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Is staying in a hostel really that scary?

It’s no secret that I’ve spent a lot of time in hostels. In fact, I’m pretty certain it amounts to literal years. So it always surprises me when I suggest staying in a hostel to someone, only to be met with nothing but abject horror and urban legends.

I’ve spent so much of my life living or staying in hostels that I don’t ever consider the idea that that’s not a normal thing to do. Last year the hubby and I even spent a night in a dorm room because the privates were fully booked! It always seems strange when I find myself chatting to someone who not only has never stayed in a hostel, but is also terrified at the thought of doing so.

Portugal lagos bura surfhouse balcony sunset

Yes – some hostels have views like this. And not a serial killer in sight.

Staying in hostels can be an amazing experience and a lot of what worries people simply isn’t true. Some of the concerns I’ve heard include…

The kitchen will be dirty

This depends on SO many things. If you’re in a large hostel then the kitchen is likely to be dirtier – more people equal more mess. Somewhere might clean regularly, but you need to cook noodles right after a tribe of baboons has been in there. In cheaper hostels they often rely on backpackers working for accommodation meaning the standards might not be as high. But it’s not a universal rule that all hostel kitchens are bedrocks of filth. I worked at a hostel in Cairns where the kitchens were cleaned 4 times a day, and twice a week the floors would be scrubbed with bleach. It was probably cleaner than my kitchen at home!

My room-mates will steal my things

Think about why you’re choosing to stay in a hostel dorm. Is it to steal the belongings of your bunk mates? I’m guessing no! The vast majority of people you meet while travelling are, much like in life, honest and want to help you. 99.99% of your fellow roomies are going to be wonderful, not even dreaming of slipping your iPhone away while you’re sleeping. If you’re carrying expensive gear and are really concerned then make sure you travel with a portable safe like a Pacsafe.  To be honest, if a person is going to steal in a place where they’ve had to provide a copy of their passport they’re probably not too bright anyway…

It’s going to be disgusting

We can relate this back to the kitchen – so much depends on which hostel you choose and what your room mates are like. I’ve stayed in disgusting hostels, but then I’ve stayed in disgusting hotels too (looking at you, Paris hotel above a brothel). Some places are really strict about keeping your dorm tidy, while others leave it up to you. If you’re concerned then check out reviews on hostelworld – you can see exactly how past guests have rated the cleanliness of places.

travellers oasis

The Travellers Oasis hostel in Cairns won the Trivago award for best HOTEL in Australia! Source.

It’s not safe for solo females

NO. It’s 2017, can we please stop this nonsense of educating women that to travel is to compromise their personal safety? I will not dignify this with anything more than a withering eye roll. As with anything else in life, if you feel uncomfortable or unsafe then remove yourself from the situation. Hostel was most definitely not a documentary.

There’s no way I’ll sleep with a snorer in my dorm

Staying in a hostel dorm can be such a lottery. Yes, there’s a good chance that someone will snore or come in at 2am or get up for an early flight without packing their bag. That’s why you should never travel without a decent set of earplugs. If you’re a light sleeper or this really concerns you then pay extra for a private room. It’ll still be cheaper than a hotel!

But don’t you get verrucas from the showers?

Anywhere with communal showers is going to carry this risk – even walking along the edge of a swimming pool you can pick it up! That’s why we had those gross verruca guard swimming socks when we were little (I really hope that wasn’t just me?) Wear your flip flops every time you wash and you’ll have nothing to worry about.

I bet my room mates will drink all night and have sex

Okay you’ve got me on this one. If you’re travelling for a long time then chances are you’ll end up with room mates bumping uglies, or a drinking game being played in the middle of the room. Choose hostels without a party reputation and you’ll be fine. YHAs as a general rule tend to attract older travellers and families, so see if there’s one in your destination. Unless getting freaky in a dorm is your thing? No judgement.

bura surfhouse two females jumping pool lagos portugal

Just hopping in for a swim after a €2 mohito at the poolside bar

So, how do I pick the best hostel?

So much of your experience is based on choosing the right hostel. Nowadays it’s so easy to do a decent bit of research. Imagine travelling way back when all you had to go off was your Lonely Planet and recommendations. Now you can have virtual tours, check reviews across a multitude of sites and get your questions answered lightening fast.

Consider what you want and what’s important to you. So many grumbles come from people not doing their research properly. It’s like people who book into Gilligans, the biggest party hostel on Australia’s EastCoast, and then complain about loud music. Dude – you booked a hostel with an onsite club that calls itself The G-Spot. What were you expecting?

Find what works for you. Personally I hate souless hostels with hundreds in them. Throw the word ’boutique’ into the description and I’m already trying to give you my money. But perhaps you want consistency with your stay – so a chain would be perfect for you. Or maybe your idea of a good time is to go out until the sun comes up? Much like with trips to the Great Barrier Reef, there might not be such a thing as a bad hostel, only the wrong hostel for you.

Naturally there are bad hostels out there, and I’ve got plenty of horror stories from my early travels. But choose wisely and there’s no reason that staying in dorms won’t result in some of the best times on your life. I’ve made life long friendships with people from across the world all based on our room allocation. And that’s worth risking a dirty kitchen for!


Are you scared to stay in hostels? Or do you absolutely love it? Is there anything else that makes you worried about staying in one?

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