Hostels are for poor and hippies?
I remember my first experience of staying in a hostel and it was the last one for the next five years. I lived in Bulgaria at that time and was visiting Estonia and the most reasonable way to fly was through Istanbul. I went to the hostel with my German friend and flatmate which was right in the city centre. Our room was filled with about ten different women and their ten different bags. Half of them were snoring, and if it didn’t get you up, then the morning call for prayer from the mosque certainly did. Probably you didn’t know yet, but the two things that just get me internally boiling are snoring and shewing with loud noise. In this case I think the hostel experience was definitely due to being poor and a hippie, but going further you’ll see how my perspective was changed.
As I said, it was my only hostel experience for a while 2 years ago, I was forced to arrive early in the morning to Riga, although my flight only left late in the evening and given the adventures of the previous night, I was seriously lacking some sleep. At the same time, I didn’t feel like constantly keeping track of my suitcase and bag at the airport, while trying to find a comfortable position to sleep on a bench. Riga’s prices are still much lower than those of Estonia, so I had the idea that what would happen if I went to the hostel in the morning to pay for the night, but actually just sleep during the day, eat somewhere and then take my suitcase and head to the airport. After a questioning look in the reception, I had a place in a bunk bed for € 15, luggage locked and dreams could start. From the hostel I found a group of girls from the Netherlands who went to the airport at the same time and I could share a taxi with them. While waiting for it, I heard their stories from the previous days and how many people they had found in the hostel, making their trip to Riga so memorable. After that, I have stayed in the hostel a few more times, but about that more in a minute.
Saving money. When planning a trip to Israel, we discovered that although we received the airfare way too cheap (back and forth from Belgium with a baggage and chosen seats with Ryanair for € 96), staying there is relatively expensive. While in November before buying tickets it seemed possible to find a cheaper class AirBnb for about 40€, then in February it was impossible, so we had to think about Plan B. We decided to go to a hostel in Jerusalem to keep costs low and perhaps find travel companions, with whom to share our experience. In addition, it happened that we arrived in Israel exactly during Purim, when the whole city is celebrating and the streets are full of people in costumes and it is the best time to visit Israel, which means that all the accommodations are either sold out or at double prices.
Location. Typically, hostels are located in extremely good locations compared to affordable Airbnb and hotels. Abraham Hostel was just a few minutes’ walk from Mahane Yehuda Market and 20 minutes from Damascus and Jaffa Gate (pictured). There were many shops nearby, and restaurants and a bus station just 15 minutes away, which was especially suitable when we arrived in Jerusalem at 9 pm. Why is location so important to me? Namely, I have not been yet on a journey, where I actually spend time sleeping longer than 10 am in bed. There is always so much to see and do, and I will only arrive to my accommodation for the night and in this case, it will be tremendously convenient if this place is close to the main attractions.
Breakfast. I like to try different local delicacies, but I really don’t like to start the day with the question of where my first mouthful should be. For me, this is simply an addition to decisions that are not reasonable to make. Getting a breakfast at the property is always a bonus for me – for example, you can go take a shower in the morning and then enjoy breakfast with wet hair and then have time later to finish getting ready. We probably were just very lucky, but in Abraham the breakfast was really at the hotel level – olives, fresh vegetables, eggs, oranges, muesli and yogurt, porridge, etc. And most importantly for me – they had a decent coffee, not the once cooked and then slowly warmed up for hours. So, I always chose my table near the coffee machines.
Activities. Although I am generally of this type that I go around and discover places myself, I often feel that there is a lack of explanation and in this respect, all kinds of tours are good (for example, I felt that way Morocco). As I mentioned in a previous post, in every city, where possible, I take the Free Walking Tour to get general knowledge about the place and ask for suggestions if necessary. I had already signed up for Free Walking Tour in Jerusalem when I discovered that our hostel also offers this option.
Instead, on Friday, we took part of the Shabbat dinner, as all shops and restaurants are closed from Friday lunch time to Saturday evening. It was also a convenient way to have dinner at a reasonable price – about 12€ per person (usually restaurants main course go for ~ 15-20 €), get to know the hostel’s co-residents and try different Israeli delicacies without having to look for those few restaurants that are open. And when the belly was full and fatigue from a long day hit, it was only a few stairs to walk up and the bed already awaited.
There was a blackboard in the lobby of Abraham with activities that you can register and try out every day – pub crawl, yoga, board game evening, hummus workshop etc. I think it’s a great way to find friends especially when you’re alone on a trip or with a companion, but don’t only want to hang out two of you all the time. For me and A. at least it is always that we wouldn’t want to spend the whole trip with other people, but at the same time some days (or some parts of the day) are always a good solution to get to get to know new people, listen to their stories and broaden your world view.
When it comes to the tours offered, it is cheaper to travel by bus yourself, but also less convenient. In most cases, you have to switch means of transportation because there are no buses going directly to nature or historic sites, which makes logistics quite annoying and time-consuming. If you have time, then why not. Renting a car probably comes in the same price range or more expensive, depending on how good the hostel has received overnight stays and entrance fees, etc. In any case, this is a convenient option to visit when you are lazy in planning and holidays are limited in time. In general, I am not a specially tour kind of person, but in Morocco our tour to the desert was quite cool because we had a guide who explained on the spot and the only concern was to get in and out of the bus and sleep at the selected accommodation + our travel buddies who made this experience special. In Jerusalem we had such a temptation to take both Jordan and Egypt trips and to extend the vacation by one week (or more).
Welcoming and free atmosphere. As I mentioned, it was one of the reasons why we decided to stay at a hostel, apart from financial considerations. My idea of a hostel has so far been young backpackers, for whom it is more important what experience they get than privacy and the number of stars of the accommodation. This time I was surprised by how many middle-aged people and even seniors were in this hostel – they offered a lively conversation and interesting life stories at both the evening and breakfast tables. We arrived the same evening with a girl from Amsterdam, with whom we got to talk immediately and after having together breakfasts and dinners, we later invited her to explore the Dead Sea and the desert region with us for two days. One evening, however, we went to the restaurant with an entire room to eat. Certainly, this is a matter of luck, into which room you happen stay in, but just as much of one’s own attitude. I believe most of the people who travel are open to discovering the world and communicating with others, so you can just come by the enthusiastic people you probably won’t be talking with in the hotel lobby. For example, in our room there was a girl from Porto who had made a trip to Israel as a gift to her father, and the African trips she has had just seem unreal.
There are, as many different hostels and there are many different rooms where you can stay. Most offer different capacities – there are places for ten, eight, six or four people. When travelling with a group of friends, it is ideal to take a room for four or six. As I mentioned, a few experiences were left between the first and last hostel experience. One of them was in Brussels when some of mine and A.’s friends from Erasmus came together and rented one room for six at a hostel so that everything could be noisy together in the morning.
If the whole room will not be you and your friends, then my first choice would be still be to take a place for four or six, because every person does some sort of noise and the less people, the less noise. At the same time, there are often double and single rooms in the selection. This gives you greater privacy, but still a cheaper price with the other bonuses mentioned above. We stayed in a room for six with a separate toilet and shower room + there was also a common washing facility on the corridor, which comes in handy when you need to be somewhere in a particular time, but the morning schedule matches with someone else.
What to consider when going to a hostel?
Generally, hostels have a plug, a small shelf and a lamp next to each bed, which means you can charge your phone at night without worrying about anyone walking off with it. Of course, it is especially useful to take the extension cord, because in this case, you can recharge the battery of the phone, the battery of the camera and a power bank at the same time. It is also possible to leave your valuables locked in a closet during the night or as long as you discover the city during the day time. In some places the locks are offered by the hostel, in some places you have to take your lock with you (or buy it on the spot).
If some Airbnb’s may have a problem with wifi, then in a hostel you can generally be 101% sure that wifi is good and always there. If it may not have the best connection till your room, then there is a reason to go to shared space to make new friends while scrolling Instagram.
And the thing I often use is the luggage room. Often check-out is around the noon, but for example, you leave the city only in the afternoon. In hotels, you may get a weird look (not always of course, but I have had the ‘pleasure’ several times) if you want to leave your bag for a few hours, but in the hostels they are accustomed and usually have a separate room for that.
I advise you to take the flip-flops, because you are using the shared washrooms, and the earplugs and the sleeping mask to ‘protect’ yourself from snoring, noise from wrestling with suitcases and light.
Finally, in this mammoth post, I want to introduce different types of hostels to consider, depending on what you are looking for:
Traditional hostels / youth hostels – probably exactly what we all imagine when thinking about hostels. Suitable for a wide range of users by offering everything in the aforementioned.
Budget hostels – perhaps the least expensive of all, with only a minimal amount offered and just for those whose budget is very limited.
Party hostels – places that aim to provide the most crazy experience and where the party lasts 24/7. There is definitely no point in booking a room if you expect to enjoy peace and quiet from midnight. Knowing the consideration of a drunk person, the lamp will probably light up every few hours, and somebody will look for something in their suitcase or reapply their makeup.
Historical hostels – hostels created in a place that has a history – be it an earlier prison, a brothel or a castle. Definitely a suitable option for those who like to mention casually in a conversation: ‘By the way, I’ve ever been staying in a prison overnight, but not the way you think.’
Ecological hostels – ideal for those who care about their surroundings and want to make environmentally friendly choices while travelling. If accommodation establishments are generally very large polluters and wasters, it is these sites that try to keep their footprint small, regardless of the large number of visitors.
Action & Adventure Hostels – place for those looking for experiences. They are usually not in the city but rather somewhere close to nature to make it as easy as possible to go to a new adventure.
Luxury / boutique / design hostels – there is also a choice between a shared room and a private room, which are definitely more luxurious than a standard hostel, and in addition, the public spaces are strikingly designed, at the best location and always with some ‘extras’ that make the place unique.
Family Hostels – similar to traditional hostels, but what makes them special is that they have a lot of children oriented activities and aim to be offer different sleeping options to make the stay as easy as possible for a whole family.
My goal with this post is to show that travelling doesn’t always have to be costly and you can also discover new places with a smaller budget, and sometimes even find new friends and acquaintances. So, if you want to have a large number of activities to offered, a good location, a chance to get to know others, be sure to try the hostel life once.
If you have humorous experiences with hostels, you can tell me in the comments or by sending me a private message. I always love to hear all sorts of travel stories.
The post was born in collaboration with Abraham Hostels, who offered us a discount at a time spent in Jerusalem. However, all the activities there were funded by us and, as always, the whole post is based on my honest opinion.