Hostels: The Non-Believer’s Guide with Photos + Hacks (plus a Giveaway!)

Hello, hello!

Welcome to my guide to one of the best travel experiences in existence – hostels. AKA backpackers’. What’s a hostel anyway? Are they clean? Do I have to share a room/sleep in a dorm? Are they just for drunk people on their gap years? And what's up with that Hostel Movie?

guide-to-backpackers-hostels

Well I'm here to answer those questions for you! I'm a die-hard hostel fan and have worked in 3 different ones. There are so many varieties of hostels and you might be surprised at the quality, comfort and most of all the ambience you can enjoy staying at one.

PLUS Hostelworld’s amazing GIVEAWAY for a week at one of the world’s top hostels + airfare up to €2000. Read on and get your #hostellife!

 The entrance to Island Vibe Backpackers - Jeffrey's Bay, South Africa

The entrance to Island Vibe Backpackers - Jeffrey's Bay, South Africa

So. What is a Hostel?

A hostel is generally defined as offering budget-oriented accommodation where a guest will usually book a bed in a dorm/shared room rather that a room like they would in a hotel, although most have private rooms available to book too. They often have a bigger focus on socializing and communal areas such as lounges, kitchens, terraces, libraries, etc. Most hostels will invest a lot in being quirky and unique be it in their design, entertainment facilities or guest activities such as beach days, pub crawls, tours etc. organized and run by staff.

  Distant Relatives Ecolodge  have pyramid day-beds and a pizza oven - Kilifi, Kenya

Distant Relatives Ecolodge have pyramid day-beds and a pizza oven - Kilifi, Kenya

 Christmas Eve potluck dinner at  Once in Cape Town  - Cape Town, South Africa

Christmas Eve potluck dinner at Once in Cape Town - Cape Town, South Africa

 A bike tour of Braamfontein led by staff at  Once in Joburg  - Johannesburg, South Africa

A bike tour of Braamfontein led by staff at Once in Joburg - Johannesburg, South Africa

Hostel vs. Hotel

The main differences between hotels and hostels are the price/price range, interaction between guests and generally a more flexible/less traditional approach to hospitality on the part of hostels

Check out the infographic below and pin for later!
 hostel vs. hotel infographic pin image

 

FAQ’s: Are Hostels Safe / Clean / Noisy / Peaceful / Fun?

Like any hotel, guest house or AirBnB there is a whole range of hostel vibes. They can be in any type of neighbourhood, offer different amenities and are privy to honest online reviews! So look up the top hostels in the area you’re traveling to on a booking website (personally I use Hostelworld which of course focuses on hostels) or with a quick Google search and take your pick judging from the general info, reviews, photos and the exact location.

 Working poolside at  Never@Home Hostel  - Cape Town, South Africa

Working poolside at Never@Home Hostel - Cape Town, South Africa

1. Are they safe? Short answer, yes. A big majority of hostels will have lockers in the room for your valuables, options of female-only or mixed dorms, cameras or security personnel at the entrance and other standard measures to ensure the safety of their guests. 

2. Are they clean? Hostels have cleaning staff to freshen up the rooms, bathrooms and communal areas – some daily, some not, but they’ll definitely change the sheets once someone checks out, for example. It’s basic hostel etiquette to clean up after yourself and not leave a mess behind in the shared areas, particularly the self-catering kitchens. Yes, that includes doing your own dishes.

 My private outdoor bathroom at  Distant Relatives EcoLodge  - Kilifi, Kenya

My private outdoor bathroom at Distant Relatives EcoLodge - Kilifi, Kenya

3. Are they noisy and full of drunk backpackers? Real talk, some of them definitely are. However for every hostel with a busy bar there's one with a beautiful library or in-house cinema, some with no-alcohol policies, some are more nature-focused and there is everything in between. That’s where checking reviews and doing a little research go a long way because every hostel has its own vibe.

4. Can I stay in a hostel if I’m over 30/40/100? Absolutely. Age is but a number and while having your roughing-it years behind you means you (might) want more luxury and less rowdiness, once again, there will be something for every taste. I've met someone older than their 20's in every single hostel I've stayed at, from first-time travellers to people on their 50th country. They're just trying to live life and make friends like the rest of us.

 Something for everyone at  Distant Relatives Eco-Lodge  - Kilifi, Kenya

Something for everyone at Distant Relatives Eco-Lodge - Kilifi, Kenya

5. Do I have to share a room? No. Although you can be blessed with the most interesting and fun characters as dorm-mates, there are private rooms available to book in every hostel I’ve ever come across so if you really don’t want to share a room with strangers but want all the other perks of a hostel, go for that instead.

You can have the best of both though, because you may end up with a dorm all to yourself during a quiet tourist season or during the week as opposed to on weekends. Sometimes if I’m in the hostel for a week or longer, I’ll pay a little extra for a private room on my last couple of nights when I’ve already made a bunch of friends but still want to chill alone in my own space for some time. Win-win.
 A private beachfront cabin at  Island Vibe Backpackers  - Jeffrey's Bay, South Africa

A private beachfront cabin at Island Vibe Backpackers - Jeffrey's Bay, South Africa

 

Top Hostel Hacks for Comfort, Privacy & Safety

1. Bring your own:

 Kilifornia private room at  Distant Relatives EcoLodge  - Kilifi, Kenya

Kilifornia private room at Distant Relatives EcoLodge - Kilifi, Kenya

  • Towel
  • Padlock for the lockers (although you can buy/rent this and a towel from some hostels)
  • Eye-mask and ear plugs (especially if you’ll be sharing a dorm. Snoring is a reality of life)
  • Groceries/snacks (confirm that they have a kitchen, although most do)

 

 

 

2. Look out for hostels that have/offer:

  Never@Home  have a rooftop bar/restaurant right by the pool - Cape Town, South Africa

Never@Home have a rooftop bar/restaurant right by the pool - Cape Town, South Africa

  • Female-only dorms if you’d rather not be booked into a co-ed dorm. I’ve done both and not had any problems thus far though :)
  • Safe parking if you’re driving
  • Curtains or other bed divisions (some have pod beds) – this can be a plus if you’re still nervous about privacy in the dorm
  • A restaurant/bar if you want the choice to dine in-house when you’re not in a cooking mood
  • Guest activities to make it easier to socialize and meet people

 

3. Be a good guest/roomie:

 Cosy is the name of the game at  Wild Spirit Lodge  - Nature's Valley, South Africa

Cosy is the name of the game at Wild Spirit Lodge - Nature's Valley, South Africa

  • Everyone hates that person who leaves their food, dirty dishes or cutlery lying around in the kitchen like it’s their mother’s house. Don’t be that guy.
  • You're on vacation but don't be a slob. If your shoes are stinky, leave them outside. Keep your bags/clothes off the floor where people will be walking. Clean up your hair/toothpaste/water etc. when you're done in a shared bathroom. Be cool.
  • Introduce yourself to the people sharing your room, for goodness’ sake.

 


27 Diva-Proof Hostels (win a 7-night stay + airfare to one of them!)

The good people at Hostelworld have a competition running on their Instagram and Facebook for you to win a 7-night stay for 2 people at one of these 27 b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l hostels worldwide and credit for flights.

Check it out and good luck - if you have nobody to tag, tag me @frameambition! ;)

The competition closes on April 30th.

So are you convinced? Will you be trying out a hostel on your next getaway (or even in your hometown)? Drop a comment with your own hostel experiences and keep in touch:

newsletter // facebook // twitter // instagram

Check these posts out too:

 REVIEW: Distant Relatives EcoLodge Kilifi

REVIEW: Distant Relatives EcoLodge Kilifi

 5 Reasons I'm Not Afraid to Travel Solo

5 Reasons I'm Not Afraid to Travel Solo