When people ask me where I stay during my many solo trips (yes, I take them a lot), I plainly tell them, "Hostels." I immediately receive facial expressions of absolute horror in return. Asked why, "don't you have to share some crappy, bunk-bed-filled rooms with complete strangers who might steal all your stuff and kill you in your sleep?"
Sometimes I am absolutely amazed by the utter ignorance people display when they decide to open their mouths. Yes, you do have to share rooms with strangers in a hostels, and yes, sometimes you do have roommates with questionable backgrounds (such as newly freed inmates), but considering the purpose of a cheap hostel is completely the same as an luxury hotel, I don't understand how can people ever imagine a hostel to be something analogous in appearance to a prison cell...
Granted, I have many friends who have never stayed in a hostel and probably never will (for example, the "Yalies who will never leave the comfortable confines of upper-middle class society" mentioned in a previous post: ) and I would like to go into a bit of hostel dynamics for the benefits of these people who thinks they are above the "horrors" of hostels.
After staying in dozens of hostels in half a dozen countries, I am beginning to figure out the demographics of a regular hostel: about 20-30% solo travelers (like me) who is going for hostels' cheap cost (20-30 bucks a night) and ability to meet people (I practically friended on facebook every person I have ever met in a hostel). These guys generally stay two, three nights in each hostel, tops.
40% so-called "long-time" residents. These guys are working temporary jobs or still looking for jobs. They moved to the city/town where the hostel is located and would like to settle down in the said city/town, but their unstable income flow means that they really can't go for even a half-year apartment contract. So these guys generally "live" in each hostel for about two, three months at a time.
The remainder are group travelers who are just trying to save money. These guys often stay in the private rooms within the hostel premises (most hostels actually have them, generally for 2-3 people and around 40 bucks a night). They tend to keep to themselves because they already have enough company and don't need to mingle with other people in the hostel.
The three groups share a couple of characteristics: one is that THEY ARE ALL JUST MINDING THEIR BUSINESSES. No, no one in the hostel is there for crimes. The hostel is just a place to rest up for more traveling/working/job-searching. In fact, hostels always ask for copies of passport profile pages so they can keep track of the guests' identities. Its really hard for random people off the streets to stay in a hostel.
The second is that, unlike most hotels, where most guests are business or family travelers who do not talk to other guests, hostel guests are from all sorts of backgrounds/places and are collectively the most open, outgoing people I have ever met anywhere. Most participate in hostel community events (whether it be gaming, drinking, or just talking in the common room) and are happy to trade their world travel stories.
Just to give a few examples of the people I have met: (1) In Queenstown, New Zealand: a Brazilian guy who works as a chef in a local ski resort on his way to Argentina (who last time I checked, was in Malaysia on his way to Bali), (2) In Vancouver, Canada: a German guy who just went from Toronto to Arkansas to Vancouver on a week-long Greyhound trip, (3) In Denali, Alaska: a Japanese young music-producer who gave up admission to prestigious Waseda Univ to study in a community college in LA (aspire to work in Hollywood)...the list goes on and on.
Meeting these people, more than any sights I have seen, have been the most memorable moments of all my trips. Often, because of them, I forgot about all the loneliness of solo trips and gave me the courage and the motivation to go on more of these adventures.
And as these people congregate and communicate in hostels, the political and cultural boundaries of the world are gradually being erased...After hearing the stories of all these different peoples, I think sacrificing a bit of privacy and comfort is totally worth it. so I encourage all of you reading this post to go stay in a hostel and tell me whether the experience was "scary" or truly enjoyable.