Let me start by saying, I have stayed in all manner of hotels, guesthouses, hostels, campsites and apartments. I have nothing against any accommodation option (although I may skip camping in deepest, darkest winter). I think that, of all of them, hostels have the worst reputation and I would love to change the mind of someone out there. Here are some of the reasons I love them with some honourable mentions for hostels that excel in a certain category. Following that are my top 4 hostel stays around the world…so far.
Price and Deposit
Hostels can be booked over a year in advance, and I find that best websites to book are
You can book by putting down a deposit with hostelworld and hostelbookers, or completely free on booking.com!
Yes there are grotty hostels, showers that only dispense cold dribbles, windowless hot box dorms and old mattresses that sink in the middle BUT that is why looking on one of the websites above is so important. Some people prefer to book directly with a property rather than using a third party website, but the reviews on these pages are incredibly important. A website can make anything look good. Personally, I only stay in hostels with a review rating of 8 or above, with at least 25 reviews. Saying that, most hostels are clean, have perfectly decent beds and hot water facilities. And not just that. Here are some of the perks of staying in a hostel:
Breakfast is usually included. Again, standards vary. I have had a couple of slices of toast with some butter and jam, that’s probably as bad as it gets. In Jordan we had a full mezze with slices of apricot cake as dessert.
This was the breakfast of champions. A huge plate of fresh tropical fruit: pineapple, watermelon, papaya and mango to start. Following that we got pancake full of coconut sugar paste or waffles and eggs. Delicious! It is all served on your balcony overlooking THAT view!
Another little bonus is that the owner will pick you and drop you off in town in his tuk tuk. It was a wonderful experience.
Very aware that some travellers like to make a sneaky sandwich with the supplied breakfast, this hostel doesn’t serve up a full continental breakfast. Instead, they serve cereal and then provide you a yummy roll to take out for lunch. It is lovely fresh bread and is much, much better than a sneaky buffet sandwich in a soggy napkin.
I have always found that when I ask a concierge in a large hotel some information, I get one version of the answer and it usually involves a pricey taxi. In hostels, they can tell you all about the local buses and trains. That or you get a free map covered in colourful dots indicating their local recommendations.
Mr Fluskey and I visited Japan in 2011 and whilst we were there, the country was hit by an earthquake. We had to travel back through Tokyo and happily we were returning to our original hostel. We had been incredibly impressed with the information that was supplied there. They had a big Tokyo map highlighting all of the areas of interest, along with what to see, and how to get there. It was great!
After a big earthquake that took place, the reception let us know that the train link to the airport was broken. They gave us all the info we needed to get to the airport on time. We had to queue for a couple of hours to get a coach. Travelling on standby, on an overbooked flight, we know that other people missed that flight because we got seats. I wonder how many hotels informed all their guests of the extra travel time needed.
The More You Pay, The More You Pay
Book yourself into a fancy five star resort for half price and pat yourself on the back. You have found a room at a bargain basement price! Arrive at the entrance and watch as your bags are whisked away by a bellman…who wants a tip. Need some laundry done? Gaze in dismay at the price list…£3 for a shirt, £5 for trousers. Pop to the bar for a drink and get ready to fork out for a top rate drink served by a barman…who wants a tip. After a few of those, stumble back to the room and nibble your way through the handy minibar…which costs around the same as the room itself.
You get the idea.
In a hostel, the laundry is done at a very reasonable price, the tours offered will be budget appropriate and nobody is expecting a tip! Nobody will take your bag to your room for you, but considering you’ve managed to get it all the way from home yourself, will it kill you to get it that last 20 metres?
Bad news! You may have to pack your own mini shampoo for this trip. Not many hostels provided teeny tiny toiletries but some do offer some other very interesting freebies.
I have been to many a hostel that offers a free walking tour. There are even some that will hire out bikes for free (or for a small security deposit).
If you fancy a party, there are several party hostels around the world that offer pub crawls. These are ridiculously good value and often start from the hostel itself. We saw loads in Madrid, Prague and other European party towns. It goes without saying, if you want a restful night’s sleep, stay in a quieter hostel. (This is why review websites are so important).
The thing I hate most about arriving in a new country, jetlagged, is running the gauntlet of taxi drivers that inhabit airport arrivals halls. Many hostels offer a free airport bus/taxi to get your straight to their door. No fuss, no muss, no expensive bus!
OK, this is slightly misleading but stick with me. Some hostels offer a kitchen where you can make your own meals. If you are staying in a hotel, turning up at the kitchen door with a packet of ramen noodles will get you a dirty look and a polite request to go away. This makes taking your own food from home a little tricky. The other way to get some free much, is to keep an eye out for the donation station. This is a little area in the kitchen where people leave the food they haven’t finished. You can often pick up some free rice or pasta to cook up.
Fancy learning Spanish? Love a bit of cooking? Book yourself into a hostel that offers free activities. These are a great way to get involved and meet your fellow hostellers. They also stretch your budget a bit further, this is especially true of cooking courses, which involves eating the food afterwards too!
Have you ever spoken to a random stranger in a hotel lobby? I’d imagine not. Most hotel lobbies aren’t built with socialising in mind. They may be a bar with some intimate tables but a hotel is designed to be a place of refuge from the outside world where you and your S.O can be alone. That is why business trips can be so very lonely.
Hostels on the other hand often have areas that specifically designed to encourage mingling. Large puffy sofas, ping pong tables etc. You don’t have to interact with other people if you don’t want but the choice is much more readily available if you do.
Then there is dorm living. If you are travelling alone, but are keen to make some new friends, strike up a conversation with your dorm mates and you could build a friendship that can last a nighttime or a lifetime!
This hostel had a very nice coffee shop which was a nice place to relax and take in the view of Table Mountain. This in itself was a reasonably social vibe, but once a week the hostel stepped it up a notch. For the equivalent of £8, you could join in with a big braai (a South African BBQ). Each person gets given a selection of meats and then you all grill together. I started a trend for putting Nando’s peri peri sauce on my meat before it hit the grill. We got to chat and have a nice relaxing evening of fun for less than a meal out. (Plus they have a great taxi arrangement and run brilliant Cape Point tours).
4 Top Hostel Stays…So Far
I have stayed in some hostels whose facilities rival those of a boutique hotel:
This absolute gem in Reykjavik is hipster heaven. Not only does it have dorm rooms, clean bathrooms, epic hot water showers (although this is down to Reykjavik’s brilliant geothermal energy) but it also has a collection of cool private rooms as well. My parents stayed in one of the en suite rooms and there was the most fabulous rolltop bath.
We stayed here in winter and it was toasty warm. Each room has a large and comforting radiator.
The rooms are secured by electric doors which you cannot pass without a key fob.
Breakfast wasn’t included but it was well worth paying the extra for the Skyr and homemade berry compote alone. KEX also has a very trendy bar which is a destination in itself. Live bands perform in the room surrounded by typewriters, old books and other hipster stalwarts.
Not only does this hostel have rooms from singles to 16 bed dorms, but it offers a whole host of goodies. There are free classes throughout the week. You can try learning some Spanish, take part in a cooking course, shake your hips in a salsa class or relax in a yoga session. Lastly, there is the most fabulous swimming pool. It is huge and is surrounded by hammocks, some even hanging over the pool itself. You can sunbathe with your toes trailing in the cooling water, not the usual image of a hostel.
More of a glamping situation than a traditional hostel. Desert Nights Ecocamp is made up of lots of canvas tents. The bathrooms are located downstairs in a proper building.
There is a swimming pool with its own swim up bar, something rarely seen outside of large resorts and a very welcome addition. It even has a little waterfall over the top.
Look what they did for us when we told them it was a special occasion! These beds are super comfortable and kept us nice and warm in desert’s night chill. When the sun really topped the sky, the fan was very useful.
Just up the road from Sepilok’s famous orangutan sanctuary, this hostel is made up of en suite wooden cabins. You can pick between a private room, or a traditional long house (a dorm). We took the private room and it was wonderful Laying underneath the mosquito net, listening to the sounds of jungle outside was a real treat. The bathrooms were semi open and so you could have a powerful and hot shower with the feeling of being in the wilderness. And then there was the balcony:..
My fellow travellers had an afternoon nap, and I watched birds flying, small mammals leaping and insects darting between the trees. The cabins are set on a ridge and so the scenery drops away fro them in a most spectacular fashion. Wooden stepping stones in the grass led down to the communal spaces, which are also traditional style huts and made wonderfully relaxed meeting spaces. It was so nice to feel as if we were part of the landscape, not just imposing upon it.
I will continue to use hostel booking websites for my travels for all of the reasons listed above, and probably a few more that I haven’t thought of. I hope to convert people slowly round to giving these amazing independent businesses a go. There are big chains (Generator for example) but I prefer to try new, small places. Next time you go away, why not give one a go?