Discovering Hostels

Our planning continues, but sometimes we have to take a deeper dive into a more focused topic.

All of our traveling thus far has been short-term, well-planned, and reasonably funded.  Our plans for world domination travel are anything but.  A year isn’t “short-term” by any stretch of the imagination.  While we are certainly attempting to plan as much as possible, one simply cannot plan every moment of an entire year.  And though we are saving up as much as possible, the basic fact remains that the further we can stretch our dollars (or yen or euros or krónas or colones), the longer we can travel, the more we can experience, and the safer the cushion for our return.

As such, we will experience something new – a place we have never before dared enter…


What is a hostel?

For the longest time, I believed “hostel” to be a typo of “hotel.”  I just didn’t get it.  When someone finally explained to me the concept of shared rooms and bathrooms, my mind immediately went to a decommissioned warehouse repurposed with barracks-like bunk beds, no temperature control, and all sorts of shady characters snoring around you.

Now, I recognize it falls somewhere between the two extremes.  A hostel can be likened more to a dormitory (something with which I actually am quite accustomed).  Quality ranges from downtrodden to luxurious, and room occupancy ranges from private to up to 10 people.

Most hostels lack concierge, turn-down, room service, private bathrooms, and other standard amenities found in hotels.  And it’s certainly no expensive resort.  They do, however, often offer free wi-fi, community meals, and lockers to keep belongings secure.  And with rising hotel costs, they are becoming wildly popular all around the world – especially to young travelers.

And with programs like Hostelling International that hold hostels to a set of standards and provide discounts to travelers, it’s easy to ensure we avoid the barracks.

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Why hostels?

First and foremost, hostels are cheap.  A step up from camping on the side of the road (which we might do in some countries), it’s a bed and a roof, a shower and a kitchen – at a fraction what you’d pay for a hotel.  Why spend the big bucks for somewhere you’ll only use to crash for a night or few?  Read: our per diems will be smaller, leading to more per diems.

Additionally, hostels are a great place to meet fellow travelers.  One of our goals for this trip is to meet new people.  Sure, that mostly applies to experiencing a country’s culture and learning some new traditions and customs, but we’re also anxious to meet others like us (and not like us).  These travelers will have fascinating stories to offer, and they can share some of their personal experiences in whichever location we find ourselves.

This type of situation will force us out of our isolated comfort zones.  We might even be exposed to insights and opportunities we never would have discovered otherwise.  I look forward to it.

How does a dorm setting work for us as a couple?

Now this is the interesting question.  While trying to fill out our country profiles, we want to estimate our costs.  However, a couple does not live or travel as two individual people.  We’re much more willing to share.  We’ll share our suitcases, our toiletries, our meals, our bed.  And in the instances where we can live as one person, we can shave off a few more dollars (or yen or euros or krónas or colones) and extend our travels.

Many hostels offer private rooms, but those, of course, come at a premium.  If we really want to be cheap, we might actually have to forego sharing a bed to take advantage of the cheaper individual beds in a larger room.  At least we could still share a bunk to stay close and avoid disturbing strangers entering and leaving.

What are the drawbacks?

Our expectations of these unexplored abodes are favorable.  We’ve heard good things.. and we’ve heard a few not-so-good things.

The lack of privacy is perhaps the biggest drawback to this sleeping arrangement.  We’ll want to be courteous to our roommates, so PDA, excessive noise, late-night chats, smelly food, and private conversations are a no-no.  True, some of these are issues for individual travelers as well (nobody wants to hear you talking to yourself late at night), but they’re things we’ll have to be especially wary of as a couple.

We’ll also have to deal with other people in what we’re used to being our personal space.  We can’t be lazy with dishes or laundry; we can’t let the (music) alarm run for an hour while we get ready.  We’ll have to keep our belongings tidy and valuables safely secured.  We’ll need to invest in a couple good pairs of earplugs and sleep masks.

We won’t have the luxury of a hotel, but I think we’ll gain a lot more than a hotel could ever offer.

For now, we can only speak in terms of what we’ve heard from others.  But trust that we’ll revisit this topic as soon as we’ve experienced it firsthand; we’ll see how reality compares to expectation.

Photos by Hannu Makarainen, Creative Commons

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