The Secret to Enjoying Hostels

I’ve been fortunate to have traveled extensively over the past few years. Traveling, often alone, to various cities throughout Europe, Latin America, North America, North Africa, and Asia, I chose to stay in hostels nearly every trip. They provided me with shelter, comfort, food (sometimes), and most importantly — new people to meet.

Rotterdam — still dream about this hostel.

What is a hostel?

Hostels provide budget-oriented, sociable accommodation where guests can rent a bed, usually a bunk bed, in a dormitory-style facility, and share a bathroom, lounge, and often a kitchen. Wikipedia

Hostel stigma in the US.

In the US, there is an unfortunate stigma when it comes to hostels. The idea of sharing a room with a bunch of strangers seems foreign and strange to many American travelers. Many of us (without having ever stayed in one) label hostels as being creepy, grungy and “too cheap”. However, I urge anyone with this misunderstanding to keep an open mind and continue reading as I try to dispel any misconceptions, and describe how to make the most of your hostel experience.

Why do I choose to stay in hostels?

I studied abroad for a semester (4.5 months) in Madrid, Spring 2015. Finding cheap travel across Europe is nothing out of the ordinary (though Brexit may hike up prices), so I often found myself booking last minute flights/travel to fun destinations. The only downside to my last minute bookings — I was often bound to be a sole traveller. Many of my friends preferred detailed planning, weeks in advance. I was up for anything at anytime — a ticket from Madrid to Budapest for $60 USD? Sign me up!

So with an e-ticket on my iPhone and backpack on my shoulders, I would set out alone — with no specific plan. However, though I lacked a plan, there were always two goals I had when visiting a city.

1. Get a sense and feel for the culture and history of the city

2. Meet locals and or other travelers to enjoy the city with

Barcelona + new friend taking picture(s) of me.

There are a few ways of attaining either goal, though achieving both can be difficult as a sole traveler. Hostels provide the most convenient, best, and economical way to achieve both goals, ultimately leading to an amazing, memory-filled trip.

So after arriving at a destination, I simply found a WiFi hotspot (coffee shop, minus the coffee), Googled “hostels downtown” and set out (after reading a few reviews).

How to enjoy the Hostel experience? Be Proactive! Introduce yourself.

This is important. As with anything, you will not enjoy your experience if you are not driven to make the most of it. Keep an open mind and put yourself out there. Then prepare yourself to be pleasantly surprised at how welcoming others are.

So, after checking in, go to the lobby/lounge and SOCIALIZE. “Hi, where are you from? My name is Ben Smith.” Be interesting, but more importantly, BE INTERESTED. Learn from and about every new person you meet while traveling. Travel gives you one of the best opportunities to surround yourself with diverse people from different cultures.

The hostel culture is distinct around the world and friendliness is the pinnacle value for nearly every hostel traveler.

After you’ve talked with some new soon-to-be friends, ask the front desk worker (who you should also befriend) what the best walking tours, restaurants and activities are. Ask fellow hostelers what they’ve enjoyed. Then go experience the city with the new friends you’ve met. Relish every moment of travel and appreciate the people you’re with.

Budapest “Budabuddies” — met while bathing.

You may not talk to your new acquaintances ever again. But a memory of pleasure, enjoyment, or happiness is incredibly more powerful when shared with others.

You will always remember that one girl screaming on the zip-line, the guy that got hit by a Dutch biker, the promoter that forced you onto the dance stage. And, if you are so inclined, get their contact information, add them on Facebook, make a FB group chat (my personal fav “Buda Buddies” — three awesome new friends and me, still talking a year later). Keep in touch, and plan future travels or meetups together — or don’t, and be happy and grateful for the experiences that happened.

Hostels give opportunities to make meaningful connections with other people — to create memories and learn about beautiful cities together.

I owe it to the hostels to push others to experience what I have — to encourage others to join a community of culture loving travelers that are driven by adventuring and creating joint memories that will last a lifetime.

Happy hosteling!

Tangier — horse riding.

ask me all your questions.

Ben Smith