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08 Jun
2009

How to find The Right Hostel not just a Good Hostel

hostelqueen

Travel blogs and forums are filled with lists of recommendations for finding good, or at least acceptable, backpackers hostels. Although helpful, these lists fail to differentiate between a good hostel and the right hostel. To be fair, all that can be expected of a typical backpackers hostel is cleanliness, specifically in regards to the beds, kitchen(s) and bathrooms.

Traditional wisdom states that if you want real services (a help desk, airport pickup, etc.) you would do well to find your way to a hotel. However, when your life is in a backpack and $25 a night for a dorm bed is all that your budget allows, a hostel is where you sleep.

Depending on the country, region and/or city, the cost of a dorm bed can buy you a clean place to sleep for the night (a good hostel) or it can purchase for you a community experience (the right hostel).

Backpackers hostels, by their very nature, create a temporary community. When you’re sharing a bedroom, cooking next to your bunk mates and jostling in line for the showers, you tend to meet people. (As the backpacker market continues to evolve, this may be more true when staying at a smaller hostel than when staying in a large high rise hostel.) At a good hostel, whether or not a functional temporary community evolves or not is often the result of chance.

  • What type of personalities are present?
  • What are the language barriers?
  • Are most backpackers staying for 1 night, or are there many backpackers staying for 3 or more nights?
  • Does the hostel have communal areas?

This revolving set of factors can combine to influence whether or not backpackers go out drinking together, spend time playing a board game, and/or participate in authentic cultural exchange. A good youth hostel provides a clean, functional space and allows the backpacking community to fend for itself. For many travelers, a good hostel takes care of their immediate needs and for around $25 a night, that is enough.

Many individuals move around the globe as solo travelers. Often, these independent explorers have left a life filled with friends and community interaction to chase their dreams around the world. For many, staying at a hostel that facilitates community instead of leaving it up to chance makes all the difference.

How to Spot the Right Hostel

The right hostel facilitates the creation of a temporary community amongst the ever changing cast of budget travelers who walk through the door. Here is how they do it.

  1. Institutional Memory: The manager of the Right Hostel understands their job and their clientele because they have worked at the hostel for at least 6 months. Many hostels hire broke backpackers to clean bathrooms and make up beds. This is not a problem if the manager is actively involved with running the hostel. Problematically, many hostels also hire wandering travelers (typically aged: 28-45) to manage the hostel. These long time wanderers stay for 3 months and move on. Their 3 month tenure is consumed by learning how to do their job and they tend to see, out of necessity, each traveler as a widget instead of a person. They do not have time to facilitate community.
  2. Community Oriented Rules: The Right Hostel has communal areas in addition to the TV lounge. Some hostels eliminate the TV all together, while others offer a separate TV room. The Right Hostel will also discourage laptop users from congregating in the lounge area. A bunch of backpackers working on their Facebook profiles does not present a very inviting environment for arriving guests.
  3. Events: The Right Hostel plans activities (or provides activities) that facilitate community. This can be as simple as having free access to a pool table or as complex as planning a BBQ night. What matters is that the hostel demonstrates that community is a priority.
  4. Active Staff: Staff that actively interact with the guests between check-in and check-out play a significant role in facilitating community. Staff that learn the names of their guests, are available to answer questions, and are a presence in the public areas (kitchen, lounge, bar etc.) facilitate a sense of belonging. They can take on the role of the “host”, introducing backpackers to each other and sharing their knowledge of the local area. An active staff cannot be overrated.

Spotting the Right Hostel in a guide book or online can be difficult as most hostel advertisements or recommendations read more like a new car buying guide (here is the list of features sir) than accommodation information.

Also, a community oriented hostel experience is not always desired. After a long day of planes, buses, and trains, I sometimes want to check into a hostel where I don’t need to talk to anybody. I don’t want to hear about the Friday night BBQ and I don’t even want to look at the board games. Cranky travel sickness and introverted techie syndrome aside, many of "the right" hostels do exist and are worth finding.

Learn to look for the right things and you will purchase not just a bunk for the night, but a community experience.


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