What do you think about when you think of a hostel? How would you sum up a hostel in a few sentences, and what characteristics immediately come to mind when thinking about this type of accommodation? Do you think of it as simply a form of budget accommodation? Do you think of it as part of a specific type of budget travel? Do you think of it as a wondrous place to meet like-minded individuals, or are you first thoughts of something more negative… somewhere that you would never consider as a form of accommodation while on holiday or on your travels?
The reason I ask these questions is that often when I talk about hostels back home, or briefly mention that I’ve booked into my next hostel, the response and opinions I receive on the subject can be quite varied. Sometimes I even find people who feel the need to state their opinion on the matter, even though they weren’t actually asked for it. It seems people across the board can have so many differentiating views of what a hostel actually is, and occasionally it can actually be quite controversial. I wanted to look at perceptions which seem to come up most often, look at them in detail, and break down a few stereotypes.
The Negative Perception
In some countries hostels often have a negative perception. In my home country of Scotland, I do find a minority of people (who have obviously never set foot in a hostel before) who immediately think of a hostel and think of a dirty horrible place, full of scary strangers, and people you wouldn’t want to mix with. In particular, I’ve even had the eldest of my older brothers actually ask me the question “why would you lower yourself by staying in a hostel?” It’s a ridiculous question to ask someone when you’ve never stayed in a hostel yourself, traveled, or even so much as had a look on a hostel website to check out what they are actually like. It’s also just rude, and clearly someone trying to feel better about themselves by looking down on other people when they really should take a long hard look at themselves.
I think however, this negative perception comes from the fact that some people in certain countries confuse a commercial backpackers hostel with somewhere homeless people stay. I’ve heard a few people reference a homeless shelter in the past as a homeless hostel. The word hostel then seems to have become connoted with people who may be drug addicts, alcoholics, or who live in deep poverty (I’m not saying these people are in someway lower than anyone else, some of them just need help. I’m merely stating that a backpackers hostel is something entirely different to that… in case you think I’m making statements that suggest otherwise.) The fact is, a backpackers hostel is a business. It’s market targets people who want to travel on a budget, most of whom are between the ages of 18 – 30 (and therefore tend to have less money to spend).
Of course, like any type of accommodation, it is possible that you will find a hostel from hell lurking somewhere in some place around the world. What I would say to that however is that you can find hotels like this too. Just because you find one bad hotel somewhere doesn’t mean that all hotels are bad, it just means the hotel in question was somewhere that should never be allowed open to customers. The same goes for hostels. Around 98% of them are fine in my experiences. Hostels as a general rule though tend to be clean, and have all the basic facilities you need to function on a day-to-day basis abroad. If they didn’t people wouldn’t stay in them. It’s in a hostels interest to offer a good service and good facilities to it’s customers, as at the end of the day they are out to make money, and no one will pay to stay in a hostel if it doesn’t provide them standards that are up to scratch.
For most people who have stayed in a hostel before, typically the first characteristic they will think of is dorm rooms. You do often find private double style rooms in hostels too, but the one major difference between a hostel and a hotel is a hostel will have dorm rooms available, and a hotel won’t. That is the one major difference. People’s opinions of staying in dorms may differ. For some people they love it, find it a great place to meet other like-minded travelers, and a cheaper alternative to a hotel or a private room. For other people it’s really just not their thing. Either they just don’t like the idea of sharing with other people, they may be traveling as a couple and want more privacy, or possibly they’ve stayed in many dorm rooms before and are just a bit “dormed out!” It’s really just down to personal preference, and although I would always encourage people to try a dorm first before they form an opinion, I don’t class it as being a negative perception like I do with the opinions mentioned in the section above, as hostels aren’t for everyone. You have to travel in the way that makes you happy. Regardless, the first thing that comes to mind for many people when thinking about a hostel is inevitably dorm rooms – myself included.
Certainly for those of us who love hostels, and who stay in them often when traveling, we often find that our first thoughts of a hostel include making friends. As a solo female traveler myself, I find hostels one of the best places to make friends on the road. Just about every hostel I go to, I come away from having met at least one person I’d like to keep in touch with. Often that number is much more. Whether it’s in your dorm room, the common rooms, kitchen, backpacker bar, or somewhere else, meeting people in a hostel is something I find very easy, and that I know many other long-term travelers love about hostels too. It is true that in some hostels it is a lot easier to make friends than others, but even in the ones which aren’t set up with lots of common rooms or areas to hang out and meet people, you’ll still usually meet people in your dorm room.
Hostels for many people simply signify budget accommodation. They simply look to hostels instead of hotels because they travel on a budget.
As I mentioned above, hostels are aimed at budget travelers. A lot of people who travel on a budget tend to be between the ages of 18 -30, particularly the lower half of that age group who may be just out of high school or college with no money. Hostels also have the facilities to stay in them more long-term than a hotel, i.e. they tend to have kitchens, laundry facilities etc. These 3 factors combined means that hostels in general tend to attract a lot of young backpackers! In some countries hostels are actually just referred to as a “backpackers”. For anyone who has stayed in a hostel before, or even just been in a typical backpacker bar, the first thoughts of a hostel often include the image of lots of young backpackers.
The truth is, hostels vary so much depending on which country you are in, where the hostel is based, i.e. in the city, beach, countryside etc, as well as whether it’s a chain or independent hostel. There are many factors that can make staying in one hostel very different from another, just like staying in a 5 star hotel would be very different from staying somewhere like a family run B&B. Obviously, there are some common factors you see in them all, but one of the things I really like about hostels in general is that they are so diverse. You get something different with each stay.