If your memories of hosteling consist of broken bunk beds full of backpackers, it’s time for a rethink. Hostels have upped their game in recent years, improving their beds, bathrooms and interior artwork, adding private rooms with iPod docking stations and fitness facilities (even swimming pools!), and offering excursions and special events for all ages of travelers. Free Wi-Fi, computer access and outlets to charge all the devices that today’s flashpackers carry are a given.
Among the additions that Giovanna Gentile ofhas noticed: Elevators for older travelers, free baby-sitting service, cots and high chairs for families, and movie and game rooms. “Modern hostels are now increasingly stylish and offer en-suite rooms,” she said in an email. “They provide cheap but comfortable accommodation, meeting travelers’ expectations in terms of more value for money.”
Read on to see nine hostels that raise the bar for budget stays. You might never stay in a traditional hotel room again.
1. Daddy Long Legs
Where: Cape Town, South Africa
Cool Factor: “Funky, affordable accommodation” is the mandate behind this budget-friendly art hotel, where each of the 13 rooms is decorated by a different painter, photographer, poet, musician or designer. All the bedrooms have a private bathroom, local musicians are frequently tapped for performances and the location on buzzing Long Street can’t be beat. While the hotel won a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence for its trendiness, hospitality is also paramount, if the free welcome drink is any indication.
2. Hostel Inn Iguazu
Where: Puerto Iguazu, Argentina
Cool Factor: Near the Argentina-Brazil border within easy touring distance of Iguazu Falls, this hostel allows guests to beat the tropical heat with an outdoor swimming pool, and then sign up for a massage afterward. Part of a larger South American chain that has properties throughout Argentina, the Hostel Inn also offers tango and Brazilian dance lessons, Argentinean barbecue twice a week and a long list of optional excursions, including seeing the Falls from a helicopter or touring during the full moon.
Where: Istanbul, Turkey
Cool Factor: Open since 2011, #bunk has many of the amenities that you’d expect to find in a boutique hotel, including a concierge, marble bathrooms, and complimentary use of hair dryers, towels and linens (no sleep sacks here!). There’s a sunbathing deck for all guests that has its own Jacuzzi (cutely named #bunkbath), open all year round. Big sports games are televised on Sky Sports by overhead projector downstairs in the #bunkbar.
4. Uprising Beach Resort
Where: Pacific Harbour, Fiji
Cool Factor: Traveling with friends or another couple? This beachfront oasis in the thick of Fiji’s adventure outfitters offers good value in its bures (cottages) and villas that sleep up to four (there are also treetop dorms with bunkbeds for more traditional budget travelers). Built in thatched Fiji style, the roomy bungalows have private outdoor showers, refrigerators and balconies, and continental breakfast is included. The top-of-the-line villas have flat-screen TVs and air-conditioning.
5. Living Lounge Hostel
Where: Lisbon, Portugal
Cool Factor: A bargain for travelers to Europe, Lisbon has more hostels than most capitals on the continent — and the city regularly wins awards within the hostel industry for its ground-breaking budget lodging. Living Lounge, a boutique hostel owned by four artists, has a chandelier created from shot glasses, nightly three-course meals and free walking tours, including a don’t-miss excursion to hear fado, Portugal’s mournful music.
6. Rio Blanco Bed and Brew
Where: Otavalo, Ecuador
Cool Factor: Tour operator Nicole Will of Amazon Andes Sky swears by this budget hotel located 10 minutes outside a North Andean city known for its large South American indigenous market. Originally from the U.S. state of Georgia, owners Julian and Casandra brew their own ales, lagers and stouts, which they serve in the evenings in the landscaped “beer garden”; breakfast often has a Southern twist (where else can you get grits in Ecuador?). “When they have guests, you can find them at night in the back garden with a fire blazing and Julian strumming his guitar, taking requests from the group,” Will says. All rooms, each decorated with local artwork to represent the elements, have private bathrooms.
7. Circus Hostel
Where: Berlin, Germany
Cool Factor: Since 2001, this creative complex in the Mitte has married Berlin’s arty sensibilities with youthful energy — and others agree (the review site EuroCheapo said that the hostel shows that “budget-friendly and stylish aren’t strange bedfellows”). While Katz & Maus cafe and bar in the basement has its own charms, hostel guests can also choose to use services at Circus’ sister hotel across the street, including Segway rentals, football tickets and the highly regarded Fabisch German restaurant.
8. Wink Hostel
Cool Factor: “Pod” style hotels are common throughout Asia — and Singapore, which has always been known for its luxury offerings, now has several hostels that incorporate this budget-friendly format. At Wink, each pod comes with power sockets, ambient backlight and LED lighting, locker storage, and 260-thread-count linens so you can create your own sleeping sanctuary (bathrooms are shared). All rooms are air-conditioned and Wi-Fi connected, with special facilities for women traveling solo.
9. Hostelling International – Boston
Where: Boston, United States
Cool Factor: Built with environmental best practices in mind, this Hostelling International facility — located in the historic Dill Building on the border of Boston’s Theater District and Chinatown — opened in summer 2012 as the first LEED-certified hostel in the country. Private rooms have DirecTV, free breakfast, free Wi-Fi and your own clean and comfortable bathroom. A full schedule of walking tours, trivia nights and a free weekly dinner complete the experience.
— written by Chris Gray Faust
Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network.