Oh Europe, the solo traveler’s paradise. Food, music, history, you name it! Europe has it all. A unique blend of cultures, yearly bringing millions of visitors from every corner of the world.
Europe also makes hostels a form of art. You want the party one, the quirky one, the quiet one, the big one, the cozy one… you name it! There is a hostel for every type of person and for all kinds of activities.
And as a first time backpacker I decided to do my trip by the book: hopping from one destination to another and obviously, stopping at hostels along the way. I did my diligent research. I checked HostelWorld and numerous online reviews trying to find the specific ones that would fit my trip best.
Hostels are not simply a choice of accommodation. Although people do go there mainly for the cheaper bed, there are multiple reasons for younger travelers to choose hostels. One of the reasons being: lower budget, multi-city travelers all happen to flock to the same places. And when traveling alone, finding such potential travel buddies is a huge motivator.
Honestly, I can see the charm! The people I have met on my travels through the hostels have been incredibly interesting. A lot of these establishments do a really great job: joint dinners, bar crawls, walking tours… They have an agenda for the day, a bar, a dining room, and casual lounge space for people to gather around and simply get to know each other. The smaller ones do the best job. The hostel in Barcelona had truly conquered my heart. Their cute family dinners, going out together at night, and bonding with the staff who was also full of avid travelers was an unforgettable experience.
I honestly feel like for the majority of my trips, I had found a group of people at the destination. And for those few days we spent together, it did really feel like we were long time friends. We just explored and told stories. All of us so very different but also, similar at the same time. So much to learn, discuss, explore…
On the other hand, as delighted as I was with my newfound friends, there is no denying I found many aspects of my hostel stays difficult. They are normally cheap but in summertime Europe, their prices weren’t much different from those of AirBnBs and smaller hotels. Especially if the rate of private rooms (which most of them offered) is taken into consideration. In fact, a private room in a hostel often came out more expensive than some alternatives.
Who goes to a hostel to stay in a private room, you might ask. I would have thought the same until I got the opportunity to experience shared rooms for almost every night over 15 days. Truth of the matter, they tire you out. Especially if you’re low key introverted like me. People come back late or wake up early. With each one of them, you also wake up. Although normally I sleep quite heavily, good luck trying to keep your eyes closed as somebody walks around for thirty minutes, continuously packing stuff. They might think they’re being quiet – they’re not.
Sometimes the roommates are cool and friendly and you guys start hanging out. And sometimes the roommates are strange and you’re uncomfortable being in the same room. Sometimes the lights are out in the room by 11PM or other times people think 9am is the perfect time to be up and conversing. I had been expecting this, obviously, comes with living with multiple people in the same, small room. But the noise had bothered me more than I had expected, often leaving me cranky and even sleep deprived. Plus, I have heard of “people throwing up in their top bunk” incidents. Left me scarred for the rest of the trip…
Another factor to consider: not all hostels are quite that clean. And many have ridiculous rules or a lack of amenities. The hostel in Paris would refuse to let anyone bring food in if they had a shared room. It also had no fridges or kitchens. Have food leftover from the day? Too bad. Toss it or eat it in the entrance. The hostel in Nice had cigarette holes in the shower curtain. Many didn’t have any kitchen whatsoever. Many wouldn’t even let you bring any of your own alcohol (including beer or wine) in – go to the hostel bar instead, they said. You pick and choose your battles with most of them clearly.
Overall, the experience I had with the hostels was pleasant and the trip to Europe – unforgettable. The people I had met were lovely and I hope we cross paths again in the future. However, as lovely as some of the hostels had been, I just couldn’t help thinking towards the end of it – is this really the only way travelers can meet each other, hostels? Or is there any possible alternative for the people that like a more comfortable stay but would also like to meet others like themselves…