No. No. No. Before you start, let me tell you, hostels are not your 25m long hall with 30 beds and four ceiling fans in it. They are not the boarding school hostel with a grumpy matron who roamed around with a ‘wewala’ in hand. They wouldn’t serve you milk tea with literally no milk and a dhal curry with no dhal. Although the backpacking culture in Sri Lanka still has a long way to go, it has come a long way, too.
Let’s look at why you should stay in a hostel and ditch the mainstream hotels.
You Will Make Friends
Yes. A lot of them. And some of them will stick for life. Hostels often have spacious open lobbies for people to mingle for long hours. Most hostels have restaurants and even bars to go have a snack or grab a beer and let the conversations flow. Hostels are like a themed club where people come to socialize. They often encourage meeting new people and making bonds. When the girl next to my bunk was suffering from a dry cough, I offered her a card of Strepsils. And we are now friends for life. Although her roots are from China, she lives in the outskirts of Bangalore and often visits me with cosmetic goodies. In hostels, you will meet awesome people. People from different countries, religions and cultures. People who speak different languages and have different eating habits. Not only you will make friends but you will learn a lot, too. Staying in a hostel will change the way you look at the world.
You Will Save a Lot of Money
Hostels cost ten times less than your average midrange hotel. Twenty-five times less than the mainstream ‘luxury’ hotel. And they are mostly comfortable. I’ve stayed in a bunch of hostels and all of them featured all the necessities including air-condition, bed lamps, safety lockers, power sockets, hot water showers etc. Some hostels even have pools. They are clean, neat and most hostels now have customized bunk beds which don’t squeak when someone gets in. If you’re too shy to stay in a bunk room, opt for a private room which is a little pricier. But if you need to strike great conversations and make life-long memories, say hello to a bunk bed. I’m an extremely shy person by nature but when I first slept in a bunkroom, I said bye-bye to my hostel-shyness. Instead, I made friends with an old Pakistani uncle who slept next to my bunk and showed me documentaries about tree-houses and short films about life. I call him ‘maamu.’
They Are SAFE
Hostels have their staff on-duty for 24-hours a day. Some hostels even have separate security guards at the entrance. The staff is always at the front desk, making sure the guests have everything they need. Outside guests are allowed only in common areas. That too, only till around 10 at night. In most hostels, bunk rooms can only be accessible by the registered guests who have an access-key to that particular bunkroom. All hostels now have lockers to ensure that your belongings are safe. Some hostels now have luggage rooms for guests to leave their luggage if they’re going away for a few days.
You Will Discover the Less-Popular Places
Yes! Ditch the Lion’s Rock and climb the summit of Pidurangala instead. If you are a traveler, mostly a backpacker, you would look for authentic experiences. You would want to embrace the culture and soak up the atmosphere. Hostels are a great place for that. Most hostels will provide you details about less-touristy places. Some of them will even take you to those places. Some hostels I know arrange fun nights, parties and cooking class. You wouldn’t get all these in a hotel.
Hostels are Cozier
Hostels are often your own home. At least, it feels like that. Hotels are not. You will make a bunch of friends in hostels. They can be fellow guests or even the staff. Most places now offer guests kitchens where you can actually cook. And this is exactly why hostels feel like home. Hotels don’t.
You will Share Your Meals
Food. Oh food! In hostels, you will find amazing people who will share their yummy tandoori chicken sandwich. If all you’ve got for dinner is a bowl of cereal (although a bowl of cereal is never useless), there will be so many amazing people to share a slice of cheesecake with you. Hostels often have free breakfast, too.
As I mentioned earlier, hostels are filled with amazing people from all over the world. My favorite thing about staying hostels has to be the unique hostel culture. Most travelers who stay in hostels are 20-something backpackers, solo travelers and sometimes young couples. These people are always keen on making new friends and exploring a city together. Not only young millenials, hostels are often a great base for old people, too. I’ve met so many amazing solo travelers who are in their late sixties and are young at heart. There will be people of your age. There will be people who are traveling for the first time or who’ve been doing it for many years. Once I met an eighteen year old Canadian called Emily who solo backpacked all throughout Sri Lanka. And this country of ours was the first ever land she traveled outside her home.
Hostels are not all same. Each of them has their own identity and unique personality. One day you will party all night in one place and the next day, you will spend your evening sipping a cuppa overlooking the mountains in complete silence.