Why everyone should be staying in hostels

There are hostels, and there are hostels. If you haven't stayed in budget accommodation for a while, you're probably only thinking of one kind.

You're thinking of the boozy, party hostels. You're thinking of hostels that have bars on site, that have daily drinks specials and crowds of hungover backpackers dragging themselves out of bed at 5pm to make the most of them.

You're thinking of the dirty, scungy hostels, the ones with bedbugs, the ones with 20-bed dorm rooms filled with clutter, with crowds of 18- and 19-year-olds throwing up in the shared bathrooms. You're thinking of the ones with half-arsed staff, the fellow travellers who are working for board and are only doing what they absolutely have to.

And these hostels do exist. You'll find them all over the world. If you're in the right headspace, and the right age group, they're a lot of fun.

But as I said, there are hostels, and there are hostels. And it's the new kind of hostel – the modern, professional kind; the arty, designed-focused kind; the friendly, locally-owned kind – that every traveller should be staying at, regardless of age, regardless of budget. This is what everyone should be checking in to.

For a few perfect examples of the new wave of hostels, head directly to Lisbon, Portugal. This is a city filled with modern, arty, quirky, clean and friendly hostels, the sort of places you wished you lived in, rather than just stayed.

There's the Poets Hostel, with its walls covered in verse. There's Home Hostel, which looks like an 18th century manor house, and where guests are treated to "Mamma's dinners" – family meals cooked by the owner's mother – most nights. There's Living Lounge, where each room has been designed by a different local artist. And then there's the New Hub, which has its own adult-sized ball pit.

These are indicative of what hostels can now be. These formerly dingy hovels can be as arty and cool as the most high-end boutique hotel. They can offer a personalised local experience that the big chains can never match. They can be owned locally rather than controlled by a global conglomerate. They can be social environments where you still have the privacy of your own room and your own bathroom.

You don't go to these places to get smashed on discount booze and hope to fondle someone attractive every night. You go to these places because you want a different experience to what's being offered at hotels. You want a social experience, where the people you meet will end up being far more memorable than the place you're staying.


Even if you're not keen on sharing your bedroom with other travellers (pretty much all hostels offer private rooms) there are always ways of meeting people in hostels. Choose to cook your own food in the shared kitchen facilities, and you'll meet people. Hang out in the lounge, or the outdoor area, and you'll meet people. Go on group tours of the city, or bar crawls, or go to barbecues, or eat family-style dinners on special nights and you will meet people.

You're also far more likely to meet and interact with locals when you stay at a hostel. The staff – at least some of them – will be locals. The owners will probably be locals. They'll have tips for you on where people from their city go, and what they like to do.

You'll keep your money local by staying in a hostel too. You'll spend it with people who live and care for that city. You'll support a small business. You'll spend more cash in the local area.

So forget everything you think you know about hostels. Do your research and find the good ones. Find the arty, interesting hostels. The clean, modern hostels. The hostels with mixed crowds. The hostels with good private rooms as well as dorms. The hostels owned and run by local people.

Everyone should be staying at places like these. Every traveller. It doesn't matter how old you are or what your budget is. This is where you should be checking in.

Have you stayed in one of the new wave of hostels? Where are the best ones? Do you think hostels have changed?

Email: b.groundwater@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Instagram: Instagram.com/bengroundwater

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