Are The Hip and The Trendy Ruining Hostels for The Average Budget Traveler?
The first hostel was founded in 1912 in Altena, Germany by a man named Richard Shirrman. The objective was to provide outdoors enthusiasts with a means for accommodations in exchange for household chores. It wasn’t until 1976 that the idea of low-cost city hostels came into the making in Washington, D.C. The development of affordable city accommodations catalyzed a slight shift in objectives, when hostels began charging a low-rate. They were no longer just for outdoorspeople. They were for college students, low-budget travelers, and most other subgroups of young wanderers. The idea spread like wildfire, sweeping over continent after continent, through both rural and urban areas.
(Today, it is still possible to volunteer in many hostels in exchange for room and board. This is often in the form of bartending, working the front desk, or even cleaning. You can read more about this in my article on traveling cheap and taking your time.)
In the last decade, hostels have become increasingly ”trendy” in many parts of the world. All kinds of people now take advantage of hostels, and the businesses themselves take on many forms and faces. Everyone from doctors to missionary groups to vacationing college students crash at hostels. Confining regulations about age requirements in youth hostels have all but disappeared in the last 10 years. Hostels have popped up in practically every country across the globe, connecting travelers to places that were scarcely accessible before, both rural and urban. Resources likeHostelworld and Hostelz make booking your room in advance easy, and some even offer airport pick up for a small fee. Some offer a basic breakfast. In the developing world, some offer free filtered water.
At its core, it is an incredibly beautiful and inspiring concept.
However, the hostel craze has started to come with some hang-ups. This is particularly true in places that have become sensationalized amongst backpackers and budget travelers. The Gringo Trail in Latin America is a prime example of the over-sensationalizing of hostels. In short, people have gotten greedy.
What was once an affordable option is quickly becoming less and less accessible for people traveling on a tight budget. Prices have started to stretch into American rental rates, making it more and more challenging for many to consider hostels as the affordable option. As a direct result of this, more people are starting to take advantage of resources like Couchsurfing. I recently met a couple of Eastern European women who have been relying nearly entirely on Couchsurfing since Mexico, saying that hostels simply aren’t the affordable option that they once were. Additionally, I have met several people in Peru and Bolivia who camp as much as possible, because of the high rates of dorm rooms. Economical? Yes. Safe? Hardly.
Let’s consider some numbers, shall we?
A safe, clean hostel located in a decent neighborhood will run you between $8-$10 in Nicaragua. In Peru, it will run between $7-$12. This prices are sometimes higher depending on the season. Please keep in mind that those prices are for dorm rooms with a shared bath, and dorms can include a dozen or more people. That is between $210 and $360 a month for dorm rooms. For me to rent a room from a local, charging me a local rate in Nicaragua is between $50-$150 dollars, depending on the city, the neighborhood, and whether or not there is a bathroom. I currently pay$60 a month for a room in a safe neighborhood, furnished, shared bathroom, with kitchen access, internet, water, and electricity included. That fee also includes the maid that comes weekly. That comes to $2 a night. In Peru I paid $178 a month for an apartment with internet, a private kitchen and bathroom, and furniture. All utilities included. That comes to roughly $5.90 a night. Keep in mind that was an apartment, and at one point I actually paid as little as $107 a month for a room, or roughly $3.60 a night.
Here’s my beef with this, I cannot afford to be paying rates for a dorm room that are ultimately higher than what I would pay to rent a room in the states. Additionally, these prices are based on the understanding that foreigners can afford these rates. Not all travelers are wealthy Americans. These prices make sense to me when, and only when, there are some perks included in the total prices, such as: free drinking water, coffee, towels, hot water, internet, a basic breakfast, etc. I once said to someone that I felt the rooms were priced very high, I received this response, “But it’s cheap!” What this person was actually saying was, “It’s cheap for you.”
These prices are based on stereotypes. Period.
So what do you think, do you think that hostels are being ruined by the hip and the trendy?
What areas have you been to where they weren’t over-sensationalized? I have heard that in India and most areas of Asia they are still incredibly cheap, and they were in Africa when I was there a few years ago.
**Sidenote: I have found and stayed in cheaper rooms. They have always, always, been the kind of places where I have to sleep with my knife under my pillow and one eye open.