How to Stay in a Hostel if You’re Old

March 22, 2014


There are just a few things you should probably know about me before I get started with this post. Here goes:

1. I am broke.

2. I have the pretty regular habit of convincing myself that I “deserve” stuff I cannot afford, like nice hotel rooms and airplane tickets and dresses I probably won’t wear. I’m never entirely sure what I’ve done to deserve this stuff. BUT SHUT UP, REASONABLE MIND-VOICE. NOW HERE’S MY CREDIT CARD, AND GIVE ME MY STUFFS.

3. I have very recently realized that my aforementioned habit has lead to my aforementioned broke-ness. I know. I probably should have realized this way before now. But I have never been particularly good at personal finances. Or logical reasoning. Or, really, basic common sense.

4. I have recently vowed to stop buying stuff I can’t afford. Because, you know, I kind of like my kidneys, and it would be a shame to have to sell them off, so I can pay off my credit card.

And  that’s how I found myself staying in a hostel in New York City when I was there for Women’s Travel Fest a few weeks ago.

And, you know what, despite being really old and crotchedy and used to creature comforts, like, say, not having to share my bathroom with strangers, I really didn’t mind it.

In fact, I’d maybe even do it again.

After all, it’s a good way to travel and keep my kidneys.

Win, win!

Tips for Staying in a Hostel if You’re Old

Tip # 1: Book a private room
Here’s a fun fact about hostels that you might not know if the last time you stayed in one you were eighteen years old and on your first trip overseas and you didn’t mind sleeping in rooms full of strangers because THIS IS A FUN ADVENTURE, YOU GUYS, LET’S ALL BE FRIENDS RIGHT NOW:

They usually have private rooms.

Granted the private rooms are nothing fancy.

For example, this was my private room in the hostel in New York City:



It was just big enough to fit the ridiculous amount of shoes I had packed.

Yes, I did pack two pairs of boots. Sue me.

Yes, I did pack two pairs of boots. Sue me.

I had to share a bathroom on the hallway, but I did have my very own sink and mirror.

The rest of my hostel room.

The rest of my hostel room.

Which came in handy for all those times when it was necessary to take mirror selfies.

Mirror selfie time!

Mirror selfie time!

And, let’s just say, there were a lot of those times.

Don't ask.

Don’t ask.

Tip #2: Ear plugs
Here’s something else you need to know about me: I have the super-sonic sleep-hearing of a fruit bat.

It doesn’t matter that I’m old and the rest of my body parts have started to soften and malfunction.  A pin could drop on a pillow in Argentina, and I would hear it in my sleep and wake up.

I can’t sleep through other people snoring or talking or stomping up the stairs in the middle of the night. And there was a lot of that going on in the hostel where I stayed because the walls were made out of tissue paper and take-out containers and KIDS THESE DAYS AND THEIR NOISE.

I could hear everything through those walls. Including a whole lot of things I can’t un-hear.

These earplugs saved my life.


And the lives of everyone else in that hostel because I am not a nice person when I don’t get my sleep.

Tip #3: Don’t eat the free breakfast.
Here’s another fun fact about hostels: you usually get a free breakfast.

There aren’t a whole lot of things I love more in this life than breakfast. Besides, maybe dinner. And lunch. And second breakfast.

So I’m pretty much the last person on earth to skip a breakfast — especially a free breakfast — because FREE BREAKFAST, YOU GUYS.

But I didn’t eat a single free breakfast in the hostel in New York City.

When I was younger and stayed in hostels, I would make a point of eating as much of the free breakfast as possible. Even if that meant elbowing French teenagers in the stomach so I could get more cornflakes. Because, hey, I was young and poor and maybe if I ate enough breakfast I could skip lunch and save money.

But these days I’m old, and have a job that pays me cash-money, and skip lunch? But why?

Besides I was in NEW YORK FREAKING CITY. I wasn’t about to waste stomach space on a decent free breakfast, when I could have breakfast served to me on a silver platter.

Not free. But AMAZING.


Sure, it was not free. It wasn’t even cheap. But I deserved it.

Nevermind, that I have no idea what I did to deserve it. JUST SHUT UP, REASONABLE MIND-VOICE. AND GIVE ME MY FANCY-PANTS BREAKFAST ALREADY.

Are you old? Do you stay in hostels? How do you survive them?
P.S. Voting for the Bloggies closes this Sunday, March 23rd, and my blog is up for Most Humorous Weblog. Vote for me — pretty, pretty please with sparkles and cookies and unicorns on top!

I've blathered on long enough! Now it's your turn!

  1. On March 22, 2014 at 4:36 pm Kathryn said:

    Oh, yes. I love private rooms in hostels. You get the privacy of being able to lock your door and the option of being social in the common areas. Best of both worlds. It’s also worth asking if the hostel arranges tours, since some have a minimum number of sign ups to run and that way you can meet the requirement without resorting to soliciting strangers on the street, since that could be taken the wrong way.

    • On March 23, 2014 at 10:27 am Sally said:

      Good point! I did that a lot when I was traveling in Asia — it was a great way to join a tour and meet people. Although, I have to say I was really not social at all in NYC. I was too busy eating ALL THE FOOD to make friends.

    • On November 16, 2016 at 9:15 am adel said:

      I Enjoyed reading about your experience in hostels when older, it seems the young do not have the respect for older for quiet. some stay for work in the area until finding a place and its very hard going to work on little sleep when men play pool and holler until one in the morning. this is how it is in a Hostel in Cumberland bc.smell of stale beer but a pub across the way. more a party shak.

  2. On March 22, 2014 at 4:51 pm DonnaM said:


    I’d like to try but I am not sure I would be welcome in a hostel, even in a single room. I am the one who wears earplugs so I don’t wake myself up snoring. I figure if I pay the big bucks they can’t kick me out, right?

    Embarrassing but true.


  3. On March 22, 2014 at 6:44 pm Vagabond Tim said:

    Hostels are a great way to save some cash, if you do find yourself going mad with kid murdering homicidal thoughts (It happens to me a lot) then just take a day or two in a posh hotel (assuming you have the same ‘I deserve it’ problem Sally and I apparently do)

    I should state that I have stayed in places where hot water is a luxury… so maybe don’t take my advice.

  4. On March 22, 2014 at 7:38 pm Sonya said:

    Sally, It’s been a month that I stayed in a hostel, apparently the most fancy one in Europe after not having been to one in almost twenty years. Let me begin by saying it was OK. I had a private room with a bath which was nice (modern and very clean). The noise I had anticipated and also gotten ear plugs. What I wasn’t prepared for was the mattress. I am just too old for what was a very thin foam mattress on a wooden board. The first night was bad, the second night was hell. I woke up all cranky and with back-pain. Not really worth the hundred bucks I saved. So while I was thinking I should become a bit more adventurous again, most important to me is a good nights sleep for which I need a safe, clean, somewhat quiet and comfortable (firm) mattress. 🙂 Cheers & happy travels, Sonya

    • On March 23, 2014 at 10:24 am Sally said:

      Oh, yes, I was definitely missing my bed after a few days in the hostel. The mattress wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t MY mattress (which is AMAZING). One more reason I’m happy to have a permanent home again — a nice mattress to return to!

  5. On March 22, 2014 at 11:10 pm ChinaMatt said:

    I had an amazing private hostel room (with a private bathroom/shower) in Reykjavik. But it was a bit far from downtown. I couldn’t afford the private the room in Boston, but I had a surprisingly quiet 4-bed dorm there. And the free breakfast was decent–I had expected to just get coffee and run out to find real food.
    ChinaMatt recently posted..A Parade in Taipei

  6. On March 23, 2014 at 1:28 am Carmel said:

    Yes, I’m not only old, but old and married. It makes staying in hostels particularly difficult, but we have stuck to pretty much the same criteria when we’ve ventured down that road. Finding a double private room can be harder in certain cities, but not impossible. I’d be interested in finding out where you stayed in NYC since we may be heading there this summer for a couple nights. I agree on not wasting stomach space in a city like New York.

    Oh, and I also have supersonic hearing. Shawn hates it, but not as much as me. I think I wear the same kind of earplugs as you do. I brought 150 pairs with me for our RTW and I’m close to running out. I made my mom ship some to my aunt’s house in Spain so I can get them when we visit later this spring. Yep, that’s how desperate I am for my earplugs.
    Carmel recently posted..HELLFIRE PASS

    • On March 23, 2014 at 10:22 am Sally said:

      I stayed at the International Hostel in Chelsea. It was a great location — right next to Donut Plant… and, well, other stuff. But, yeah, bring your ear plugs. And there was no wifi in the rooms — only the common areas. Which was kind of annoying as the common area was also super loud pretty much all the time.

  7. On March 23, 2014 at 6:00 am Rebecca said:

    I’ve only stayed once in a hostel, the Banana Bungalow in San Diego. It has no private room that I know of, but it is right on the beach and has a nice sized deck with a glorious view. It not only has free breakfast, but often has dinners that you can buy for just a buck or two, burgers and that kind of thing.

    I didn’t eat any of their food bc I’d brought my own from a grocery store. Use of a fridge and kitchen to save on food is one of the nice things about hostels.

    I am an extremely light sleeper, but I exhausted myself so much each day that I managed to sleep ok…even on the top bunk that was mine. And I am way older than you.

    My sister buys huge packs of cheap ear plugs, but they don’t stay in my ears. I saw a fairly expensive set at Walgreens which was supposed to have excellent noise canceling abilities, but I don’t know that I can keep track of something so tiny that is used primarily for sleeping while traveling. I fear I’ll either lose one in a bed or leave them behind.

    I’d just like to mention that, in some places, getting a room share in an apartment through Air BnB may often be about the same price as a private room in a big city hostel. You may still have to share a bath and kitchen, but with far fewer ppl. Of course, you will want one with lots of positive reviews.

  8. On March 23, 2014 at 9:58 am Tracey - Life Changing Year said:

    Private rooms are definitely the way I like to stay in hostels. I’ve survived one in Munich that had 100 beds and hostels have never been as appealing after that torture. I’m still waiting on my unicorn from the last voting thing but I cast my vote for you anyhoo!
    Tracey – Life Changing Year recently posted..Favourite Fotos – Family Famous Sayings Out In The World!

  9. On March 23, 2014 at 10:12 am Tom @ Waegook Tom said:

    I’m starting to veer away from hostels more and more now. Well, dorm rooms anyway. I just can’t deal with those pesky teenagers and THEIR NOISE anymore. In Belgrade, Serbia, the hostel I stayed at, Star Hostel, was just such a colossal shithole and my roommates were assholes who kept me up all night. Ditto the staff. I wish I’d had a private room, and some earplugs.

    Tom @ Waegook Tom recently posted..Taiwanese Breakfast Food Heaven

    • On March 23, 2014 at 10:18 am Sally said:

      Dorm rooms are the worst. I did get lucky when I was in Manitoulin Island in Ontario last year. I came during off-season and the only place that was accepting reservations was a hostel. They didn’t have any single rooms and I couldn’t afford the double, so I opted for the dorm. Luckily, since it was during off season, I had the whole place to myself. So nice! Plus, the couple who ran the place were super nice (and their free breakfast was the BOMB). So, overall, it just felt like I was staying in a B&B… with one very large room for myself.

  10. On March 23, 2014 at 11:55 am Brian said:

    We’re old (43) and often, but not always, book private rooms in hostels. We’re almost never the oldest folks in the place.

    We find that hostels are great places for meeting other travelers, and that is a perk you don’t really get with other types of accommodations. Hostels also typically have free wifi (which is huge for us) and kitchens (also huge) that often make them a good place to stay.

    But we’ve found that they’re not always the cheapest rooms available. A double room in budget hotels, especially in certain European cities, are often cheaper for a couple than hostels which charge per-person rates. And studio apartments through places like AirBnB can be really good deals.

    So we mix and match between private hostel rooms, typical hotels and apartment rentals.

    • On March 30, 2014 at 6:35 pm Sally said:

      The free wifi is the best. I’m always shocked when I stay at fancy hotels and have to pay for wifi. Like, what? The mega-bucks I spent on my bill isn’t enough to cover some measly wifi.

    • On November 4, 2014 at 1:40 am Pleddie said:

      Brian, 43 IS NOT old! I suspect you are mature, but it is even better, if you are not. I hope I never grow up and I never get old. I am 77 and I am planning all the things I want to do for my next 23 years. You should be thinking about your next 57 years.

  11. On March 23, 2014 at 3:20 pm s said:

    This is hilarious, I would totally have come to see you talk in nyc except that I was on my first solo trip, staying at a hostel, and at times thinking I was too old for it. Fortunately, the 21ish yr olds I shared the room with were awesome people, so I actually enjoyed hanging out w them (although I did also enjoy my earplugs and fancy breakfast out! And the posh hotel I got for the very last night of my trip!)

  12. On March 23, 2014 at 4:47 pm Mandie said:

    I just indulge my Peter Pan syndrome and refuse to acknowledge the fact that I’m over 30 (shhh!) After a few drinks, the college kids are nice enough to pretend to believe I’m only 26. Hehe. It helps to have grown up in a small house with a family of 7 – I can sleep through a hurricane! Also, I totally voted for you! Can I get one of those uni-cats? 🙂

  13. On March 23, 2014 at 5:54 pm Leslie in Portland, Oregon said:

    When I was 17 and 21, I spent two summers staying in hostels in Europe, and I thought they were great (except for the notorious Munich hostel with its early lock-out curfew). When I moved to NYC at 23, my employer put me up for a few nights in a midtown hotel room that looked a lot like your hostel room, except instead of a tree outside the window there was a solid brick wall about 12″ away. Now, decades later (yes, I am truly old), my husband and I prefer renting a room, apartment or house through AirB&B or one of its ilk wherever we go for more than one night. As long as we’ve make sure we knew what we’ve been getting beforehand, we’ve been very happy with AirB&B. After reading this post, though, I’m going to check out hostels in Brooklyn the next time I visit my son there by myself. (I sleep on a futon at home so a hard mattress is fine, but I’d want a private room and earplugs.) No matter how much money I have, I find it difficult to justify (to myself) spending it on large-city hotel rooms rather than what is outside those hotels. Thanks for the update on the Chelsea hostel!

    • On March 30, 2014 at 6:27 pm Sally said:

      Agreed! I can totally justify splurging on a nice hotel if I plan on spending time there. But when I go to NYC, I’m not going to sit in my hotel room. I’m going to be running around town eating ALL THE FOOD!

  14. On March 23, 2014 at 9:02 pm Kelly @Try New Things said:

    I am 55 years old and I stayed in hostels in Greece, Thailand and Croatia and they were amazing (except one which I am forever scarred). Clean, well located, comfortable (some bordered on amazing)swimming pools, a view, white washed patio with a sunset.One was right on the beach. I have spent my life in 5 star hotels paid for by the company and these were as good and better in some ways. I met lots of great people in these hostels and saved money in the process.

    • On March 30, 2014 at 6:24 pm Sally said:

      Okay, so all of that sounds great, but now all I really want to know about is that one that left you forever scarred. Come on! Spill the story!

  15. On March 23, 2014 at 9:15 pm Val said:

    I am old(ish) and stay in hostels. I always want to stay in private rooms but I also am broke so I stay in dorms. But every day I say “I’m too old for this!” I usually skip the hostel breakfasts because there’s only so much toast a girl can eat and I avoid it when they have make your own pancakes because I don’t want everyone else to see how inept I am at making pancakes. Plus, I totally deserve to eat out 🙂
    Val recently posted..Life lately.

    • On March 30, 2014 at 6:23 pm Sally said:

      Make your own pancakes? Why would I do that while traveling? That sounds like COOKING. I thought the whole point of traveling was so that you got out of mundane tasks like cooking and cleaning.

  16. On March 24, 2014 at 10:29 pm Alana - Paper Planes said:

    Just came back from a month in Italy and there were entire families – parents and 2-3 kids – staying in all the hostels I stayed at. It didn’t seem strange or out of place…

    About the breakfasts, I would also suggest not paying for the buffet breakfast ‘deals’. I’d rather spend $6 on just a coffee and bagel than all I can eat questionable eggs and sausage…
    Alana – Paper Planes recently posted..>> What I Did Wrong in Italy >>

  17. On March 25, 2014 at 8:26 am Marta said:

    So how old exactly are you? From your selfies you rather look very young to me, but who knows, maybe the photos were photoshoped? ;)From the titel I expected an old lady with a walking stick who couldn’t go up the stairs in a hostel where there is no elevator! Either way glad you had a good experience and could sleep through the night. As a hint not all the hostels are noisy, there are some I stayed at that were super peaceful. I also shared dorms with old people (My idea of old) and they were really cool about it, so I think no matter the age, if there is a will there is a way for everything!
    Marta recently posted..No feed items at the moment

    • On March 30, 2014 at 6:14 pm Sally said:

      I’m 38, and no photo-shopped selfies for me. But I am really good at holding the camera in a way that you can’t see all my grey hair. 🙂

  18. On March 26, 2014 at 10:25 am Naomi said:

    I’m old, 50 next month woop whoop!, and don’t mind the shared dorm at all. Mind you, I usually pick the quieter hostels, it’s usually pretty obvious which hostels attract the young rowdy crowd from website reviews and guidebooks and I tend to avoid them.
    As for being an old fogey, I’ve made some great mates in their early 20s who really appreciate meeting and chatting with me and even going out and getting wasted with me. I don’t find the youngsters ageist at all, I think it’s a mindset we impose on ourselves.
    As much as I’d love to have a private room, I can’t really justify the cost. Then again, I can pretty well sleep through anything. Without earplugs, lucky me!
    Naomi recently posted..The seven kilo challenge – penultimate chapter

    • On March 30, 2014 at 6:10 pm Sally said:

      I tend to think I’m in my mid-20s, so I have no trouble hanging out with 20-year-olds and have a lot of much younger friends. But, yeah, I don’t want to sleep in a dorm room with them. Mind you, I wouldn’t want to sleep in a room full of old fogeys either. Bunch of snorers!

  19. On March 28, 2014 at 12:47 am Ceri said:

    I used to love staying in hostels but now I guess … I’m getting older too. :/ I always look at the private rooms in hostels if I’m on a budget too! Ha! Old and crotchety.
    Ceri recently posted..Update on the Hospital Situation

  20. On March 28, 2014 at 1:37 am Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) said:

    Totally agree on skipping free breakfasts even though free food normally = win! I mean, in Vietnam, everywhere we went they kept saying we could get free breakfast and we kept asking if we could get a discount if they didn’t give us breakfast. Because why would I want stale bread and scary margarine for breakfast when I can have a delicious bowl of pho for $1?
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..How to Travel from Hue to Savannakhet by Bus

    • On March 30, 2014 at 6:04 pm Sally said:

      Agreed! Why waste valuable stomach space — especially in Vietnam where the breakfast noodles are amazing and so cheap! And, oh god, the ICED COFFEE. I’m sure no hostel is serving up that stuff as good as they serve it at the roadside stalls.

  21. On March 29, 2014 at 3:37 pm Stephanie - The Travel Chica said:

    Yep, reading this just proves that I’m old.
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..Photography 101: How to use light and color at night

  22. On March 31, 2014 at 9:42 pm Laura said:

    Great tips! I mostly stay at Marriott affiliated properties around the world due to my business travel points accumulation and elite status, but I’m actually considering staying in a hostel again now and then for the purpose of meeting people. Otherwise, the people in the hotels are middle aged American couples and I never end up talking to anyone or hanging out with people from my hotel. Hostels are definitely better for activities and meeting people and of course cheaper, but it’s hard to put up with the lack of amenities after your used to something a little nicer!
    Laura recently posted..Friday Roundup: March 28, 2014

    • On April 6, 2014 at 11:27 am Sally said:

      Elite status? Honestly, if I had elite status, I doubt I’d be hanging out in a hostel. Sure, meeting people is great. But I’ll take cushy bathrobes, comfy beds and room-service over new friends, any day!

  23. On April 7, 2014 at 11:52 pm Pete - Long Term Travel said:

    As usual, great post. Here’s 2 more tips for hostel goers.. punch, kick, scratch and elbow your way towards the bottom bunk.. the top bunk just plain sucks. Especially in the middle of the night when you need to pee… 2nd tip, when ear plugs (and diplomacy) fail and Thor from Norway below you in the bottom bunk is snoring loud enough to make a freight train blush I usually start throwing things at the culprit. A little forethought in taking an extra 2 pillows or blankets to bed can save you hours of frustrated time trying to sleep through a jackhammer. It’s also really satisfying throwing something at the offender… and a rolled up blanket can pack a decent punch when prepared and launched correctly.
    Pete – Long Term Travel recently posted..Perth City – Sun, Food, Wine and Good Times

    • On April 14, 2014 at 9:23 pm Sally said:

      Again, one more reason to get the private room: no need to worry about being pelting anyone with a pillow… or being pelted by a pillow yourself!

  24. On April 9, 2014 at 11:29 pm Sarah said:

    I am only 25 but I do feel as if I am too old for hostels! When you are married and, like you, used to staying in the luxury of a private hotel room, it’s hard to get used to hotels. I echo what you say about ear plugs! I bring them with me no matter what when I travel. I am also partial to a private room. I am in love with AirBNB and equivalent as hostel alternatives, too.
    Sarah recently posted..Los Angeles, Here I Come

  25. On July 6, 2014 at 5:12 pm Lynn said:

    YAS! I am a long-time traveller and hostel fan (since my late teens– though, as an introvert, much less of a HAY GUISE LET’S BE BFFs type; much more of the *wow* affordable place to crash now let me hit the streets variety). On my most recent trip this summer, age 31, I finally realized that it’s time to let the dorm-style hostel-living go. Thankfully, I wised up on my last day and had an amazing sit-down breakfast.

    And *puh-lease* sign me up for the OC-TLC mentioned above. It’s nice to know that there are other 30 plus ladies out there doing the low-frills independent travel thing.

  26. On May 19, 2016 at 4:53 am Mitch said:

    I think hostels are a great alternative to expensive hotels or even AirBNBs.


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