Lonely Planet Writer

Are you ever too old to stay in a hostel?

This is a guest post from Colm Hanratty, Editor at Hostelworld.com.

Over a decade ago at the ripe old age of 22, I did something for the first time that would change my life forever – I stayed in a hostel. The hostel was in Byron Bay on the east coast of Australia and I can remember it like it was yesterday. I got on well with the staff, I loved the fact that it had its own pool (that I could swim in even though it was ‘winter’), and I’ll never forget the sitting room where travellers like myself would take refuge from the sun, lazing on the orange couches watching whatever videos (not DVDs) were available.

A hostel lounge room is a social hub for many travellers, whatever their age. Image by Getty

In the years since, I’ve stayed in hostels from Chicago to Cape Town, meeting people from all parts of the world, all walks of life and all ages along the way. There was the family in Seville in Spain who were travelling from hostel to hostel, the veteran in DC (one of many ‘grey gappers’ I’ve encountered on the road), and the honeymooning couple spending their first married holiday in a hostel in Bariloche, Argentina.

Since I’ve been staying in hostels for such a long time, I’m repeatedly asked, ‘Are hostels only for young people?’ My response is always an instantaneous ‘no’. There’s no denying that many hostels are aimed at 18 to 35-year-olds interested in mischief more than museums when they hit a destination. But even some of these hostels don’t impose age restrictions on guests – everyone is welcome. (Although anyone in search of an uninterrupted night’s sleep might be in the wrong place.)

And just as there are countless hostels that like to claim you’ll need a holiday after spending a few nights there, there are others that relish being anything but party hostels. These hostels cater for adventure-loving families, love-stricken couples or travellers just looking to chill out.

Finding a hostel that's right for you

So are you hesitant about hostelling, or wondering how to find a place to stay that's far from the party hostel stereotype? Here are a few tips.

First of all, read the hostel's description carefully. If a hostel is exclusively for 18 to 35-year-olds, it will say so. Secondly, check out the pictures. If a hostel wants to convey the image that it’s a place for young people intent on partying as hard as they can, their photos are likely to display this. And finally, check out the facilities. If you’d prefer to spend your evenings getting engrossed in a 400-page book and not a bottle of full-bodied red, then steer clear of hostels with their own bars.

Common rooms and gardens in hostels can be a refuge for backpackers. Image by Getty

Hostels for all ages

There are many hostels I’ve stayed in over the last thirteen years that I feel are suitable to any age group. The Sydney Harbour YHA is one that immediately springs to mind. Located in the heart of The Rocks neighbourhood, it is built over an archaeological site, so history (not hedonism) is the theme.

Over in Europe, the aptly named Lisbon Poets Hostel is the perfect place for anybody who wants to relax with a good book, or read the passages decorating the walls, while the Eastener Hostel in Berlin, a city famed for its party atmosphere, clearly states that it is ‘definitely not a party hostel’.

I was quite anxious before I had stayed in a hostel for the first time. I was concerned about the safety of my belongings and how easy it would be to meet people in each one I stayed. But the more I travelled, the more I realised hostels really are for everybody. They’re for people from all social backgrounds, from all parts of the world, all walks of life and all ages. If you’re concerned that your age puts hostels out of your reach, I’ve two words for you – don’t be.

This is a guest post by Colm Hanratty, Editor at Hostelworld.com. Check out Colm’s blog on the Hostelworld website here. You can also keep up to date with them on Facebook, follow both Colm and Hostelworld on Twitter, and check out their videos on YouTube.