What happened to the Hostel?

I grew up with a specific definition of a ‘hostel’ in mind. This definition came from my Mom’s descriptions of the hostels she and her family toured in the late 70’s all over Europe.

A hostel, I used to think, was a dirt cheap place to stay. You got a dorm bed, maybe with sheets. You shared a bathroom and shower with everyone else. you brought your own towel, pillow and blankets. There might be a common kitchen, and the cost was brought down because you were assigned chores. During your stay you were assigned a task such as cleaning the kitchen, the bathroom or mopping the floors.

Hostels were the cheapest way to travel.

Then, something happened somewhere between then and now, and the world of Hostels changed. My theory is that someone realized what a good time young people were having, hanging out at hostels. They decided to transform their hostel from a dirtbag cheap bunkhouse and market its social perks. 

I imagine that hostels all over the world began to catch on to this new idea, seeing what flair they could add to attract the 20 something year old traveler. Bars were put in, stylized decorations and furniture was put up, breakfast and meals were offered, and services such as tours and rentals were available.

Sounds great, until you see the cost. 

When Ben and I were in Argentina, we looked into staying in hostels. On average, the hostels were 12-15 US dollars each for a dorm bed. Splitting a hotel room? 13-17 US dollars each. The price usually was the same or cheaper, and if not it was worth the extra dollar for a private room and bathroom.

So, as a travelling couple, hostels were not worth the price. A single traveler would find the cost much cheaper and enjoy the social connections, but for any group larger than two, why pay more for less?

I also found the hostel culture a bit annoying. I would meet a lot of other travelers, but mostly travelers from the US. We were in hostels in Argentina, and everyone would spend their days on their lap tops and iPads, social networking with friends back home. 

Modern hostels seem to be nothing like the hostels of the past. Unfortunately, with the change Hostels changed the meaning of the word ‘hostel’ too. I wish they had invented a new term for the modern hostel, and left ‘hostel’ to those who are just looking for a cheap bed.

But, since the hostel has been hijacked by fraternity-house-like-hotels, us dirt bag travelers will have to find new ways to travel cheap, and get away from that travel culture.


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