Hostelling or backpacking provides budget travelers a cheap accommodation option. Hostels generally provide beds and bathroom facilities in a dormitory type setting. This simple setting allows hostels to charge significantly less than hotels for accommodations. Not the most glamorous way to travel but definitely cost effective, in that the money you save can allow you to stay for longer periods. Each hostel is independently run so standards vary from hostel to hostel. Check hostel reviews to find out which ones suit your needs best.
Hostels are a great way to meet like minded people who love to travel. Generally hostels provide common areas so you can meet fellow travelers and share you travel tales. If you are traveling alone hostels provide an instant source of companions.
Some hostels have a communal kitchen area. This is great for the self caterer. You can prepare a meal or light snack. Check with your hostel to see if utensils they provide utensils.
Some hostels divvide guests by gender, others mix boys and girls together. Check with your particular hostel if this is important to you. Also for mixed gender situations remember to pack something suitable to sleep in.
There used to be an age limit for hostels but this is no longer the case and they are open to everyone. Some hostels even provide private double (two beds) or quad rooms (4 beds) making them a more viable option for families and couples.
The cheap price and comraderie that hostels provide is great but it is certainly not for everyone. If you like your privacy then hostels are not for you. If you do not like being around a bunch of loud 20 somethings then hostels are not for you. If you are a light sleeper then hostels are not for you (unless you get a private room). If you do not like an imposed curfew (some hostels have a curfew) then hostels are not for you. If you do not like being locked out of your room during the day then hostels are not for you (some hostels have a lockout period so that they can clean). If you do not like sharing a bathroom then youâ€™re kind of out of luck because most small hotels will cut you a price break if you use a shared bathroom.
Must Haves for Hostelling
Staying at hostels changes your packing requirements. At most hostels you will need a sleep sheet which is basically two sheets sewn together. These come in two varieties: cotton and silk. The advantage of the silk sleep sheet is that it is lighter and will take up less room in your backpack, this comes at a higher price than the cotton variety. Check to see if the hostels you are staying at rent linens and you may avoid having to bring one altogether.
Hostels also do not provide towels. I do not recommend bringing a regular terry cloth towel. These are heavy and bulky and you will have no place to hang it to dry. Bring a pack towel or a camping towel instead. These come in a chamois or micro fiber type material and absorb many times their weight in water. Pack towels dry quickly so you wonâ€™t be stuck lugging a heavy damp towel around in your pack, yuck!
Hostellers should bring shower shoes. A pair of waterproof sandals protects your feet when using the shared showers. Simple and lightweight works best, a pair of rubber flip flops takes up little room. A water sport sandal adds weight and bulk and you should only bring them if they perform double duty, using them at the beach or for hiking.
The dormitory style layout of hostels makes your belongings more susceptible to being stolen. A lock for your backpack provides a useful deterrent for thieves. If somebody wants to get into your bag they will, a lock wonâ€™t prevent that it will just slow them down. Hostels usually have safes so you can lock away some belongings. Carry your passport, plane, and rail tickets inside your money belt at all times for the most security.
A flashlight comes in handy when trying to get to the bathroom at night. A flashlight will help you find something in your bag past lights out time. A pair of earplugs helps mask hostel mates with vigorous snoring habits. This may also help keep you from being awakened every time someone enters or leaves the room.
Types of Hostels
There are two types of hostels: official hostels and independent hostels. Official hostels belong to Hostelling International (HI) also called the International Youth Hostel Federation (IYHF) and adhere to its standards of quality. They encourage membership but do not require it to stay at an HI/IYHF hostel. At most some hostels will ask that you pay a supplemental fee. Membership for those ages 18-54 is $28 annually and can easily be purchased online. If you stay at mostly HI hostels purchasing the membership would be more beneficial than paying supplements.
Independent hostels donâ€™t have a set of standards that they have to follow. This does not mean that they are in any way inferior; this just means that each place will have its own way of running things. Independent hostels require no membership fees to stay there.
As with any accommodation I advocate doing research before booking.
Many sites review hostels and this helps in selecting one that suits your needs. For instance you may not want to book the â€œpartyâ€ hostel but that may fit the bill perfectly for others. The only way to discern the personality and service of a hostel is to read what its most recent guests had to say about it. Most hostels can be booked online.