Travel Lessons Learned: Hostels (Part 2)
Now that we have discussed the basics of hostels in Part 1, let’s get to the fun stuff: hostel horror stories. I’ll make sure to balance things out with some stories about great experiences in hostels as well… just to be fair.
The Worst of the Worst
In Part 1, I outlined the two reasons that hostel stays have been negative in my experience: either I chose a hostel that didn’t match my priorities, or I was too pushed for time (and availability was limited) so I had to choose whatever hostel was left. Sometimes, extenuating circumstances outside the hostel itself can also contribute to a rough experience.
My absolute worst-of-the-worst hostel experience ever in Kyoto, Japan, fell into all of these categories.
The Pepto Bismol Hostel
A series of unfortunate events led us to the situation that was our tiny floor-to-ceiling pink dorm room in a dim apartment building in Kyoto, Japan. Our trip to Asia in 2015 was planned during cherry blossom season, which means that accommodations were extremely limited to begin with. With one of our travel party unsure if she could commit until pretty last minute, we missed out on the inventory that was initially available. This left us with several hostels on our Asia trip that were maybe my third choices… but our hostel in Kyoto was not even a ranked choice, we just had to book it because the other option was to sleep outside on a bench.
Given how much it rained on our trip (aka, every single day), sleeping outside would have been a bad call.
We headed to Kyoto after visiting Tokyo, and one of my travel buddies with a good sense of humor quickly dubbed our dorm room the "Pepto Bismol" room (because it was honestly that EXACT shade of pink - even the bedding was pink). I’ll generously say that the room was 200 square feet, and it had 8 bunked beds in it. There were no lockers or drawers, so everyone’s backpacks just laid in the floor, covering most of the limited walking space. While the toilet facilities were separate from the room itself (and added another level of concern which we won’t discuss in depth), the sinks were in the room and showers were connected to the room. There was construction outside which prevented us from opening any of the windows, and after 8 girls had taken a shower and all of the steam poured out into the tiny room, everyone would be disgustingly sweaty.
As mentioned above, it rained every day in Kyoto… and we all know what the mixture of cold and rainy outside and sauna/steam room inside means for me: massive sinus infection. This ended in a level of desperation which led me to gesture my symptoms to a very nice Japanese pharmacist who sold me some relevant medicine. To this day I have no idea what a single ingredient in the medicine was, but I’m happy to say that it worked, and we survived the Pepto Bismol hostel to travel another day!
Silver lining sidenote: rough hostels aside, I got some absolutely fantastic photographs on my Asia trip that I'm still using on the blog today, so maybe the Pepto Bismol room paid off after all!
Happy Hostel Experiences
I share the Pepto Bismol hostel story because it encompasses every aspect of a bad hostel experience: a hostel that didn’t match my priorities (meeting people/socialization opportunities/activities, location and to an extent, cleanliness) but I had to book it because it was all that was available. All that being said, if you were a person who didn’t share my personal priorities, you may have thought the Pepto Bismol hostel was perfectly adequate. I make that point to say this is all subjective, to some extent.
But objectively, there are a few hostels I absolutely love.
Kick Ass Hostel in Edinburgh
I’ve been to this hostel TWICE, which should tell you a thing or two about my feelings for it. Location-wise, it just can’t be beat: there’s a view of Edinburgh castle right outside the door, it is right across the street from a bar I’ve really come to love in Edinburgh that serves haggis balls (the only way to eat haggis) and perhaps most importantly, it’s very walkable from all the pubs/bars/nightlife. Last time I was in Edinburgh, I got separated from my friend on a pub crawl (or she left me, the details are debatable...) but I walked right down the road with a couple of new friends I’d met and I was back at the hostel doorstep in less than 10 minutes total.
Amenities-wise, it has a bar, kitchen, laundry facilities and a cafe/coffee shop downstairs. The staff have always been nice, and it’s definitely a social place where you can meet people. The dorm rooms and bathrooms were very clean both times I’ve stayed there, and overall I just can’t ask for better than this place.
If you are going to Edinburgh, I definitely recommend it. I also recommend haggis balls: down some scotch and just do it.
Astor Hyde Park in London
On my most recent solo trip abroad in October 2016, I stayed in an area of London I wasn’t as familiar with. I took a chance on reviews of Astor Hyde Park hostel, because they alluded to a particularly great social environment for solo travelers. While this can certainly be hit or miss and does depend on the crowd of people that happen to be at the hostel when you are, in this case, I couldn’t have been luckier.
Astor Hyde Park is set in a historic building on a quieter, more residential street. Location-wise, it was certainly safe and walkable but not as close to a tube stop, nightlife or restaurants as some of the other places I’ve stayed. The dorms and bathrooms were clean but nothing special, and it was in an older building with no elevator (so many stairs!)... and you know what?
Literally none of that mattered.
Because through some mix of the personalities of the staff and the guests this hostel attracts, I couldn’t imagine a better place for solo travelers. The hostel is not too big, so it’s a bit more family oriented: everyone interacts, and the staff have activities on every night to give you something to do even if you don’t know anyone. I had a lot of fun exploring a side of London I hadn’t stayed in before but I had so much more fun getting to know a group of complete strangers from all over the world that I now call friends.
I will keep staying in hostels for the foreseeable future, because the good experiences far outweigh the bad, in my opinion. In order to have the best chance of a great hostel experience, make sure to clearly outline your priorities and choose a hostel that matches them. Also, make sure to book early so that you will have plenty of available places to choose from. Happy Hosteling!