Because I've stayed in many hostels around the world, I thought this would make a good topic today.
In most of the world, hostels (also known as "backpackers", particularly Down Under) are regular fare. But in the US, they aren't very common. They are usually only found in big cities, like New York, DC, and LA, and even then aren't as popular as hostels are in other countries. In the US, cheap motels generally take the place of hostels. Therefore, most Americans who haven't traveled outside the US before have never stayed in a hostel.
Often then, people get their perceptions of hostels from films. At best, people's perceptions of hostels are that they're loud and dirty, and at worst, they're a place where people want to kill you for fun (Thanks, Hostel and Hostel 2 for that one).
|Yeah, normally, there are no chainsaws...|
Fortunately, hostels are pretty safe. There are all kinds of websites where you can look up hostels in different city by rating. For example, the one I'm staying at in Rome next month has a rating of 91%! Clearly, that's very good. You can also read reviews of the people who've stayed there before. There's no excuse for ending up in a shitty hostel if you check things out in advance. Any good hostel nowadays has key card entry, like a hotel; lockers for your personal items (you bring your own lock); clean sheets provided when you check in; and many even offer free breakfast and free wifi!
|This hostel I stayed at in Cambodia? $6 a night!|
Hostels are, as well, often much cheaper than hotels. Again using my hostel I just booked in Rome, it's an 8-bed dorm room and it was €10.49 per night. That's about $14! Yes, you have to share a room with up to 7 other people, but bring earplugs and an eye mask and it's fine. Remember, you've got that locker to lock up your important stuff like camera/phone/passport, and trust me, no one wants the dirty underwear out of your backpack. Some hostels also have kitchens where you can make your own food bought in local supermarkets, so you save even more money instead of eating out all the time.
Finally, hostels can be very social! It is a great place to meet people from all over the world. Not only the people in your dorm room, but anyone else staying at the hostel. Hostels often have common rooms (lounge rooms), patios, or kitchens where you can chat with your fellow travelers. I have met other Americans, Brits, Australians, Dutch, Germans, Canadians, Japanese, and many more at hostels around the world. If you are traveling solo, this then is a great way to meet someone to hang out with while you're there. Heck, you could even make some real friends out of it (or at least some Facebook friends to call on for advice and/or a place to stay anytime you happen to pass through their country of origin).
So, I hope this helps dispel some of the rumors about hostels and prove to you that they are, in fact, safe. More than that, they are great places to stay because they are both cheap and social!
PS Coming up tomorrow: "Is traveling solo safe?" and Saturday: "Is couchsurfing safe?" Stay tuned!
(picture credits: 1- imdb.com; 2-www.thesiemreaphostel.com)