Two years ago Digital Editor Suzannah Ramsdale decided to take a 'grown up gap year'. These are the hostels (from £4 to £22 per night) she's still dreaming of.
I recently worked out that during my 2016 round-the-world trip I stayed at no less than 52 hostels. That I can remember. So, trust me when I say I’ve done my research.
When I was planning my grown up gap year, I wasn’t scared of leaving a career I loved; I wasn’t worried about missing my friends and family; or even contracting malaria/dengue/yellow fever/zika (delete as appropriate). I was scared of spending 12 months sleeping in hostels surrounded by other people. Ugh.
I was 29-about-to-turn-30 and I had, until then, been living a very comfortable life, in my lovely London flat, with clean sheets, warm showers and fresh flowers. I was apprehensive to put it mildly. But, I found that, if you do your research and choose the right hostel, it can feel like a home away from home. A place you feel safe and clean. A place you can drink wine and watch movies on the sofa. A place you can make friends for life.
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Below is my pick of the best hostels in the world. There isn’t a hostel on this list that I haven’t stayed in and absolutely loved. They’re the places that made my trip unforgettable and I hope they’ll do the same for you.
1. Intro Hostel, Cusco, Peru. From £6.51 per night
What’s the general vibe? Everyone’s in Cusco because they're planning to trek to Machu Pichu or they’re recovering from trekking to Machu Pichu. There’s lots of sitting around log fires in the courtyard of this restored colonial mansion, drinking Cusquena beer and talking about altitude sickness. Cusco is 3,400m above sea level and most people feel really dodge when they first arrive.
Were the beds comfy? Clean, comfortable. There’s a mixture of dorms and private rooms.
What were the loos like? Communal, clean and warm.
Any freebies? When it comes to altitude sickness the struggle is real so there’s free oxygen for anyone who’s in a bad way. Free breakfast (fried eggs and homemade quinoa puffs with yoghurt) and unlimited free coca tea to help with the altitude queasiness.
Wifi? Free, but temperamental.
2. House of Journey, Penang, Malaysia. From £6.58 per night
What’s the general vibe? Quiet, chilled and civilised. Mostly full of solo travellers, on the slightly older side so, naturally, I loved it. I arrived here from Thailand. After three buses, 12 hours and a confusing border crossing. I was tired, hungry and had been shouted out by my taxi driver (no idea why). House of Journey was everything I could have wanted and more. Modern, and the rain showers were among the best I experienced in my whole year – mainly because they were warm, which you don’t get a whole lot in Asia. Just thinking of this place makes me happy.
Were the beds comfy? As comfy as can be.
What were the loos like? Exceptional. Refer to shower observation above. A quick look on Hostelworld shows I’m not alone, almost all the reviews mention the showers in some way. The showers, oh, the showers…
Any freebies? The free breakfast was simple, but tasty, and there was a mini library up in the loft space with books and DVDs.
Wifi? Free and strong.
3. KACLLA The Healing Dog Hostel, Lima. From £11.00 per night
What’s the general vibe? Zen. A beautiful restored early twentieth century mansion in the posh Miraflores neighbourhood. Just walking through the front gate was calming. There’s plenty of laidback lounging space in the plant-filled terracotta courtyard or you can fight Pisco, the hairless dog, for a seat on one of the sofas.
Were the beds comfy? There are small dorms on the ground floor and private rooms on the balcony over-looking the courtyard. Try to book one of them.
What were the loos like? Communal ladies and mens showers and loos. Clean. Did the job. Hairdryers available if you want one.
Any freebies? The breakfast. One of the best of the trip. Freshly squeezed orange juice, fresh baked rolls, homemade peanut butter and granola.
Wifi? Free, and best near reception.
4. Wish You Were Here Backpackers Bar and Restaurant, Sihanoukville, Cambodia. From £6.51 per night
What’s the general vibe? Set on Otres beach, this hostel was the scene of one of the worst hangovers I’ve ever had. But I can’t imagine a better place to convalesce. The hanging bamboo chairs, comfy sofas and homemade masala chai tea helped bring me back to life. Once recovered, I just had to decide whether to watch the sunset on one of the oversized cushions on the balcony or walk the couple of steps to the beach. I chose beach. Always beach.
Were the beds comfy? Beds were a mattress on the floor and a mosquito net. It’s all you need when you’re in paradise.
What were the loos like? I’ll be honest here, I can’t remember, which probably means they were absolutely fine.
Any freebies? Free towels. Bloody useful when you’re by the beach.
Wifi? Free and good enough. Strong enough for whatsapp calls and downloading books onto my Kindle.
5. Funky Flashpackers, Siem Reap, Cambodia. From £6.51 per night
What’s the general vibe? This place has a pool, two bars, a club, a cinema and 200 beds. There’s no getting away from it, this is a party hostel. But, it’s less flip flops sticking to the floor, teenagers vomming in the pool and more daiquiris on the smart rooftop bar with views of Siem Reap.
Are the beds comfy? I stayed in a 16-person dorm (I know, I’m shuddering at the thought too) but slept like a baby. The daiquiris probably helped with that, though…
What are the loos like? Private, individual toilets. And there were plenty. So no waiting.
Any freebies? Towels.
Wifi? Free. Good enough for sending drunken whatsapps you’ll regret the next morning.
6. Ventana Sur, Santiago, Chile. From £13.29 per night
What’s the general vibe? Ivan, the owner of Ventana Sur, really makes you feel like it’s mi casa es tu casa. I stayed for about a week at this hostel and in that time Ivan put on a cheese and wine night; threw an epic BBQ (I still think about his homemade marinade) and gave me an impromtu salsa lesson. During my stay I also met a FFL, a badass Texan chick called Shireen. The hostel is small so you get to know everyone, the breakfast is great (lashings of dulce du leche) and there’s a pool for warmer days. Ivan decribes Ventana Sur best on his website: ‘You are very much welcome if you are laid back, if you understand that you should bring earplugs if you want to go to bed at 10pm but also that you should be enough respectful not to make too much noise at 2 am...’
Are the beds comfy? So comfy. It felt like being in my own bed.
What are the loos like? They’re all private with powerful and warm showers.
Any freebies? Breakfast. It starts at 8:45am and is served until everyone is up and ready. Ivan is a firm believer of a lie-in.
Wifi? Free. And strong, even out by the pool.
7. The Beehive, Sucre, Bolivia. From £6.51 per night
What’s the general vibe? If I had to pick, I’d say this was my favourite hostel of my trip. The Beehive is part of a community project to empower women and, because of this, is owned and run entirely by fabulous ladies. You can feel the lovely feminine touches everywhere. All rooms face the grassy courtyard, where people take Spanish lessons or sit with a beer and book in one of the shady hammocks.
Were the beds comfy? Yep. The dorms have a mixture of singles and bunks. Try and nab a single if you can. Plus, there’s a matrimonial suite if you want to posh it up.
What were the loos like? They’re outside, off the courtyard, and very rustic. If you’re looking for a luxe lav experience this isn’t for you and there tended to be a bit of a wait during the morning rush. But The Beehive is so lovely that it really doesn’t matter.
Any freebies? The complimentary breakfast was really special. Think: organic oatmeal, homemade granola, fresh fruit with natural yoghurt, frittatas, pancakes and wholegrain French toast.
Wifi? Free, and good enough for me to have a Skype job interview (for the job I have now – so it must have been good!)
8. Mr Peace Backpacker’s, Dalat, Vietnam. From £4.07 per night
What’s the general vibe? Lovely. The owners, Mr Peace and Mr Happy (bare with me), go out of their way to make you feel like the hostel is your home. This is what it says on the website: ‘Free hugs any time you like. Don’t be shy to receive our family hugs!’ Think it sounds annoying? It’s actually not.
Were the beds comfy? Each bed had a curtain you could pull across. A small touch, but it adds an element of much-appreciated privacy.
What were the loos like? Clean and functional. Each dorm had an en suite, plus there were individual showers dotted around the hostel.
Any freebies? Breakfast was included. There was cheap happy hour beer. And free aloe vera for sunburn. Thoughtful.
Wifi? It was free.
9. Backpackers Hostel Iquique, Chile. From £10.69 per night
What’s the general vibe? Think relaxed surfer vibes. It’s located just across the road from the beach, where I spent hours watching both the surfers and the super-cute seals splashing about in the waves. The hostel has a cute café attached, where you can order coffees, paninis and juices, or there’s a big kitchen and BBQ if you’d rather cook up your own grub. A really social place, there was always someone to share a glass of delicious –and cheap – Chilean wine with.
Are the beds comfy? I arrived from less-then-luxurious Bolivia, which – although an amazing experience – was exhausting. I checked into the female-only dorm and slept like a baby for a week. Totally restorative.
What are the loos like? This was the not-so-great part. The shower was in the same cubicle as the loo, making the whole space wet. Neither showering or using the toilet was that much fun.
Any freebies? The wifi.
Wifi? It only worked in the communal areas, but it was strong enough to Skype.
10. Capsule Hotel, Seminyak, Bali. From £7.14 per night
What’s the general vibe? On the hotel’s website it sells itself as a party hostel, but that wasn’t my experience. There’s a social vibe and a bar on the ground floor, but it wasn’t wild at all. This place models itself on the famous Japanese pod hotels, so each bed is set into the wall, like a human-sized cubby hole.
Were the beds comfy? Sleeping in your own little capsule is weirdly exciting. And cosy. Plus each pod has a reading light and power socket. These little touches become so important when you’re away from home for so long.
What were the loos like? Fine. I’ve had better, I’ve had worse.
Any freebies? The wifi. There’s a really nice café next door that did healthy juices and amazing organic food. I can’t remember the name and no amount of Google searches will tell me. But, they give you a discount if you’re staying at the Capsule Hotel.
Wifi? Good, strong wifi.
11. Port Campbell Hostel, Port Campbell, Australia. From £21.77 per night
What’s the general vibe like? Family-friendly and cosy. This hostel has a special place in my heart, because the receptionist let us sleep on the (insanely comfy) sofas when my friends and I turned up with no reservation. It turns out the Great Ocean Road is pretty popular around Christmas and New Year’s (who’d have thought). We tried two towns and couldn’t find a place to stay. Thank you, Marianne.
Are the beds comfy? The sofa was great, but on the second night we stayed in a room. In a bed. A bed with duvets and pillows. It was glorious. Clean, fresh, airy and comfortable.
What are the loos like? They’re in cubicles like you’d get at the gym. They’re clean and the water was so warm. There’s a separate ‘powder room’ for hair drying, makeup applying and general preening.
Any freebies? Nope, but they served $10 pizzas, which, for Oz standards, is basically free.
Wifi? Free but didn’t work in the rooms.