Travel Austerity: hostels and hanging out with the cool kids

In a hostel, Norway

Photos from another lifetime - me in a hostel in 1987

In my recent post on the subject of travel experts, several folks left excellent comments making the point that while many can claim an expertise in one specific aspect of travel it’s impossible to be an expert in every travel-related matter. If I had to list the areas of travel in which I know absolutely nothing, I have little hesitation in putting the world of hostels right at the top of my list.

It’s almost 25 years since I’ve travelled as a hard-core penny-saving backpacker where every drachma (remember those?) spent on a bed for the night was a frivolous extravagance. A hostel was a necessary interlude between nights spent on trains and was mainly indulged in to take advantage of a much-needed shower.

Once I entered the world of work and was able to afford luxuries such as bathrooms and personal privacy on my travels, I never looked back. Barring an occasional unavoidable overnight stay in some remote backwater, I shared a room with my wife and no-one else and we opted for at least a basic level of comfort.

Until now.

This week I’ll be staying in three Polish hostels. I’ll be in the country to research a few stories and as I’m responsible for organising my own arrangements, every zloty counts. It’s simple economics: I’ll make a modest sum from the commissions around the trip so need to spend an even smaller amount for the exercise to be financially profitable. Those fancy bathroom-boasting hotels are out of the question. My self-imposed budget for three nights accommodation is a mere £35.

So in a throw-back to my teenage years I’ll be once again sharing my sleeping quarters and washing facilities with strangers. I must admit I’m quite looking forward to it. On the one hand I know I’m likely to meet more people than I normally do on my travels. I may even have a beer or two with the odd stranger, although I am likely to be the same age as their parents. On the other hand I’ll probably be more conscious than ever of the nuisance of a nightly trudge or two down the corridor to the toilet (that’s me, not the kids). I hope I can get away with not having to sleep in a top bunk.

I’m utterly rubbish at this budget travel business and I have no doubt I’ll behave like a complete budget travel novice to all I encounter this week. That’s probably no bad thing, as the young guns who I bump into can teach me a thing or two about the culture and etiquette of hostel dwelling. Perhaps the experience will induce flashbacks to nights spent in youth hostels in the 1980s, trying to sleep while listening to people snoring (or worse).

I might enjoy it, but I have no doubt that however I describe the experience to my wife on my return home, she won’t be asking me to book us into dorms on our next trip together.

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Freelance travel writer

7 Responses to “Travel Austerity: hostels and hanging out with the cool kids”

  1. I’m 34 and still stay in hostels on a regular basis (again, because it’s ideal for keeping costs down and making trips profitable). It’s just about picking the right one. I always scour the net for reviews and if I see any mention of ‘party hostels’ or ‘crazy late-night hostel bar’ I’ll usually steer well clear. There are some superb hostels out there (many are new and squeaky clean, and have free wi-fi!). In the more chilled ones, you tend to meet 30 and 40-somethings, who are on a budget, want a good night’s sleep and have no desire to be boozing til 6am. I prefer hostels to cheap hotels for many reasons. One is social/background noise – well a little, at least. I prefer the sound of people chatting (quietly) to a cheap, depressing, silent, lonely hotel room. Most of the time anyway. Good luck!

    May 15, 2012 at 3:27 pm
    • Good tips Steve – thanks. Agree that some of the hostels look a lot better than cheap hotels and provide a nicer environment.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:34 pm
  2. Jaynesue #

    Hola from San Miguel de Allende, Mexico Andy!

    I just returned from a journey to Turkey…six weeks, four hotel nights stay, 14 Couchsurfing, and the remainder in dormitory hostels – at the ripe age of 53 traveling sola (woman). Money had nothing to do with my self imposed austerity, but rather, my desire to experience my trip. So I spent it with Turks, fellow travelers who could’ve been my children (no mom comments allowed, but they were allowed to call me Auntie if I couldn’t keep up – never happened :)) and alone. I was open to all opportunities.

    I have traveled many ways. Bicycling throughout Europe, staying in chambres and zimmers to luxury hotels. But the combination of alone, connecting with locals and fellow travelers expanded my travel experience. It’s not about age!

    Like all journeys, this one changed me.

    Enjoy! Experience! Engage!

    May 15, 2012 at 4:51 pm
    • Thanks for sharing your experiences Jaynesue – your enthusiasm is highly infectious! I’m looking forward to having the same great experiences that you’re enjoying :-)

      May 15, 2012 at 6:35 pm
  3. Don’t want to be age-ist, but how long before the youth of today is calling for single age-group dorms. Snoring is an age related problem…

    May 15, 2012 at 5:59 pm
    • There are few things better at driving you up the wall in frustration than being kept awake by a loud snorer.

      I have it on good authority that I don’t snore so I’m hoping your scenario never happens, or I’d end up with no hope of ever sleeping in a dorm.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:31 pm
    • Its already happened – there’s many hostels that already have an upper age limit on guests.

      May 19, 2012 at 5:16 am