If you are planning to do some travelling in your later years you wouldn’t be blamed for dismissing the thought of staying in hostels with a shudder.
The very word probably conjures up grim images and memories of your gap year or summer Eurail trip a lifetime ago, sleeping rough in train stations and staying in somewhat dirty and basic hostels. Your only bedding was your sleeping bag, you carried out a cleaning task for your keep, were potentially at risk of being robbed and you would be thrown out every day at 10am, unable to return to the hostel before evening!
Or you might simply imagine that hostels are only for the younger generation and you haven’t considered them as an option at all.
However while hostels may not be for everyone, if you are planning to travel and need to do it on a tight budget as I do, don’t dismiss the idea without some consideration.
Hostels really are an ideal cost effective alternative to hotels and pensions and are extremely sociable places! The good news is that they are also now usually of a very high standard offering good modern facilities, clean linen, security and lockers, twenty four hour access and are often extremely funky! Even more exciting is that they are not exclusively for young people!
Having stayed in a few hostels by now, I personally love hostel life! I love the sense of belonging in a likeminded and social community where age, ethnic background and gender don’t matter as we all have one passion in common and that of course is travelling!
I love that I meet people from many different countries with so many stories to tell about their journey – of where they have been and where they are going. I love that we share and embrace each other’s experiences and exchange useful information and every so often we even forge a new friendship.
In saying that, we older travellers do still seem to be a minority and I believe some hostels have an upper age limit, but I have not come across any yet. Others also cater very much for the young party crowd so there are a few things you do need to consider when booking them.
I found an interesting article recently by a fellow Travel Blogger, The Hostel Girl, which explains hostels in depth.
However, following are my ten top tips on how to choose the right hostel to ensure you have the best middle age hostel experience.
I book my hostels via the internet as I go and usually book my next one only a couple of days or even the day before I intend to arrive at my next destination. Sometimes this means I miss out on the best, but it suits my easy going travel planning. Nonetheless there are still, especially in the most popular destinations, a good range of hostels to choose from. However if you choose to book as you go, be aware of peak periods and high occupancy times.
I use Hostelworld, Booking.com or Trip Advisor to book and a combination of all three to read the reviews. They are all good at ranking the hostels according to most popular but it is important to read the actual individual reviews to understand why they are popular because it might not be for the reason you would choose.
Of course reviews are subjective individual opinions and sometimes you need to take them with a pinch of salt, but once you have read several you will start to get an idea of what the hostel’s strengths and weaknesses are and how that relates to what is important to you.
For example qualities I look out for are:
Each hostel varies in what it offers as its facilities, so think about what matters to you.
For example, they pretty much all offer clean bed linen but not all offer towels, or only on request or even charge for them, so if you are carrying a Travel Towel , which I highly recommend you do, that might not be important to you. However you don’t want to be caught short without a towel or have to pay extra for one if you don’t.
Some hostels have very limited kitchen/cooking facilities which may not be important, but if you plan to keep your costs down by cooking meals in the hostel check this carefully.
Other hostels have limited reception times, so check this if you are arriving late at night for example or if you feel safer having someone on duty 24hours.
Having read the reviews you will establish what others think of the facilities and quickly see what works well and not so well and how that might impact on you.
Not knowing my way around a new city or town when I first arrive I am not always comfortable tackling the local public transport system immediately and I don’t want to spend money on the cost of a taxi to get to the hostel, so I prefer to be able to walk from the bus terminal or train station whenever I can.
If this applies to you take into consideration that you will be carrying your backpack which, if it is like mine, could inevitably be heavier than it should be. Therefore the distance and time it will take to walk to the hostel will be very important.
I have discovered from experience that the hostel’s description of its convenient closeness to the station or terminal can be slightly inaccurate. Google Maps has quickly become an invaluable tool when getting around new places so I also check the distance and time it will take with Google Maps to be sure the hostel is indeed within my walking capabilities.
I also take into account the hostel’s location in relation to the main sights and attractions, town centre and restaurants and cafes.
Many hostels now have bars, but this doesn’t necessarily mean it is a party hostel, so don’t let this put you off without investigating further. Hostel bars can be a good way to socialise with others in a safe environment. Read the reviews and the hostel’s own description of its facilities to determine what kind of bar it is which in turn will indicate whether it is a party hostel or not.
Dormitories come in varying sizes determined by the number of bunks they have in them. This will be shown when you are looking at availability or making your booking.
The smaller the number of bunks, the more expensive the bed is, but there usually isn’t a great deal of difference in the price. I tend to book a bed space in a dormitory with the smallest number of bunks as I find there is more chance (but no guarantee) of the hostel putting same gender travellers together. More importantly however, I find sharing in smaller dormitories to be friendlier as it is easier to strike up conversations with others. And fewer people means the ensuite bathroom isn’t as busy!
Unless you are still extremely agile and have a head for heights, in which case it probably doesn’t matter, don’t forget to make a request for a bottom bunk at the same time as making your booking.
Suffering from vertigo and not at all agile, I could not bear to climb up the ladder and sleep on a top bunk, especially knowing that I might have to get up for a visit to the bathroom in the middle of the night!
If this applies to you, remember that hostels allocate bookings by specific bed spaces so you really need to request your bottom bunk ahead of time to avoid turning up and finding you have been allocated the last space on a top bunk!
Most hostels now have mixed gender dormitories, which is much more cost effective for the hostel and a good way of keeping prices down for its guests. However don’t be put off by this as it isn’t nearly as bad as you might think!
I was extremely apprehensive the first time I stayed in a mixed dorm, but soon realised that everyone just keeps to their own space and there seems to be an unspoken understanding of discretion and respecting each other’s privacy.
Besides, you can be certain the young people are more interested in each other than us oldies! And if I am completely honest, in reality, it probably works in reverse where we oldies are the ones indulging ourselves in a little bit of discrete eye candy!!
All jokes aside (or not!), while there is no doubt same gender dorms are preferable, they are rare so just keep in mind that the best thing about hostels is that there is no ageism, racism or sexism. We are all equal in our passion for travel and therefore we treat each other with equality, and if you still aren’t convinced, many hostels also offer private rooms at a slightly higher price.
Hostels don’t often impose a curfew, but it is a written rule that quietness is expected after a certain time of night so that everyone can enjoy a peaceful sleep. Nonetheless, the down side of sharing dormitories is that sometimes people do come and go at all hours, whether arriving late at night, coming in late after a long day out, or leaving early in the morning. Inevitably at some point your sleep will be disturbed, or you will disturb the sleep of others. The important thing is to be as quiet and considerate as you can as you go about your business.
Everyone has backpacks or suitcases and most keep their clothing in plastic storage bags within their luggage so the noise of zipping and rustling is predominant. However zipping and rustling carried out in excess at unreasonable hours can be incredibly irritating.
When I arrive at a new hostel the first things I do is organise my toiletries and sleeping garments so that if someone is sleeping when I come to bed it is easier for me to keep my noise down as I go through my bedtime rituals. Likewise when I know I am leaving early in the morning I pack everything except what I will be wearing that day and ensure I have little to sort out in the morning. It is just a matter of being organised and thinking with consideration of others.
My three important pieces of gear for sleeping in a hostel are:
Travel Adapter With Light Usually each bunk has a power point directly by its bed where you can plug in your phone etc to charge. By coincidence I discovered my adapter/charger with USB points has become important because of its little blue light when it is plugged in which I find invaluable!
It serves as a night ligh throwing out a low glow, not enough not to disturb others, but enough to let me find my bearings in a strange dormitory if I need to. I also find it useful if I need to charge something to keep it plugged in while I am out of the dormitory. I know then that when I return after lights out I can find my way to my bed without disturbing everyone else by switching on the main light.
Head Torch– A head torch is a must for every traveller for all sorts of reasons and should be carried with you always. It is an excellent alternative to the adapter as a night light if necessary, but it is also useful for emergencies and early morning packing up without the need to turn on the main lights.
Earplugs– Earplugs I am sure are self-explanatory and I have to say that I only rarely have to use them. Nonetheless they are an important bit of kit for those occasions when you really can’t get to sleep due to external noises. Comfort is an important consideration when purchasing earplugs as you might have to wear them all night.
I’ve said before and in my experience there is no ageism in hostels. I have only ever been treated with politeness and respect, but I recognise that at times there is a degree of shyness as the obvious age gap can seem a little disconcerting in terms of communication. Therefore being the older one with the life experiences I take it upon myself to break the ice and start conversations with my young fellow travellers.
Once that initial barrier has been broken, fun and interesting conversations can ensue. Young people have so much enthusiasm and such a passion for life that you can’t help but be swept up in that and in return they are interested in hearing about your life experiences.
Don’t also forget they are the modern traveller with a wealth of knowledge and are an invaluable source of advice.
Having just travelled through Eastern Europe and stayed in a dozen or so hostels, my favourite top three are:
Hostel Skippy – Cesky Krumlov – Czech Republic
See the post Cesky Krumlov And The Rhythm Of The Road for more information
Zsofia’s House Hostel – Budapest – Hungary
See the post A Roman For A Day In Budapest for more information
Hostel Scala – Sibenik – Croatia
Watch out for my upcoming posts on Sibenik and Croatia to read about the amazing Hostel Scala