Full disclosure – this post is brought to you by my sleep deprived brain. We were kept awake all night by a loudly snoring dorm-mate. You can guess why we came up with this topic today! We’ve been thinking about what makes a hostel from hell, and what makes a fantastic one. Between us, we’ve stayed in a lot of hostels. So we reckon we have a pretty good idea of what makes the perfect place to stay.
Hostel from Hell?
There seem to be two kinds of hostel owner. One has opened a hostel purely to cram beds in and make money. The other has actually put some thought into what guests might need from a hostel, and what would make their stay comfortable. Most of the places we have stayed in that belong to the ‘hostel from hell’ category have definitely been run by the former! From small rooms crammed with bunk beds, to hostels hidden away down dark alleyways, we’ve stayed in some shockers!
One of the worst yet was in Kandy. The ‘dorm room’ was actually just a large room round the back of a bakery, with no door. At the end of the corridor there was just a metal gate between us and the outside world. Between being eaten alive by mosquitos all night and worrying that anyone could have walked in off the street, we got precisely zero hours of sleep!
It Takes All Sorts!
To be honest, it’s not often that we have have stayed in a genuine hostel from hell. Most of them have been great. Also, some of them have been downright weird! One place in Colombo, was manned by a permanently topless and toothless old bloke. He wandered around muttering, and stayed up all night talking on the phone or watching TV loudly, right outside the dorm. Or there was the hostel in Kuala Lumpur. We splashed out on a private room, only to find it was precisely the width of a double bed with just enough room to open the door.
There was the place in Kochi, where the night ‘security guard’ passed out drunk on one of the dorm beds in the early hours of every morning. When we were in Melaka, we felt like we were staying in a ghost hostel. There were no other guests or staff to be seen at all!
Hostel Success Stories
What about the best hostels we’ve stayed in? Well, there was the place in Kochi (besides the drunken security guard) where the owner made us a different homemade breakfast of local Indian food each morning, and taught us Bollywood dancing on his rooftop on New Year’s Eve. Or the hostel in Udaipur where we made friends at Holi, and watched the sun set over the lake on the amazing rooftop. We found an absolute gem of a place in Chiang Mai where the owner invited us to cook and eat with her family, as we were there on a national holiday.
The main thing that all these places have in common seems to be the people. Staying somewhere where the people running it genuinely care about their guests will win over gimmicks like pod-bunks or happy hours any time.
What Would Make the Perfect Hostel?
We’ve had so many conversations about this! A massive win for hostels is providing free breakfast. As budget travellers this makes such a difference to us. Comfort is also key – oh, the amount of lumpy pillows and hard beds that we’ve endured! Call us naive but if your business is sleep then wouldn’t you, I don’t know, try and make that at least a bit comfortable? I do love a bunk bed that has a curtain for privacy – particularly when you have your own light and power socket inside. It feels like a lovely little cocoon!
The room we are in right now has zero storage. Just 8 bunk beds crammed into a tiny room. Is it beyond the realms of possibility that travellers might have luggage with them? I mean, come on. We love it when places have nice big lockers, or plenty of under the bed space.
One thing that a lot of hostels do well is providing a decent chill-out/social area. Meeting other people is one of the best things about travelling. We’ve spent many an hour on a sofa chatting away to fellow backpackers, or the people who work in the hostel. We’re less keen on the ‘organised fun’ type of hostel where bar crawls are a nightly occurrence. Give us a cold beer, comfy seats and some friendly people and we’re happy as Larry.
Hostel From Hell – One Final Horror Story!
As a fresh-faced 18 year old, I arrived in Budapest while on my gap year. Upon arriving at our hostel, my friend and I were dismayed by the rubbish strewn entrance and smell of urine that faced us. “I’m sure it’s great inside” we reassured each other as we carried our backpacks up what seemed like infinite amounts of smelly stairs. Even worse when we finally got to the top we found that they had given our beds away and booked us in another hostel, all the way across the city!
Of course, we left them an appropriately negative review on the Hostelworld website. Two days later we received an email from them. It said something along the lines of “Have you seen the movie Hostel? We’ll get you for this.” Now I can look back and laugh, but at the time it was terrifying!
Over to you…
Finally, have you stayed in a hostel from hell or a hostel from heaven? What turns an average hostel into a fantastic one? Let us know in the comments, or over on our Twitter! C & D xx