Lots of young people get their impressions of travel from early trips with mom and dad – driving to Yellowstone and staying in a roadside motel with a pool in the parking lot, or flying to Europe and staying in a fancy hotel. Or maybe it was somewhere in between – a Holiday Inn in Orlando. Great trips, no doubt. But not the vibe you’re looking for now.
As a result, many travelers don’t realize that there’s an international network of clean beds and good times that are much cheaper than hotels, much cleaner than motels and a better time than both: Hostels.
What is a Hostel?
Hostels are small, usually individually-owned guest houses around the world often run by young people looking to share travel experiences and culture with international travelers. They’re bare bones and often divided into a few dorm rooms with bunk beds for a few or as many as 40. Many also have common areas where everyone hangs out together and a small bar (or a least a fridge) from which you can buy a local beer. And they’re geared toward young people looking to travel cheap. (Though you’ll run into the occasional crusty, 65-year-old riding his motorcycle across South America. But usually he can drink you under the table, has better stories and gives you something to aspire to in 40 years). And because hostels are generally small and cheap, you’ll find them in even the most remote corners of the world.
How Much Does it Cost to Stay in A Hostel?
Hostels range widely in cost. But generally the smaller, the more remote and the more independent the hostel, the cheaper it is. You’ll find dorm beds for just a few dollars a night in many remote locations rising up to $100 or more for a private room in Berlin. The Spicy Lao Backpackers Hostel in Luang Pranbang, Laos, for example, will run you $3.39 per night for a bunk bed in a room with four to six beds while a similar bed in the Rio Hostel in the heart of Ipanema will cost you $25 per night. Both are way cheaper than a Radisson. And you’re likely to find some form of hostel no matter where you go.
It’s About More Than the Money. It’s about Good Times
Sure, it’s great to spend a week in Laos for the cost of two beers and a salad at your local coffee shop. And you probably wouldn’t be able to see the world without hostels and your trusty travel backpack. But the best part isn’t their price. It’s the people. Unlike hotels or motels were people check in through some cold, lifeless lobby and just go about their business. Hostels are meant for sharing and making friends. Almost all of them have a community area were you can just sit down next to whomever happens to be there and share your stories of the road or find out where everyone is going out that night. You’ll party together, sleep together and often end up traveling together with the friends you meet at hostels.
Don’t let the people who’ve never done hostel traveling or who’ve had a bad experience ruin your enthusiasm. You might hear that hostels are dangerous, that people will steal your stuff or that the dorms are too loud and you can’t sleep. It’s just not true. Hostels are filled with people just like you. They just want to see the world and have good times. Most hostels offer lockers to store your backpack or you can use a few luggage locks to keep your stuff safe. And sure, sometimes you have to listen to a rowdy crowd come in at 3 a.m. after a night of partying or the couple next to you hooking up. But both can be cured with a simple pair of ear plugs. Plus, if you’re only spending $7 a night, a little noise is worth it.
Where to Find Hostels
You can find hostels the same way you find everything else: Google. There are corporate hostel booking agencies that do make things easier, such as Hostels.com, Hostelbookers.com and Hostelworld.com. They’re essentially one stop shops for booking hostels no matter where you go. But you can also just do a little Googleing of your own to find that cool new place that hasn’t signed up yet with one of the booking services, or just doesn’t want to. Most of the guidebooks and their websites, such as Lonely Planet, also offer extensive lists. Or you can just do what a lot of us do and wing it. When you’re about to leave one town for the next, just ask your new hostel friends if they know a cool place to hang in the next town, and they’ll likely hook you up better than any service ever could.
So if you have $100 dollars in our pocket, just remember — that’s two weeks of lodging, food and local craft beer in a country you’ve never been to before. And hostels are what make that happen.