When travelling on a budget, a hostel can be a great option for saving a bit of cash. They’re incredibly popular all over the world and definitely have an atmosphere unlike that of any hotel. But is there a price to pay for this cost-effective accommodation? Well, there are certainly plenty of travellers with a story or two to tell.
Of course, most hostel stays are without serious incident so this collection of ‘hostel horrors’ mustn’t be taken out of proportion. After all, hostels have an extremely useful role in allowing thousands of people to travel to amazing places without needing to win the lottery or sell a kidney!
Hostel Horror #1
Our first story comes from Mary, a regular solo traveller whose less-than-perfect experience hasn’t dulled her enthusiasm for budget travel:
“I was sleeping on the bottom bunk, when a friend of mine (who was on the bottom bunk adjacent to me) woke me up around 3am. It was all dark but I could clearly hear the guy on the top bunk (next to my bunk) throwing up everywhere from his bed! We turned on the lights and saw the mess he made on the floor. The room was quite narrow, so the spaces between the beds are small. The guy then runs to the bathroom to do more of his nightmare business, but he barely made it and puked all over. Oh boy, the smell was awful.
The mess on his bed started to drip down to the bed underneath him. I have no idea why that girl decided to stay on her bed despite the horrifying things pouring on her bed.
The guy said sorry but sounded like, “oh, it’s all cool” sorry. In the morning my friend discovered that his shoes were soaked in puke!”
Unfortunately, the partying and drinking that seem an integral part of the experience at many hostels can certainly have some unpleasant consequences for all concerned (and any ‘innocent’ roommates!) Add that to the dodgy stomachs amongst backpackers careless about food and water in a new country, and a little sickness in the dormitory can be unavoidable.
Hostel Horror #2
This story comes from Lia who, whilst travelling through Columbia, also learnt the downside to a hostel full of clubbers:
“We visited Medellin, Colombia at the beginning of our year-long honeymoon. The city itself was beautiful and metropolitan, nothing like the Medellin you see in the Netflix show Narcos. But I guess our fellow hostel guests didn’t get the memo.
We were staying in El Poblado, an upscale gringo-filled neighborhood with tons of bars and clubs. Our hostel was directly on the main strip, and our 8-person dorm was filled with people who were partying way harder than we were. Mind you: it wasn’t a party hostel. It’s just that everyone except us was on cocaine.
First there was the guy in the bunk above me, who was continually adding to a pile of bloody tissues and empty water bottles on his bed while chatting a mile a minute.
Our next hint was a surly muscular guy who spent all day laying in bed wearing nothing but a towel, only to awaken at 11pm to hit the club.
Then there was the dude who spent hours meticulously unpacking and re-packing every item in his 2 suitcases, using all 8 dorm beds in the process. When I politely asked if he could not unpack his stuff onto my bed, he snapped at me.
We endured 4 days of noisy exits and entrances in the middle of the night, a bathroom which was regularly covered in vomit, and guy who we only ever saw in club wear snoring so loud it woke up the entire dorm. The final straw for us was when the guy above me suddenly vanished in the middle of the night, showering me with a pile of his bloody tissues in the process. I do plan to visit Medellin again, but I’m going to find a hostel away from the center of El Poblado!”
Thankfully, drug use is relatively rare in hostels. Most have strict rules regarding drugs and the vast majority of travellers respect them, although sometimes solely out of fear of losing their accommodation. It can certainly be tough if you’re the only one not out partying every night.
Hostel Horror #3
Whilst travelling in Croatia, Danielle discovered that single-sex dormitories have their advantages, especially in a busy hostel.
“When I booked a four-bed female dorm in Dubrovnik, Croatia, I stupidly got my dates mixed up and had to call the hostel to change my reservation. Upon arrival I learned that meant giving up the dorm I originally booked and landing instead in a 14-bed mixed dorm.
I wasn’t too worried at first – I’ve stayed in mixed dorms before, albeit at quieter hostels – but my second night, I completely regretted not holding out for a girls-only room.
A heavily tattooed, tall American fellow had just checked into the bed next to mine. That night he apparently got massively drunk and I roused up around 3am to the symphony of his grunts, groans, and farts coming from the neighboring bed. I brushed it off and went back to sleep without much trouble. But then about an hour later, I woke up again.
This time, he was stumbling into my bunk area and seemed to be sorting around through the things on my nightstand. I was still half asleep, but managed up pipe up. “Excuse me… Whatcha doing?” He grumbled “Going to the toilet” and shuffled back over to his own bed.
I was no longer half asleep. Because this was not the toilet. This was my bunk. Fortunately, the entire area was dry and nothing was missing from my nightstand. I must have simply caught him on his way back from the bathroom and he was confused about which bed was his. But I lay awake the entire rest of the night to fend off any future attempts on my belongings.
He had been friendly enough upon check-in and the next morning while he was checking out remembered none of this. Everyone in the dorm, the two of us included, wound up having a good laugh over it.
Despite losing a couple hours of sleep, it was altogether too ridiculous to do anything but laugh it off.”
Many hostels, including the one chosen by Danielle, offer female-only dormitories for some extra peace of mind. However, even in the mixed dorms it is incredibly rare for serious incident to occur. Thankfully in this instance Danielle was able to laugh off the rather confused behaviour of her inebriated roommate.
Hostel Horror #4
When Natalie travelled to New Zealand she found herself with the ‘wonderful’ combination of drink, drugs, and a large mixed dormitory.
“We were in New Zealand and since our ferry got to the South Island quite late, we got the first hostel we could and had to sleep in a dorm room with 26 others. That alone is not so bad, but it already started with people walking around drunk and clearly on drugs.
We only wanted to stay for one night and were really exhausted, so we just got into bed.
Two hours later, when neither of us had slept yet, this guy stumbled towards our bunk (I was in the top bunk, my friend in the bottom one, both had a curtain drawn) and stuck his head inside her bunk. She loudly told him to leave but he actually started climbing inside her bunk, still not talking. She got louder and I of course started pulling him from the top, so he finally came out.
His eyes were super cloudy, obviously on drugs.
He then got into the bunk right next to us (which wasn’t his but it wasn’t used either) and before we could even say anything, he fell asleep, snoring loudly.
Needless to say, neither of us slept for even a second. In the morning we asked to talk to the manager and since the guy is living there regularly, we managed to get him kicked out.”
Thankfully the experience didn’t make Natalie and her friend any less enthusiastic about their travels, and the hostel were quick to act. Hostels don’t want trouble or unhappy guests – it’s bad for business – so most are very keen to deal with problematic travellers promptly.
Hostel Horror #5
Poor Karen experienced such a mix of problems at a hostel in Portugal that she nearly gave up on this type of budget accommodation:
“My worst hostel experience almost made me swear off hostels for good—until I got to the next one (which was so much better).
I was in the south of Portugal at a party hostel. I didn’t want to stay here, but it was the only option for my dates, so I said yes. I asked a local for directions to it and he was friendly until I mentioned the name of the hostel. Good start.
When I checked in, I went to my bed that the receptionist told me was freshly made. To my horror, it was covered in sand and crumbs after I wanted to take a nap. I complained and it turned out the receptionist lied about it.
Then, I found out that the outside door didn’t actually lock and nobody actually watched the hostel door at night, which meant anyone could stroll in and just take my stuff from my room (first door!).
After getting over this and hiding everything valuable, I decided to go out.
I had a nice time, however, very early that morning, five out of the seven girls sharing my dorm (all friends) decided to bring home “friends” and they all decided it would be best to start at once. I got up, packed my stuff, asked for a refund (which I got with the request I wouldn’t write a review on hostelworld), and booked a bus ticket to Lisbon.
I ended up spending my whole way to Lisbon talking with a friendly Australian professional rugby player before having an amazing time in Lisbon at a fantastic hostel where I made lots of new friends! (I ended up writing the review and now read every single review before I book!)”
Thankfully, Karen didn’t give up on hostels because of that one bad experience and indeed found an excellent hostel shortly afterwards. Just like there are bad restaurants, and bad airlines, and bad plumbers, there will always be the odd bad hostel. Reading reviews is certainly one way of trying to spot them before you arrive but, if you’re unfortunate enough to land in one then the lesson of the day is to put the experience behind you and find somewhere else to make memories.
Hostel Horror #6
The final story is my own. I’ve stayed in many hostels and experienced the usual dormitory/roommate irritations but, until now, never anything that involved a police report.
“Upon check-in, the hostel required that I hand over my passport to be used as ‘security’ in case I stole anything, damaged anything, or lost the room key. It’s not something I’ve ever been asked for before, but I’ve not stayed in a UK hostel for years and thought maybe this was now common practise (it’s not). So I handed over my passport, took my room key, and forgot about it completely as I enjoyed my time in the city.
It wasn’t until check-out that the management of the hostel came into question. I needed to check out around 9am, which the hostel had told me wouldn’t be a problem. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a single member of staff around at that time. I could hear someone snoring in the office and stuck my head around the, unlocked, door to find a member of staff asleep in a bunk behind the desk. Reluctant to wake them, I went on a hunt around the hostel for any sign of life.
Eventually I found a guy in the kitchen, wearing earphones and oblivious to anything going on around him. After attracting his attention, I thought my problems were over and I would soon be on my way.
Back in the office, the staff member checked me out and then began to look for my passport. To my horror, the passports of all the guests were simply in a document tray (no lock in sight) on a shelf in the (unlocked) office. After 20 minutes of searching, I was informed that my passport was nowhere to be found. I am just thankful that I wasn’t leaving the country imminently.
The apology I got from the hostel owner was a casual and dismissive “sorry about that”. They did pay for my replacement passport after the police report (which I had to file in order to get a new passport) but it didn’t really make up for the stress of the situation.”
So, Hostels – Heaven or Hell?
Well, actually, neither.
Hostels have many fantastic qualities that make them perfect for so many people.
- They’re cheap (usually) meaning you can save your money for the fun parts of your trip.
- They’re sociable. Even solo travellers are likely to find some new friends to make memories with.
- They often provide a lot of information about the local area and things to see/do.
- Many offer free tours of the city/area or organised activities.
- The majority of hostels will have a very late (often midnight) cut-off for checking in so they’re perfect for flexible travel.
- Nearly all will have a self catering kitchen so you can save a lot of money by not eating out every day.
There are, of course, the downsides to hostel life. The hostel horrors I’ve featured here are the extreme, but you’ll nearly always find something that irritates you. From roommates who turn on the lights at 2am when you’re fast asleep to the ones who have serious personal hygiene issues, there are inevitably problems when sharing a room with a whole load of strangers. On top of that, you’ll frequently have to pay for things that would be included in a hotel, such as towels (take your own), lockers, and wifi.
None of the travellers featured have given up on hostels altogether despite their bad experiences. After all, most issues land on the scale between irritating and scary, rather than earth-shatteringly disastrous. Travel of any sort is always going to have its difficult moments but, if you can look back and laugh, then it doesn’t have to ruin your trip.
*Do click on the names of those who kindly contributed to this piece and take a look at their exciting travels*