What is a Backpacker Hostel?
There is pretty much no difference in the concept of a backpacker hostel in India or outside India. But as is the case with any country, there are some subtle cultural differences which are experienced by the hosts and the guests. In this post I will talk about the definition of a backpacker hostel, the concept, and what to expect when you stay at one. I will include references from my experiences of staying at hostels across India (as a guest and as a host) and Europe (as a guest).
What is a backpacker hostel?
A backpacker hostel is a social place to stay or live for travellers. There can be a few different types of hostels including but not limited to party hostels, boutique hostels, posh hostels, start-up hostels, etc.
No matter what a hostel categorizes itself as, soul of a hostel lies in its common social spaces – common rooms, open kitchen, shared dorms, and more – you get the drift. These are the spaces that make the vibe, the ambience, or feel of the hostel. These are the spaces where your best and worst hostel stories are made.
So, in a nutshell, hostel is a social platform which provides you the opportunity to meet other travellers and like-minded people while you are exploring nooks and corners of places around the globe.
How is it different from a Hotel?
Hotels are very rarely designed to encourage social interaction among guests whereas a key idea behind any hostel design is just that. Common room will have things like board games, informal seating spaces. Even the hostel staff is not only to check you in and make your stay memorable, but also to be part of the community.
Hotel events are generally more formal while those at a hostel promote interaction, be it a walking tour, pub crawl, beer pongs, yoga sessions, storytelling, and more.
Personally, the personal touch and social interaction at a hostel is what makes me prefer them over a hotel anytime I travel, especially when traveling solo.
What Services to Expect at Hostels?
Hostels operate on lean operations. While you can find some really interesting amenities in a hostel, sometimes much better than budget hotels, services in a hostel are friendly and customized, but are limited.
The staff will help you out for finding best places to visit and best local places to eat at. They can even help you plan your days in the city. But, do not expect a bell boy to carry your luggage to that 2nd floor dorm room. You can seek help if necessary, but this is not a given service. You are expected to keep common areas and washrooms clean for others to use.
You are expected to wash your own dishes after use in open kitchen. Washing dishes is a common practice outside of India even at home or when you are visiting friends and family. In India, on the other hand, we usually have house helps do that for us.
Once, I had to explain this basic hostel service, or its absence, to few guests when I was volunteering at a hostel in Goa. This guest rudely asked me if this is how I treat every guest, or it was just him because I asked him to wash dishes he used.
Check-in and out timings at hostels, especially in small sized ones, need to be fairly strict as they do not have many beds to provide incoming guests, in case people check-out late or extend last moment. Patience is also expected from incoming guests to wait till check-in time because beds are getting made and freshened up for ensuring hygiene and quality service.
Hostels save you money on your stays and provide great social environment but since a hostel operates at low revenue low cost model, it cannot provide hotel like services.
What Facilities to Find at Hostels?
Following is the list of facilities that hostels usually provide. All hostels might not have everything that is listed here, so best would be to find out before hand through a website, booking channel, or a simple phone call.
- Shared or attached washrooms
- Common areas with movie setup, games, and activities
- Reception (check timings while booking)
- Open kitchen
- Wi-fi (chargeable or free)
- Personal lockers or wardrobe space
- Bed side charging point & lights
- Air conditioning and/or fans
- Swimming pool
- Breakfast (chargeable or free)
- Vehicle rental service or information (just ask)
- Luggage room
- Co-working space
Rules and Policies at a Hostel
Just like in any social space, hostels also come with certain rules that all guests are expected to follow. Some of those include following:
- Be considerate to other dorm members and follow basic courtesy, like do not switch on lights or make loud noise at night
- Leaving your shoes outside in a well-placed shoe rack is something that is very common among Indian hostels, to ensure cleanliness and hygiene
- Wash the dishes that you use in the kitchen
- Most of the services at a hostel are pay on-the-go instead of at check-out
- Some hostels keep your original ID Card (with photo and address) or passport till the time you checkout. These are safely kept in a locker. This is mainly to safeguard the hostel against any unpaid checkouts or disciplinary issues that might arise at hostel
- You need to fill out your details in a check-in register, more details are required from a foreign guest due to regulatory requirements by foreign office
Most hostels follow differing set of rules and regulations, but they are enforced in a friendly and respectful way. It is a good practice to respect the policies of the house, as you are new to the location and do not know the nuances of the place.
If you have more questions about backpacker hostels, then please ask them in the comment section below and I shall get back to you with answers based on my experiences.
More to come about hostels…stay tuned…