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Guide to Living in a Hostel For Long Termers

The cheapest accommodation for backpackers and those on a budget is almost without exception a hostel. Additionally, there is quite a difference between moving on from hostel to hostel every few days to living in one for a few weeks or months. Read on to discover what those differences are and to get the heads up on what it takes to make a hostel stay the fun experience it is meant to be.

For most people a stay in a hostel is a passing-through visit which lasts a few days at most. However, many of the New Zealand hostels have one or more people staying longer term, not least because the country is so popular for working holidays.

Living in a hostel for an extended period can be very different to stopping over for a night or two and there are some definite advantages and disadvantages to being a long-termer. Additionally the decision of which hostel to settle down in needs to be given some serious thought. Most backpackers can shrug off even the worst conditions so making a bad decision choice for a hostel for the short term is really no great disaster. However, this decision for a long-termer becomes rather more crucial - even the most minor irritations which barely register on a one night stay can wear your patience very thin after several weeks or even months.

Choosing the right hostel for living in longer term

While what constitutes the ideal hostel is going to vary significantly from person to person asking yourself the following questions and implementing the ideas suggested might help you make a choice with which you can be at your most comfortable for your entire stay.

  • Try before you buy – Never commit to a long stay until you have had at least a few nights in one place. Even those places which seem like paradise at first glance can have certain things which you couldn't possibly know until you have stayed there (such as a next door neighbour's dog which barks the whole night long every night). If you do unearth minor negative points – and in most cases nowhere is perfect - ask yourself if that would be something you could live with or would become a major problem over time.
  • What perks are part of the package? - The added extras at some hostels can save you a heap of cash when added up over time. Such things as free breakfasts, laundry facilities, wifi etc are real bonuses for the long-termer and some hostels will even negotiate special inclusions or reduced rates for those intending to stay a while.
  • How comfortable are the beds? - While a night on a concrete hard mattress or one with the consistency of a melted marshmallow might not affect you for one night you might think differently after several weeks when you collapse into bed each night after a hard day’s fruit picking and just want to sleep.
  • Are there any other long-termers there? - If so ask them what they have found to be the advantages and disadvantage over their time there. A batch of long-termers already living in a hostel can often be a good sign but remember what satisfies their needs won't necessarily be the same for you.
  • Have the staff worked there for a while? - Like most work places a high staff turnover typically indicates something isn't quite right while the opposite suggests the working environment (and therefore the hostel in this instance) is a happy place to be. Additionally, miserable staff with little enthusiasm can easily negatively impact on your hostel stay.
  • Dorm sizes – Although this really is very personal, long-termers typically prefer small dorms and even better long-termer only dorms because this reduces the chance of having a high incidence of far from ideal dorm-mates.
  • Small can be beautiful – Unless you are a super-social party animal and a lover of living soap operas you will probably find smaller hostels make for better long-terming. Larger hostels can lead to cliques and certainly have the capacity for more drama.
  • Priority changes – When you are long-terming in a hostel you turn into a different kind of traveller. This is certainly true if you are working because routine takes the place – at least partially - from the single-minded goal of cramming as much fun or travel-interest into every day as possible. All the other travellers coming through are still probably going to be focused on that goal which means choosing anywhere too big or too lively won't fit in with your new priorities. This is again where it can make good sense to choose a hostel with an existing long-termer community.

 

Choosing the right hostel for living in longer term

While what constitutes the ideal hostel is going to vary significantly from person to person asking yourself the following questions and implementing the ideas suggested might help you make a choice with which you can be at your most comfortable for your entire stay.

  • Try before you buy – Never commit to a long stay until you have had at least a few nights in one place. Even those places which seem like paradise at first glance can have certain things which you couldn't possibly know until you have stayed there (such as a next door neighbour's dog which barks the whole night long every night). If you do unearth minor negative points – and in most cases nowhere is perfect - ask yourself if that would be something you could live with or would become a major problem over time.
  • What perks are part of the package? - The added extras at some hostels can save you a heap of cash when added up over time. Such things as free breakfasts, laundry facilities, wifi etc are real bonuses for the long-termer and some hostels will even negotiate special inclusions or reduced rates for those intending to stay a while.
  • How comfortable are the beds? - While a night on a concrete hard mattress or one with the consistency of a melted marshmallow might not affect you for one night you might think differently after several weeks when you collapse into bed each night after a hard day’s fruit picking and just want to sleep.
  • Are there any other long-termers there? - If so ask them what they have found to be the advantages and disadvantage over their time there. A batch of long-termers already living in a hostel can often be a good sign but remember what satisfies their needs won't necessarily be the same for you.
  • Have the staff worked there for a while? - Like most work places a high staff turnover typically indicates something isn't quite right while the opposite suggests the working environment (and therefore the hostel in this instance) is a happy place to be. Additionally, miserable staff with little enthusiasm can easily negatively impact on your hostel stay.
  • Dorm sizes – Although this really is very personal, long-termers typically prefer small dorms and even better long-termer only dorms because this reduces the chance of having a high incidence of far from ideal dorm-mates.
  • Small can be beautiful – Unless you are a super-social party animal and a lover of living soap operas you will probably find smaller hostels make for better long-terming. Larger hostels can lead to cliques and certainly have the capacity for more drama.
  • Priority changes – When you are long-terming in a hostel you turn into a different kind of traveller. This is certainly true if you are working because routine takes the place – at least partially - from the single-minded goal of cramming as much fun or travel-interest into every day as possible. All the other travellers coming through are still probably going to be focused on that goal which means choosing anywhere too big or too lively won't fit in with your new priorities. This is again where it can make good sense to choose a hostel with an existing long-termer community.

 

The less fun bits about being a long-termer in a hostel

The lack of privacy – If you grew up with a heap of siblings then maybe never being able to escape people won't offer much of a challenge but if you have been used to a private space to yourself whenever you want it living in a hostel long-term can be hard. Your best hope to have a little alone time is by choosing a hostel which has quiet, hideaway corners. The other option is to pair up with another long-termer and take a private room which in some cases can work out as cheap as or even cheaper than a dorm. You still won't have a completely private space but if you choose you room-mate wisely sharing with just one other person rather than eleven can make all the difference.

Meeting new people all the time – While meeting wonderfully interesting new people all the time is often one of the main reasons for using hostels this changes a little when you are a long-termer. You might find yourself being asked for the same advice and recommendations over and again and the 'hi, where are you from/where have you been/where are you going' questions really can start to wear a bit thin on the hundredth repetition. This is another reason to try and pick a hostel which has other long-termers so you won't have to go through this routine quite as much.

It's easier to leave than to be left behind – So said REM and it couldn't be truer. While saying goodbye over and again to people you have grown close to is part of any backpacking adventure it is worse as a long-termer. You are always the one being left behind and watching others go off to do new and exciting things.

A home that's not a home – While hanging around for a while in a hostel can make a place feel something like a home there are always going to be those things which remind you it isn't home. You can't put all your toiletries out in the bathroom, you can't wander around naked, you can't eat that late-night snack in bed, you can't take a long soak in the bath and living out of a backpack can get really tedious.

You'll occasionally be landed with the dorm-mate from hell – You might be lucky enough to escape having to share with the guy who breaks every hostel etiquette rule and qualifies as worst dorm-mate ever but even if this is the case you are not going to love every traveller that passes through. While this is also true about spending any time in a hostel in can get to you more when your longer-term living space is being invaded by the more annoying type of traveller. You have no control over who you end up sleeping in a room with and that can be a challenge.

Some Final Thoughts – Long-termers Only

As a long-termer you will need to observe all of the hostel etiquette rules discussed before as well as adding in a handful of extra observances in order to make your stay as happy and trouble-free as possible.

Avoid putting out the cliquey vibes – Although it is perfectly natural to group together with other long-termers be sensitive towards the travellers coming and going. Booking into a hostel where everyone seems to know each other can be isolating and where there are definite cliques it can be downright intimidating and lonely. Just monitor how much you are excluding or welcoming others when you're hanging out with your long-term buddies. You don't have to be best friends with everyone, join in every game of cards or even go out of your way to be friendly but you can still be warm and welcoming in a way that makes people feel comfortable and not ignored.

Avoid putting out ownership, know-it-all or superiority vibes – Sadly there is a breed of long-termers who once ensconced somewhere for a few months tend to forget they don't actually own the hostel or have any more right to first dibs on the washing machine than anyone else. Although in reality as a long-termer you may have extra privileges try not to wave this around like a loaded gun or to make yourself feel big and important and with the right to lord it over the newcomers. Don't be one of those long-termers – it's just not pretty.

The other end of the scale is the long-termer who pounces on every new arrival and insists on giving them a long list of where to go and what to do. He will feel the need to pass on every last detail of the benefit of his extensive experience in an effort to prove how accepted by everyone and knowledgeable he is. Don't be one of those long-termers either. Helpful is usually welcome – being patronising isn't.

In between is the guy who just sneers or laughs at people. Perhaps because someone doesn't know how the labelling system works in the kitchen or what a dairy is in New Zealand speak and he'll roll his eyes when an inexperienced backpacker does something or asks a question which shows they are new to the circuit. That is just not nice.

Don't stop exploring – If you are working long hours it can be very tempting to spend all of your downtime hours slumped in front of the TV. However, try and remember occasionally why you came here and don't stop exploring your surroundings. In order to survive some of the challenges of long-term hostel living you will need to get out sometimes even if it is just for a walk. There is nowhere in New Zealand which isn't crammed with opportunities for finding fun, adventure and new experiences so don't stop trying to find them just because you are in more of a routine than you would normally find yourself while travelling.

Know when it is time to leave – If you start to feel trapped somewhere or unhappy for whatever reason it might be time to think about leaving. This might simply mean moving to another hostel or getting out of the area completely and finding another job. Don't be scared to say it isn't working and stick it out purely from a sense of misplaced pride. That isn't what you started to travel for.

 

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