Back in my backpacking heyday, I was one of hostelling’s more frequent customers and in all, have stayed in an amount of hostels somewhere just under the 100 figure. I’ve seen good ones, bad ones, completely deplorable ones and have seen enough that while it was fun (sometimes) at the time, I’m happy enough that I now aspire more regularly to budget hotels (or reasonably priced full-service hotels) on most occasions. That said, I do still however receive regular e-mail newsletters from a number of sites I used to book with, some of which have very cleverly noted my downward booking pattern and inquired why this is the case. Truthfully, no survey that I’ve been sent has allowed me to fully communicate the issues with hostels, so instead I’m going to note them down here in the form of the 3 P’s of why I haven’t seen a hostel in quite a while.
Nothing is more frustrating than finding that your ‘good location’ hostel is actually in the middle of nowhere or is only in a good location if you’re looking for ‘ladies’. Early on in the game I began looking for hostels that weren’t near a main train or bus station, recognising that such venues are frequently in the central red light district of town. Likewise, on a visit to Calgary, I got a shuttle service downtown where we drove round and round to each and every persons accommodation, until we drove further out of town to a field in the middle of nowhere surrounded by drug abusers and bins for the specific purpose of needle disposal and there it was – a faux log cabin in the midst of it all that was to serve as my accommodation for a number of days. It wasn’t pleasant, I can assure you of that.
So one of the big problems with hostelling is the complete randomness of the ‘location’ despite your very best efforts. By and large official hotel sites are a little more truthful and nobody is more critical of an accommodation than keyboard warriors on hotel review sites, so even if there is a porky buried in there somewhere, someone’s sure to have taken them to town over it.
There’s something a little undesirable about having to stow all your belongings into a locker before you go out for the day, before you go to relieve yourself in the bathroom, or even go to sleep. It’s a fact of life that you can’t trust everyone, but after a while, it begins to get a bit old. You’re there at midnight trying to unlock your locker as if you were breaking into the Tate gallery, trying to maintain an almost other-worldly silence in case you wake up the other 6 occupants of your room, just so you can fish out a toothbrush and pyjamas.
Before anyone writes me back by the way and suggests that items like toothbrushes, pyjamas and the whatnot can and should be left out easily, no they should not. Whilst in Osaka, I left my pyjamas on my bed, my towel hanging off the rack and my sunglasses clipped around the rail of the bed. When I returned home after having a single pint (due to the expensiveness of alcohol in Japan), I found that a Korean roommate had used my pyjama bottoms to hang on his bedside light to shield the light from other occupants. In the process, the heat had burnt a hole in my pyjamas that would be more than adequate to expose at least part of my ass were I to walk around in them. I mentioned to him that this was generally considered very poor form, but he wasn’t bothered. The next morning however, I woke up to discover that a Scotsman departing midway through the night had evidently also relieved me of said sunglasses which were now very firmly not in the room. So like I say, back to the locker.
I wouldn’t mind locking my belongings into a missile silo if I had to and sleeping on a lump of concrete if it was at the very least dirt cheap. But a lot of hostels are actually really not that much cheaper than just staying in a hotel anyway. For the difference of about â‚¬10 in some cases, you can know what to expect at least and have a little bit more creature comfort. Some of the places I’ve stayed in have been almost certainly a health hazard – while staying in Paris for example, in a hostel run by a particularly narky Granny who seemed to be very confident myself and my two travel companions ought to speak fluent French, the staircase had a number of steps so dated they actually shifted slightly underfoot and were almost certainly only a few weeks away from collapsing altogether.
And that is, at least part of the reason why I haven’t been hostelling lately. If anyone has their own reasons, or disagrees completely and thinks hostelling is the way forward, share your thoughts in the comments below…