Full disclosure: I used to be terrified of hostels. In fact, for the first two months of my trip, I took these crazy-long overnight buses to avoid staying in places where I didn’t have a Workaway. When I finally did start using hostels, I always made sure to book a private room. Paranoid, much?
It was only after doing a few Workaways that involved shared accommodation, that I realized that I could survive sleeping in the same room and breathing in the same air as eight (or twenty) other people.
(I still maintain that sleeping with so many other people is unnatural but still, it’s doable…and much cheaper).
I have lost count of how many hostels I’ve stayed in. Some have been awesome, some have been horrific (Caye Caulker, I’m looking at you) and most were wonderfully unremarkable.
What follows are my observations and tips after a year or so of hostel living in Latin America.
Ahh bathrooms. Because Latin American plumbing doesn’t allow for flushing any toilet paper down the loo, hostel bathrooms can be an interesting place. My greatest horror is a lazy cleaning person who only empties the bins sporadically. Nothing like a garbage can overflowing with used toilet paper to remind you that you’re not at home anymore.
2. Cold water
When I was traveling in Central America, my body didn’t experience the delicious pleasure of a hot shower for a LONG time. However, it tends to be hot and humid in that part of the world, so a hot shower (generally) isn’t necessary.
If you’re traveling in South America though – do not fear! Because it gets (much) colder there, hot showers are the norm.
Let’s be real: unless you’re drunk, your sleep quality in a dorm room probably won’t be amazing. People can be terribly inconsiderate, so make sure you always have an eye mask and ear plugs. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been woken up by drunk people walking into my dorm and turning on the lights.
I also noticed that often short-term travellers are less considerate, so in places like Central America and Mexico (where there are more people on holiday, as opposed to long haul trips) it was harder to sleep.
When I first stayed in hostels, I was terribly suspicious of everyone – staff and guests alike – because I was convinced they were making a list of all my valuables and planning to steal them as I slept.
However, if you’re staying in a decent hostel, safety shouldn’t be too much of an issue, and I certainly never had any problems. In fact, travellers are surprisingly careless and I’ve walked into many a dorm to see unattended electronics scattered about. Nevertheless, I do recommend you always have your own lock so you can put your valuables in a locker.
5. Female Dorms
Sorry guys, this one is just for the ladies.
For the first year or so of traveling, I never bothered with female dorms. Often, they were more expensive and I just didn’t see the point of being stuck with a bunch of girls. However, I have seen the light. Guys are lovely, but frequently (especially after a night out) they don’t smell too minty, do they? More importantly, girls typically do not SNORE. The agony of trying to sleep while a passed out male snorts and honks in the bunk above you is not something anyone should have to experience.
It baffles me when people don’t say hello in a dorm room. Sure, maybe you’re not here to make friends but we’re going to be sleeping in the same room… so let’s at least exchange names?
Sometimes I’m NOT in the mood for backpackers and try to engage as little as possible, but generally it’s pleasant to have the standard (Where are you from? How long are you traveling? Which countries are you coming from?) backpacker chat with someone.
I try to avoid paying more than $16 a night for a bed in a dorm. In Central America, the hostels are typically cheaper and you should pay around $10 per night. Usually breakfast is in included, which is a big bonus.
South American hostels are a little more expensive, especially once you get down to Chile and Argentina, but you shouldn’t pay more than $18 a night.
For most backpackers, hostels are a necessary evil. If you’re like 2015 Gabi and have a deep fear of these establishments, I hope this post manages to assuage your anxiety somewhat. Honestly, if I can survive (and often, enjoy) hostels, anyone can. Bring your eye mask, bring your earplugs and bring your tolerance, and you’ll be just fine!