We get to a certain age and hostel life no longer appeals to us. Who wants to share a dorm room with nine partying twenty-somethings? I’m not sure I even wanted to do that in my twenties! But do you realise that there is much more to hostels as a budget accommodation option than that? Here I am going to tell you, from my experience, what staying in a hostel is really like for a Gen Xer today.
Why Staying in a Hostel is Great
I was not a backpacker in my twenties. In fact I barely travelled at all. It wasn’t until my late thirties that I decided to backpack for the first time. And I did it with my husband and two teenage daughters in tow. My first hostel stay was in Singapore, and it really changed the way I thought about travelling. Apart from the obvious benefits of the price, I loved the social aspect of hostels. I loved that people were willing to help out strangers so readily. Hostels have a great community feel about them.
There are a surprising amount of facilities in many hostels. That first one we stayed at has free access to a gym. Others have had a swimming pool, run their own free tours, and we were able to borrow everything from bikes to iPads. Many common rooms will have a pool table or a games console. There is always a book swap shelf, and usually travel guides to help plan your trip. I’ve also been to some that provide free international phone calls so you can contact your family, and others that let you do your laundry for free.
Most hostels have a full kitchen, which is fantastic. It is great to be able to prepare some of your own meals to help out with the budget, but it is also great when you get sick of eating out. Might sound strange, but one of the things I craved a lot during our gap year was fresh, home cooked meals. I got sick of going to restaurants, or grabbing pre-prepared fast food, and looked forward to whenever we had access to a kitchen.
In recent years a new breed of luxury hostels has started to emerge, for example the Generator hostels in Europe. (Here’s a link to one in Venice). Rooms in these are often as expensive as hotels, but you still get access to all the other benefits a hostel can provide. I am yet to stay in one of these, but some of them look fantastic.
I have never felt like I am too old to be staying in a hostel. In fact, often there were people much older than me there too. I find hostel users are a friendly bunch and will happily chat to anyone of any race, religion or age, and I love that! After all, isn’t half the fun of travel the people you meet? For me it is!
What are Hostel Rooms Like?
No, this does not necessarily mean a hostel dorm room! Now that I have heard all your sighs of relief, let me qualify that. You absolutely can stay in dorm rooms if you choose. Many older people do. It is after all, the cheapest option, and a perfect way to meet people if you are traveling solo. I have travelled so far with my husband, and sometimes a child or two as well, so we have always chosen to stay in private rooms. Almost all hostels have some sort of room/s catering for couples or families, and these offer the best of both worlds if dorms are not your style.
Sometimes the rooms are small with nothing but a bed, but other times we’ve had flat screen tvs, a kettle and basic breakfast items and small snacks. I’ve had rooms with balconies and great views, some with a lounge or small seating area too. Even an iron or a small safe could be supplied.
You generally won’t get five star luxury, but every hostel I have stayed in has been clean and comfortable enough. At least half of the time the rooms have been a really good size, probably bigger than an average hotel room.
What are Hostel Bathrooms Like?
After sleeping in a bunk bed in a shared room, the shared bathrooms are the next most common thing to scare off potential hostel-goers. But you know what? Most of the shared bathrooms I have used have been cleaner and better maintained than some in chain hotels. And even better, at least half of the hostels I have stayed in I have had an ensuite bathroom and we’ve not had to share at all!
Usually shared bathrooms are unisex, but most are completely self contained. Some supply pump packs of shampoo/shower gel on the walls, but generally you take your own toiletries with you. Sometimes they are included in your room with your towel. I actually found having a private room meant these were included in the price, whereas those in dorms often had to pay a small fee for a towel and/or toiletries.
I have always found others very courteous when it comes to the bathrooms. I’ve not come across any issues with getting access to one, or a bathroom that has clearly been left in a mess by someone else. These things likely happen, but it appears to be the exception rather than the rule.
What Food do Hostels Provide?
Most hostels provide at least some food, but not all do. I try to always book one that includes breakfast. This likely won’t be a gourmet meal, but it will fill your stomach. Breakfast is usually some bread with spreads and cereals in a western hostel, or a local version of breakfast if this is not what the locals eat. Think dahl in India or pho in Vietnam. You may also find croissants and pastries in Europe. It’s likely that coffee and tea are available not just for breakfast, but throughout the day too.
Some places I have stayed have meals in the evenings too. Not usually every night, and generally there is a small fee of a few dollars to eat. It could be a Sunday roast, a curry night or pasta night. It’s usually just good, solid food. These meals are often a great opportunity to sit down and have a meal with others staying at the hostel. You can meet some new people, and learn about activities in your current city and their hometown.
As mentioned above, hostels provide the opportunity to prepare your own food too. Before heading off to the grocery store, check the kitchen for what they have in the way of condiments. Some places don’t have any, others will have a full range of herb, spices, oils and vinegars. Also keep an eye out for a “free food” box or cupboard. Often when people check out they will leave food that is still good for others to use. Perhaps half a bag of pasta or some mayonnaise. Hostels tend to only leave these for a few days before they throw them out, so you can be fairly sure everything is fresh. If in doubt, ask.
Joining in Hostel Life – Planned Activities and Events
Some hostels include activities to help meet new people, as well as just things to do in the evenings if you are not out on the town. It could be as simple as putting on a movie in a shared space, or having a games night. Another hostel I was at encouraged everyone to bring their musical instruments (voices included!) to the rooftop deck and everyone jammed and sang along over a few drinks as the sun went down. It was simple, but a great evening. Some hostels also run their own walking tours of the local area, free for people staying there, but others can join in for a small fee. So no need to feel like you can only sit in your room. Get involved in what is going on, even if it is just hanging out in the common room.
If I didn’t want to sit in my room, but I also didn’t feel like participating in what was going on, I would often sit in a corner reading my book. It made me feel less isolated with people around me, but I could also do my own thing.
Hostel Staff – Booking Tours and Providing Local Information
Another great benefit of hostels are the staff. Almost everyone I have met has been a traveller themselves. They might be from another country and working in the hostel, or they might be saving for future travels. Either way, mostly they are knowledgeable on things that travellers want to know. Try asking at a hotel where the nearest laundromat is or which public bus goes to a certain attraction. We found this information was much easier to get at a hostel.
Many hostels also have a booking service. You may be able to get discount tickets to local attractions or tours by buying through them. They can also match you up with other people who want to do certain things to share the costs.
The hostel staff are also the people to speak with if you want to borrow anything! It may not be advertised, but I often find that if I ask for a hairdryer, then they have one. Some have straighteners too. They also have adapters and other bits and pieces that you may have forgotten. Don’t think that because it is a hostel they won’t have these things, always ask.
Tips for Picking a Good Hostel
I use two different websites to book hostels, comparing them both on price and other features. Sometimes one will have free cancellation, but the other won’t. I use both Booking.com and Hostelworld, but you will also find some hostels on other booking sites too. It’s also a good idea to see if there is a website for the hostel, they might offer even more discount or features.
My first requirement is that I don’t want a party hostel. Usually one with a bar on site will be a no-no for me, but perhaps that will be a bonus for you. I have stayed at hostels with bars, and there has not been an issue with noise, but I always try to be careful anyway.
My preference is for a private room with an ensuite, but I will opt for a shared bathroom if all else is equal. Check if breakfast is included, and what other amenities are on the site. Sometimes a washing machine is the deciding factor for me. Check if linens and towels are provided – they always have been for me in private rooms – or what the fee will be to hire them.
Wifi is important to me too, and I have generally found wifi in hostels to be better than in some larger hotels. I’ve never had to pay for wifi, or had wifi limited in a hostel. One thing to check is that it is available in all areas, not just in the common room if that is an issue for you.
The most important thing is to read some of the previous reviews. Take notice of where the reviewers are from to try to gauge if their perception of “clean” or “large” might be the same as yours. It’s also interesting to see if the hostel is replying to reviews too.
Some of my Favourite Hostels
Here are a few hostels that I have stayed in that I would happily recommend. All have different things I really liked.
- Betel Box Hostel, Singapore – this is that first hostel I ever stayed at. I have since stayed there a total of four times. There is only one private room here, so it pays to book early. The room will cater for two adults and two children. It is clean and tidy, with great air-conditioning to give relief from Singapore’s crazy heat. The shared bathroom could do with an update, but it’s not too bad. Betel Box is located in Joo Chiat about half way between the airport and the city centre in a lovely traditional shophouse area. There are plenty of amazing food options nearby, and easy public transport to the city. Click here to see the latest prices and availability.
- Nice Way Hostel Porto, Portugal – This was probably the largest hostel room we have had and perfectly located only metres from the main square in town. We had a basic room with an ensuite, with a small balcony overlooking the street. This hostel had a fantastic common room, with the reception desk also acting as a small coffee/bar area with coffee and snacks available to purchase any time of the day. They had a good kitchen and breakfast was included. Every second night they provided a two or three course meal for €10. The staff were fantastic at providing information, and some of the local free walking tour guides will meet you here at the hostel then walk you to where everyone else meets. I met people here of all ages, not just younger backpackers. Click here to see the latest prices and availability.
- Adventure Queenstown, New Zealand – This was one of the earlier hostels I stayed in. I was with my husband and one of my daughters, and I think this would be the hostel room with the most included amenities. It was a private room with ensuite, with a queen size bed and set of bunks. We had a flat screen tv and DVD player, a kettle with tea and coffee provided. A small fridge as well as an iron. The room wasn’t huge, but we had direct access out onto a huge balcony that went the length of the building. Adventure Queenstown was well located right in the centre of town, and included everything from free overseas calls to bike hire, luggage storage and iPads. They did something social almost every night, and had a great kitchen. Click here to see the latest prices and availability.
- Alice’s Secret Travellers Inn, Alice Springs, Australia – This hostel was bright and cheerful and just a little bit quirky. The room was really basic, with a shared bathroom, but did include air-conditioning, which in the centre of Australia is a must. It also has a pool, with a great outdoor area perfect for enjoying the Australian outdoors. This hostel had the most outdoor space of any we stayed at, including a BBQ area with undercover tables for eating. There was such a laid back vibe about the whole place, I wanted to stay longer than our brief one night stay. Breakfast was included with the room, but we left on an early tour so did not get to test it out. Click here to see the latest prices and availability.
- Montacute Boutique Bunkhouse, Hobart, Tasmania – This hostel is in what is like a big, old house. All the rooms are quite small, from what I saw all the shared rooms were only four bunks. There were plenty of single and double private rooms too. We had a double. All rooms shared bathrooms. This barely felt like a hostel because the rooms felt like bed & breakfast rooms. There were communal areas, but they were all seperate rooms – a sitting room, a dining room and a kitchen. The rooms were all lovely, with really comfy beds. The bathrooms were spotlessly clean, and the owner very helpful and knowledgeable about Tasmania. This hostel seemed to have an older clientele, with easily more people over 30 than below it. Click here to see the latest prices and availability.
Go On, Choose a Hostel Next Time you Travel
So there you have it! Hostels are not scary places to stay. They are not all uncomfortable or crowded, full of twenty-somethings staggering in late to a ten-bunk dorm. They can be comfortable and social, often offering a lot more than a budget hotel. Read carefully about the hostel, and book one that suits your style.
You may also be interested in these posts about budget travel
Think You Are Too Old for Hostels? A Gen Xer’s Guide to Budget Travel
Essential Items for Long Term Travel
Things to do in Singapore on a Budget
Free Things to do in Melbourne
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Josie is a forty-something budget traveller. She only discovered travel in her late thirties, but since then has travelled extensively including taking an adult gap year. She is now based in Australia and loves sharing all she has learned about travelling on a budget but with the comforts a Gen Xer requires.