Accommodation takes up a large part of any traveler’s budget, so if you’re trying to travel as cheaply as possible you will likely end up staying in a lot of hostels. But not all hostels are created equally. They run the gamut from near hotel status to terrifying holes in the wall barely fit for human inhabitation. Below I’ve covered a few of the different types of hostels you might encounter on your travels.
This is probably what most people think of when they think of hostels: a bunch of crazy young people spending their nights getting trashed and banging and their days sleeping and never actually seeing the city they’re in outside of the bars they crawl through. These are definitely everywhere and can be fun for a while, but if you’re not a natural born party monster it can get old real quick. True party hostels are usually pretty open about it, so whether you are trying to find or avoid them they should be pretty easy to spot.
These hostels really, really want to be a true party hostel but… something just isn’t there (that something being the party, usually.) Their descriptions are usually a little too over the top talking about how “crazzzzyy and wild!!!” they are, while the hostel itself is usually just an empty shell filled with a few borderline alcoholics desperately trying to start up drinking games at all hours of the day and lots of people sitting around on their cell phones hoping Google can help them find something more interesting to do. You’ll usually have to read through the comments on the hostel review websites to figure out if a hostel is really a fun party place or a sad hub for people who were all expecting something more.
For some reason there seem to be a lot of hotels trying to pretend that they’re hostels. I guess they figure having hostel in the name will bring in more young people? Or maybe any hotel with shared rooms is automatically a hostel? Not sure, but I do know that I have ended up in a few places that had none of the community of a hostel with all of warmth and cheer of an ICU ward and definitely seemed more like hotels to me. But what do I know? Not much about living space naming conventions. I do, however, know that these hotel-hostels usually follow the time honored hotel tradition of making you pay extra for everything they possibly can. They are usually without kitchens and do not allow in outside food to try to force you to buy food from the restaurant that is always waiting smugly downstairs. If you are tired of the hostel experience and want a break for a few days, hotel-hostels can be a decent option, but I wouldn’t recommend staying in these exclusively on your trip.
My personal favorite of the bunch, the chill hostel isn’t a crazy party town, but it also isn’t boring and dead. Warm and cozy, always with a nice communal area where you can hangout and meet people or read or work or whatever you want. No pressure to go out and get blackout drunk every night, but if do want to go out it is usually pretty easy to make friends in these kinds of hostels. I’ve also noticed a lot of these hostels have resident cats. Having a pet around for a few days always makes me happy (and if you have allergies, most of these hostels also seem to have allergy medicine you can take!)
Cousins of the hotel-hostels, these are giant, labyrinthine, almost completely empty hostels. I think I ran into a lot of these because I was traveling off-season, but it was still really odd. These hostels are hotel sized, with hundreds of beds and usually multiple community rooms. I can see them being insane during high season, but during off-season they are quite creepy. Every time I stayed in one I felt like I was in the beginning of a b-horror movie, walking down deserted hallway after deserted hallway, no one around to hear me scream as I’m axed to death. These hostels are generally good for one thing, and that is availability. When a place has 300 beds, it’s way more likely that you’re going to be able to find something at a decent price last minute. (Just bring a flashlight and remember to go out the door and not up the stairs!)
These hostels can be deceptive when you’re reading their descriptions before booking. They make things seem hip and run-down-but-on-purpose like $200 ripped jeans. Then you show up and, nope, it’s actually just a huge dump. I’ve noticed a lot of the places will have decent communal rooms (which of course take up almost 100% of the pictures in on the description page) and then let the rooms and bathrooms fall to pieces. Sometimes these places are super cheap and that, combined with the atmosphere in the one nice room, can make everything alright. And sometimes they’re horrible and make you want to burn it to the ground (can you guess which kind I’m staying in right now?)
While the rest of these hostel types on this list can be a disappointment, they are all survivable. This last group, on the other hand, you really should be weary about. These are the hostels that might draw you in because they are unimaginably cheap, but remember that the price is so low for a reason. Usually they reside in an unsafe part of town and the security at the hostel is lax (if it even exists at all.) The people can also be quite unsavory, so you will never really feel like you or your things are truly safe. Please use your best judgment if you end up booking one of these hotels. No cheap stay is worth your safety. If you get to a hostel and feel like it’s really a risky situation, just leave. Even if they won’t give you a refund for the nights you books (side note: this is why you should always just book a few days at first, you can almost always add more later if you end up loving a place but getting refunds is way more difficult.)
These are the kinds of hostels I’ve encountered so far on my travels. Do you have any other types that you’ve run into? Let me know in the comments!