Words & Pictures from Shaun Troke
As we mature (I prefer ‘mature’ rather than ‘grow older’), our standards often change, too.
Holidays during my childhood were mostly spent on campsites and in Butlin’s holiday chalets, which I guess could be held responsible for my love of nature and theme parks; From when I first started travelling more hardcore, all those years ago in 1999, I then began to experience many other types of accommodation: From B&B’s to Guesthouses, pub accommodation to caravans, Couchsurfing to public transport, and of course, Hostels and Hotels…
So, as I mature towards the age of 40, what type of travel accommodation do I seek these days?
To be honest, it’s still a mixed bag.
Granted, the days of sleeping on bus-seats and floors and couches are over…but, like with most travellers, the battle will often be with budget: Can we always afford to stay in a luxurious hotel, OR, will we have to stay in a Hostel and share a bathroom with a 100 other people staying there?
Today, I’ll be highlighting the Perks & Quirks of low-budget hostels and luxury hotels, and how & why both options should always be considered to make your travel pennies go further, whilst suiting your ever maturing standards…
HOSTELS: Not like the movie!
Eli Roth’s horror-flick ‘Hostel‘ has caused many to fear that, when staying in a hostel, you’re subjecting yourself to torture…and possibly death!
Yet, while I’m only aware of one tragic fire-related event in a hostel that caused the deaths of many young people 18 years ago in Queensland, Australia (because I was in Queensland at the time), it was a (mentally) torturous night in an Edinburgh hostel in 2012 that made me vow never to stay in shared dormitory rooms again…
Long story short:
Travelling alone, I had booked to stay one night in a 4-bed mixed-sex dorm room; Later, unfortunately, three male ‘laddish’ rugby players from Southampton arrived to stay in the same room (I think that, from a male perspective, we always hope that there’ll only be females with us in the mixed-sex dorm…not that this hasn’t ever happened during my stays in hostels, though!)
At 2am, because one of these Southampton Simpletons had lost his security key-card, and, to avoid being charged the £20 for this drunken loss, he decided to set-off the fire alarm in the Hostel’s foyer, just so that the main security door would open (to let out the guests who believed there was an actual fire!), just so that he & his pack could get up to the room (this dumb-ass had obviously forgotten that the hostel would have his credit card details on file, therefore when he didn’t hand over his key-card in the morning, he’d be charged the £20 anyway!)
These three ‘lads’ also brought back to the room TWO Australian girls, that they’d snared at a club. While no sex occurred, the disrespectful loud talking between the other five people in this 4-bed dorm meant I could not sleep. And, just before daybreak, one of these ignorant lads tried stealing my bottle of water when they thought I was asleep (he was somewhat astonished when, his hand just inches from the bottle, heard my voice warn him, “Don’t you touch that”).
By 5am, enough was enough.
And, with no sleep had at all, I got up & checked-out of the the hostel, very tempted to snitch on these morons for breaking the hostel rule of bringing back non-guests to the room, which would have led to them all being ejected from the premises…
Instead, as I strolled up to Arthur’s Seat, I decided that my time in shared hostel rooms had come to an end…
Though, I never said I’d never STAY in a hostel again.
In fact, I ended up WORKING in two hostels only a year after this happened, where I had the time of my life!
Up until that night in Edinburgh, I’d stayed at hostels all over the world: in Australia, North America, Asia, and, of course, Europe. I’ve still a fondness for this type of hospitality, and will always include hostels in my accommodation search when visiting somewhere, because they can still provide everything that you & your standards are looking for…
The Perks & Quirks of a Hostel
- This is the big money saver! Hostel’s often have their own kitchen, that allow you to avoid spending money in restaurants. And, there’s something more fun that having a grocery shop in a foreign county where you can’t read the language on the products (trust me, I’ve ended up buying food products that I thought were something completely different!).
- When travelling alone, kitchens are a good option, to save money, and, to not have to sit in a restaurant by yourself.
- If you choose to stay in a dorm-room, there’s high risk of someone stealing your valuables…or, bottles of water. This has happened to myself, and I’ve heard many stories from others, too. Luckily, most hostels now provide lockers in their rooms (or elsewhere in the building), so if dorm-rooms are the only option within your budget, make sure that you check the hostel’s website (or, drop them an email or call them!) to find out if they provide lockers.
- Hostels are a great way to interact with people (who aren’t thieves!), either in the social rooms or the kitchen, as hostel’s always tend to attract REAL travellers. I mentioned before that I had the time of my life while working at hostels, and this was because almost every week, I was hanging-out with people from all over the world, for a limited time only…and, meeting (and learning from) new travellers every single day can be an extremely refreshing & fulfilling way of life.
- If, like me, you often crave your own space, and, you want to be escape the social-scene when you’re ‘peopled-out’, private rooms in hostels are often a tiny bit cheaper than hotel rooms. Plus, you’ll still have that option to interact with other travellers, but with the freedom to go back to your own room to be alone, if need be.
- Hostels sometimes offer airport transfers and breakfast in their low price, too.
- Because there’s a huge turnover of people in the (dorm) rooms, and, because hostel’s are often understaffed, cleanliness can be hard to maintain, sometimes leading to bedbug infestations – I’ve been on the receiving end of bedbug bites all over my body, in both Europe and North America. Before you book your bed in a hostel, try making the time to read the hostel’s review – if you see the word ‘bedbugs’ mentioned just once, give that hostel a wide berth!
- The YHA / Hostelling International, with whom I worked with for 2 years, are a company reputable for providing high quality standards (at a low price)…even if their bright green duvet covers don’t make for a pleasant holiday selfie!
HOTELS: Exactly like the movies!
Once, while living in Dublin, Ireland, in 2001, I worked in a 5-star hotel…
For two days!
Another long story short:
On Day One, the job was attractive, and, I looked forward to the prospect of having free meals every day from an excellent Irish chef; A prospect I didn’t favour was that the majority of guests staying in this 5-star Hotel seemed to look down on staff members.
On Day Two, the final straw came when I was working the restaurant shift, carrying a jug of water in one hand and a jug of orange juice in the other, and one suited & booted businessman in particular would constantly keep ‘summoning’ me over, clicking his fingers & waving his hand at me to ‘serve’ him, without so much as making any eye-contact! That day, I went back to my hostel room (where I was staying at the time), and never went back to that hotel for a Day Three…
And, while I would choose never to work in one again, I do still enjoy a good old luxury hotel!
The Perks & Quirks of a Hotel
- A word regularly used by hardened travellers…yet it’s something that you can’t really have in a hostel. If you think about it, at what point would you have freedom in hostel when you or someone else is having to creep around silently at 5am, trying not to wake everyone else in the room, when you need to catch that early morning bus? Hotels, I feel, can truly cater to that one word: Freedom.
- The only time it feels like there’s no freedom in a hotel is when they present you with the check-out time! And, the only time you might be disturbed in a hotel is when housekeeping want to GIVE you something, which is never a terrible interruption!
- Clean. Comfortable. Safe. These three words speak for themselves.
- Without question, hotels are certainly in the higher price range when compared to hostels. Quite often, though, hotels offer cheaper rates if you’re booking months in advance. The closer you get to your arrival date, there’s a chance the costs will be higher. If you can plan ahead, then book your stay at least three months before arrival – sure, this loses any spontaneity for a last-minute trip, but the rewarding comforts will be worth it!
- People I’ve recently spoken with – two couple’s I met while in Iceland, and, a friend of mine from Australia – say that the best way to make your money go further (if seeking luxury travel) is the package deal. Here are the websites they recommend: Secret Escapes and Luxury Escapes
- Last September, I stayed at the exclusive The Hotel in Brussels (read my review here). And, though they have an absolutely lovely bar with an endless supply of alcohol, socialising was a very isolated experience instead, as I ended up sitting alone because everyone around me were either couples or groups (no solo travellers).
- Hotels mostly attract the ‘holidaymakers’ rather than the real ‘travellers’. The people who want to call themselves ‘travellers’ – just because they take the occasional weekend break away – really can’t call themselves ‘travellers…something that now applies to me, too! As much as I crave those days of just leaving the UK for months, and not knowing where I’ll end up, what I do these days is mostly ‘holiday’ somewhere for 3-5 days, which in turn has pushed me into the bracket of being a ‘Holidaymaker’ (sad face).
- In most Hotels, you’ll always get the Dave & Babs from Skegness types, the holidaymaker’s on a last-minute package deal weekend break because they couldn’t find a cheap flight to Benidorm, and you’ll get to listen to them complain about how the hotel doesn’t offer an English Breakfast…so, if mixing with like-minded travellers is more your thing, you may not find this in a hotel.
With everything that’s written above (which is quite a lot!), you can see that it’s possible to have both a luxury stay in a hostel, and, a low-budget stay in a hotel.
Sometimes it’s worth sacrificing little hotel bonuses – like, spa’s and room service – and opt for a private room (with a private bathroom) in a hostel instead; Sometimes it’s worth planning ahead to make sure you find the best luxurious hotel room for bottom dollar…
Brilliant websites like booking.com really do make it easier to select what you’re looking for, whether it be a double-bed to having breakfast included to parking options…the check-lists are plentiful! From there, you can then start with the Lowest Price first, and see which properties take your fancy…
My current desire for luxury-budget travel isn’t an age thing, because I’ve witnessed a middle-aged men LIVING for months in hostel dorms…
It’s a personality (and money and experience) thing.
After almost two decades of travelling (not holiday-making), everything I’ve written today has come from what I’ve experienced based on what money I had at the time, which in turn has moulded my personality & standards to what they are now.
Sure, I like nice hotel rooms as much as the next person, but if I’m travelling on a budget, I will still approach a new trip with the attitude of “a bed’s a bed”.
My one final piece of advice is that, one key element to happy travelling is making sure that you don’t spend too much time out of your comfort zone – the last thing that you want is to have the opportunity to travel all over the world, seeing the most spectacular sights, only to have all of the fun taken away from it because you chose to stay at the wrong place (something that’s happened to me a few times)…
Before you book a bed anywhere, take a step back and look at both your personal & travel needs: Are you travelling alone? Will this be a romantic trip? Do you want a private room? Would you be happy to share facilities? Am I seeking time by myself or to meet others? Do I actually like people? What’s my budget? How far do I want my money to go?
Once you’ve given yourself this life evaluation, only then will you know for sure which type of accommodation will suit you, to give you the best trip, for the best value for money.
The Travel Tab – Coming Soon, from Shaunywa Films
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