Hostels certainly aren’t five star accommodations, but I saved a bunch of money by staying in a few during my Peruvian adventure.
One of my biggest regrets about my twenties is that I didn’t have very many interesting travel experiences. When I turned 30 last year, I decided that had to change. I signed on for a three-week DIY trip to Peru with one of my good friends from grad school. In true Millennial fashion, we decided to do it as cheaply as possible and stay in backpacker-style hostels, a-la The Beach (but without all the shady business…OK, it wasn’t like The Beach at all). My only meaningful experience with hostels was watching the movie Hostel as a teenager (probably not a good idea).
Despite my initial hesitations, it actually turned out to be an amazing experience. Once all was said and done, I’d spent a total of just over $650 for my three-week Peru trip—and hostels were a big part of keeping the cost down.
Still, I had a lot to learn about staying in hostels.
Pay attention to reviews
Since I had just turned 30, me and my friend now nearly qualified to be some of our hostel companion’s parents (scary thought!). Suffice to say, we’re not partiers, so we opted to stay in the quieter hostels. I didn’t need to be carried away at 2 am by a rogue rave, after all.
Luckily, the reviews for most Peruvian hostels were easy to look up online on sites like TripAdvisor or Hostelworld. Our hop on/hop off tour bus guides were also very good at pointing us to the old people hostels.
Bring sleep aids
Even if you find yourself in a “quiet” hostel, it’s possible that your roommates will arrive slamming things around in the middle of the night. Luckily, since I’m a country-bumpkin-turned-city-dweller, I was already well-prepared for this scenario (thanks, 3am police sirens and bright city streetlights).
I’d brought my eye mask and ear plugs with me. Make sure you bring backups as well! Ear plugs are notorious for falling into cracks or getting lost in various ways. I’m almost convinced there are Earplug Fairies that come and steal my era corks every so often. Without these precious items, I would have had a very hard time sleeping.
Bring locks to keep your stuff secure
Even though all the hostels we stayed at were safe, there’s still a chance that someone can pilfer your stuff. The doors weren’t always locked, meaning anyone can come in off the streets—although the good hostels had a receptionist who manually unlocked the door for guests. Still, it’s possible your own roommates could swipe your stuff.
Much to my surprise, all of the hostels we stayed in had small boxes in each room mounted to the walls with holes for locks. You have to bring the locks, of course. The small luggage padlocks do just fine. Most of the holes were too small for a big locker-sized padlock anyway.
I kept my cell phone stuffed inside my pillowcase each night since I was using it as my alarm. This also kept it handy because I also used it as my flashlight if I needed to get up and go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. I figured that’s probably as safe a place as you can put it while still having ready access to it.
Be prepared to roll with the punches
Let’s be honest here. Hostels are not five-star accommodations. If you go in thinking you’ll have a completely private, perfectly-staged, fully-housekept experience with chocolates on the pillow and turn-down service, you’ll be in for a shock.
Instead, roll with the punches. Hostels make for cheap vacations for a reason. Take advantage of their cheapness and be thankful you’re able to go somewhere you might not otherwise have been able to afford to go.
If you want to laze about in nice accommodations while someone feeds you grapes, you’d be better off saving up for a fancy-pants all-inclusive resort or cruise trip (*shudders*). As for me, I’ll take the adventure, thanks.
Sometimes, adventure was dealing with the hostel itself. The worst place we stayed at was in the desert oasis party town of Huacachina. The shower had no shower head—it was just a pipe sticking out of the wall.
Unbeknownst to the guests, the water shut off each night leaving all the bathrooms in the place full of a stinky mess in the morning. It was a shitty experience (literally), but we brushed ourselves off, checked out as soon as we could, and continued on with our adventure.
Despite being hesitant at first, I’m so glad we decided to stay in hostels while in Peru. We got to meet some amazingly friendly people who we didn’t understand at all. We felt more like locals rather than outsider tourists.
Most importantly, staying in hostels allowed us to go on the trip in the first place. Most of the places we stayed charged the equivalent of $5-$12 per night. My rent for a whole apartment back home is six times that!
Because we weren’t spending so much money on hotels, we were also able to afford to do more activities. We hiked to Machu Picchu, we took surfing lessons, we visited chocolate museums, and we ate at some pretty awesome restaurants. I have tons of cool alpaca souvenirs that I bought from colorful little ladies.
Hostels aren’t for everyone. But if you’re a traveling adventurer looking for a cheap vacation, I would recommend them to anyone in a heartbeat—as long as you’re prepared.
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