Sunday, May 1, 2016

Hostels In India - The Cool New Way To Travel On A Budget

As a solo female traveller, who is travelling on a budget, finding a decent and safe accommodation suiting my pocket is always a challenge which I overcome on a trip by trip basis. To be honest, I thought it would be very difficult to get something in my budget, some cities more tricky than others. However, a little research and I booked myself a hostel bed on my first trip to Goa. 

That was just the beginning. Trips after that were all about finding more such cool places. But none of my friends seemed to know much about hostels in India. Some of the common perceptions about hostels here have been, “Are they clean like the ones internationally?” or “Do we really have hostels in India?”

So, my four hostel stays later I decided to correct these misconceptions and bring to you the entire story of staying in a hostel in India while travelling.

WHAT MAKES HOSTELS A BRILLIANT CHOICE?
Small yet booming hostel industry, almost like boutique hotel chains
India has always been a fascinating destination for international backpackers for years now. They all have been travelling across south-east Asia and Europe, places which are backpacker friendly. There was a very potent market need for safe, budget stays for backpackers, with quality at par with what’s offered by big hotel chains. 
Wanderers Hostel Goa

Out came new-age entrepreneurs who made first move in this niche segment and today, we have a sizeable number of them across cities. There are hostel chains, like Zostel, spread across cities catering to foreign tourists mostly (with Indians coming in as well) and hostels focussing only on a particular zone (mainly Goa or Rajasthan). Basically, wherever you are going in India, you might find a hostel now. 

Hostels score amazing when you want to travel budget and save some cash
Gone are the days when we all travelled with huge families and bigger wallets. Now vacations are getting sacrosanct, frequent, solo and mindful of budget too. Staying in a luxury beach resort in Goa or a lake-facing hotel room in Udaipur are fabulous vacation stays but not always possible. Thanks to a mind-numbing variety of hostels at many tourist spots in the country, picking up your bag, taking an overnight bus and experiencing a new city on a long weekend, and all that under an unbelievable amount is now possible. 
Red Door Hostel Goa

And when we say unbelievable amount, I mean a bed starting say, 250 rupees a night. No kidding. Imagine, saving a bagful to spend on rest of the trip and of course, shopping!

Hostels are anything but boring  
I wouldn’t blame you if the first image that comes to your mind is of dirty, dingy rooms with cramped bunk-beds, stinking washrooms and plastered down walls. Well, let me take you to the colourful world of hostels that are coming up in India, from hip and happening Goa to the Blue City of Jodhpur. 
Stops Hostel Varanasi
Done up staircase
Owners are taking keen interest in designing these spaces and making these comfortable like a hotel. 
Wall arts, graffiti, hanging art pieces, nicely done-up break-out rooms, backyards for evening barbeque and bonfire sessions, terraces for pitching tents, clean swimming pools, themed rooms, squeaky clean washrooms, fresh linen and well-equipped kitchens. You get the drift, right?

Your well-informed local guide at a fraction of a price 
The front-desk in these hostels may not have uniformed staff which speaks impeccable English but they are the locals who know the place much better than anyone else. Expect advice on which is the best place to buy authentic Banarasi saree in Varanasi or where to get good laal maas in Jodhpur. 
Red Door Hostel Goa
Well, they said it!
You get to experience the city from a local’s eyes, beyond the guidebooks. And that’s why we travel. Isn’t it?

Hostels are where the action is
While many big-budget hotels are located near the outskirts of the city, hostels are always centrally located with close proximity to restaurants, bus stops, auto stands, supermarkets, city attractions etc. 
Stops Hostel Varanasi
Information board at Stops, Varanasi detailing all the city tours
They make the best decision if you want to walk around the areas and explore. 

Be ready to make friends, lot of them!
In our otherwise routine home-work-home kind of life, how do we get a chance to meet new, interesting people from different countries? I got my answer - by staying in hostels while travelling. 
Wanderers Hostel Goa
Make friends with them too!
From US to Uganda, I have come back with lot of friends and memories from each trip. In fact, the world becomes so much smaller after that. Once in Goa, I had a Spanish girl with her Australian boyfriend, another guy from Texas and all four of us spent all night in our dorm talking in itsy-bitsy understandable Spanish (I am learning Spanish, so had a chance to practice!), about movies, food, travel, music and India! Who would have thought?!

Safe and sound
Now let’s address the elephant in the room. Yes, hostels are very safe to stay. This comes from a solo female traveller. There are security cameras at most locations and this keeps a check on any unwarranted entry. Their bustling living rooms are far safer at any point of the day than long, desolate hotel lobbies.
Stops Hostel Varanasi
As for your stuff, all the hostels provide you with a locker with a padlock (or you can buy the lock from them).  

YOU SHOULD TRY OUT A HOSTEL IF
•  You are a solo traveller, more so if you are a female travelling solo
•  You are a bunch of friends who are looking at exploring a new place and don’t want to spend a bomb on hotel stays
•  You are an introvert or extrovert or generally people-shy
•  You are tired of lonely hotel alleys and plain white linen
•  You want to have real conversations about the world with the ones who have been there, done that
•  You want to have your complimentary breakfast in the garden, lying on a hammock watching the city go by, while the hostel owner’s dog playfully roams around
•  You are open to impromptu plans with people you have known only for a day
•  Most importantly, if you believe in serendipity!

THINGS TO REMEMBER WHILE STAYING IN A HOSTEL
•  Always keep the washrooms clean, no questions asked
•  Use wiper on the bathroom floor after the shower so to keep the floor dry
•  Always keep some eatables etc handy 
•  You may need to do your dishes if there is no assistance provided from the hostel
•  You can pay for laundry, food etc and get it done
•  Respect your dorm-mates’ privacy and sleep. Do not make noises once the lights have been off in the room. You wouldn’t like it if it happens to you, right?
•  Get as much information about offbeat things and places from the hostel staff. Remember, they know the best
•  Be social, make friends, talk to people, share stories

MY FAVORITES
Located centrally, just 15 minutes rickshaw ride away from the main ghat, Stops is our top favourite amongst the lot. Take your pick from a variety of tours and walks they offer every day and you would have experienced most of Varanasi just like that. 
Stops Hostel Varanasi
Reception, a little tuck shop and a cute little area to sit and chill

Stops Hostel Varanasi

They arrange early morning Ganges boat ride for you, they have a little tuck shop that’s open 24X7, maps and information about eating joints, ghats well-placed at the reception. Did we mention the staff is very helpful?

Located just 10 minutes from the serene Morjim beach in the north, Wanderers doesn’t look any less than a hotel. Big, airy dorms and tents near the swimming pool are a big plus. 
Wanderers Hostel Goa

Wanderers Hostel Goa
The blissful zone with tents in the background
A very efficient staff, proximity to other north beaches and nice restaurants, Wanderers comes very easy on the pocket and gives you value for your money spent.

ONLINE RESOURCES
While planning a trip and looking for hostels, check out these websites to see ratings, prices, availability, reviews etc.
You can make reservations through these websites by paying 12% booking amount and rest as cash on arrival.

Having travelled solo and stayed in hostels in many cities, I will tell you something. Every hostel stay has made me richer in terms of new people that I met and stories I heard. And I will not trade these for anything. Not even for a fancier hotel stay. 

So, plan your trip quickly. We might be sharing the dorm next time! :)

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