Facing My Fear of Hostels

Helsinki hostel dorm

I have a confession to make.


Before this trip, I never stayed in a hostel.

And to be honest, one of my biggest fears before starting this trip was how the whole hostel thing would go. Ever since I can remember, I have pictured hostels as loud, crazy places where drunken 18 to 21 year olds pass out (or hook up!) as they traipse through Europe. When I started traveling at age 25, I thought I was too old for a hostel.  I mean, they were called “youth hostels” for a reason, right?


As I stepped off the airport bus in Helsinki, an older woman followed me off the bus and as we gathered our luggage, she asked if I was headed to the hostel. Even though I had heard from plenty of other that people of all ages now stay in hostels, I was still surprised and somewhat relieved to see that a woman my mother’s age would be joining me in the Hostel Stadion.

As it turned out, a lot of things surprised me in my first hostel stay.

My roommates were not crazy partiers, nor were they all younger than me. I was in an 8-bed dorm, with 6-7 of the beds full on any given night. Although I don’t recall the hostel website offering the choice of a female-only dorm, we did indeed have only women in our room the entire time I was there. It also seemed we were all traveling solo, which eased another of my fears: being assigned a bed in a dorm with a group traveling together and feeling like a third or fifth wheel.

My dorm-mates also went to bed much earlier than I expected (lights were usually out before midnight and the hostel enforced quiet hours 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.) and awoke earlier than I expected. I usually got up around 8 or 8:30 a.m. (which is sleeping in for me!) and I was never the first one to rise.

I liked that the hostel offered free wi-fi in the dining room and lobby.

I liked that they had lockers in the dorm rooms.

I liked that each bed had 2 outlets and a light above it. Great for charging phones, cameras, etc. while you sleep.

I also liked that they provided sheets, towels and a freakin’ hair dryer free of charge.

Of course, there were things I didn’t like as well.

I didn’t care so much for feeling less independent because I couldn’t operate 100% on my desired schedule and because I felt like the others in my dorm were watching my every move (although I’m sure they really weren’t).

I also didn’t care so much for the semi-communal showers (each stall had 2 shower heads, a bit too close together for my taste).  Seriously, I don’t need to see other women as they shower and they don’t need to see me. Sorry if that makes me a bit prudish, but so what? Luckily, I managed to time my showering so I had a stall to myself.

And I didn’t care for the fact that someone stole my watch while I showered on my last morning there. Granted, I let my guard down a bit and stuck my watch in the pocket of my jeans which were sitting on a bench just outside the shower stall, but still. It was quite a downer to my first hostel experience, but a good lesson to learn.

Then I moved on to Tallinn and stayed at a second hostel, Gidic Backpackers, which was about as different from the first as it could be.

While the Hostel Stadion was large and sterile (after all, it was part of the Olympic Stadium!), Gidic was small and cozy, a restored house built in 1881. When I arrived at the first, they gave me a key card, my bedding and the number of my room, and sent me on my way. When I arrived in Tallinn, the owner sat down with me for 15 minutes pointing out everything to see and do in the city, gave me a tour of the whole place and then, finally, showed me to my room.

Which brings me to the biggest thing I’ve realized so far: it’s impossible to make assumptions about hostels because no two will ever be exactly alike.

Do you stay at hostels when you travel? Love ’em? Hate ’em?


16 thoughts on “Facing My Fear of Hostels”

  1. Oh man, I get this. I’ve been in places just like the ones you described (the hostel at Wells-Next-The-Sea, England and the one at Crow’s Nest Pass, Canada) and turned down places that were party central too (Sihanoukville, Cambodia)!

    Country, location and cost are big factors.

    Richer countries have stricter rules in the hospitality industry so they tend to be better run and maintained.

    Hostels are cheap, but there is dangerously cheap too XD You get what you pay for!!! When I stayed in Siam Riep, Cambodia I stayed at a place that ranged from nice air-conditioned rooms ($18) to a mattress outside with a mosquito net ($1).

    Of course if you choose to visit a place known for its drinks, moon parties and lax rules you’ll definitely have a hard time finding a quiet place to chill. Still, there’s often no need to panic… for every party spot there is a quiet haven just out of range.

    I landed in Sihanoukville, Cambodia in the middle of the night—thankfully with some new friends—and we were trying to find a quiet place to stay. The first hostel with room was shaking in its foundation from the music, dancing and chaos so we turned away and found a hotel where we negotiated a cheap night.

    The next morning we trekked along the beach in search of what the map called Otres Beach. It was described as laid-back and undeveloped. When we arrived were happy to see a line of small guesthouses and hostels with fun names like Blame The Canadian and Everythang Hostel. From then on it was popcorn at sunset, ping-pong tournaments, lazy days in the sun and kayaking!

  2. I think where you go a bit wrong in this article is that you say youths are 18-21.. well, 18-24 is more accurate for the “youth” age group. But either way, people in their 20’s are still really young, and should always be able to find people of a similar mindset wherever they go. UNLESS, you grow out of partying and silliness really early in life and you just want to be “mature” etc, which I get the feeling you did..

    1. I always thought of hostels as something for college age people, so yeah, 18-21. At age 25, I thought I was too old for hostels for that reason. As I traveled and stayed at hostels after writing this post, I definitely met people of all ages, but still primarily early 20s. Now that I’m approaching 40 (and was 35 when I wrote this post), I don’t really care for a loud, party scene and am much more concerned with a quiet place to crash after a long day of sightseeing. 🙂

      1. But wouldn’t college age be more 18-22 and even 18-24 in many cases? I’m 20.. I’ve only just got started on the party scene.. I don’t think in 1 years time I’ll be done lol!
        I’m glad you had a nice time and stuff I just wanted to give my insight

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  4. As a solo traveler who is 60+ a hostel works well for meeting people and sharing a communal kitchen. I used hostels in various parts of CAL on a train trip from Oregon to San diego. One near Union Sq in San Francisco was great- nice public area and so convenient. I did opt for a private room. another one I like was is SAn Luis Obispo a short walk from the train station. Our wonderful mgr made great soup and we all shared a meal- it was so cozy. Many people my age wouldn’t consider staying in a hostel but I prefer it to a single in a drab hotel!

  5. Yay, glad you enjoyed your first hostel experience! I must admit I’ve only ever stayed in hostels (except for the odd apartment rental). I’ve just never been willing to dish out for a hotel! And yes there’s been the dirty hostel along the way, but for the most part they’ve been great and I’ve also met some wonderful people. 🙂

  6. I was surprised at the age of people who stay in hostels too! I’ve stayed in six different hostels in Italy, which have ranged from lovely to absolutely awful. The lovely one in Rome was small, cosy and run by the friendliest woman ever who told me and my friend that we were beautiful! Then there was an awful one in Venice run by a man who threw my clothes in the bin and made comments about my weight.

    I’d definitely stay in a hostel again if it was reasonably priced and close to where I wanted to be.

  7. Hey there,

    I have had my share of the good and bad as well. I think if you have time to do some research ahead of time, it really helps in finding a place where you’ll be comfortable and secure. Unfortunately, many travelers don’t have the luxury of time and just end up heading to the first sign for a hostel they see, so I guess a lot of factors determine the experience.
    Thanks for sharing your story 🙂

  8. I usually love hostels but I admit the last time Shawn and I traveled to Scotland I prefered the B&B as, like you said, being on your own schedule is much nicer! However, when traveling alone or with groups I prefer hostels. Especially when alone – I was able to find many people with similar interests and tour museums or other attractions with hostel mates in Denmark and Britain.
    Some cool places too – I remember the one my sister and I crashed at in Vienna was a small 4 sleeper with its own little patio that opened up to look over the city below 🙂 Most interesting was a house boat in Gdansk where I got vertigo the next few days after I checked out 😛 Worst by far was a last minute hostel in Amsterdam – we ended up staying right in the red light district – bit of a shocker as we walked the block and two windows down got a show. The hostel itself felt more like a shelter and we didn’t feel much like being out at night.
    Hope you continue to have some fun experiences! 🙂

  9. LMFAO… I love that you thought you were to old for hostel at 25. I am 25 and that never crossed my mind. I do agree with you on facing the fear of them. I had never stayed at one until the start of my RTW trip… Now I have built a love hate relationship with them. Some you will love & some you will hate. You can’t win them all. I’m glad though that you realize no two will ever be alike. Glad you are on the road… I’m enjoying your post & tweets.

  10. I haven’t stayed at a lot of hostels, but I have stayed in a few. When I was in Vancouver for TBEX I was actually the person waking up my dormmates. Not because I stumbling in drunk in the early morning, because I was getting up early to walk to the conference. Hostels definitely seem to vary. As much as I’d love to stay in a hotel or a private room, my budget can’t go much further than a shared dorm room. Still you end up meeting interesting people, even if you’re shy and introverted like me.

    My friends have a fear of hostels too. They’ve never stayed in a hostel, but one friend said she saw the movie Hostel and that was enough for her. So at least your preconceived notions weren’t based on a fictional story from a movie.

  11. I have mixed feelings, as well. I’ve really only stayed in hostels in Australia and NZ, so I realize my opinions are automatically a bit lopsided, considering the strong hostel culture of both those countries.

    I’ve stayed in some hostels that I’ve loved, and others that I could have done without. I have learned that I really hate the dorm room setting, though. I’m a light sleeper, and I like having my own space. So, I combat this by trying to book private rooms in hostels whenever possible – it’s still usually much cheaper than booking a hotel, but you can still enjoy the hostel atmosphere if you want.

  12. I have mixed feelings about hostels as well and until I actually had my first hostel stay in Florida last year I was rather against the idea of them!

    I stayed at a party hostel right near South Beach in Florida and MAN was it crazy every single night. The check-in area also doubled as the best (and basically only) place to get free Internet (if you had a laptop) AND the rockin’ front bar. But that also meant the drunkeness had no place to go but into the rooms of the hostel.
    Luckily I was travelling with my camp friends and we occupied all but 1 bed in a 8-person (tiny!) hostel room. There were perks though – like being a 2minute walk from the beach. Receiving a complimentary shower kit upon check-in and it was impeccably clean (until we grubbed it up with sand and dirt!)

    My second experience was much better. I was staying in London and moving between two different hostels: My favourite I had my own private room at the YMCA which was HUGE and usually offered to students at the local dance school. The dance students were crazy but they loved having an Aussie in their midst AND they went to bed by 11pm at lastest because they had classes all day every day.

    I can’t get over communal showers though! 😛

    (Hehe, I apologise for the super duper long comment!)

  13. LIke you say it’s so hard to judge them because each one is so different, we’ve had some amazing places that have had everything we could ever need and some that have just been okay.

    Surprisingly, we’ve had far more problems when we’ve tried to treat ourself to a hotel room, hostels for life now I think.

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