I think a lot of times hostels get a bad rap as being grungy, cheap places that backpackers stay when their budget is small. I will admit, when I first heard friends talk about staying in a hostel a few years ago, I used to imagine army barracks full of people in a cramped, dirty room (clearly my imagination is a bit dramatic). During our first trip abroad, we decided to put these impressions to the test. Our experience wasn't amazing (we froze under a tiny blanket), but it was better than I had expected. Since we were traveling for a much longer period on this trip, and we were trying to be as economically efficient as possible (that's the nice way of saying we're cheap), we gave hostels another shot. After a month of traveling, we've stayed in four and plan on staying in more.
Here's the truth about what staying in a hostel is really like:
Unless you plan on dishing out a lot of money, you will probably stay in an 8, 10, or even 12 person room and will most likely share a bathroom. If you've ever lived in a college dorm or sorority house, it's pretty much the same (and you're really only using your room to sleep while traveling anyway right?).
Don't expect a lot of extras. Most of the time you get your standard blanket and pillow and generally a locker to store your valuables (always remember to bring a lock with you). However, there are a few things that you should either bring with you or plan to spend a little money on.
One of our biggest tips is to make friends with reception. Something as small as making conversation, getting to know their story and asking questions can make all the difference. Striking up a conversation with a worker in Oxford got us an invitation to a staff dinner. Asking a few questions at our hostel in Galway got us a complete guide to every restaurant and bar that a local would suggest. They are the locals and the experts, so don't be afraid to ask for their help - it can totally change the tone of your trip.
Part of a good hostel's job is to bring travelers together to meet new people and share experiences. Many places will offer free walking tours or bar crawls in an effort to show guests the best parts of the city and to help people experience a new place with other travelers. ALWAYS do the free walking tour. It is absolutely the best way to see highlights of the city, learn about its history and get to know people from around the world on your walk from monument to monument.
Staying in a hostel can give your trip a very different feel and bring you closer to locals and other travelers. If you're willing to cut out a few luxuries that come with Airbnb or hotels, they can keep your bank account from draining. Hostels definitely aren't glamorous, but they can be a lot of fun and very cost effective. So next time you're heading on a trip, give hostels a chance - it may change the way you travel.