As the world has changed considerably over the past couple of decades, so have hostels. Although foul smelling backpackers with blackened feet due to a lack of bathing can still be found staying at hostels, hostels have become a nice form of accommodations not only for the young but also for those looking to save on funds when traveling. As such, there is no longer one type of hostel anymore; there exist hundreds of various size (how many guests can you accommodate), type of room, (dormitory style, private room), as well as offerings (breakfast, access to kitchen facilities).
The last time I stayed in a hostel was almost five years ago. While I’m probably past the point of staying in them, due to having money available for nicer accommodations (there are some benefits to aging), I would still strongly recommend them to anyone with an open mind. Hostels are nothing like what was depicted in the 2005 Hollywood horror film of the same name (no one has ever been slashed to death at a hostel, at least to my knowledge).
My first ever hostel experience was in Nicaragua in the colonial city of Granada. As Nicaragua is the second poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, I wasn’t expecting a lot, especially since the program I was studying with was all about sustainable development and accommodations for previous trips had been sparse, and well, sparse. The Hostel Oasis completely changed my opinion. Although it had the typical dormitory room filled with a long row of single beds in a non-air-conditioned room all for only $9 USD a night, it also had private rooms for both singles well as groups of three or four. A word to the wise, should you ever travel to Nicaragua, pay for accommodations with air-conditioning as the heat is beyond oppressive. The program put us up in those and so not only did my program mates and I not have to sleep amongst strangers in a hot, windowless space, we also had our own bathroom, all for $57 a night for the room (prices would obviously have been lower back in 2005), coming out to roughly $14 a night for each person. Also included in the rate was an incredibly filling breakfast each morning, Internet access, and a free 15 minute call to anywhere in the United States, Canada, and Europe. For students abroad being able to make a call home for free, this is the best thing.
Of course, there still exist some unworthy hostels, for me, the one I stayed at while in Rome. I decided to go to Italy for my spring vacation while studying abroad for the semester in Spain. The only problem was that I decided this a bit late, so most of the hostels that had positive reviews and ratings were already booked. Although I’ve long since forgotten the name of the hostel (probably on purpose), it was a cheap place located a few blocks from the Termini train station (if you’ve ever been to Rome you’ll know that the Termini area is anything but desirable). The hostel was on the second floor of a rather worn looking building that appeared to be from the early 1900s, if not before. The hostel was run by a family and featured three rooms, a boy’s, a girl’s, and a co-ed one. Furnishings were the bare-bone minimum, the bathrooms even more so. Although the bathroom at my host family’s house wasn’t the best, I had never been so happy to return and take a shower where I felt actually clean afterward. Unlike some other hostels, no breakfast was served. The only saving grace about the hostel was that I met three incredibly nice girls, two from Ireland, the other from New Zealand. When staying in such close quarters with strangers, you do get to know them at least while you are there. Although we didn’t stay in touch, I still enjoyed a couple great nights talking and eating pizza with them.
Since then, I’ve stayed at three other hostels, one in Madrid, one in in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the other in Mexico City. Madrid’s was incredible and ironically I stayed there on my way back from Italy; it would have been much nicer to have stayed the week there as opposed to the only one night. Although hostels do vary in terms of building facilities, types of rooms, and services offered, there definitely exist a lot of great finds that aren’t at all expensive and leave you with more money to spend at your actual destination as well as the chance to meet some incredible citizens of the world.