We’re a couple of guys who, even in our late 30s and 40s, still prefer to use hostels over hotels. Most people our age are mid-career, make decent money, and choose to stay in hotels, if they even travel at all. Friends of ours who don’t travel all that much often make those weird “Ewwww!” faces when we tell them that we’re staying in a place where we have to bring our own towels and shampoo. It’s even worse when we tell them we’ve stayed in the same room as 7-10 other people. We get it. We really do. And even we’ve mostly gone from the 8-bed dorm to getting a private room when we are on the road.
So why do a couple of “older” guys who can afford to stay in a decent hotel opt for a hostel that’s usually populated with 20-somethings?
Hostels are inexpensive
Even though cost is not really a concern for us (but will be when we start our future RTW trip), we’d still rather spend our money on experiences. And for us, a Marriott is not an experience. From Thailand to Indonesia to Portugal, we’ve been able to save a lot of money by staying at hostels. In Indonesia, you can get a private room for $15 a night. Sometimes, it’s more expensive at $40, but it still beats the $199 Hyatt. We’ve stayed in decent places around the world for $10/night. Yes, we bring our own soap and towels, but those are not worth the extra $50-100/night you’d have to pay to get them for free.
Hostels have information
Most good hostels are staffed by people who know the area very well. They know you’re probably on a budget and they will have information about everything there is to do in the city you’ve visiting. Hostels usually have bulletin boards with activities that are happening in the area. Some even include information about ways to save money. For example, a ride-sharing board: “Joe is visiting XYZ tomorrow. Share the cost and travel there with him.”
To be honest, we just relate better to people younger than us (and people our own age who feel the same). We are perfectly comfortable around 20-30 year olds. Honestly, we get excited when we see the energy of younger people who are venturing out on their own for the first time, or perhaps those who’ve been traveling for 6 months or longer. We have little interest in a couple with kids who spent 2 weeks at an all-inclusive beach resort in The Bahamas and experienced nothing more than what the hotel could make the most money promoting to them. It’s fun for us to join a group of people who just met the prior evening at the hostel bar and venture out the next morning – together as new friends – to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat.
In addition to all that, most of the time you will meet people with the same goals as you who’ve already been in your chosen city for a week. They’re eager to tell you what worked, what didn’t, and how they’d have done it differently if they had a do-over. This is valuable and will make your experience worthwhile.
The Hilton doesn’t have a house cat
Nearly every hostel we’ve stayed in has a house cat. They either belong to the owners or are strays who’ve taken up residence in or around the hostel and they’re usually super friendly. Having an animal around to say hello to each morning when you wake up and before you call it a night is really nice!
This is not true everywhere, of course, but most of the hostels we’ve stayed at include a free breakfast. Because they need to save money, they usually serve things like coffee, tea, local fruit, cereals, and breads. In other words, decent stuff you should be eating to start your day anyway! Whenever we travel for work and stay at a hotel with a free breakfast buffet, we invariably overdo it. We load up on eggs, bagels with cream cheese or peanut butter. A bowl of fruit or meusli, a coffee or juice, and a slice of toast is a far healthier way to start your busy day exploring the city or going on a hike. That plate piled high with scrambled eggs and sausage can really weigh you down.
Many hostels also have a fully equipped kitchen, like Spot hostel in Porto, Portugal. You can go to the supermarket, buy a few day’s worth of good food, and cook your own meals. Face it, sometimes even the biggest street food foodie wants a home-cooked meal. Plus, it’s a tremendous savings when you’re on a budget, and it’s often nice to share meals and cook your favorite dishes for others you meet. That favor will usually be returned. In Santorini, Michael met a Malaysian woman who was also a vegetarian. She made the most fragrant, delicious, and nutritious meal he ever had at a hostel. It was awesome!
Hostels aren’t for everyone
That’s obvious, of course. You really need to read the reviews of the hostel you’re choosing. In Madrid , we stayed at Cat’s Party Hostel. Michael booked it, but didn’t read the reviews. It just seemed to be one of the most popular. If you’re 20 and enjoy partying all night, it’s a great option. But if you’re like us and want to go to bed at 11 PM, then not so much. If you regularly go back to the same place, you may also want to see if it’s changed since you last stayed there. When Michael first stayed at Grannys Hostel in Kuta, Bali a few years back, it was relatively new. It was quiet, comfortable, and he highly recommended it. Today though, Grannys (now called “da’HOuSeTEL“) is a party hostel with music going all night long. We probably wouldn’t stay there again, though the staff is great and can give you lots of great information.
Finally, if you’re a family traveling together, the cost can add up. Most hostels charge a per person fee, unlike a hotel, which charges by the room. That $20/night can turn into $80-100. But if you’re traveling as a couple or by yourself and just need a comfortable bed and a clean bathroom, we recommend a well-reviewed hostel. Even now, in our late 30s and 40s, we can’t imagine experiencing the world any other way.
We normally book our hostels at Booking.com.
If you usually book a hotel, why not give a hostel a try on your next trip? You may be pleasantly surprised with the experience!