Sleeping with Strangers: the hostel experience part I
A 12-minute walk to Oxford Street.
10 minutes to Marleybone High Street.
And just 45 minutes through the heart of London to get to Buckingham Palace.
Yes, including “central” in the name of the hostel I stayed at for seven days while in London was appropriate.
I’m just back from a 2-week trip that included work and pleasure, London and Paris. I stayed in hostels in both cities – two very different hostels.
I will write a post on each so that you have a sense of what hostels are really like and how different they can be. When I returned and described them to my 30-year-old son he was surprised. Yes, I even had to convince him that…
…a good hostel is a great alternative.
In London I stayed at YHA London Central. I have Hostelworld to thank for supporting me on this trip but you can believe that the comments here are all my own. Anyone who has read me for a while knows that I truly believe hostels to be a great alternative for solo travelers.
YHA London Central is, of course, part of YHA, a charity begun in 1930 with a mission “to inspire all, especially young people, to broaden their horizons gaining knowledge and independence through new experiences of adventure and discovery.” It is probably thanks in part to YHA that there is a notion that hostels are for the young. However, they have certainly adapted over the years and I can confirm that they are for the young at heart.
I stayed in my first YHA hostel 41 years ago. Last year I returned for a 40th anniversary, if you will. Yes, I have a particular fondness for YHA Hostels. They have a unique personality as do most hostel networks. YHA hostels are:
- Calm: They are not party hostels.
- Safe: You need to use your room card to enter the hostel building at night and to go on the dorm floors at all times.
- Affordable: They usually include kitchen and laundry facilities in addition to a low-cost cafeteria.
- Diverse: YHA hostels tend to attract adults of all ages including seniors and families.
Sleeping with strangers – the dorm experience.
Last year I had a private room for my London stay. This time, things got organized a bit late and only dorm beds were available. My first two nights I was in an 8-bed dorm, the remaining five nights I was in a 4-bed dorm. Before going, I wondered how this would work out given that many of those days I would have to be up and out early to attend the World Travel Market.
Let’s start with the 8-bed dorm. I stayed there on the Friday and Saturday nights over Halloween weekend. Each bunk has a duvet, pillow and sheets. At each bunk there is a reading light and an outlet for charging your phone, etc. There is a locker for each resident. It holds a standard size suitcase (one up from a carry-on) and the rooms have a sink, mirror over the sink and also a full-length mirror. In this case, the toilet and the shower were separate rooms just outside the dorm room.
- The 8-bed dorm experience:
- I found everyone to be friendly, polite and courteous. There was me in my 50s, another woman I’d guess to be in her 40s, a mother-daughter pair and four others in their twenties.
- I chatted with a few of the women but especially one from Hong Kong who had been in the hostel for a month while looking for work and a place to stay (she was moving out that day) and another from Poland who was at the beginning of the same process. It was fascinating to learn about the challenges of London. Meeting people is one of the reasons I really love hostels.
- Even though it was a weekend and Halloween, everyone was back in the room by about 12:30am. It was difficult to sleep with someone returning home every 15 minutes or so but I could count how many were in and knew that it was coming to an end soon. As I say, everyone was very considerate of others in the room
- The cost: approximately US$27 per night though it varies according to the day.
The 4-bed dorm has the same basic amenities in terms of the bunk, sheets, outlets, etc. but was a slightly different experience for me. With fewer people there was less coming and going. And the room has a full en suite with sink, toilet and shower. (There was no going out into the hall to determine if the shower was in use as was the case in the 8-bed dorm.) We each still had a locker and there was a full-length mirror.
- The 4-bed dorm experience:
- On this occasion I shared the room with three women from Mexico who were traveling together. They were in their twenties and very sweet.
- They seemed to realize that I had to be up and out early in the morning so they often showered at night or let me get ready in the morning before they got up.
- The cost: approximately US$49 though it varies according to the day.
The 8-bed dorm was fine while I was simply touring but during the workweek, I was glad to be in the 4-bed dorm. I should also mention that I have stayed in inexpensive hotels in London before but paid more than twice the price. Even if the prices were on par, I would choose YHA Central London over the inexpensive hotel option.
The good and the not quite as good.
I really enjoyed my time at YHA Central but, as with anything, there will be things that stand out – for the good and the bad.
What I liked best:
- The atmosphere. It’s casual yet I didn’t feel uncomfortable going out in business clothes.
- The location is amazing. I could walk almost everywhere I wanted to go in London.
- It’s clean and run well with very helpful staff.
What I didn’t like quite so much:
- The pay-as-you-go WiFi access is expensive. It’s best to join YHA for 20 GBP (10 GBP if you’re under 26) and get free WiFi and other benefits. (You can also get free computers/WiFi in many of the London’s public libraries.)