When I told my 12-year-old cousin that I stayed in hostel dorms throughout my time in Iceland, she immediately (and very seriously) exclaimed: ‘Aren’t you worried you’ll get stabbed?!’
I was so surprised I didn’t say anything for an awkwardly-long period of time.
I’ve stayed in enough hostels to know they’re not all nice, and I’ve seen enough horror films featuring hostels to be appropriately paranoid, but I've never thought they were genuinely dangerous, and I’ve been staying in hostels since I was a kid.
My first memories of hostels take place in various towns along the east coast of Australia. They were all bright rooms with murals of beaches and sunshine, outdoor sitting areas that smelled like ocean, tanned Europeans walking around with surfboards, sea views, smiles, and more lychees than you could shake a stick at – they were really cheerful places.
But after speaking with some other travellers from all over the world, I realised how many people are reluctant to stay in hostels because of all the hostel myths floating around. Some are afraid, some hate the idea of dorms, and some think they’re really dirty, but realistically they can be very vibrant places that are full of opportunities to meet new people, learn more about the place you're in, and save some cash while you're at it.
So whether you fall in to one of the above categories, or you’ve never thought to venture in to the world of hostels, here’s a bunch of common questions and misconceptions you might have:
1. Hostels Are Dangerous
The likelihood of meeting someone who wants to inflict harm upon you doesn’t suddenly rise if you’re in a hostel. There’s an elements of risk with everything you do, and those people could be anywhere – in your hometown, on the train, in your favourite store, or at work, and you’re not going to stop going to those places because you might meet your end. It’s the same with hostels.
When you think about it, it’s improbable someone like that would strike in a highly populated and supervised building that has their name, address, phone number, photograph, and passport on file. Whether you have a private room or not, hostels are really no more dangerous than hotels, and while you should still use your instinct to determine the character of the people around you, you should probably be doing that no matter where you are.
2. Women Shouldn’t Stay In Dorms
This is probably one of the worst hostel myths I've heard – it's just not true. The prospect of staying in a room full of men can be a bit terrifying, but most hostels have women-only dorms and private rooms, so they're good options if you're a bit worried. But in my experience, the majority of people in the dorms of Eastern Europe were women. I would speak to some guys in common areas, and the majority of them had private rooms because the idea of a dorm creeped them out.
Even if you stay in mixed dorms, there will most-likely be other women in there as well, and you can always ring ahead to check. I think the thing to remember is that lots of travellers staying in hostel dorms are doing exactly what you’re doing – exploring, and making friends. Personally, I don’t think dorms are dangerous, and I’ve stayed in a lot – mixed, and women-only – and I’ve never had a problem, and I’ve never met anyone else who had a problem. I’m not saying bad things don’t happen, but stay alert, not alarmed.
(While you're here, why not follow me on Instagram?)
3. Hostels Are Dirty
The emphasis on communal space in hostels probably contributes to their ’dirty’ reputation, but in my experience, hostels can be super-clean. I stayed in a few in Bulgaria and Iceland that were clinically clean, with crisp curtains on the beds so no one could watch you sleep, brand-new kitchen facilities, bleached bathrooms, new towels, and floors so squeaky-clean I could see my reflection – it all depends on where you go.
Reviews are your best friend, and most (if not all) hostel search engines have them. To get a good idea of what the place is like, make sure you read at least five reviews from the last week or so, and then look at the reviews dating back a few months – this should give you a pretty clear indication as to whether it’s the kind of place you want to stay in. Hotels can be pretty dirty as well, so keep that in mind.
4. Hostels Are For Party People
This is probably one of the biggest misconceptions about hostels, and I can tell you they’re definitely not just for party people. Many hostels actually discourage partying in the establishment because they don’t want that reputation, and others have curfews so non-partiers can get to sleep. If the hostel has a bar attached, the rooms are often removed from common areas so you can’t hear anything anyway.
I think there’s only been a few times where I couldn’t sleep because it was too loud, and it was mostly because I was staying in a large dorm and people were coming and going, and one other time I knowingly stayed above a bar, so I had that one coming. Having said all that, there are absolutely party hostels around, but they don’t want non-partiers coming in a ruining the vibe, so they advertise the party aspect pretty clearly.
5. I’m Not Poor Enough To Stay At A Hostel
Sure, hostels are generally cheaper, but they’re not exclusively for people who can’t afford anything better – I’ve met quite a few people with lots of cash who chose hostel dorms over private hotel rooms.
People from all walks of life – young and older – choose the hostel life over the hotel life. Why? Because they’re generally happy and social places where new and exotic people like to hang out and meet other new and exotic people, regardless of age, race, gender, and socioeconomic status – generally speaking, you can’t find that in a hotel. Plus, you can usually cook your own food in a hostel. Believe it or not, when you’ve been travelling for a while, you get sick of eating out all the time.
6. My Stuff Will Get Stolen
Most hostels have lockers where you can store valuables – you’ll probably be able to find out if a place doesn’t from the reviews. Sometimes the lockers are big enough to fit your entire bag inside (which is great!), but often they’re just big enough for a smaller backpack. If that’s the case, it pays to make sure you have a lock on your big bag as well for when you go out. And make sure you bring your own lock! They’re usually not supplied, which is also good because it means you’re the only one with the key.
Strictly speaking, you should probably take your valuables with you when you go out anyway. Whether I had a locker or not, I never left my passport in the hostel or a hotel.