish, and their room key which I forgot to give back (posted to them later).
To summarise, hostels are perfect for travellers on a budget; I guess this blog is aimed more at travellers who treat the place like they would a squat house at a University party. Hostels are the catalyst for amazing memories to be made, fun times to be had, and keeping the daily budget in check. But mutual respect is a prerequisite.
Happy travelling folks!