The good, bad and worst in three hostels

October 25, 2010 in Europe,France,Places

In the past two weeks, I’ve stayed in three different hostels. City Backpackers in Stockholm, Sweden set a new high, a standard against which all future hostels will be judged. And Oops! Hostel and Young & Happy in Paris are fighting it out for the title of the worst hostel at which I’ve ever stayed.

It’s caused me to think about what I value as a budget traveler. Many of the luxuries of a hotel room are delightful, but unnecessary: I don’t really need a flat-screen TV and 300-count sheets. All I really need is a (reasonably comfortable) place to rest my head and a secure place to store my belongings—but there are other things that make quite the difference.

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Free Wifi: Without a doubt, the most important factor in where I stay. Sure, some of it relates to C’est Christine and having the ability to upload photos and posts without calculating rates—as well as being able to use Skype and Facebook to keep in touch with home. Having reliable Internet access also makes many facets of traveling easier: checking museum times, researching train tickets, reading restaurant reviews.

City Backpackers offered free Wifi with an open network that you could access anywhere on the premises. Oops! had annoying codes that you had to reenter every few hours, and that only worked in the lobby. Young & Happy actually charges for Internet—and the worst part is that it used to be free.

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In-room lockers: I travel with a good amount of technology: a laptop, iPhone, SLR camera, point-and-shoot camera. While most of it goes with me during the day, I’m hesitant to leave any of it unlocked in a mixed-dorm with I just met. In-room lockers immediately put my mind at ease, whether I’m out on the town or just taking a shower. Neither Oops! nor Young & Happy have in-room lockers, which is requiring me to put a lot of trust in people I just met and a cleaning staff I never see.

Shared kitchen: Just having a refrigerator and cutlery available is enough for me: I like having yogurt and fruit available for a snack or light dinner. However, having a fully-stocked kitchen not only saves money on eating out, but it also allows you to meet other travelers. The large work space and long tables at City Backpackers, as well as organized refrigerator system, created a convivial space for travelers to share stories and swap cooking tips. At Oops! and Young & Happy, I’m stuck splurging on Paris delicacies all the time (which my stomach isn’t exactly complaining about, but my wallet is).

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Plugs: These days, everyone has something to charge: computers, cell phones, cameras. It’s tough to argue with people you just met over who has priority on a plug all night—and a breach of traveler etiquette to pull out someone’s charging device. City Backpackers had an Internet lounge: not only was there free Wifi and comfy seats, but there was a plug under every seat. One accessible plug in a six-room dorm in Young & Happy? I’m not thrilled.

Cleanliness: Hard to judge until you get there, but boy, can it make a difference. Oops! has a history of bedbugs, which totally freaked me out once I arrived and found out. The bathrooms in Young & Happy are certainly of the flipflop-absolutely-required genre—and are often out of toilet paper in the morning. However, City Backpackers was spotless, despite easily being one of the largest hostels I’ve stayed in and not having a daily lockout.

Sheets, towels and hair dryers: I’m wiling to pay a deposit or a nominal fee, but charging for sheets and towels is a bit ridiculous to me. Who has the space to carry sheets and a towel on the road?! Also, if I’m paying for sheets—they better be clean. The ones from Oops! and Young & Happy both had stains and hair on them, which completely grossed me out. Hair dryers are a must for female travelers, whether they’re in-room or something you have to borrow from reception. Young & Happy doesn’t have any.

Customer service: Friendly, helpful desk clerks can make or break the experience. The Swedish staff at City Backpackers spoke perfect English, and was extremely informative, smiling and willing to make changes. Typical French service at Oops! and Young & Happy has me underwhelmed, as well as little annoyed—they’ve got that Gallic shrug down pat.

Awesome extras: City Backpackers also offered free two-hour bike rental (just enough time to ride around Djurgarden), free afternoon sauna (the perfect way to warm up from the chilly Swedish weather), and free pasta (and who doesn’t LOVE free food?!). Codes, instead of keys, also make life a lot easier. While the standards they offer were enough to win me over, the freebies make me want to sing their praises from the rooftop. There are no such extras at Oops! or Young & Happy—other than a good location.

What’s the most important factor for you in choosing a hostel or hotel?

  • Anonymous

    I think many travelers would agree with you about what’s important Christine. I’d rather have free wifi than 300 count sheets. And who is in their hotel room long enough to watch those flat panel TVs, anyway? I wonder if hostels or hotels run surveys to find out what travelers really want? Or if they just assume (or even worse, don’t care)?

  • I stayed at Oops! Hostel at my last stay, since it was my first hostel experience I didn’t think it was horrible, but the points you make are so true, I thought that I was just being picky at the time. I could never get the wifi to work and the girls in the room just left their stuff laying around everywhere, electronics and all which would have me me super nervous! Sadly though I don’t think there’s really any good hostel choices in Paris…

  • Anonymous

    I was really hoping for a picture of our shower/hostel room in this post. Perhaps that deserves its own post. Gross! Hairs and stains on sheets are the worst.

  • Kadence

    This is kinda weird, but I think when I was in Paris, I stayed in Young&Happy…I remember it being very much as you described.

  • Eurotrip Tips

    My first important thing is clean amenities. I couldn’t bare to stay in a place that’s unsanitary and not properly taken care of. I remember that bathroom in Barcelona where vomit littered the floor for two days before anyone managed to clean it off.

    Other than that, I don’t have any preference – although I agree that sheets & towels are great. And of course, the general feeling of the hostel – it’s gotta feel good to be there.

  • Eurotrip Tips

    Oh and I forgot to add – I stayed at St.Christopher’s near Crimée during my last stay in Paris and it was pretty well. Didn’t stay long enough to enjoy the ambiance but there was free Internet, very clean bathrooms and large bedrooms with lockers underneath beds.

  • Anonymous

    I feel like they must not care–or it’s just not a priority. I think that most hostels know the value of the Internet, to keep in touch with home, do research, etc. However, Young & Happy used to have free Wifi–it’s advertised on an old brochure–but now charges. I would much rather have that fee absorbed into the cost of the room than pay a Euro every 30 minutes! Oh well–it makes the good hostels that GET what travelers want seem that much better!

  • Anonymous

    I definitely agree that there aren’t any good hostels in Paris. It’s impossible to find one with good reviews that’s centrally located–and I don’t know what’s so hard about having lockers and free Wifi! Both seem like no brainers in youth hostels, where guests are connected and carrying lots of technology–especially when they promote their Twitter and Facebook page all over the place!

  • Anonymous

    I couldn’t bring myself to take a picture. Just. Too. Awful. I’m trying not to think about it.

  • Anonymous

    Worst part is that they screwed up my reservation so I’ve had to switch rooms three times–up and down those awful stairs with a huge suitcase every day!!! Absolutely ridiculous.

  • Anonymous

    It’s definitely not THAT bad–I don’t think I could handle vomit on the floor! But still, the showers are just badly set up so that dirt and hair collects. No excuse for stains on the sheets–if they’re stained, throw them out!
    I think that having awesome gathering places–like an Internet lounge or well-stocked kitchen–makes a huge difference in creating a good vibe. People meet, chat, make plans–it definitely helps!

  • Anonymous

    St Christopher’s does have good reviews, but I prefer to be a bit more centrally located. I think I’m giving up on Paris hostels–from now on, I’m splurging on an apartment when I visit!

  • Range Aijalon

    Hi Ms. Christine,
    My name is Aijalon. I met your mother a couple of weeks ago and she is very nice. I attend Christian Brothers(c/o 2011) and she told me that you were class of 2005 (I think). I thought that was cool. She told me to check out your blog and it seems like you have fun experiences in Europe! I hope all is well.

  • JB

    My answer to your question can be found on my post, What Makes for the “Perfect” Hostel?

  • Anonymous

    Glad you’re enjoying it! Hope it inspires you to travel–particularly if you’re taking a language at CB!

  • snarknbanter

    Thanks so much for reviewing this!! I’ve been going crazy trying to find a hostel in Paris that is clean, has lockers, and is safe!

    So far, I’ve only come up with St Christopher’s on rue de Crimee, which is a bit out of the city, but it seems like if I want lockers AND cleanliness AND safety, I’m going to have to sacrifice location :(

    Any other tips for Paris? :)

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