Friday, December 20, 2013

Why I've Changed my Mind about Hostels


While planning last summer's trip through Iceland, I made a point of writing about why I disliked staying in hostels - the dormitory-style beds, shared bathrooms, lack of privacy, and the possibility of stolen possessions all made hostels sound horrific and "too young" for an older traveler like me. (I'm aware being in your early 30s is not OLD; but nor am I in the college crowd era anymore.) While finding a 'home away from home', I like the privacy and security of my own hotel room, or at least my own tent.

However, I must say, my opinion of hostels has changed greatly since our trip to Iceland.  Hotels are difficult to find in Iceland - they book up nearly a year in advance for the summer season (usually by big travel companies who reserve entire hotel floors at a time in anticipation of tour groups and cruises).  Hotels are also expensive, and quite rare.  It is much more simple to find accommodation at a 'guesthouse' - read: hostel - than it is to book a hotel room in Iceland.

hostel living room Iceland
The shared sitting area in Hvammur Guesthouse in Hofn, Iceland.  Not too shabby!

In order to save money and to make life easier, while planning for Iceland I just gave up and booked us a room at Guesthouse 101 in Reykjavik for our first three nights in Iceland.  It was a semi-hostel set-up: we have a private room, albeit with separate beds, but shared bathrooms and kitchen/sitting areas.  It was the best I could do considering all of the hotels I had looked at were full (and I was booking in March for a trip in July).

hostel Guesthouse 101 Reykjavik Iceland
Our tiny but private room in Guesthouse 101 in Reykjavik, Iceland.  

I still don't like the idea of sharing rooms with strangers (I snore a little, I drool, and I'm also hella-sensitive to other people's little sounds and movements, lights, etc., which wake me up), so this set-up I could live with.  We had privacy, could lock up our possessions without jamming them into a tiny locker, and I could sleep in my undies should I so choose.  I was alright with that.

hostel bathroom Iceland Hvammur Guesthouse
The shared bathroom in Hvammur Guesthouse - nicer than expected!

I even discovered I actually ENJOYED some aspects of hostel life.  I liked the shared kitchen and the freedom to cook your meals.  Dishes were provided so we didn't have to worry about lugging around a picnic basket filled with plates and utensils.  As long as you cleaned up after yourself, all was well in kitchen-land.  I also liked the chance to sit around and meet people and chat - people seem more open and willing to converse when in a hostel versus when in a hotel restaurant or lobby.  While staying in a hostel in Hofn, Hvammur Guesthouse, we sat down and ate a lovely breakfast together with a wonderful couple from Denmark, who offered to do a house-swap with us next summer.  They had a cute two-year-old who didn't understand why we couldn't understand her - next summer we'll have a 6 month old (who could be fun to take to Denmark...)

hostel kitchen Iceland Hvammur Guesthouse
The cheerful and well-stocked kitchen in Hvammur Guesthouse where we dined with a Danish family.

Another hostel we stayed at while in Vik, Hostel Lunda, was hoppin' with people from all over the world as well.  We met a young geologist from the United States who was in Iceland to work on her doctorate regarding the thermal activity on the island nation.  She was fascinating to listen to, as she'd been to Iceland at least twice before, and knew of some really cool locations to explore if you were curious about geothermal hot spots.

So here is my hostel run-down:

Pros:

  • Hostels are extremely cost efficient, much cheaper to stay in than hotels. Sometimes not by much, but still, a penny saved...
  • Hostels are usually available at the drop of a hat. We booked in Hostel Lunda and Hvammur Guesthouse about 10 minutes before being shown to our rooms.  Unless you are visiting Iceland off-season, that probably won't happen with a hotel.  Some hostels have more to offer than others: Hostel Lunda didn't provide blankets on their beds, just sheets, but that didn't matter to us as we'd been camping all over Iceland and had nice, comfy sleeping bags to curl up in.
  • Hostels are great places to meet people from all over the world - the open, shared atmosphere of a hostel lends itself much better to conversation than an individualized, compartmentalized hotel
  • Some hostels even provide you with food.  Hvammur Guesthouse in Hofn offered us a stocked fridge for a very tasty breakfast, including cheese, bread, milk, juice, fruit, cereal, and lots more. It was nice not to have to pack in our cooler or worry about going breakfast shopping in the morning.

Cons:

  • There is little to no privacy, depending on your type of hostel. It is great if you can get a private room, and lots of hostels offer those, but still, you are sharing showers and toilets, which isn't the most hygienic.  The walls of every hostel we stayed in were very thin, so you had to keep conversations low. (And if someone doesn't keep their conversation low, they can potentially keep everyone else in the hostel awake all night.  That happened to us a couple of times.)
  • Along with the thin walls and chatty people, comes the annoyance of hearing people come and go at all hours, or smelling their cooking at all hours. In a hotel, with thicker walls and carpets, you might not notice this as much (and you really wouldn't notice the cooking as most hotels don't do the kitchenette thing anymore).  If you are a heavy sleeper - bonus!  Hostels are for you! I am a bit of a light sleeper, so I didn't get the greatest sleeps while staying in the hostels.
So I leave it up to you. Are you a hosteler? Or a hoteler? I am proud to say that I am both - depending on the circumstance!

6 comments:

  1. I've found that I'm now both too. Having always previously been a hosteler before, I've recently found that I now need a bit of my own space too. I miss the social aspect of hostels though if I go too long without it, so on my most recent trip I split it half & half exactly, and that worked really well.

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    1. Splitting your time is a really good idea. That way you can still meet all those like-minded, travel-crazy hostel people, but get a nice night's sleep and a little special treatment at a hotel. We blended both, and then mixed it with some chilly camping - the hostel seemed like a dream after some of those rainy camping nights! ;)

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  2. This is a great post. We have just come back (last night!!) from staying in a hostel and it is definitely a very different experience from staying in a hotel but there are certainly many benefits. On a separate note we took our 10 month old and 3 year old to Denmark a couple of years ago and had a great time, so go for it!! :)

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    1. That's awesome - I'm glad you had a good time. Did you have your kids with you at the hostel? (I'm curious to hear how a hostel works with little ones.)

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  3. Thanks.
    I'm going to Paris next week and I wasn't sure where to stay.
    And one of the options was to stay at hostel.
    Now I have what to think about:)

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    1. Ah, Paris! Lucky duck - take me with you! I hope you have a great time and find a wonderful place to stay. Hostels really do open up some options, and I hope you find one that gives you a good experience! Bon voyage!

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