My first ever hostel experience was hardly inspiring.
I remember it like yesterday.
The building was huge.
I’m talking monstrously big- the sort of place you look at from the outside and hope for hell there’s an elevator.
The hostel was in Auckland, New Zealand, and sat slap bang in the center of the city.
Floor after floor of Spartan dorm rooms housed hundreds of loud, boisterous, party-loving people out for a good time on the other side of the world.
But little old me had no idea what the hell was going on!
Totally out of my depth, I felt like the new kid at school- daunted by the mass of humanity within those walls, unsure what to do or how to act.
Thankfully, the struggle didn’t last long. Fast forward to now and I love (almost) everything about staying in hostels.
Indeed, I’ll always have a soft spot for them, but there are definitely advantages AND disadvantages of hostel life worth knowing about.
Are you going travelling and want to learn a thing or two about hostels before heading off?
Well, keep reading! Here are all the pros and cons of hostel life I wish I’d been told about before that fateful introduction in Auckland. Enjoy!
7 Awesome Advantages of Hostel Life
Let’s start with the good stuff.
Here are all the pros of hostel life that make this accommodation so incredible for travellers.
1. The People
For me, the real joy of hostels centres around the people you meet.
They’re like magnets for fun-loving fellow travellers.
Everyone’s there for the same reasons: to explore, to have a good time, to sleep somewhere on the cheap, and to share random days and nights with total strangers on the other side of the world.
Each hostel has its own personality. Some are quiet and reserved, others are lively and outgoing, most are chilled out and open-minded.
The occasional hostel is dark and foreboding (…it’s best to avoid those ones).
The people you meet often relate to the nature of the hostel. However, almost everywhere you find interesting, quirky, friendly, good-natured, and happy-go-lucky fellow travellers.
You’ll stop, talk, cook, drink, and explore together.
Within a short space of time, you find yourself with new friends, bound together by the experience of travel. You meet by chance, stay together by choice, and make friendships for life.
It’s, without a doubt, one of the most amazing parts of hostel life.
2. The Atmosphere
Very occasionally you’ll stay in a hostel where the atmosphere is a bit ‘meh’.
Even more occasionally than that, you’ll wind up somewhere with an atmosphere that’s somehow ‘off’. It just doesn’t feel great, even if there’s no obvious reason why.
But they’re definitely the exception to the rule.
99% of the time you’ll find yourself in hostels with an awesome vibe.
It’ll feel electric- alive with the buzz of eager backpackers; brought together for a solitary reason:
I’m always struck by the atmosphere of hostel life. It’s just special- unlike anything else I’ve experienced. I don’t know how else to put it other than that it’s ‘alive’.
It goes hand in hand with the people staying there.
Remember, people from all over the world, with different backstories, ideologies, and interests, under one roof for one reason. It’s a melting pot of intrigue and excitement.
You’ll have the same conversation a million times, but it doesn’t matter.
You get lost in the transience of travel, opening the door to strangers and allowing them to enter your experience and alter your life- even if it’s only for a fleeting moment.
3. The Travel Insight and Advice
Here’s a practical advantage of hostel life:
They’re a hotbed of travel tips.
You can book tours and transport, and figure out your travel plans with minimal fuss.
Looking for travel insight in general? Here's all of my travel content to help you out!
4. The Quirkiness
Hostels are interesting places.
I once stayed in an epic hostel (also in New Zealand) called the Paradiso.
It was one of the coolest places I’ve ever stayed in.
There was a volleyball court, table tennis tables, a hot tub and sauna, a bus in the backyard with cinema set up inside, a random mezzanine upper level to sit on and chat with friends…and a bunch of other cool stuff.
Not all hostels are that extreme.
But they almost always have their own quirks.
For some, it’s just the atmosphere. For others, it’s the building itself. For many, it’s the location.
Oftentimes it’s something small, like the random assortment of kitchen equipment, or the old Lonely Planet Guides in a dozen different languages littering the bookshelf.
Whatever you discover in your hostel, there’s inevitably something charming on offer.
5. The Book Exchanges
I love the book exchanges too.
You find some absolute gems on the bookshelves of hostels- assuming they’re in your language, that is! You can take whatever you want, replacing it with a book of your own.
It’s an awesome system for anybody, like me, who travels with actual books (I’m not a fan of kindles, even though I see the practical appeal).
My backpack’s too small to have more than one book on the go at a time.
When I finish what I’m reading I can find something new to read without spending money or adding weight to my pack.
I particularly like it when the previous reader’s left a message for you. It’s like gaining an insight into genealogy of the book- I imagine who the person was, and where those pages travelled to and from.
I look at the bookshelves in hostels and see more than just the stories written on the pages.
I see the history of the hostel; the hundreds of fellow travellers who came before me, with their own hopes, ambitions, and stories to tell.
Those books have travelled continents, exchanged countless hands, and now you’re the one holding them, ready to take the pages on their next adventure.
It’s a connection between time, people, and places; it’s inspiration…it’s travel.
6. The Location
Another practical (and somewhat less interesting) benefit of hostels is their location.
More often than not they’re in handy places on the tourist trail.
After all, that’s where the business is! They set up shop where there’s demand. It makes sense to them and a difference to you as traveller.
Hostels provide an ideal base from which to explore somewhere.
Fancy somewhere off the beaten track? Look a little harder and you can find those too.
7. The Price
It goes without saying that price is a major advantage of hostels.
Few other forms of accommodation match them on price. There’s camping, squatting, work for accommodation, and house-sitting to consider.
But in terms of striking a balance between cost and comfort, hostels tend to win hands-down.
For the best prices go out of peak season, when the cost goes up. All the same, whatever time of year you’re travelling, you’re generally looking at the cheapest beds going.
That’s good news when you’re on the move and on a budget.
Having said that, some hostels charge outrageous sums of money for what you get. For instance, I’m in Australia at the moment and some places are charging over 50 Aussie dollars per night.
That’s total insanity for just a dorm bed consider you can, in places like Thailand, pay one-tenth of that price for the same deal.
7 Demoralising Disadvantages of Hostel Life
Okay, onto the disadvantages.
Here are all the less desirable aspects of hostel life to contend with on the road.
1. The Snorers
I’ll start with the snorers.
AKA the human percussion instruments that come alive at night.
There’s just nothing worse than having a snorer in the dorm room. It’s obviously not their fault, so I realize pointing fingers isn’t fair.
But there’s no denying how much it sucks to have a snorer.
I was back in New Zealand recently, staying in a hostel down in Wanaka. One guy in my dorm room could have won awards for the noises that came out of his nose at night.
He literally woke up the whole place. No exaggeration.
You had to time your bedtime to get in before him. To his credit, I think he knew how bad it was and went to bed late each night as a result.
At least that gave us all a chance.
2. The Shared Kitchens and Bathrooms
I don’t mind sharing bathrooms and kitchens.
There’s a part of me that quite likes it- especially the kitchens, where you get to cook and eat together. Bathrooms are a bit harder to get your head around, but you get used to it.
It’s annoying when the toilets and showers are all occupied, or when all the cooking stuff is being used, or when people are scurrying around everywhere and you just want a bit of personal space.
4. The Lack of Privacy
Privacy’s a big one.
It can be hard to find any private space in hostels sometimes.
Thankfully, most hostels are big enough a chill-out room, garden, or living area you can just hang out alone. But you’re rarely by yourself.
Someone’s around almost all the time, which can get a bit annoying every now and again.
I remember being in a hostel once and walking past the bathroom.
The shower was on the other side of the wall and two people were having loud, thumping sex inside. I mean, they were literally making no effort to be quiet.
They must have known everyone could hear, and can’t have cared in the slightest!
Not gonna lie, it was a little bit funny, but all sorts of awkward for the rest of us who wanted to go to the bathroom…
A little extra privacy wouldn’t go amiss.
5. The Hygiene Issues
Some hostels are gross.
I mean, seriously gross. Like, we’re talking bed bug territory; ‘pick something up and have to wash your hands’ kinda thing.
Dishes go unwashed, floors go un-swept, toilets get blocked and remain uncleaned, and bedsheets are of questions cleanliness.
I worked in a hostel once.
We’d change the bed sheets every day, no worries.
But those duvet covers could stay on there for weeks at a time! Only when obvious stains and marks occurred were we obliged to change them over.
It wasn’t the cleanliest of affairs.
As a rule of thumb, expect a positive correlation between cost and cleanliness.
The more you pay, the cleaner it’ll be.
6. The Constant Partying
Hostels tend to enjoy a lively night-life.
I mean, party hostels are set up explicitly for the purpose. They’ll have cheap drinks, pool parties, and music that starts early and never really stops.
Beefy fellas with string vests and exposed nipples will saunter around downing shots and sipping jager-bombs. People get white-girl wasted and wake up to do it again the next day.
It can be fun, but these days they’re not really my scene.
Indeed, some people would put this point in the advantages section of the post! And I get it- I’ve done more than my fair share of drinking in hostels, getting blind drunk and waking up full of regret.
But I try to avoid too much drinking/partying on my travels these days.
Nothing good tends to come from it.
I want to travel and explore- not lie in bed or around the pool recovering from a hangover all day. Getting too drunk comes with risks as well (unfortunately, that seems to be especially true for girls), and I just wake up wondering why I did it…again.
You’re almost definitely going to party in the hostel.
And you should! It’s great for stripping away any shyness and getting to know somebody new.
Just try not to go overboard and put your health at risk.
7. The Occasional Idiot
As I said before, almost everyone you meet in the hostel will be lovely.
But you do occasionally get an idiot.
Some people are rude, unfriendly, unhelpful, dismissive, flagrantly disrespectful, selfish, or any combination of the above.
They’re also few and far between, thankfully.
Yet they can, and do, sap the joy from any hostel experience when they rear their heads.
Avoid them. Ignore them. Confront them if needs be.
On a similar note, prepare to meet people who have different rules for life than you do too.
Expect dishes to get left undone, bathrooms to be left a mess, alarms to go unchecked in the morning, lights to be turned on in the early hours, and all manner of other things that seem disrespectful.
All this stuff’s annoying, but there’s usually no menace in it.
I think some people don’t even realize what they’re doing is a problem.
I guess everyone just does things differently! In a building full of strangers, it’s only natural to get a range of lifestyles and approaches. All you can do is take it with a pinch of salt.
Now You Know the Advantages and Disadvantages of Hostel Life
Hostels are unique places that I’ve learned to love.
But they can be daunting too- especially if you’ve never stayed in one before.
The mass of humanity, the unknown social expectations, and unwritten hostel etiquette can all make stepping into a hostel for the first (and second, and third…) time a scary prospect.
It was my hope that knowing more about what to expect would help make it all easier.
So, I really hope you’ve found value in this piece! In my mind, the advantages of hostel life far outweigh the disadvantages of hostel life.
The only thing for it is to give it a shot to see if you agree!
Now I’d love to hear from you- what are (or were) you most afraid of about staying in a hostel for the first time? Drop me a comment to let me know.
And, as always, don’t forget to subscribe to the blog for first access to all future travel content.