The Glamorous Retrospect of Youth Hostels

San Franciso, Youth Hostel

There are many reasons why I love to travel, but accommodation has never been one of them. This is because I have a habit of spending as little as possible on accommodation to ensure I can scrape together enough money for flights. I think most of us have done this, right? and many of us still do. I mean what’s the point of shelling out for a fancy hotel when you’re going to be sightseeing all day? (The CEO of Mandarin Oriental must thank God not everyone thinks like me).

Although I don’t usually stay in hotels, this doesn’t mean I’m entirely fond of youth hostels. I have a love-hate relationship with them. On one hand, I’ve had some of my worst night’s sleep at the mercy of hostels, but on the other hand, it’s where I’ve met some of life’s most interesting characters, and that’s something I can’t put a price tag on.

When I reminisce about those nights spent chasing morsels of sleep on squeaky bunk-beds, I can’t help but laugh. It’s the type of laugh that can only be acquired through time, like when you think about a situation which drove you insane but somehow over time it manages to bury a place of affection in your heart. They say distance makes the heart grow fonder, and this is also true for the not-so-glamorous aspects of travel, like those times when you felt worn out and destroyed (that’s the melodramatic voice of a sleepless backpacker), but actually, in retrospect, they are what you remember the most and wear like a badge of honour.

Lost in LA

Lost, hungry and in need of sleep. This was the moment when I documented my friend as she reached ‘breaking point’. I refer to this night as ‘Lost in LA’

But then the next day went something like this…

Venice Beach

Some of my most unglamorous times in youth hostels were in America and Australia, the latter in particular stands out for how cold they can be during the winter. A lack of clothing didn’t help either. I was foolish at nineteen. China stands out for having some of the best and worst hostels I’ve stayed in. One of them didn’t even have a toilet (not even a squatting toilet!) instead there was a plastic basin in the room depressingly offered as though it were a form of compensation.

Youth Hostel in China
Stop smiling Toby. There’s absolutely nothing to be smiling about! I think the basins were supposed to be used so we could wash ourselves down in. However, they reeked of urine so people had other ideas…

I recall the time I slept in a dorm in Harlem with twenty girls and woke up to the sound of a girl vomiting over the top bunk onto another girl’s backpack – I’m not sure who I felt more sorry for; the girl who was projectile vomiting or the girl who owned the backpack.

In the end I decided my sympathy rested with the girl who had another girl’s puke on her backpack.

Youth Hostel in New York City
This one in New York reminded me of a prison. Harriet, nonetheless sees the bright side – after all, we’re in NYC!

If I hadn’t stayed in a hostel then I would never have been able to afford a visit to New York, and although I didn’t sleep well it was a small price to pay for so much fun and my first real taste of Manhattan cheesecake!

Youth Hostel in New York
Oh how quickly the mood can change!

There was also the occasion my friend, Lily, and I slept in a dorm with four German lads in Amsterdam. It was a warm and sunny day when we arrived at around 3’O Clock in the afternoon and opened the door to our 6-bed dorm, we didn’t expect to see the curtains closed and four guys fast asleep. We asked each ourselves, ‘Who would be sleeping on a day as sunny as this?!’ But we were in Amsterdam… and the penny soon dropped!

Amsterdam street art
I’ll say it again, what’s the point on spending lots of money on a hotel when you’re going to be out all day?

Lastly, there was the hostel in Oslo where Lily and I shared an 8-bed dorm with six other men ranging between the ages of 20 – 80. Everything was going well until I went to the bathroom to brush my teeth before sleeping, and as I climbed back into bed I saw a note on my pillow with the words ‘Will you kiss me?’ scrawled across it. I looked around in the dark room and noticed a man peering at me as he sat upright in his bed. Creepy. I just casually pretended I hadn’t seen him and rolled over and went to sleep. If you’re travelling solo as a female it can often be a good idea to select a female-only dorm if you have the choice, that way you should avoid awkward situations like the one I just mentioned.

Apart from the creepy guy, there were no complaints about staying in Anker Hostel in Oslo, it was clean and comfortable!
Apart from the creepy guy, there were no complaints about staying in Anker Hostel in Oslo, it was clean and comfortable!

On the other end of the spectrum we met a super Aussie called Jonny who joined us for some sightseeing and chess playing. Who won? The photo says it all! :D
On the other end of the spectrum we met a super Aussie called Jonny who joined us for some sightseeing and chess playing. Who won? The photo says it all!

Now that I’ve shed some light on the less desirable aspects of sleeping in youth hostels, I want to say that all the positive experiences made the crappy times worth it. Including the 10-month episode of bed bug bites I had on my legs. Most of all, using them has allowed me to travel exponentially, as well as meet fascinating people along the way, all of which have enriched my life tenfold. Sometimes the friendships are fleeting, lasting just a day. But for that day we bond over our experiences of travel and live in that very moment together.

Hostels have a way of connecting people from all over the world who want to engage with one another. That’s not something I’ve ever experienced in luxury hotels… not that I get the opportunity to stay in them often…

What are your thoughts on hostels? Have you made a life-long friend from a chance meeting in a hostel?

A travel & culture blog specialising in Scandinavia and the Arctic, peppered with the rest of the world in between.

'The Glamorous Retrospect of Youth Hostels' have 16 comments

  1. March 26, 2014 @ 8:31 am Agness

    I love this post! It reminds me of all cool hostels I’ve stayed at when travelling. I loved night food binges with my roommates and loooooong night talks till 5 am 🙂


    • March 31, 2014 @ 1:25 pm admin

      As an avid user of youth hostels I bet you have your fair share of stories Agness haha! Mmmmm bonding over food binges and long talks – sounds like a perfect night!


  2. March 26, 2014 @ 4:36 pm Stefania @The Italian Backpacker

    I like staying in hostels for the reasons you mention, but I try to avoid “party hostels”. Sometimes, after a long flight or a long day sightseeing, you just want to sleep.


    • March 31, 2014 @ 1:39 pm admin

      Hi Stefania! Luckily I don’t think I’ve really experienced a ‘party hostel’ but I imagine I would be left crying for sleep after just one night!


  3. March 26, 2014 @ 5:46 pm Ola

    I like hostels too and agree with what you’ve written – after all you only sleep there so there is no point in spending too much on acommodation. And I am not very choosy when it comes to where I stay but… the hostel in China you described would be way too much I think…


    • March 31, 2014 @ 1:42 pm admin

      Haha luckily I only stayed there for one night but I remember it for all the wrong reasons haha!


  4. March 26, 2014 @ 7:56 pm Charlie

    Oh wow, you have some pretty weeeird hostel stories there!! especially the creepy guy one. I always feel tired after staying in a hostel because there’s always someone snoring like a crazy person. I actually prefer couchsurfing because of this even! Do you couchsurf much?


    • March 31, 2014 @ 1:46 pm admin

      Actually no, I’ve never tried couchsurfing but I think it’s a great concept Charlie! It’s a good way to get to know people and places better… I should try it. However, I pretty much use Airbnb wherever I go now and love it! Have you used it??


  5. March 27, 2014 @ 8:58 am Mike

    Awesome post, Shing! This is the first time since I’ve been reading travel blogs that someone actually showed the real life in a hostel room. I get it on the trade off of saving money for the excursions and exploring during the day. But, I would choose not to go that route. I soooo admire you folks who do it though! That creepy experience….for a young lady…that would be too much. You are brave. Just please always be safe, our friend 🙂


    • March 31, 2014 @ 1:50 pm admin

      As I get older and have a little more money and desire for comfort I’ve started to use hostels less, but they’ve provided me with some great memories! Ahhh safety comes first! Thanks Mike 😀


  6. March 29, 2014 @ 10:45 am Colleen Brynn

    Oh yes, badge of honour indeed! Boy, do I have some good hostel stories. Let’s save that for a day of weird museums and cafe/bar hopping, shall we?


    • March 31, 2014 @ 1:51 pm admin

      Haha those stories will be the perfect ingredient to go with our tour of weird museums! I await that day Colleen!!


  7. April 2, 2014 @ 12:20 pm Michelle

    I’ve stayed at some horrible hostels but I think all the great, positive experiences I’ve had from other hostels has made it all worth it 🙂


    • April 8, 2014 @ 5:38 am admin

      Exactly! No pain no gain, right Michelle?


  8. April 13, 2014 @ 6:20 pm Blandine

    I’ve never used hostels – I’ve always been too “scared” of them: I’m not a princess but I do like a little bit of comfort, and I’ve been lucky enough to always find cheap enough rooms when I couldn’t stay at friends’. It was nice to read what you had to say about them, still.

    While I’ve never tried either of them, CouchSurfing and AirBnB sound like the perfect thing to do when you want to travel for cheap (free) and meet people. Do you find it’d be safer than hostels, to a certain extent, because you can check who you’ll be staying with beforehand whereas you’ve no idea who you’re going to share your dorm with?


    • April 14, 2014 @ 12:55 pm admin

      Hi! I would definitely recommend giving hostels a go, you can opt for a ladies only dorm if it makes you feel comfortable. Hostels are usually extremely safe – they are well located, and have a receptionist who collects details from the people staying there, lock to the door, and generally attract people from all walks of life who are relaxed and respectful of other people’s space and possessions.

      However, I’ve started using Airbnb instead (it can often work out cheaper than a hostel since you are not paying for individual beds). I REALLY like Airbnb, you can find some really cool and cosy places to stay with more privacy which is great if you’re after a good night’s sleep and more space.

      Overall it depends what you’re looking for – if you’re travelling solo then I would recommend hostels because you get to meet more people to potentially hang out with which always enhances travelling. However, if you’re travelling with a friend or partner then Airbnb is the way to go! 🙂


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