Losing My Hostel Cherry
35 years old and I’d never stayed in a hostel before but with recent house renovation bills coming in and two weeks in Europe already booked I was feeling poor and hostels were cheap. “It’ll be an adventure!” I told myself though I wasn’t sure I really believed it. Wasn’t I too old to be getting on with this foolishness? “You’re booked into a four star hotel in Paris and now you’re looking at a hostel in Barcelona? And a dorm room no less! Foolish.”
But you know, curiosity (and my wallet) got to me in the end and that’s how I became a first time hostel guest – booking myself into an 8-bed female dorm at the St. Christopher’s Inn in Barcelona for two nights. I researched hostels carefully and shuddered when I’d see photos of open bunk beds in a room. The thought of sleeping in an open room where everyone could see me horrified me, but a private room was the same price as a budget hotel so it was going to have to be a dorm. Thankfully, every bed at St. Christopher’s has a privacy curtain (as well as a reading light and outlet) so I could pretend I was in my own little (so not soundproof) capsule hotel. That little piece of fabric was the main reason I thought I could hack it in a dorm and booked where I did.
I emailed and asked about the size of their luggage bins and made sure to let them know that I wasn’t travelling with just a backpack – I had a 25″ suitcase and a carry-on messenger bag. They couldn’t give me dimensions but they assured me that I’d have no problem. I was a little skeptical.
I didn’t need to pack anything extra for my hostel stay even though hostels aren’t known for their amenities. Since I was already packing for the beach, my shower flip flops and travel towels were on the list. And since my apartment in Paris didn’t include a hair dryer, that was already in the suitcase. The only extra thing I’d need was a lock for the luggage bin.
After checking out of my lovely room at Hotel Praktik Bakery I wheeled my bag down Passeig de Gracia and checked into the hostel near Placa de Catalunya. First off I was impressed that they assigned beds so that I wouldn’t have to just find an empty one. I also really liked that they had electronic key cards (just like a hotel) not only for the rooms but for the floors as well. I really wouldn’t need to worry about any of my stuff being stolen. I went up to my floor and gingerly opened the door. Thankfully, I had the room to myself for a little bit while I got settled in. I can be a little shy with strangers at first.
True to their word, the luggage bin was large enough for all my stuff. It was the width of a twin bed and half the length. The bed itself wasn’t anything to write home about – a rubberized mattress with a thin sheet, pillow, and duvet. The bathroom was a three stall deal which looked clean enough. The shower room was down the hall and appeared to have lots of stalls, though only two outlets. Hmm…
Getting ready for bed that night kind of felt like summer camp. The girls in my room weren’t out partying and we were all lights out before midnight. I didn’t have the best night’s sleep, but that had more to do with the fact that rubber mattresses don’t breathe and make you sweat, than any noise from my dormmates. We were a quiet bunch.
I made a mistake in the morning, not getting to the showers early enough. I had no trouble finding an empty stall (I had the whole shower room to myself), but I did have trouble finding hot water. Seriously? Bad enough that the shower was the push button kind that only dispensed 15 seconds of water at a time but there was no temperature adjustment and the building seemed to be all out of hot. I didn’t make this mistake twice and was there first the next morning.
Breakfast was included in the cost of the bed but was very basic. Since this was my first time in a hostel I can’t compare it to others but we could have our fill of sliced ham, baguette, juice, coffee/tea, cereal, and apples. All dished up on plastic plates and mugs. Hardly the gourmet fare I’d had the two mornings pervious, but it kept me full until lunchtime.
When asked about my hostel stay now I generally say, “Eh, it was alright.” All in all, I don’t think hostels are really my thing but I’m glad I decided to check it out and who knows, I may choose to stay at one again for a night or two down the road.
January 6th, 2015 at 3:11 pm (#)
Ha Ha! I have the same feelings as you, although I am older than you and have never stayed in one. Once I rented a private room in a B&B in Barcelona where the showers were down the hall and it wasn’t so bad, but that is as close to a hostel as I have ever came and probably the closest I ever will, but I say “to each his own”.
January 13th, 2015 at 4:25 pm (#)
I have to say that, at heart, I’m really a boutique hotel girl but I just had to try it out.
I stayed at the Pod Hotel in NYC where the bathrooms were shared (but they had high-end fixtures) and the hotel I had in Ibiza was the same. Wasn’t too bad as long as you bring shower shoes.
January 7th, 2015 at 2:47 am (#)
Hostels are a little intimidating.
I’m 38 and I tried it for the first time in Mexico a few months ago on my first solo trip. It’s just so budget friendly, I couldn’t resist, and yes, there was a distinct summer camp vibe. There were a few girls with me in Cancun, but in Tulum I had the dorm all to myself and it was CREEPY. And there were bugs.
All in all I didn’t mind the hostel living so much, it was being alone in a place meant for many that got to me. From now on I will bring (or make) a friend. I’m looking to do it again at the Women in Travel Summit in Boston and there should be plenty of travel buddies there! If you want to come check out the dorms let me know. ;)
January 13th, 2015 at 9:45 pm (#)
I think I would try out a dorm again in the right situation but in general I think it’s boutique hotels or rental apartments for me. :) Glad I tried finally though.
January 28th, 2015 at 8:52 pm (#)
Great blog post about budget accommodation. I’ve stayed in hundred of hostels and I love it. I always prefer to have my own room though. greetings from Morocco.
January 30th, 2015 at 12:28 pm (#)
I think privacy is the key for me if I stay at a hostel again. The privacy curtain on the bed was ok for a night or two but if my stay was any longer I’d want my own room for sure.
January 30th, 2015 at 11:36 am (#)
I’m pushing 50 and have been using hostels since I was 18. The only switch I’ve made is that now I simply get my own room with a private bath. Finding a clean place is easy enough. No need to attach such a stigma to it. Weeding out party hostels is a no-brainer.
January 30th, 2015 at 12:28 pm (#)
At the few hostels I looked at in Paris and Barcelona, it cost just as much to get a room in a budget hotel as it did to get a private room at a hostel. Or close enough to push me towards AirBnB or a hotel.
February 10th, 2015 at 2:12 pm (#)
Lisa, what are your methods for weeding out party hostels and finding the clean ones? I haven’t used a hostel in years, and have hesitated going back. Like Melissa, it’s just not my thing, but sometimes I would love to be able to economize more. Any secrets or suggestions you can share would be most appreciated!
May 10th, 2015 at 12:20 am (#)
Actually, this is a very good hostel! Most do not have privacy curtains or serve ham, let alone some of the other amenities provided.
May 10th, 2015 at 9:40 am (#)
I think I’ve lucked out so far between the privacy curtains at St. Christopher’s and the private (but shared among the floor) bathrooms at the HI Boston. I’ve been researching for a trip to NYC and pretty much all the places I’ve seen have no privacy at all. :\