As my phone alarm rang at 7 a.m. in the morning, I quickly pressed the snooze button and rolled over carefully. My bunk bed creaked with every movement, despite my attempts to stay quiet. I stumbled through the dark room to the bathroom, hoping I would not wake my five roommates. I noticed that I was drenched in sweat and covered in mosquito bites. This particular hostel did not have air conditioning, and in my efforts to stay cool, I could not use a blanket to hide from the biting insects. But hey, it only cost me $14 for the night.
Many of my friends wonder not only why I travel alone, but also why I choose to stay in hostels. Staying in hostels has become my favorite way to travel, despite the fact that they often lack the extravagant comforts of a hotel. I have often found myself without towels, without air conditioning and without hot water. I consider these small trade-offs for many priceless experiences that hostel travel has given me.
You Meet Other Travelers
Perhaps the biggest incentive to stay in hostels is that you meet other travelers – and many of them are as free-spirited as you are.
While in a hostel in downtown Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, I was placed in a room with four girls from California. The girls invited me to join them that evening as they went out to dinner and to a salsa dancing show. They invited me to travel with them over the following days, but I had my own path I wanted to take. I continued to meet other travelers in other cities, but I will always remember that night of salsa with the girls in Santo Domingo.
You’re Never Alone
Although you may be traveling solo, you will always be surrounded by others in a hostel. Hostels offer common areas, shared kitchens and dorm rooms. I have met many travelers – some of which became friends – through my stays in hostels.
A few years ago, I stayed in a hostel on a small island in Panama. Every day, I went to the common area – an area with hammocks and lounge chairs – to eat all of my meals. This is where all of the travelers met each other. On my last night in Panama, all of us walked to the beach together late at night, where we hoped to watch sea turtles hatch from their eggs. This island was remote, and I would not have walked to the beach at night by myself. Being with other travelers from the hostel made excursions like this one possible.
Private Rooms are An Option – Sometimes
If you are a first-time hostel traveler or a very light sleeper, you may want to book a private room at a hostel. These rooms are usually more expensive, but still cheaper than a regular hotel room. In many cases, you will still share the common areas with other travelers and have the same opportunities to meet people while still being able to sleep in your own room.
You Save Money
For many, the biggest incentive to stay in a hostel is the cost. I have stayed in hostels as cheap as $8 per night and as expensive as $35 for a private room – but I have never spent more than that. This gives me the option to spend more money on activities, food and excursions.
By saving money on my accommodations, I have been able to go snorkeling, horseback riding, zip lining, caving and even rent my own golf cart all on the same four-day trip, simply because I had spent very little on housing.
I have also met free spirits who were traveling for 6 months straight – something that was only financially possible for them because of the low cost of staying in hostels.
You Get a More Local Experience
Hostels are often run by fellow travelers, locals, families or college students. Some of the best travel tips I have received were from hostel staff.
In one family-run hostel in Puerto Rico, the owner’s daughter drove me around town, invited me to eat with her family, talked about the island’s hidden places and cut up a mango for me that she had grown in her backyard. She also told me where I could find a hidden path that would lead to an isolated beach. The family asked for nothing in return for their hospitality.
You Find Better Deals
Sometimes your stay in a hostel will get you better deals than your stay in an expensive hotel. While hotels have commercialized their excursions and set high prices for them, that is not always the case at hostels.
While staying in a tree house hostel in Costa Rica, I was searching for a place to go horseback riding. The owner of the hostel said she has a friend who owns two horses. She called her friend and he offered to take my companion and me on a ride for a fraction of what hotels charge.
Even when I have the money to pay for a hotel room, I will continue to stay in hostels for the invaluable experiences they give me.