Why Sometimes A Hostel Is Better Than A Five Star Hotel

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I remember turning up at a hostel in Manchester when I was travelling with my buddy ‘Goof’. We’d come here partly to see Oasis, and partly because we were young and excited to be out travelling and seeing the country. As such we planned to come to the concert, but also spend a few nights in the city, do a bit of sightseeing and clubbing, and then move on to some other cities up North.

Of course being young as I already mentioned – in fact we were about 19 – we didn’t have much in the way of money or much in the way of common sense. That’s why we booked this hostel, which must have cost us around £10 a night each and which was enough to cause Goof a momentary mental breakdown when he saw the place. From the outside it was possible to tell already that the windows were smashed – and that the best attempt they’d made at fixing this was to apply a little masking tape. At the same time you could see water and mould clinging to the walls, and then there was the noise coming from inside. At first he refused to enter, but after pointing out that we didn’t really have any other option I managed him to enter. Now after a long ascent on a lift that looked like something from Victorian times, we encountered our sleeping quarters and our respective beds. Mine had some kind of black hair under the pillow while his had stains on the sheets, and sleeping in the bed opposite at 2pm in the afternoon seemed to be a couple of hobos.

So at this point it wasn’t ideal, and had we had the money we probably would have preferred somewhere a little more plush (with pillows included in the price for instance). However actually under the circumstances that would have been the wrong decision.

You see later in the day we got chatting to some guys from Birmingham and a guy from Sweden who we were sharing with (actually Goof did after swearing he wasn’t going to talk to anyone) and had a fun evening in the communal kitchen with them. And years later I had a story to tell – and a story that would even be fit for an article on this website. At the time we feared for our lives, but in retrospect we made new friends and had a much more exciting time than we would have had we stayed in a Travel Lodge.

On other occasions since I’ve stayed in similar hostels. One of my favourites in London is the ‘Wake Up! London Hostel’ which again has that kind of completely dilapidated charm. I once woke up to find a cockroach in my air-tight lunchbox while staying here (I’m sure it’s got nicer since) but I also enjoyed a great night in the bar where the friendly staff introduced us to a group of American girls and got us lots of free drinks. My friends and I came back here many times – one time I stayed here before entering the X-Factor in fact – but that’s another story. A quick look on their website now tells me that it’s still a fun and vibrant place to go and from the pictures along the top you’d think they were advertising a nightclub rather than a place to sleep (at one point they had the slogan ‘Wake Up With Someone New’ – which would make you think they were actually advertising a brothel).

The point I’m making is that a cheap price is far from the only benefit of staying in a hostel. Particularly if you’re young and certainly if you’re traveling alone, staying in a hostel is a brilliant way to meet other young travellers, to have adventures and to come back with new friends and great stories to tell. And that’s something that all the money in the world and a five star hotel just can’t buy.

Photo credit: Richard Riley

Mike Johnson is an Australian based travel writer who extensively writes and shares his experiences in www.onemilebeach.com.au.

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