Some people say the truth of the soul is divulged through either how you make love or what records are in your top ten. The soul of the sort of traveler you are is certainly revealed in the sort of hostels you frequent. In spite of certain high-minded individuals’ attempts to say that hostels are merely places where you rest your head after another cultural odyssey, know that they are wrong. Hostels hold the potential to shape your experience and impression of a place because it is most likely your first stop and where you shape your social network while in a foreign city. Interacting with the staff and fellow travelers, along with a normal sanitary standard, comfort, and overall atmosphere can help determine the course of your holiday far more than the 13th century church that the guide book says is a must see.
Throughout much of Europe and other areas with established touristic infrastructure, the hostel world is dominated by these identikit, soul-sucking corporate hostels. You enter these hostels to a counter not too dissimilar to McDonalds, where a 21 year old student with good English gives you sheets, tells you that you’re NOT allowed to get too drunk (get real, fucko!), and makes you sign a paper that you’ve signed in a million similar places. They’re over priced, they offer shit bar crawls to the tourist bars in the city, and sell overpriced drinks while not allowing you to drink your own booze. Really, it is the most naked attempt of business people being consumed by the desire to make money while failing to realize that their clientele is only going to feel resentful and spend less there.
What makes these places far worse is that they’re an absolute magnet for attracting shit tourists. You are certain to find a host of crap American tourists in awe of the cobblestones on the streets, Australian wankers rocking a tattoo of “YOLO” on their knuckles while talking about how “sick” Bali is, and a whole host of stag parties from Engerland. As a social experience, they’re rubbish. You’ll almost never meet someone remotely interesting and will end up hearing that Australian with the dumb tattoos shagging the naïve American who was charmed by his inability to pronounce the word “water.”
It is obvious why these hostels attract this class of traveler- because they offer a false insurance of everything. They’re located always in the most scenic areas like historical areas of cities, offer breakfast, and describe themselves as ‘party hostels’ but when you get there you soon realize that’s horse shit. Minus a few exceptions, those characteristics are something to avoid. Most historical areas of cities tend to be tourist infested areas where no local would be bothered stepping foot in. Breakfast at 99 per cent of hostels includes stale bread and a boiled egg that will give you the shits. Lastly, party hostels tend to only constitute a bar in a hostel that will sell overpriced beer and surely prevent you from seeing anything interesting in the city.
Luckily, there tends to be a wonderful alternative to these empty vessels of hostels. Although they come in many different shapes and colors, the commonality is that they tend to have an every present owner whose hostel reflects their commitment to offering a genuine experience. They’re independently owned largely by locals but also by expats that are invested in their new community. Some are bigger, some are smaller but they all hold a family atmosphere that is engendered in their design, how they’re ran, and who runs them. At a most essential level, their built around providing a human experience that isn’t overly stylized but that is intimate and charming.
On that note, I’m going to provide you with No-Yolo’s top five hostels in the world.
Old Town Hostel in Tbilisi, Georgia
Honestly, I think anyone trying to recreate the magic that is Old Town would fail. Every compartment of Old Town is amazing. It was actually the first hostel to open in Tbilisi which is quickly becoming a European tourism hot spot. It is located just right off Leselidze, which bridges Freedom Square and the Old Town, while just a skip away from Gudiashvili Park- the most charming park in the world bar none.
The staff that runs it are all great friends and those who’ve left have been replaced by their friends. The owner Giorgi Nebieridze is the friendliest giant to ever exist. You see how he interacts with his guests, the people that work for him with amazing intrigue and concern and you can’t help but notice that for him, seeing the guest having an exciting experience is far more important than making a quick dollar. You come to the realization that he legitimately has your best concerns at heart.
The social experience in this hostel is amazing. The owner once told me that he didn’t want to create a barrier between the employees and the guests so he decided that there would be no reception desk. There is a common room where everyone sits together and where the friendly staff looks after every small concern, making sure that you don’t have some stupid superficial experience. Rather, they work on getting you to see the real Tbilisi for all her wonder. As a result of this, people regularly return, friendships are made, and guests leave with a smile on their face. There really couldn’t be a better hostel in the world than this place.
Madness Hotel in Belgrade, Serbia
You can’t really say anything about this hostel without mentioning the owner, Srdjan Novakovic. The man embodies everything about the place. He’s warm, hilarious, and more than anything else, a dude that seems to love his job. His enthusiasm about life, Belgrade, and having a good time is infectious, leaving everyone in his hostel with a massive smile.
I actually stayed at the hostel this summer, having arrived from Bosnia where I had met two great people but sadly they had already booked other places. Most hostel owners would never let anyone not staying at their hostel come inside and drink there. He only asked to meet them, saw that they were good people, and made them feel at home. Soon enough, he joined us for drinks, playing Yugoslavian New Wave music, and eventually started giving us all drinks for free. He was on a diet so he was off the booze. Eventually, all my friends saw how lame their hostels were and came and stayed at Wackness.
Really, with an experience like that, plus it’s central location, fair price, and friendliness, why would you stay anywhere else in Belgrade?
USSR Hostel in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
To date, Bishkek has yet to have many articles written about how people are flocking to it. It is kind of a shame because the place is brilliant fun. If that day comes, young travelers on a budget surely would be best advised to stay at USSR Hostel.
There is no real historical part of Bishkek but this is located in perhaps the most idea location of the city, just a stones throw from the main square. It is decorated with brilliant relics from the USSR with a massive portrait of Lenin bringing it all together. The hostel is ran by two sisters and their husbands, who speak brilliant English along with a whole host of other languages. In fact, one of the sisters, Asel Mukambetova, lived in New York while her husband was in Colombia.
With almost no competition, these guys could easily hike up their rates to gouge some of the few travelers there. Instead, they offer a really lovely cozy hostel. Every morning, Asel sits down for tea with all the guests, entertaining all our stupid questions, inquiring about us, and suggesting places to go and things to do in the city. You can’t help but feel like you’re not staying at a hostel but just a friend’s place- a friend who just wants to see you have a great time in their terribly underrated country.
Mini Hostel in Kiev, Ukraine
It is hard to find this hotel for no other reason than that it is illegal to have big signs in Kiev. Luckily if you do find it, you’re stepping into one of the most interesting hostels in the city. Mini Hostel is run by a charismatic mental case from Germany named Joachim. The fella is hilarious. He’ll always try to get you to do shots with a helmet on fire, which is a bit stupid in hindsight, but whatever. He’ll always grab the first round and promise you a great story of his shenanigans in Ukraine.
Through his madness, he’s cultivated a hostel where a bunch of young people from across the former USSR – from Russia to Azerbaijan and back to Ukraine – work, live, and laugh together. The line between guest and employee is blurred because everyone staying there just seems really comfortable and equally interested in seeing you have a good time. It is one of those wonderful hostels that you get the impression they’re not trying to give you some superficial experience but instead give you a glimpse to what’s great about Kiev: a cosmopolitan center far more interesting than it appears on the surface
Rouge Riad Hostel Hostel in Marrakesh, Morocco
I think this hostel was voted the second best hostel in the world a couple years ago. Fucking hell, the place is less a hostel than a spectacle of beauty. You will rarely step foot inside a hostel more impressive than this joint. Whoever designed this place should design my future home. It is almost worth staying there just for the view.
Regardless of the beauty, what defines this place is that they have all that those corporate hostels have yet they actually deliver on the promise without making you feel disappointed by the hype. The breakfast there is actually decent and doesn’t make you feel like you’re being taken for a ride. No, this is actually what should be used as a template for all the major corporate hostels across the world if they had any impulse to sell anything but bullshit.