I can guarantee in this day and age where words such as “boutique”, “vintage” and “hipster” are widely used, so has the same been applied to the new range of hostels that have been coming into the market over the past few years. Hostelworld just published this article about 11 boutique hostels that will blow you away! which of course I immediately bookmarked. It was my visit to KEX in Reykjavik a few years ago when I realised there was a new generation of hostels emerging.
One of the most frequently asked questions I get is how do I afford to travel as often as I do. Without taking you through my various budgeting spreadsheets and going into too much detail about how I don’t spend money on luxury brands (well, not often), I don’t smoke (anymore) and I’m lucky enough to work in an industry that also lends to my social life….. but the answer is simply, I still travel on a budget. Don’t get me wrong there are times when I treat myself to a nice up market hotel or a luxurious dinner but these tend to be in countries where the costs are a lot less in comparison to places like London, Paris or New York.
Looking back on my most recent trip to Myanmar. I almost treated myself to a night in the Shangri-La in Yangon for a mere £135. Compare that with the £400 a night Shangri-La in London I knew it would probably be my only chance to stay in one of their hotels. But I still couldn’t warrant the cost in my head when I knew that the fabulous Pickled Tea Hostel was only £17 a night and all I needed was a comfortable place to rest my head (and the beers were super cheap). Ostello Bello Bagan in New Bagan is also a wonderful place to stay. I pre-booked my accommodation and found it incredible that despite there being three areas you can stay in around Bagan everyone I met in the Pickled Tea Hostel were also booked in at Ostello Bello [read here for more of my Myanmar recommendations].
Remembering my hosteling experiences in the 90’s and early 00’s goes hand in hand with my friends look of horror when I suggest staying in a hostel. My first stay was floors above a psychiatric unit in Toronto. I had a short stay in a 24 person dorm in Harlem in NYC where I woke one night to my bunk being dragged across the room as the air conditioning unit was disturbing my bunk companions sleep. There was the one in Houston which was on the outskirts of the “ghetto” (my taxi drivers words not my own) and I shared my room with a few large cockroaches. The countless times I have been bitten by bed bugs, the worst being in Rome where I came home with over 80 bites… The countless nights where I have heard more than my fair share of bed sharing and more recently in Tel Aviv where we entered the room that definitely conjured up “lads on tour” images along with a man snoring very loudly, curled up in the foetal position in just his tighty whiteys. The snoring is common (female only rooms are not always the answer to this) and some peoples lack of consideration to others by turning on the main light in the early hours or scrambling around in their bags – top tip to always carry ear plugs, an eye mask and a torch. No wonder my regaling of old times puts my friends off…..
Those types of places unfortunately still exist, but combine your research with TripAdvisor and you should be able to gauge where to avoid.
There are still the misconceptions that hostels are for the 18-30 crowd. Yes, those places do still exist and I’ve accidentally stayed in a fair few party hostels but you find all age ranges now from 18 to retired to families.
For those on a budget, the facilities that come with a hostel all help with spending less than you would in a hotel. For starters I often travel as part of a trio so booking a triple room is far more economical than having to book two rooms in a hotel. If you’re a solo traveller and don’t mind dorms then the cost of a bed is far cheaper than paying the single supplement there are on hotel rooms. Sometimes if your bed is ready then early check in is generally allowed without extra cost or a luggage room will be available to use before check in or after check out. Local maps and information tend to be on hand or asking the advice from reception staff or a designated travel desk can be invaluable. When staying in hotels I’ve generally had to find the local tourist board to source maps and information. I’ll never forget how incredibly excited the staff at the Manga Hostel in Belgrade were in telling us about all of the things to see, places for cheap eats and some good drinking dens. There are laundry and kitchen facilities, free wifi, chill out areas, non over inflated prices for snacks, soft drinks or beer. Sometimes there’s even a free pick up service from the train, bus or airport. Most of all the possibility of meeting like minded travellers, sharing stories and gaining invaluable knowledge from their experiences, especially if you’re travelling solo. But the clincher for me is the help in organising onward travel or local day trips. Abraham’s in Jerusalem was a perfect example of this. They offer some amazing day trips to other parts of Israel and the West Bank. If you visit Nazareth, definitely take the opportunity to stay in their now sister property – Fauzi Azar Inn. Set in a beautiful 19th century building with marble floors, limestone arches and offers daily free cake – FREE CAKE!
I went round the world in 2009 and whilst they’re not quirky like the Hostelworld list there are a few places I would highly recommend (and know they are still being rated highly and in business!). The Sleepy Kiwi in Singapore which is set in the old Sultan’s Palace [read more about Singapore and The Sleepy Kiwi here] and the Greenhouse Backpackers in Melbourne which I spent two months living in! The Greenhouse is a few blocks from Flinders Station, Federation Square and a stones throw from the gastronomic delight of Flinders Lane. My second recommendation in Australia is the fantastic Arts Factory in Byron Bay. They have a swimming pool, cinema, brewery, spa, bar AND you can stay in a teepee!
I’ve heard on the grapevine that Generator Hostels are great places to stay. When I finally make it back to Venice I’m looking forward to booking into their hostel – doesn’t it look fabulous ….. Generator Venice.
All in all, for my non fussy needs I’m more likely to look at booking a private room (because I’m that little bit older now) in a hostel rather than a budget hotel and quite excited to check out the ever increasing choices!