© 2012 Connecting: Solo Travel Network & Jo Fitzsimons. Information.
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Flashpacker Hostels: Redefining Communal Sleeping

By Jo Fitzsimons

Photo credits:
>> Hostel scene: Katie@!
>> Skyline, Kuala Lumpur Malaysia: Ezry A Rahman
>> El Retiron Lodge, Lanqin Guatemala: Saul Adereth

Bed bugs, hair-ridden showers and unspeakable toilet facilities Hostel dorm. Photo © Katie@!http://www.flickr.com/photos/clicheput many solo travelers off the communal living style associated with hostels. And in many of the pack-em-in doss houses that offer cheaper than cheap rates, some as low as a few dollars a night, this is often the reality that sends travelers in search of a hotel. However, it is not the only reality.

With career-gappers on the increase (I'm one of them), demand for higher accommodation standards has spawned a new style of "flashpacker" hostel that redefines the stereotype. There is no universal definition of "flashpacker," but it usually describes a solo traveler with a bit more money to spend on accommodation.

After 14 months indie traveling from South America to the Middle East and sleeping in every type of accommodation, including the occastional stay in a big brand hotel as well as slinging up a hammock for a night, flashpacking digs are by far my favorite places to stay. Here's why.

Hostels Versus Hotels

Hostels are better than hotels. This may not sound like an obvious statement, but for solo travelers, it is usually true. Regardless of cost – though let's face it, sharing a dorm is without exception cheaper than paying for a hotel room – there are still a lot of reasons why hostels beat hotels hands down for people traveling alone:

>> Meeting people: Hostels generally attract solo travelers; hotels couples, and families. Even if exploring the sights by yourself is your thing, it's nice to be able to dip into a social scene. I have never found it difficult to strike up a conversation in a hostel communal area, but I wobble on both legs at the idea of doing the same with a couple pouring over a map in a hotel lobby.

>> Eating alone: One of the downsides to traveling solo can be eating every meal alone. Even after months traveling by myself there were still times I felt self conscious asking for a table for one. Communal breakfast rooms can break the solitary feeling, and your roommates are the perfect starting point for finding a dinner companion. Remember, most people in hostels are there alone and are probably feeling the same way.

>> Facilities: Believe it or not, many hostels have the same if not better facilities than your average basic hotel. As well as bars, restaurants, and cafés (often discounted), many have cinema rooms for relaxing after a long day of sightseeing, kitchens for putting your market purchases to good use, bike hire, and my favourite, laundry by the kilo, not the extortionate per-item rate levied at hotels.

>> Using hostel resources: First, you get to escape the built in costs of using a hotel concierge, but more important for me, you get a greater sense of achievement by organizing your day trip yourself – with a little help. Most hostels have access to free advice and maps. If you don't feel like going-it alone, many offer free city walks. Or, sightseeing tours can be organized, though not usually of the mass-tourist "follow my umbrella" variety. On the social front, most hostels organise nights out to bars or shows or other activities designed to get you immersed in the local night scene. Going to a local barbeque in Laos was one of my favourite experiences arranged by a hostel and something I wouldn't have done solo.

>> Getting off the tourist trail: Solo travelers are usually among the intrepid first few to venture into far-flung places, and hostels often pop up before hotels, which means you get to visit locations before the masses arrive. Lanquin Guatemala with its cascading rock pools and limestone caves was one of my favorite off-the-beaten track spots.

>>No single supplement: Whether you can afford it or not, why should you be penalized for traveling alone?

What Makes Flashpacker Hostels Better than Other Hostels?

While the list above makes some good arguments for leaving behind the solitude of a single hotel room, the lingering concern of living with cockroach infestations or catching foot fungus still prevents many lone travelers from making the accommodation switch. Which is where flashpacker hostels provide a solution. The plain fact is that in exchange for higher rates – though still cheaper than comparable hotels – flashpacker hostels offer better facilities than their bog-standard, normal hostel counterparts.

My Favorite Flashpacker Hostels

Here are seven flashpacker hostels that may make you change your solo sleeping habits forever. Some also offer private rooms to allow you to ease yourself gently into the hostel scene.

1. The Island, Bali, Indonesia. A pool, cushioned sun loungers, a roof-top bar, free massages and a short stroll to the beach. The Island, Bali IndonesiaIt is easy to think The Island is a four star hotel. Crisp white bed linen gives you bed-bug free confidence and with breakfast included, there is little not to like about this exemplary hostel. Dorms have large lockers, and beds have long floating curtains that add a contemporary feel while offering a bit more privacy. Private rooms are, however, available if you crave your own space. I like this hostel so much I have returned more than once, and so have many others I know. On an island that is known for its canoodling couples, I was glad to find a place to stay with plenty of other solo travelers around.
>> Dorm: US$23-28 (IDR 200,000-250,000); Private: $56-78 (IDR 500,000-700,000) >> Contact: www.theislandhotelbali.com

2. PLUS, Florence, Italy: Hostel sleeping with hotel facilities sets PLUS apart from the rest, PLUS Hostel, Florence Italyeven though private rooms are not available at this hostel. Nevertheless, guests are promised top facilities, total comfort, and outstanding customer service. Located in Florence, one of Italy's most popular cities, this hostel's rooms are brightly decorated, shedding any notion of the cell-style quarters typical of many hostels. Relax on the roof-top terrace with a gelato or beer. Otherwise, take advantage of a refreshing dip in the pool or the other pool-side facilities, including a steam room, sauna, and exercise equipment. A girls-only space provides big bathrooms, cosmetics tables, mirrors, hair dryers, and fluffy towels.
>> Dorm: US$27-$35 (€20.50-€26.00)
>> Contact: www.plushostels.com/plusflorence

3. Lub-d – Siam Square, Bangkok Thailand: The contemporary café and bar area of Lub-d Lud-B Hostel, Siam Square, Bankgkokare defining features of this hostel, which makes it effortless to strike up a conversation with fellow travelers day or night. Rooms are spaciously laid out over several floors, and communal bathrooms, with bath products and hair dryers included, are separate for men and women. Private rooms are available for that extra touch of flashpacker luxury. I found a discarded Tiffany bag and iPad box in this hostel – this place definitely attracts an "up-market" type of backpacker, not that you'd think so with its informal vibe. There are two Lub-d hostels in Bangkok, this one in Siam Square and another on Silom Road.
>> Dorm: US$18-19 (550-600THB); Private: US$25-32 (775-1,000THB)
>> Contact: www.siamsquare.lubd.com

4. Hostel 3B, Playa Del Carmen Mexico: Sometimes you want a solo sun and sand break Hostel 3B, Playa Del carmen Mexicowithout having to book into a big beach resort. Hostel 3B gives you that chance with its promise to deliver lodging that is "cheap & chic." Situated one block from the white sands of Playa del Carmen, a beach vacation can be yours even if you travel independently and on a budget. Cleanliness standards are high. Rooms are freshly decorated in modern colors befitting the trendy and stylish feel this hostel aims for. The friendly staff at Hostel 3B encourage an inclusive atmosphere in the communal areas, making the place even more appealing to solo travelers.
>> Dorm: US$13-$19 (MXN160-240); Private: US$40-47 (MXN500-600)
>> Contact: www.hostel-playa-del-carmen.com

5. Plug-Inn, Paris France: Positioned as the only boutique hostel in Paris, Plug-Inn is a popular spot. Modern decor with a Parisian twist, clean beds and facilities make a change to many of the over priced, sub-standard accommodations offered in the City of Light. Bathrooms are located in each room so there is no need to traipse through corridors with your personal effects in hand, and all bathrooms include hairdryers for perfecting a do befitting this chic city. Located near Montmatre and world famous Moulin Rouge, Paris' bohemian café culture is on the doorstep, as are great transport links. Nightlife is also within walking distance and boasts over 200 bars and cafés within the vicinity. Plug-In aims to be the place where style, comfort and value all connect. For me, it is a funky flashpacker hostel where like-minded travelers may connect.
>> Dorm: US$33 (€25); Private: US$79 (€60)
>> Contact: www.plug-inn.fr

6. Reggae Mansion, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Reggae Mansion is the third and Kuala Lumpur Malaysia Skyline Photo: © ezryrahman http://www.flickr.com/photos/ezryrahman/grandest hostel opened by the Reggae Hostels Group in Kuala Lumpur. The great location in the heart of China Town is second only to the rooftop terrace views of the KL Towers. Cube-style dorm beds with brand new linen and pull-across curtains offer the ultimate in comfort and privacy. All-girl dorms are available as well as private rooms. The Reggae Mansion does pitch itself as a party hostel and has designed its bright bar, restaurant, and rooftop terrace with that in mind, but there is also a lounge for more sedate activities as well as a state of the art cinema room. Take a ride in the Reggae Van for a fun city tour. The hostels by this company keep getting better and better.
>> Dorm: $13-$13.50 (MYR 38-40); Private: US$37-$40 (MYR 110-120)
>> Contact: www.reggaehostelsmalaysia.com

7. El Retiro Lodge, Lanquin Guatemala. And now for something entirely different. Thatched-roof lodges, with sturdy beds and rustic charm, El Retiro Lodge, Languin Guatemala. Photo © Saul Adereth http://www.flickr.com/photos/saul_adereth/make up the dorms at El Retiro in what feels like a nature reserve. A lake invites you in for tubing or a refreshing dip. Alternatively, you can just watch the water float by while you enjoy a long breakfast and a good book in the communal open-sided dining hall. Walking trails snake through the grassy grounds, and animals roam freely. Come evening, all activities focus on the restaurant where a buffet dinner and regular happy hour (every hour) encourages you to meet fellow travelers. Relax in one of the swings at the bar or take to a hammock for a true tranquilo experience. The hostel runs an excellent tour to the caves and other local sights without even a whiff of mass-commercial tourism – think cattle truck transport, not air-conditioned coaches, for a great sense of adventure.
>> Dorm: US$5 (Q35); Private: US$15-$24 (Q120-190)
>> Contact: www.elretirolanquin.com

Contemporary designs, marble sinks, swimming pools, free massages, and impeccable cleaning standards – I've stayed in flashpacker hostels with all of these facilities and more. This new wave of superior hostels is finally bridging what has been too dramatic a difference in accommodation standards between hostels and hotels. Flashpacker hostels are the right solution for solo travelers looking for comfort at just a little more than rock-bottom prices.

>> JF

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