Hostels are one of the staples of budget travel, whether you’re on a year-long RTW trip like me or a shorter vacation. Found nearly everywhere outside the US, these shared spaces help travelers save money and make friends. Though they have a bad reputation among many less experienced travelers, there are plenty of hostels that are clean, comfortable, and safe. Sometimes, however, it’s true that you pay a different price for that tempting low nightly rate. Below are all my worst hostel experiences from nearly a year on the road.
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Bathroom or bunk in Dubrovnik
About two months into my RTW trip, I was staying in a very large mixed dorm when a new male guest checked in to the bunk next to mine. He was friendly on arrival, but since he was only staying one night, he went out to try Dubrovnik’s nightlife on for size and had way too much to drink. I roused up around 3am to a chorus of belches, groans, and farts from his bunk, rolled my eyes, and drifted back to sleep. About an hour later, I was awoken again to the sight of him pawing around the things on my nightstand. “Excuse me?” I piped up in my half-awake state. “Uh…whatcha doing?” He grumbled “Going to the toilet” and ambled off. I was no longer half-awake. He collapsed back in his bunk and I determined he had neither stolen nor soiled anything. He must have gone to the bathroom and not remembered which bed was his. The next morning, he sobered up and we laughed it off. But I definitely never left my things out of my locker again.
Slobbering drunk in Santorini
Sometimes that’s all a bad hostel experience is – a simple misunderstanding you can laugh off after the fact. Occasionally, things get genuinely frightening. A few weeks to a month later, I was in the middle of a week on Santorini. Again, a new male guest checked into my mixed dorm, taking the bunk above an older gentleman who was on a longer stay like me. Unlike my dormmate in Dubrovnik, however, this fella wasn’t so friendly. He didn’t greet anyone when he entered the room or even smile. He did, however, go out that night and get absolutely, belligerently, slobbering drunk. He slammed the dorm door open in the middle of the night muttering incomprehensibly about “sluts” this and “whores” that. The older man in the lower bunk and I were the only other people in the dorm at that point, and I just lay in bed with my eyes closed trying to go back to sleep while the drunk guy awkwardly pulled himself into his bed. Over the course of the next hour he continued to mumble and swear and spit as he clambered in and out of the bunk several times to go to the bathroom, always slamming doors and leaving lights on. At one point, he spilled some of his water bottle from the top bunk, which the older man mistook for urine. He got up to confront the drunk guy calling him a “dumb son of a bitch” and a “piece of shit” before storming out of the room to find somewhere else to stay. In that moment, I was struck by the difference between how men and women travel. From this man’s perspective, he did nothing wrong or uncalled for. He thought a drunk asshole peed in his bed, so he stood up for himself and confronted the guy. From my perspective, however, he deliberately antagonized a belligerent drunk man who had been yelling about sluts and whores all night before leaving me alone in a room with him. I didn’t go back to sleep the rest of the night, but I sure pretended. Ultimately, nothing happened, but you don’t always know that in the moment. The next morning, I slipped out to the common room before the drunk guy woke up and stayed there until well after checkout. Had he not left that day, I would have requested to change rooms.
False female dorm in Delhi
Have you noticed a common theme yet? In four months of travel through Europe, my only bad hostel experiences were a the hands of drunk men in mixed dorms. The solution seemed natural: stay in female only dorms. Unfortunately, the hostel I booked in Delhi was guilty of semi-false advertising. While no men were booked to sleep in my dorm, the property had been practically taken over by some kind of university work study program. Because they were staying for such a long period of time, they treated the place like their home and were very disrespectful to other guests. Case in point: the women in the program let their male cohorts waltz in and out of the girls’ dorm at all hours, frequently without knocking. I put up with this until one night when the girl in the bunk next to me started asking her boyfriend to leave only to have him insist she didn’t mean it and continue kissing her. I genuinely felt my blood boil and shot out of bed to yell at him until he left. Many women request female only dorms for religious reasons, and it is the hostel’s responsibility to enforce their rules.
Wrong bed beatdown in Chiang Mai
Staying in female only dorms was typically successful, but sometimes female only dorms weren’t available on my budget. This was the case in Chiang Mai and I was sorely disappointed by the mixed dorm I had to take. Among my dormmates were a married couple. One night, I woke up to voices and the light flipping on around 3am. Apparently, a guest staying elsewhere in the hostel had too much to drink and in his stupor wandered into the wrong room and fell asleep in the wife’s bed. The couple had returned to find him and were trying to wake him up to make him leave. He was naturally confused and it took some effort on the couple’s part to convince him what the problem was. The husband got angrier, louder, and more forceful. After the guy had gotten up, apologized, and packed his things to go, the husband pushed him to the top of the stairs out in the hall and started beating him upside the head. Fortunately, there were security cameras in the hall and the owner/manager came running immediately to break up the fight. What was truly disappointing to me, however, was the violent guest was not asked to leave. Luckily, the couple was checking out the next morning anyway, but I spent the rest of that night feeling very uneasy. Had they stayed, this would have been the only hostel bad enough that I left early and found another place to stay.
No boundaries in Buenos Aires
For the next several months, I had good luck with hostels, albeit mainly in female dorms and private rooms. This came to a bit of a halt, however, in Buenos Aires. I originally booked a private apartment on Airbnb, but arrived to find it was in a rough neighborhood. I cancelled my reservation and had to find a hostel at the last minute, which meant I couldn’t snag a female only dorm as I typically prefer. The mixed dorm I wound up in came with a long-term male guest who knew no boundaries. He would wander around in the morning sporting scant underwear for far longer than necessary. Frankly, I found it really disrespectful. If I did that as a woman, many people would insist I deserved to be assaulted. It’s a horrible double standard, and for this guy to behave that way felt extremely unconscientious. He later confirmed this as he tried to strike up a conversation with me one day and proved to have that very demanding style of questioning some extroverts possess, while offering nothing about himself and clearly not listening as he kept asking me my name several times a week. Just no clue how to talk to introverts. One morning while I was texting a friend to vent about this, I glanced up and he was just standing around naked! Not only was he extremely rude, he was just a straight up exhibitionist.
Why I’ll keep staying in hostels
Scared yet? You don’t really need to be. In about a year of travel, staying primarily in hostels, I can count my negative experiences on one hand. In only two out of those five cases was the hostel itself to blame, and even then it was only in part. The real issues I’ve had in hostels have been with other guests, typically drunk men. Oftentimes, problem guests leave as quickly as they pop up and it is exceedingly rare for one jerk to ruin my trip.
Tips for avoiding hostel nightmares
With the exception of the dorm in Delhi, I have had great success in staying in female only dorms and private rooms. I have only had bad experiences in mixed dorms, though it is worth noting that mixed dorms aren’t always like that. The main way to avoid a hostel nightmare is to know what you’re looking for in a hostel and book rooms with caution. Reviews can often tell you whether a property is a quiet haven or a college party joint. One major red flag at check-in is if the front desk asks to keep your passport for the duration of your stay – in many places, this is actually illegal. It’s always a good idea to have a plan B in mind, so if you decide to leave early and find different accommodations, you’re prepared.
Of course, running into difficult guests isn’t the only bad thing that can happen at a hostel. You can read horror stories from other travelers on Gutter to Globe.
What’s your worst hostel experience? Tell me in the comments!