an establishment that provides inexpensive food and lodging for a specific group of people, such as students or travelers. To some the word 'hostel' triggers visions of small, dilapidated spaces jammed with smelly, drunken travelers, to others, like me, the idea of a hostel conjures up thoughts of simplicity and socialization. Having traveled all over the world and to more than 100 countries, I've stayed in my fair share of hostels, and my experiences have ranged dramatically.
Overall, I am huge fan of hostels as they provide reasonably priced accommodation, often times in the center of the city, and foster the environment for solo travelers to meet like-minded friends to explore their new surroundings, That being said, as I reflect back on my ten years of hostel stays, I have encountered some less than desirable situations. Below are my top five hostel nightmares. The names of the establishments have been omitted in hopes that they've cleaned up their act.
5.) Sneaky Showers in Dublin. After pounding the pavement all day discovering a new city, a nice warm shower can be everything. In this city-center hostel in Dublin, Ireland, the showers were anything but a reward for a day well spent. As with many Western European hostels, this place employed the use of a shower button. With shower buttons you have to press the button (hard) in order for a five second burst of water to be dispersed. The button in the Dublin hostel shower was placed in a far from convenient location and when pressed shot out a burst of ice cold water that felt like a shotgun barrage. Hostels, I imagine, use the button for water conservation, but this cruel form of punishment, turned my 10-minute shower into a most unpleasant and traumatizing thirty-minute ordeal.
4.) Sheetless in South Beach. Much of the world has embraced the hostel concept of inviting budget travelers into their city and providing them with the basic necessities, however the United States has not. In the States, I've stayed at hostels in New York City, Key West, Waikiki and South Beach. Although all could be rated sub-par, the hostel in South Beach, Florida was by far the most gruesome. Whereas most hostels provide linens either free or for a nominal fee, this hostel did not supply anything. With no sheets, the odorous and stained mattress was undeniable, and the near-absent lighting and lack of air conditioning, made for a less than comfortable stay.
3.) Sleeping with a Stranger in Amsterdam. Amsterdam is known for its unique culture so I approached my time there with an open mind. I booked my stay at a popular hostel not far from Dam Square; the room details were vague at best on the site but it had gotten top-notch reviews so I decided to give it a shot. I checked in and was shown my room. I learned I'd be sharing the room with not three or five other travelers but with 31! The room slept 32 people, both men and women to my surprise, and was comprised of double-wide bunk beds which I didn't even know existed. To make matters worse, I then learned that if I wanted to sleep alone in the bed, I'd have to pay double as each side of the bed was rented out separately.
2.) Cockroaches Climbing the Walls in Thailand. Thailand is located in a tropical climate and with that comes a lot of bugs. I'm sure that in several of the accommodations where I stayed creatures have been lurking behind the walls, but it's another thing when they are staring at you as you try to sleep. Upon unlocking the door to our small room in Koh Samui, we found cockroaches slithering all over the walls, ceiling and floors. After complaining at the front office, two teenage boys were tasked with coming to our room and attending to the problem. We watched for forty minutes as the boys chased, captured and bagged the roaches before they left in self-proclaimed victory assuring us "all gone, all gone". Knowing that there were likely hundreds just out of sight, my roommate and I slept with cotton balls in our ears and promptly found another place to stay in the morning.
1.) Cuddling with the Maid in Milan. Travel issues happen and that is one of the reasons why it pays to book a hostel ahead of time ... or so I thought. I had missed my train to Milan, Italy that day and instead of arriving in the early evening, the taxi dropped me at the hostel door step around 11 p.m. Although I had sent an email to notify the hostel of my late arrival, when I spoke to reception they said they had given away my room and had none left. I was tired, and it was my first time visiting Milan. After about an hour of broken Italian/English discussion, I was shown to a small room in the back of the establishment. I wasn't sure how it had been arranged, and I was surprised at all of the personal belonging strewn about the room, but it was late and I was happy to have a bed. A couple hours later, a large woman barreled into the room, stripped down to nearly nothing and plopped into bed with me. She rumbled something in disgusted Italian and grabbed all the covers. I didn't move a muscle that night. I don't think I slept much either. I woke up the next morning and after carefully surveying the room, it was obvious I was bunking with the maid.
Do yourself a favor and avoid a hostel nightmare by doing some research ahead of making your booking. Take advantage of trusted travels sites like http://www.hostelbookers.com and http://www.hostelworld.com, and read traveler reviews. The photos included in this post are from some of my more comfortable hostel stays.