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The Solo Traveler Blog

Sleeping with Strangers: the hostel experience part I

The front entrance of YHA London Central

The front entrance of YHA London Central

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.

Welcome to YHA London Central.

Welcome to YHA London Central.

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.
Mom (from Canada) was traveling with her children. Their home base is Brussels.

Mom (from Canada) was traveling with her children. Their home base is Brussels.

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.

4 bed dorm includes an ensuite bathroom with shower.

4-bed dorm includes an ensuite bathroom with shower – that’s the door on the right hand side.

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.)
A comfortable restaurant / bar / common room for all.

A comfortable restaurant / bar / common room.

A proper espresso maker in the cafeteria/bar.

A proper espresso maker in the restaurant


Computer facilities are in the common room area.

Computer facilities are in the common room area.



Related posts:

  • dibs

    i stayed in Earls court YHA hostel and although it was well placed and well organised it was run by Croatians and not like YHA’s of yester year ,no one spoke any English i am outgoing but as a Brit retuning to my homeland i was craving a chance to talk to other brits but alas there were none.

  • PCVMom

    I had the same experience! I visited my PCV son in Paraguay. While in South America, he booked mostly mixed dorms for us. It was an interesting experience. The other men were there mostly just to sleep and I didn’t see them much.

  • leelaurino

    Janice, would enjoy your opinion on the difference between a guest house/b nb and a private room in a hostel?

  • leelaurino

    Question: does this location (london) allow non guest to use the caffateria/restaurant?

  • John

    Hi Erin i am sure you will love staying in YHA hostels. I have been doing the yha experience since 1966 when i was a kid,i am now 54. I used to opt for the dorm option as it was a nice place to have a chat & make new friends. Sadly i am now disabled & i have to order a single room now,but i still love the yha experience.I am sure you will enjoy your time in the youth hostels. I have also worked as a volunteer manger in the hostels up to 6 years ago. If you need any more advice feel free to contact me I dont like staying hotels as i tend to find people just act like robots & keep them selves to there self. I hope you find this helpful & also any one else who is reading this. Have a good safe stay. John

  • aileenonroad

    I am much older than any of those writing below but have stayed in hostels in many places or I have booked inexpensive hotels via Many of these small places are family owned. I used them all through Asia and also in Ireland and Spain especially. I often take a single room in a hostel if I’m facing a lot of travel the next day etc. They are friendly, efficient and much better than staying in a hotel. More information, fun, less expensive food and good prices.

  • Rhonda

    Cycled my way around Germany last July and stayed in DJH (official German Youth Hostels) whenever I could and loved it. I’m 53. They tended to put me in dorms with women around my age. The hostels were clean, included great breakfasts and I could buy a bag lunch each day to take with me for 4 or 5 euros. I highly recommend them!

  • ansia

    Oh yes, one more thing, bookings in YHA & most hostels can be easily cancelled if more than 48 hrs early with no charge except for 5% fee. In my Airbnb bookings, cancellation, no matter how early, is going to cost me 50% of what I have paid. Painful!

  • ansia

    I shall be staying in two places via Airbnb. in Sydney. Mainly because YHAs there have run out of beds & rooms. We get a private room for the three of us cheaper than what we can at YHA BUT I believe, in exchange, we have less freedom because however friendly the host, it is still staying in someone else’s home.

  • ansia

    I started backpacking at 50 years of age. I have stayed in hotels & hostels (YHA and non-YHA). I stayed at YHA Central London in 2010 when it cost 40 pounds/bed. Their breakfast is very good value & the place very clean. I love hostels because people are friendly & their receptionists can give very good advice to travellers. The ones in China are usually nicely decorated & their receptionists speak, at least, some English.

  • Maria

    Kudos for staying in the dorms when you could have made other arrangements and thanks for introducing me to YHA.

  • SnarkyNomad

    I enjoy hostels quite a bit, but it’s nice to avoid the party places. If you look for hostels with just a few rooms and nice, but basic amenities, they tend to be cozier, more friendly places. Anything with a huge bar that advertises itself as essentially a nightclub with beds is probably going to be awkward.

  • Stephanie

    I wonder how the price of hostels compares to that of AirBnB. I’m currently in an AirBnB place in Florence that has been less than ideal, though cheaper than the hostel prices quoted above, and for a fully private room. I guess each place has it’s little quirks, and I happened to get a place with a very small hot water heater and WiFi so weak it doesn’t actually work!

  • anne

    I used Airbnb in September in London , about half an hour north of St Pancras , own room , own bathroom (but not on same floor) that was not a problem , lovely people , own key ,, and my friends used another one, about 10 minutes from me, huge room , ensuite bathroom , mine was 39 pounds for the night and theirs was 50 pounds (breakfast too ) ..
    we have YHA in Oxford right near the station , looks really good.

  • SusanM

    I am a female senior. I visited my Peace Corps son in South America last year and he booked mostly MIXED dorm rooms. It was an adventure sleeping with strangers who were men! But they were all courteous.

  • Gaelyn

    I like hostels for the social aspect but still prefer my own room. But I see these in London are much more expensive than the ones I stay at in South Africa.

  • Connie Chase

    I’m only 19, but I found YHA hostels to be great in Australia for meeting people and getting a great nights sleep. I always used one before an early start or if I need a break from the party scene!

  • Erin

    I am SO happy to read this. I’ve always wondered about the hostel experience for folks over twenty-something. Very informative!

About Janice Waugh and Tracey Nesbitt

I'm an author, blogger, speaker and traveler. I became a widow and empty-nester at about the same time. And then, I became Solo Traveler... Here's the full story. >>

Tracey Nesbitt I’m a writer, editor, food and wine fanatic, and traveler. On my very first trip abroad I learned that solo travel was for me. Here's the full story. >>

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