Everyone’s got different needs in general day-to-day life, and while traveling, those needs tend to be magnified to a million and one (for some). The need for a fluffy pillow, a shower in only the most pristine of conditions, carpeted flooring, a closet with hangers, and whatever other comforts of home aren’t necessarily going to be givens once you leave for your travels.
Depending on where and why you’re jetting off, you’ve almost always got somewhat of an idea of what you’d like to spend a chunk of your budget on: Tours, all-inclusive resorts to just chill and never leave the premises, food, a concert or event you’ve flown in for, shopping, sightseeing. or whatever. I personally enjoy spending my travel budget on doing stuff as opposed to where I lay my head at night — again — depending on where in the world I’ve headed. As long as I’ve got a bed to sleep in and a bathroom in decent condition (okay, hot water too, lol) I tend to be alright!
Don’t get me wrong: I have and do stay at hotels, and can definitely be about that fluffy pillow life at times, but there are alternatives out there which are just as good for a fraction of the price.
I was in London a couple weeks ago. I stayed in a hostel (@astorhostels, to be exact), and asked you guys on Instagram if you had any questions/concerns about the hostel life, because I’m aware it isn’t always the preferred type of accommodation for some; especially if you’re a solo female (Muslim) traveler. Last time I was in town, I stayed at a lovely hotel which I was tempted to return to, but thought I’d go a different route this time around.
Before we get into some of those questions, some of you might be thinking, “What is a hostel?”
Prior to my experience, I was always under the impression of a hostel being this dingy establishment of cramped bunkbeds situated either in the heart of a busy city or the outskirts of town, filled with backpackers who couldn’t afford to stay anyplace else, with no food, and probably a really gross bathroom.
Luckily, a few years ago my lovely younger sister changed my entire perception after we stayed in a hostel in Kyoto, Japan. She had been staying in them for a while at this point whilst touring around the country, and I always scoffed at the thought, but was slightly jealous of how she could afford to stay at a different place every couple nights. I remember first entering the building and thinking “Saira, are you dumb? This is so freaking cool! Why haven’t you done this before?!”
So what is a hostel exactly?
A hostel is essentially a budget-friendlier version of a hotel; envision a smaller hotel with dorm-like vibes. They aim to provide more of a social and shared travel experience via an alternative accommodation space, again, at a fraction of the price of a hotel. Because they’re catered to travelers and tourists alike, their locations are wicked!
They’re almost always in close proximity to main transport systems, tourist sites and attractions, local munch spots, and other hot spots. They allow for the best and easiest accessibility to anything and everything you’d want to explore whilst in town. Yes, you can bring luggage and not just a backpack. Some have lifts which help, and some don’t, but you’ll survive.
Do you usually travel alone?
Yes, and I love it! Either alone or with a friend or two, but mostly solo. Travelling on your own allows you to get to know yourself, the good and bad, and truly adds perspective to life in terms of how miniscule certain things — and even you — are in this world, reiterating the idea of living your best life and being true to yourself.
Your first solo trip is always going to be daunting and scary and you being super self-conscious of the world and everyone “watching” you, but it’s just you in your own head!
The world can either be a beautiful place full of love and hope, or a big bad scary monster out to get you; you ultimately decide which one it is.
Every place, every country and experience is truly what you make of it; I’d always recommend going in with an open mind and open heart, and being conscious of the fact that whilst this may not be your “normal” or reality, it is for many others, and to be mindful and respectful of that. Do you feel safe in hostels with belongings there?
Yes. I’ve got mini locks for my case(s) which I use sometimes, and many hostels also have a safe which they can lock away any valuables for you. You’ve often got to put down a refundable deposit ($5 or something small), but it gives you peace of mind if you’re worried about someone taking something. Depending on the room you’re in, everyone’s got a designated space to keep their things, and only those people assigned to that room have access via a key card (just like a hotel), so you don’t have to worry about someone from another room or floor snooping.
Are hostels mixed? Are there female only dorms?
Yes, and yes! The hostel itself is mixed. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a female-only hostel, but the room you choose to stay in is up to you. Rooms are either all-female, all-male, mixed, or some also have the option for private rooms which is an entire room to yourself! Depending on the hostel, some rooms have bathrooms (with showers) in the rooms, some have them outside in the hallway which are communal (could be mixed). Rooms themselves could consist of four beds or more. In Japan, my sister and I were in a private room with a shared bathroom, and after she left I switched to a four bed. In London, I stayed in a 10 bed with a bathroom inside; Athens was a four bed with bathroom inside, so it all just depends on the place itself!
Cleanliness? How clean are the facilities, especially if they are communal?
In my experience, the hostels themselves have been pretty clean; just like in a hotel there’s room service, mostly to tidy up the bathroom. The one thing no one really has control of though is the cleanliness of fellow travelers, which might be kinda gross sometimes. Cleaning the sink and countertop once you’re done with it, or not leaving smelly socks/shoes out in the open are common courtesies you’d presume to be normalcies, but nah, not always. Clean up after yourself because that’s how your mamas raised you, and hope the person before you has also done the same! If you’re quite anal about germs, you can always pack disinfecting wipes or something of the sort.
What is your experience staying in a hostel as a female/Muslim/hijabi?
Before I actually started staying in hostels, I always imagined myself staying in a room full of intoxicated people. My experiences have actually been great so far! I’ve personally never allowed those labels (female, Muslim, hijabi) to define nor restrict me from doing certain things, and so I don’t think you should either, but I definitely understand where you’re coming from.
As a female, you’re sorted. You’ve got the option to choose an all-female dorm if that makes you more comfortable. As a Muslim, same thing; stay in whatever dorm you feel more comfortable, pray in your room or the commons area, or you can always ask reception if they’ve got a private room you could use for five minutes, which I’m sure wouldn’t be an issue.
As a hijabi, if you don’t want to say hi or smile or engage in conversation with me because you’ve already made presumptions of what I’m like based on what’s on my head, that’s on you and I’m not too bothered. Like anything else, if you make the first move — such as introducing yourself to your roommates chatting with people asking where they’re coming from, you’ll naturally find something to bond over regardless because you’re all technically at the hostel for a similar reason.
Regardless of the communication stuff, as a hijabi, if you don’t want to go to pub night at the hostel, don’t go; this is that whole making life choices thing again. I get that wearing and/or being in hijab presumes this restriction upon what you can and can’t do, but everyone’s got different values and deems more importance upon some things than others, so just like you get by in everyday life in terms of what you consider permissible in accordance to your beliefs, you’d just do the same in a hostel.
Can you sleep without hijab, is it safe?
Yes, you can; again whatever makes you feel comfortable. I tend to stay in female dorms, so it comes off once I enter the premises and of course when I sleep. Then, walking around the hostel or in commons, I either throw on a hoodie or hijab and it’s all good!
Do you have to share a room with strangers?
If you’re travelling alone, yes, unless you opt for one of the private rooms. If you travel with a group of friends, you can always just choose the same room so you’ll at least end up together in a room with strangers.
Where can I find hostels?
I’ve only ever used hostelworld, hostels.com, and hostelbookers. They’re legitimate, reliable, and have a massive range of places to choose from. Just like when you go to book a hotel, you’ve got ratings to look at, comments, feedback, and photos to help make your decision easier. I tend to look at the ratings and location — specifically, how close they are to public transport and town centers. Being close to transport helps in terms of going to/from the airport as well because you can often make your own way instead of taking outrageously expensive airport taxis.
What kind of amenities do they offer?
Most hostels offer laundry services either on or off the premises, and if you’re in desperate need of an iron, you can always ask. In Athens, I was taken to the basement to use the iron in the laundry room, which obviously isn’t room service, but it got the job done, and I wasn’t fussed in the slightest! Breakfast is also available at times; either there’s a café or shop of some sort. Recently in London Astor Hyde Park had a cool initiative where breakfast was only 1 pound and all funds were donated to charity. If you follow me, you know food isn’t a massive priority during my travels, so I tend to skip out on breakfast wherever I’m staying, and grab-n-go whilst I’m out exploring!
Wifi and outlets are also a standard. If you’re in need of a travel adapter, you can grab one from reception (often at the cost of a refundable deposit), which is cool. Same with towels, but I’d suggest you bring your own.
Hostels almost always have events going on at the space itself, which is a great way to meet people as well. Movie nights, free walking tours, or other fun events are always an option. There’s usually a plethora of posters posted on the walls about things to do, just like at uni.
If you’re interested in booking tours, your hostel can also assist with that sometimes or may even have a discounted rate; some might also have affiliations with local restaurants which grants you a percentage off your meal.
I stayed at the Astor Hyde Park during my time in London and I loved it! It was so close to Hyde Park, and literally the most perfect location in the Royal Borough of Chelsea and Kensington, an area I had never explored before whilst in London which I loved. It was a 10 minute walk to the Natural History Museum, and a 12-15 minute walk to two underground stations (South Kensington and Gloucester), which was a blessing. I walked to Nottinghill and Portobello Road Market (25-30 min) which was through town and a highstreet; also easily walked into and through Knightsbridge and Trafalgar Square which was lovely. Thankfully I was blessed with fabulous weather which is often a rarity in Londontown! I also had no idea it was the same weekend as the BAFTA’s, but they were literally taking place the next street down to us which was pretty cool!
Astor has got a chain of four hostels in and around London: Astor Hyde Park, Astor Victoria, Astor Queensway, and Astor Museum. They’ve kindly gifted us a promo code to use on your next stay with Astor; use: ASTORLUV for 10% off your booking via their site here.
Special thanks to Astor Hyde Park for hosting me during my stay in London. All opinions and views expressed are my own.