While traveling, I always stay in hostels. However, travelling certainly looks different as we pass through this time of pandemic. Bunk hostels are no longer open, and the common areas are off limits. I have seen some hostels that are open, such as the Cleveland Hostel, but the space is significantly cut back. Like many others, I know that I am hopefully anticipating when it is indeed safe and acceptable to travel like we had been before time stopped in January 2020.
Hostels are the perfect way to connect with other travelers and to acquire free resources like city maps and knowledgeable staff. They are also typically centrally located within walking distance of train and bus stations, and other lively areas. The fully stocked kitchens with free food shelves and free breakfasts are another bonus. Hostels do have down sides though, and one of those is sharing space with strangers, and navigating their messes, their noise, their expectations, and their social dynamics.
Some hostel spaces are conductive for socializing. They provide large common areas for group seating, they offer in-house alcohol service, and someone/a man is always lingering in the co-ed 20 bed bunk dorms waiting to strike up a conversation with whoever will listen. These hostels are perfect if you are traveling with your 15 closest friends, and if you don’t mind the smell of stale beer on an unknown man’s breathe in the bunk below you.
However, as a female who frequently travels alone, I’ve learned how to identify hostels that are more likely to create social spaces conducive for casual conversation with healthy and conscious travelers. I don’t want people (primarily men) to assume that I am actively searching for some type of companionship. As an INFP, I am perfectly content wandering the planet alone. I am experienced enough as a solo female traveler to know what to look for when booking a hostel.
ALCOHOL. What is the relationship between the hostel and alcohol? Does the description point out its close proximity to bars or the party district? Is a bar located inside of the hostel? Are people in the online marketing materials obviously drinking and partying? This factor can really make or break the experience in a new location. Think about the problems that alcohol invites: disrespectful behavior, sloppy kitchens and bathrooms, late nights coming into and out of the bunk dorms, unconscious noise, and unintelligent conversation. Don’t get me wrong, a beer or three is one thing; but all night and all day intoxication is another thing entirely.
GENDER EQUALITY. How are women depicted in the online marketing materials? Do women work as staff at the hostels, or are all the images of men? Are the bathrooms separate, co-ed, or gender neutral? What are the social expectations regarding non-males in the culture, and how does the hostel environment maintain or challenge that paradigm? Read the reviews. When I was booking a hostel in Belgrade it at first met my qualifications. It had a rooftop patio, no alcohol service, and was owned and managed by a local. However, I changed my mind when I read the reviews. An American woman in my age group who was traveling alone reported feeling uncomfortable because she was the only female visitor, and all the staff were men too. That sounds awkward and isolating at best, and subtly hostile at worst. Hostels create and define community like any other shared space, and if you identify as anything other than a straight male, it’s worthwhile to find a host who will create a welcoming environment.
COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT. Does the hostel support local merchants and residents, or are all its resources through corporate-owned tourist companies? Which events are on its visitor calendar? Does it offer any service learning opportunities or volunteer projects? Is a local managing and operating it? Although chains like HI provide perks and abundant traveler resources, supporting a locally-owned hostel enriches the economy much more directly, and contributes to positive community development. A larger share of the profit stays within the family who owns the property, especially if only local currency as cash is accepted. The downside is that a local owner might not speak English, or speaks only very limited English, but what’s the purpose of international travel if not to struggle with communication?
When I travel, I like to meet open-minded travelers who like myself are seeking opportunities to understand themselves and the world through a healthy, conscious, socially progressive, and compassionately inter-sectional lens. I understand that others travel for different reasons, and the party hostels get plenty of guests. But if your dreams are hitched to a more mindful star, these tips are worth the research.