Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Hostile Hostels?

Hello and welcome to another edition of Mythbusters: Studying Abroad!  Today we will be looking at the much discussed topic of staying in a hostel.  The American perception of hostels is not entirely a good one.  We tend to picture a large, open room with two to three dozen beds and malicious people lying in wait to steal everything we own.  This is not entirely true.  Hostels do often put several bunk beds in every room, but I haven't been in a room with more than 14 beds.  This may seem like a lot to you, but just because there are 14 beds does not mean there are 14 people staying in the room.  Also, most people staying in the hostel won't give your things a second glance.  When travelling you should really only have toiletries and clothes, and who's really going to want your dirty laundry?  90% of people staying in hostels are poor, travelling college students who just need a place to stay for the night and, let's face it, it would be a waste of time and energy trying to find anything expensive in a broke college student's backpack.  Of course, this doesn't mean that you should leave all of your things strewn about your bed.  You should always keep your money, passport, and other important documents on you at all times, but this doesn't mean you have to sleep clutching your purse.  Putting it right next to your bed, or (if you're in the top bunk) by your head should be enough to deter any would-be thieves, especially if you're a light sleeper.  However, if you're still worried about it, hostels usually have lockers or cubbies with padlocks that you can rent.

YHA hostel in Cardiff
Still don't believe that hostels aren't as scary as they seem?  Maybe you just need to find the right hostel for you.  YHA (Youth Hostel Association) hostels are geared more toward families and college students.  The rooms aren't mixed (meaning there are both boys and girls sleeping there), so you never have to worry about catching cooties.  The rooms are always very clean, and the staff is very friendly.  Sometimes, these hostels are even themed to bring out your inner nerd.  For instance, the YHA hostel we stayed at in Cardiff had rooms named after the actors who had played various doctors in Doctor Who (my friends got it.  I didn't).  Beds in places like these are usually £15 a night, but that's the usual rate.  However, YHAs sometimes have a minimum stay requirement (meaning you have to stay there at least two nights), and they might not be in the city you want to travel to.  Therefore, you might have to be more adventurous in your hostel booking. 

Hootananny Hostel and Pub
If you like having a good sense of community, you might want to try a hostel that offers both temporary and semi-permanent bookings.  In places like these the people are very friendly and out-going.  As soon as you walk in there are half a dozen people making your acquaintance and showing you incredible hospitality.  You won't meet a nicer bunch of people than the group at the Hootananny Hostel in Brixton (near London).  Before you know it you'll be swept up into a dinner date with some of the other hostel residents.  Not homey enough for you yet?  The walls are painted with beautiful designs and the bedding actually comes in colors and patterns.  Still not enough?  Did I mention there's a puppy?  A very happy, fluffy puppy that never stops wagging?  There is.  However, semi-permanent hostels can usually be slightly run down or double as another venue to bring in more revenue.  The Hootananny, for instance, is above a pub that has live music over the weekends.  While you can't really hear the music in your room, you can feel the floor vibrate under your feet.  In short, if you don't like the night-life or are a very light sleeper these sorts of places might not be for you.

Heroes Hotel with the Heroes Fish and Chip Shop below
Finally, we come to the final option I've run across in my travels.  The hotel that's so cheap it can't really be considered a hotel and should, therefore, be referred to as a hostel.  You can find a super cheap room in a hotel if you look hard enough.  In places like these you can get a private room for you and your friends and, sometimes, even have your own bathroom.  You're the only one with a key so you don't have to worry about anyone coming in and taking your things while you're gone.  It give you a nice peace of mind if you get overly stressed when you travel.  However, there are draw-backs for these places as well.  The old phrase "you get what you pay for" comes to mind, and, since you don't pay very much, you don't get very much.  The Heroes Hotel in Newcastle is a perfect example of this.  You get a private room with a bathroom, but that's where the amenities end.  There is no hot water (both faucets were labelled cold, and they were), no soap, no towels, no heat, and no room to move.  Likewise, the window was broken, and the top bunk was held together with what looked like chicken wire and plastic ties.  But again, you get what you pay for, and you get peace of mind.

So, the myth that hostels are super scary and should be avoided at all costs: busted.  As long as you book the hostel that's right for you, you can have a very enjoyable experience.  Also, don't believe everything you see on TV.  I blame Eurotrip for this myth...

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