There were 10 in the bed- hostel dorms under the microscope
Good morning globetrotters and welcome to our first GTG sleepover. I hope you all brought your pjs, pillows and toothbrushes as we embark on our low-budget lodging survival challenge. Considering the fact that many of us will have worked our buts off, saving to get ourselves on that plane, it is highly unlikely we will be prepared to splurge on the finer things like a room of our own. Enter the brave new world of budget/hostel accommodation. When speaking to fellow travelers, your GTG has noticed a huge range in expectations from things to look forward to, to concerns that would leave people hesitant to book at all. Without further ado, let’s take a look at some dos and don’ts and what to expect from these mysterious chambers.
While they may be tedious and time consuming, reading them can be well worth it. Sites like http://www.hostelworld.com/?source=hwbingaubrand (link on home page also), provide pages of feedback with a little bit of background on who’s giving it (note to girl travelers, this particular tip is directed at you especially). This is where you get your warnings about bed bugs, security risks, leaky roofs, overly friendly dogs that like to pee in the corner of your room and any number of useful tips. Word of caution, everyone’s experience will be different so remember to put all feedback in perspective. In actual fact, (especially with a glass of wine in hand), these reviews can make some of the most entertaining reading you will see in all of your trip preparation.
There are a million and one possible ways to make a booking for your hostel of choice from online to phone, with the extra option of walking in to the reception on arrival and taking your chances of what might be available. With such a range in accommodation and the fluidity of the hostel market, it helps to understand that any booking you make may be a tad more flexible than other styles of booking. By this your GTG is giving you a heads up that you may end up in a slightly different style room to what you had reserved and maybe the occasional victim of double booking. On the other hand globetrotters enjoy the added flexibility of being able to extend our bookings at the last minute and being able to push the boundaries of what would normally be permitted in a more formal setting.
Size may or may not matter depending on your personal taste but your GTG has seen dorms ranging from 2 beds to 22 beds and would not be surprised to hear of even greater numbers. Also bear in mind all the beds may or may not be full and the amount of floor space per person will vary considerably. When booking at most places you are given the choice of which dorm you would like on the basis of price, gender, and number of beds.
A bit of pot luck is usually involved here. Dorm rooms can be anything from as quiet as a library to as rowdy as the back seat of a school bus. In true travel style you’ll never know what kind of dorm your looking at right up until you unzip your pack. For those not tired enough to drift soundly off to sleep, a room-change to a quieter dorm may be a possibility (see friendly staff section). Also worth remembering that people of any description can potentially snore up a storm so some ear plugs would never go astray if you’re a light sleeper.
Much in the same way as noise, light is governed by the majority rules principle. Given that people may be arriving and departing at all hours of the day, some rooms will be situated at the complete lights on or complete lights off end of the spectrum. Bottom line here, be prepared to arrive and depart in compete darkness and for the possibility of a row of florescent lights that never sleep.
Hostel dorms normally provide lockers that could be any kind of size but the one thing they are usually missing is a padlock. Like many parts of travel it’s a BYO kinda deal. With the switch to digitally-enhanced travel, on a recent trip to South America your GTG was even exposed to powered lockers where you could plug in with peace of mind. As another option, hostels will often mind valuables such as a passport or camera in their safes but will likely accept no liability for loss or theft. It also pays to remember that you may not be the only person entrusting the security on the ‘other side of the desk’. On the matter of who’s roaming around, the tightness of door security would have to be one of the biggest variables from hostel to hostel, with anything from double buzzer to complete open pasture being customary.
Staff are the factor that can make or break your hostel experience. The best ones can be your new best friend, will be fluently multi-lingual, take you to the best hot spots in town, know just how you like your coffee in the morning, offer you their grandmother’s secret recipes and teach you how to cook them, but of course there’s always the other end of the scale. The ‘less compatible’ staff members may not say very much at all, may need to be asked a question several times before offering any assistance, may decide to lock the door early, may require you to change beds every night of your stay, and may even decide to copy your credit card details but luckily for us, these people don’t often choose to work in the hostel industry given the option.
This is another of those factors where it’s best to expect the worst and be pleasantly surprised. One thing to keep in mind Is that low budget prices mean low cleaning budget. All hostels should pass certain standards to be licensed but you may also see non-licensed establishments around the place. Many of the hostel cleaning staff are fellow travelers or local staff who will both be paid a fairly minimal wage so if you’re a bit of a clean freak this may not be the ideal world for you. That being said, your GTG has come across the cleanest bathrooms imaginable and also bathrooms where one might opt for the fresher towel wash rather than set foot in them.
- His and her dorms
With the range of establishments in the hostel category, the segregation of rooms can occur in many ways. The most common division is between male and female dorms, with a mixed option also available. The quantity of these and the choice you feel like making usually changes with who the clientele are at the time. Some mixed dorms can become all male when the football team is in town for the weekend, while the same room might become an all girl affair during a Ricky Martin tour. In most cases the mixed option will be the cheaper choice and your GTG sees no reason to caution anyone against this option.
- Hours of operation/accessibility
The main message in this section is to check check check. Unless you fancy the idea of travelling all night, arriving somewhere at 5am when reception doesn’t open till 11 that is. This is another area where reading reviews can really pay off. The three things to look for would be 1) opening hours, which could be anything from 24/7 to a small window in the middle of the day, 2) check in times, which can vary just as much and 3) How to get there. Taxi drivers are notorious for taking the long way round or talking you into a cab ride when you could have walked just as easily. There are also cases of the invisible hostel, where you can end up walking 5 times down the same street before finally location your bed for the night, reading a review may save you hours of unnecessary searching.
This is the part where sensitive ears may prefer to opt out. Given that most globetrotters are experiencing their fertile and frisky prime of life (whatever age that may be at), you may come across the occasional case of ‘if the bunk’s a rockin’ should I go a knockin’? If you find yourself slightly tempted for a bit of sub-sheet recreation, proper dorm etiquette suggests you check that all your dorm mates are out first and some crafty cuddlers have also taken to hanging a sarong from the top bunk providing some sort of privacy. Ideally though, there will be more romantic location for a more comfortable canoodling that leaves you able to concentrate on the task at hand.
Well globetrotters, while there may be lots more to think about (as always), your GTG hopes this has alleviated some fears and shed some light into the dark corners of dorm etiquette. Happy snoozing and till next week.