When people (who have never stayed in them before) think of hostels, they conjure up words like "horrible", "grim" and "scary".
The best way to describe a hostel in one word is "basic".
That certainly isn't a word to fear.
So, What Is It Like Living In Hostels?
Think of hostels being like a no frills airline and imagine a 5 star hotel being Emirates. There is a massive difference in price and experience, but at the end of the day they both provide the same outcome you are looking for - flying you to your destination in this case.
You may not get a mint on your pillow and daily maid service with hostels, but you get the same outcome you are looking for. A place to sleep, a roof over your head, and somewhere to refresh yourself.
Yes, some could definitely do with a refurbishment, but doing that would put their prices up.
You should see hostels as a minor inconvenience, that allow you to travel the world cheaply for long periods of time - you wouldn't get very far for your money staying in hotels. They're a fantastic place to meet people too.
If you have been to university, you really shouldn't fear hostels in terms of cleanliness - most hostels have very good levels of hygiene and cleanliness, particular compared to your uni shared house.
Sleeping is really only an occasional issue. Most people want to go to bed early as they are up early doing something the next day. The majority of people also have respect for others and don't want to be "that guy" who wakes everyone up. There are unwritten rules in regards to sleeping; quiet if someone is asleep after 10pm and lights out by 11, but majority will always rule. Wearing earplugs and avoiding party hostels and large dorms will improve your night's sleep drastically.
The only real problem in reality is, lack of privacy and personal space, but you can find this outside of hostels, i.e. by going to a park or beach.
If you're really struggling take a break, everyone has done it; get a private room for a few nights - in developing countries this won't damage your budget much at all.
How To Choose A Good Hostel
There are many things to consider when choosing a hostel. Again with experience you will know exactly what you like - two of my favourite, "bonus" things I look out for are free breakfast and free wifi.
Obviously money is the biggest factor - if your budget is very tight you don't have much choice. Like everything, you get what you pay for. Personally, I would sooner pay a little bit extra to stay in a hostel with excellent reviews. Similarly, I will always pay extra for a 4 bed dorm over a 10 bed dorm, as for me, you can't put a price on a good night sleep, but each to their own.
Your sleeping habits are also quiet relevant when choosing. My brother could sleep through an earthquake, so if you are like him there really is no reason not to stay in a cheaper 10 bed dorm. Likewise if you are in a place to party, you may go for a larger room because you don't care where you sleep and would rather have extra beer money.
Always read reviews even if you don't care about the quality. It may be the cheapest hostel, but the location may meaning having to pay for transport every time you want to adventure out - things like location will be mentioned in reviews.
A good idea is to write down a list of your priorities. Yours may differ to mine, but I have listed the main things I look out for in order (if 1,2, 4 and 5 aren't all good, I don't stay):
|My Accommodation Priorities|
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