Posted by / Tuesday, June 3, 2014 / No comments /

Hostels

In Grenada, the hostel, off a side alley, was secure, though the rooms didn't lock, and the ambience was so peaceful that the first two nights I slept better there than anywhere in years.  The third night, well, I got in late and had an early departure time... and a guy in my hostel room snored like a tractor trailer truck rumbling next to me all night long.

Perhaps I should share what I have learned  about hostels to this point, just in case you ever consider it as a mode of travel.  

The price is definitely better than a hotel and sometimes on par with a room secured through airbnb. Consider that you can travel eight times as long at twenty-five bucks a night and you can actually find some pretty cool and clean places for only eleven dollars, depending on your destination. You have pretty much guaranteed companionship if you want it... and often even when you don't. You usually have a  fair choice of good natured interesting people from around the world to choose from, many of whom speak enough English that you can have enjoyable conversations if that is your best language.  You usually have an option of the number of bunks in a room when you book, if you are visiting a populated area, and sometimes a choice of mixed or all female.  Not always.  Sometimes you have to take what is left.  In Seville, I shared a room with two guys from Greece. When I returned they were gone and the room was taken over by two Asian girls, who appeared demure, but were actually pretty self-determined and alpha-like. The room had its own bathroom with shower ensuite, which can be a rare joy in much of Europe, though I might note that as expensive as they were, all of the Swiss and Austrian hostels I stayed in were like nice hotel rooms. The guys left the bathroom a sopping mess, but at least I had a fighting chance of getting in, whereas the Asian girls had clothes to wash, showers to take, make-up to put on and on and on. The ensuite bathroom can mean however, that you become uncomfortably intimate with your hostel roommates' bowel movements, and vice versa.

There hasn't been anything weird about sharing a mixed room; you are just a little more self-conscious about changing than with all girls and the guys don't have a hair dryer you can borrow. 

Security can range in the hostel from anyone can walk in off the street and in to your room to a secure street door, secure hostel room door and a locker that you can lock with your own locker or an issued key.  Of course there is the issue of what size lock will fit that is still strong enough to discourage someone with a simple pair of wire cutters and that is not always easy.  No one wants to carry their passport, iPad, a wad of money and credit cards around all of the time. Nor do you want to leave it somewhere unsecured.

Then there is the question of how many bathrooms serve how many travelers.  That's big, especially in the morning.  Travelers get pretty dirty. And the condition of the bathroom to start with is something to look for in the reviews, that is whether the toilet works fairly often, whether there is paper, whether the hot water spigot works, and whether there is a place to hang your clothes, towel and toiletries that won't get soaked. Most of the reviews don't get that specific, but I think I will begin to leave that info as you are invited to survey following every visit. You should travel with your own microfiber towel and bed sheet as well as flip flops for the shower.  Those are the basics. You won't always feel you need the bed sheet, but it's quite nice to have and compact and light, so well worth it.

There is a difference in noise policies and etiquette from hostel to hostel and room to room. Some hostels encourage 24 hour partying and some do not.  You can often figure this out from their ad. Hours of socializing and noise levels vary significantly.  You would be well-advised to travel with an eye mask and earplugs or your own music. Most forbid drinking in your room as they often serve their own food and drink, and they don't want the mess and they do want the profit. It is not unusual for it to be your obligation to strip the sheets and return used linen to a central location when you leave.  Hostels are cheap because they operate on a limited budget. You may find yourself in a room where someone is always sleeping as we are talking world travelers and partying schedules. You may feel inclined to not turn the light on when you roll in at four a.m. or to continue being respectfully quiet at noon or three. Also, people leave at odd hours, so you may be wakened by phone alarms and the sound of bags being zipped three times shortly after you have fallen asleep.  Some bunks have their own lights, their own electric source for charging your gizmos and some even have curtains.  And some have only one or two outlets in a hard to access place, like behind someone else's bed that everyone has to vy for... and only overhead lights for the entire room.  

Then there is the question of wi-fi.  They all advertise wi-fi because no one would go if they didn't, but when you get there you find that it is only available at one inconvenient hotspot, not in your room unless your room happens to be closest to the stairs on the first floor and then it is so spotty it is maddening.  

And finally, which bed will you get? It's fun to be on the top bunk when there are three and it's a high ceiling, but it is very inconvenient if you wake to go the bathroom or want to access your knapsack as you can't just throw your stuff on your bed like you could if it was the bottom bunk. You have to pull everything out of your locker which usually means you are blocking someone else's while you try to find your stuff and get it organized again and lock it back up. And the floor may be spotless.  Or not. 
And the bunks are often just a light aluminum, meaning they squeak and shake every time the person above you turns.

You may or may not have free breakfast or the ability to get breakfast at your hostel.  In France and Spain, unless you like white bread, you have a much better slelection on the street.  By the way, coffee con leche in Spain mans with steamed milk and it is delicioso and cheap.

Most of the hostels have kitchens with working refrigerators where you can keep your own store-bought food and cook. This was economical for a lot of travelers. The option didn't interest me as I just eat little bits at a time and preferred either my own picnic or a small meal at a bar table on the city sidewalk. Or occasionally, an elegant meal with a fellow hosteller who could afford it.

Some hostels are charming and some are dives, though I have not met a hostelkeeper yet who is not exceptionally proud of his hostel and the way it is run.  Hostelkeepers will typically give you a map when you check in and circle want they feel is the cool stuff to do in their town.  Not always of course. Everyone in Fes has a money-making territory respected by the Network that keeps it running, so even maps cost money and can only be found at certain locales.  Not that a map of 9000 mostly unnamed alleys could do much more than waste your time.

It is good to ask other travelers if they have been where you are going and if they have a hostel to recommend or avoid. You can also get helpful advice on schedules and costs of trains, metro passes, buses, ferries, and planes and share taxi rides.

Most importantly, if they have been there, they can tell you how to get there. Hostels typically advertise that they are within walking distance (often five to ten minutes) from the train station, the bus station and if not the airport, then a short bus ride away.  It's never true and the directions posted are just there to fuck you up when you are dead tired, dirty and carrying a backpack that would sink a donkey. If it's not night in a sketchy neighborhood, then it could be afternoon that you are being followed by pickpockets and other dodgy looking creatures.  A sign in the Cinqueterra train station warns of young girls and pregnant women pickpocketers.  If you are in Italy, do not aim for the usual 14:00 check-in.  The door will be locked and you will be out on the street until they wake from their siesta. It is infrequent that a traveler reaches his hostel within 45 minutes or by a direct route. I found three other travelers on a dark empty street at midnight before we found the unmarked hostel in an unmarked alley.  Even a taxi driver I asked three blocks away didn't recognize the address.

Hosteling is traveling Squared. Or maybe Cubed. It is definitely exponential. You meet literally tons of people and they are from all over the world, so everyone has a different take on what is going on. When you hang out with them, you learn all kinds of things you would never have known.  For example, when Ella (from England) and Jose ( from Brazil) and I were wondering what in the world the Asian chick in the swirling red polyester dress was doing splayed on the center of a rock with the tide splashing up and the camera crew, all ignoring the apparent groom in his ill-fitting shiny suit while she played the empress in her glittering tiara, not giving way to the others coveting that space in the sun by the sea...the other couple, a genuine Italian couple wearing shades and looking smart, newly married and also climbing the rocks by the sea with the astounding view with their photographer, the perverse old man in his speedo covering just half his butt, fifteen year old Lolita in her amusement park colored bikini, shades and sandals, the angry fat woman...they were all there, even the screaming baby in the stroller was being wheeled down so that we were watching the full circle of life when Lillian and Cida showed up, softly explaining that is what the Chinese do, so the wedding day is not spent with photographers.  They schedule pre-nuptial shoots at exotic locations and fly the camera crew out there.  The photographers provide the cheesy clothing - that's why it didn't fit well, usually five options for the bride, not sure how many choices the groom had...my guess is the empress dictated them, so really, none. The bizarre scene was further confused by stubborn birds the photographers chased and the inexorable tide, threatening death, destruction, and at minimum, soaked costumes.

                        

I had long, interesting conversations with people with vastly different backgrounds and perceptions which often had little to do with where we were at the time, except perhaps a comparison that launched a discussion of ideology differences.

For new knowledge and interesting companionship, hostels beat hotels, hands down. 


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