Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The best hostels for solo travelers.

I've been lucky enough to stay in a lot of really good hostels.  They had all the usual perks: lockers, book exchanges, plenty of restrooms, convenient locations, cleanliness, and (knock on wood!) a delightful lack of bed bugs.  But there are a few that stand out in my mind as truly great hostels, and those have taught me what to look for when I consider new ones.  What do they have that the others don't?
Lake Atitlan, Guatemala


1. Awesome common space.
The best hostels I've found don't just have a common area -- they have a really great common area.  It's beautiful, comfortable, and just the right size.

But it's also strategically planned so that it's easy to make friends.  The common area is located right near the main entrance, so it feels natural to connect with people who are just arriving.  The seating in the common area is positioned for group interaction.  Everything about it feels open and inclusive.

In my not-so-favorite hostels, the common space is sectioned off into semi-private areas that are great for semi-private conversations.  These areas are small and somewhat isolated, and the chairs point away from new people.  They scream, "if you join our conversation, you're making it awkward!"  There's a time and a place for this layout, but if you're a solo traveler hoping to make friends, look for a hostel with a common area that is laid out to be social and inclusive.


2. Low-key social events.
Hostel small talk gets old really fast.  "Where are you from?"  "How long have you been traveling?"  "Where have you traveled recently?"  "Oh, I'd love to go there, tell me about it!"

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
It's refreshing when you can get to know new hostel friends in other ways.  Trivia nights.  Barbecues.  Open mic's.  One hostel I visited solo had a Christmas Eve potluck -- the guests who wanted to participate signed up for dishes, we all cooked together, and we had a big family-style feast for Christmas dinner.  Another hostel I visited has had a drag party every Saturday since the 1970's.  They have a costume closet, and everyone helps each other dress up before the party starts.

Events like these are great ways to get people collaborating, connecting, and enjoying each others' company.  They're great opportunities for solo travelers to make friends in a relaxed and natural way.  I'll take trivia night over "oh, where are you from?" any day!


3. Food that unites.
One of the major draws of hostel life is kitchen access.  But one of the best hostels I've ever seen didn't allow guests to use the kitchen.  Regardless of kitchen access, the key is that food is affordable, and that it somehow promotes community.

Valencia, Spain
For hostels with kitchens for the guests, it helps when the kitchen is open and connected to the common space.  One person is making coffee, another person is reading, a couple of people are playing cards -- everything and everyone is positioned so that it's easy to strike up a conversation any time.

The great hostel I visited without kitchen access still had amazing affordable food for the guests.  The best part was that dinner was a communal event every night.  If you were home at 7:00, you could pay a small fee and join a family-style dinner.  It was delicious, which doesn't hurt.  But it was also a great way to get to know fellow travelers.  In my opinion, meals are supposed to bring people together.  I love when a hostel really gets that.


Ometepe, Nicaragua
4. An unplugged atmosphere.
A hostel filled with people, all of whom have their eyes focused intently on their devices...  The worst.  Great hostels know how to discourage this.

Some hostels don't have wi-fi at all.  Sometimes this is out of necessity.  But sometimes it is an articulated choice designed to promote community and conversation.

Other hostels with wi-fi still manage to foster a friendly atmosphere in which noses are out of devices.  The most effective way I've seen this done is by separating the tech area from the common area.  One of my favorite hostels actually had its computer room and best wi-fi connection on the second floor, while the social common areas were on the first floor and the roof.  The best internet options required a special trip, so those who were using the social common areas were pretty universally open to tech-free conversation.


5. Age-appropriate.  Well, you-appropriate.
Little Corn Island, Nicaragua
Hostels have a reputation for attracting young travelers.  And for some of us in our 30's, this reputation is a turn-off.  But not every hostel is a party hostel!  Some are, of course.  But if you do your homework, you can find one that fits well with your travel style.  You can find out a hostel's style from a lot of sources -- TripAdvisor, Lonely Planet, the website of the hostel itself -- as long as you think to look for it.


6. Hammocks.
This might be a little bit excessive.  But I just love hammocks so much.  Any hostel with hammocks earns instant points in my book.


What about you?  What are some of the best hostels you've visited?  What made them special?

I'd love to hear all your thoughts and advice!  With your help, this sabbatical will be filled with nothing but hostel success stories!

2 comments:

  1. Excellent post! Couldn't agree more! In the last few months I've actually been avoiding hostels as I've gotten a little tired of them but reading this, I'll definitely book a hostel again next time :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, they can get old, I can only imagine how you feel after you've been traveling this long! But maybe if you're making a quick stop somewhere you can find Southeast Asia's answer to Yuma's!! :-)

      Delete