Last night I had my first experience at a backpackers’ hostel. Unfortunately I didn’t meet two hot Slovak girls, but then again, I didn’t have my eyeballs gouged out or an arm hacked off. If you have no idea what I’m talking about there’s a very gory series of horror films called Hostel. I just summed up the plot for you in one sentence.
Backpackers’ hostels are popular pretty much everywhere outside of the US and are about the cheapest accommodation you can find without couch surfing (sleeping on a complete stranger’s couch for free… an idea I haven’t yet warmed up to). I stayed at a place called King Street Backpackers in Melbourne and paid $36 for a room that slept four in bunk beds. Female-only rooms are also available. At this particular hostel you can get the price down to the mid-20s but you have to sleep in a room with 15 others for the pleasure. Can you imagine that? Experiential travel is all the rage these days. Maybe they could sell it as an “Army Barrack Getaway”.
The experience is much like a coed college dorm. You get your own room key, there are slightly gross shower facilities on each floor, and most people hang out in a big common area. The common area was actually pretty cool. It had a large kitchen with dishes, flatware, pots and pans, and an eight-burner gas range. Hostels don’t exactly cater to Warren Buffett so the fact that they offer the means to cook your own meals is great for travelers looking to save a few precious bucks. There were two internet-connected computers that were free to use but always booked so I paid $3 for one hour of wifi. I was lucky enough to check out on a day where they offered a big free breakfast of cereal, fruit, sausages, baked beans (wtf?), toast and juice. Just wash your own dishes when you finish!
The coolest aspect of the common area was that it served as a gathering spot for people to hang out, meet, and talk about their travels. People ate dinner, watched soccer on TV, sat around playing guitar, and just goofed off. I glanced over billboards with ads for work, people selling cheap cars, and others looking for travel buddies. I also noticed that I was easily 10 years older than the next youngest person in the place. 🙂
Going into my hostel stay I was primarily concerned about two things: 1) The safety of my stuff and 2) My randomly-assigned roommates. Each room had a large locker (BYO lock) and the desk staff offered to babysit anything of value so #1 was a non-issue. I have to admit that I went into the experience with a bias that hostel guests were all kids who prefer beer over culture and that I would be unceremoniously awakened in the wee hours by clumsy bunk mates. Well, I got lucky and couldn’t have been more wrong. One guy was from Belgium, had recently finished business school, and was in Melbourne looking for work. Another was an Australian citizen staying at the hostel while searching for permanent housing. The third was a kid of about 20 from Tasmania who was in Melbourne to see a rock concert by KISS and Mötley Crüe. He thought it was pretty cool that I used to listen to KISS records (actual vinyl) with my big brother back in the 70s. We were all asleep by midnight.
So there you have it. Of course each hostel is going to be different and the guests can make or break any experience but I think I’ll do it again. If you try it make sure to bring a lock, your own towel, and some flip flops for the shower.