The Solo Girl and the Hostel

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I’ve got a confession to make: I make a terrible backpacker.

No, it’s true! I don’t party, I have never taken a trip longer than 2 weeks, and I don’t even own a proper backpacker’s backpack.

And you know what else? I don’t like hostels.

Barnacles, Paraparaumu, New Zealand

Though, I did love this one...

I like the idea of hostels — safe, cheap places for travelers to stay that offer all the amenities of home and are conducive to meeting other like-minded travelers. That’s great. But what I don’t like about hostels is sleeping with strangers (at least one of whom will always snore), having to lock up my belongings, and feeling daunted by the task of trying to force my friendship on other people by inviting myself into their groups.

I’ve said before that I’m a bit of a weenie when it comes to solo travel. One-on-one, I’m great with meeting new people. But when it’s me against a gaggle of 20-something travelers who are already BFFs and who may also already be slightly tipsy by the time I see them in the hostel lounge? That, my friends, is not my forte.

So call me a snob if you like, but I do not love hostels. Never have, and probably never will.

But that’s not to say I can’t compromise. I am a mildly budget-conscious traveler, and hostels do often offer the best bargains. But those bargains don’t necessarily have to be found in the dorm rooms.

On my recent trip to New Zealand, I was offered complimentary stays at a handful of hostels as part of my Blog4NZ prize package. Never one to turn down something free that I can later blog about, I knew I couldn’t pass the offers up. Luckily for me, my stays were all in private rooms, which meant I got to check a lot of hostels out without having to deal with those awkward dorm room moments that I dread.

Here’s a round-up of the hostels I stayed in in New Zealand:

Greymouth — Noah’s Ark Backpackers

Noah's Ark Backpackers, Greymouth, New Zealand

This one was not a freebie, but I feel the $50NZD (roughly $38USD) I spent on a private room at Noah’s Ark Backpackers was well worth it. The hostel has a slight safari theme, with each of the rooms decorated with paintings and photos of some large African animal or other. I stayed in the “Elephant Room.”

Noah's Ark Backpackers, Greymouth, New Zealand

The hostel itself, located inside a 100-year-old building that used to house a monastery, was clean and cozy with just the right amount of rustic kitsch. My ground-floor room was warm (with TWO heaters!), my bed was comfy, and there was a shared bathroom one door over. I even got a free hour or so worth of wi-fi access with my room. The dorm rooms were upstairs, and the hostel also had a nice dining room/lounge with a fireplace, a TV room, laundry for a reasonable price, and even a hottub outside.

For those with allergies, note, though, that Noah’s Ark is also home to a dog and cat, as well as chickens that roam the fenced-in yard outside.

Franz Josef — Rainforest Retreat

In Franz Josef, I was put up at the Rainforest Retreat, which is approximately a 5-minute walk from town and the handful of popular hostels there. The Retreat offers up a variety of accommodation options, from cabins to dorm rooms. I was assigned a motel-style room that could have slept 3. The room itself wasn’t anything special (though the space heater was much appreciated after spending a wet and chilly day out on the Franz Josef Glacier), but the bed was comfy and the water was hot.

Rainforest Retreat, Franz Josef, New Zealand

I also got a coupon at check-in for a $12 “backpacker dinner” at Monsoon, the bar/restaurant on the Retreat property. The price may not seem like a bargain, but I assure you it was. I ordered a massive cheeseburger with a generous helping of fries, and enjoyed people-watching at the bar.

I’ll also note that this was the only place where I was able to pick up free wi-fi Internet access, though the signal was admittedly very weak.

Queenstown — Nomads

Nomads Queenstown is definitely what most people would call a “flashpackers.” Nearly brand-new, Nomads Queenstown was named Best Hostel in New Zealand in both 2010 and 2011. And I’ll admit that it was definitely one of the nicer places I stayed in one of the best locations — right in the heart of Queenstown, the country’s adventure capital.

Nomad's Queenstown

This was the view from my balcony.

Nomads put me up in one of their single rooms, which usually goes for a rate comparable to (or more expensive than) rooms at a lot of nearby hotels. I had a king-sized bed all to myself, a fancy bathroom, a flat-screen TV, and a huge balcony that offered up views of the Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu. While the bed was probably the least comfortable one I slept in in NZ, I felt like a rockstar in this room for 2 nights.

Nomad's Queenstown

The hostel itself is part of a large chain, meaning you can expect things like a bustling kitchen and common area, an Internet café, luggage storage, and a whole lotta dorm rooms in a setting just oozing with 20-something backpackers. If you were a social butterfly, Nomads would be the perfect place for you. As for me, I almost had a panic attack when I walked into the absolutely packed dining room one evening.

Wellington — Downtown Backpackers

For 2 nights in Wellington, I had the chance to stay at Downtown Backpackers, a hostel set up in the historic Hotel Waterloo. This hostel definitely isn’t as “flash” as some of the others on offer in Wellington, but it certainly has character. With old elevators, grand staircases, intricately tiled bathrooms and a café in the old ballroom, Downtown Backpackers is definitely worth checking out.

Downtown Backpackers, Wellington, New Zealand

They put me up in one of their single rooms, which was basically just an old hotel room. I found the hostel to be quiet (except for some noisy pipes), the reception staff to be friendly, and all the amenities to be reasonable. There’s both a bar and café in the hostel, as well as a tour desk and lockers to store small luggage.

Downtown Backpackers, Wellington, New Zealand

Downtown Backpackers is conveniently located directly across the street from the Wellington Railway Station, too. It’s clearly in a good spot, because the Queen and her entourage even stayed here back when it was the Hotel Waterloo on her coronation tour in 1953.

Paraparaumu — Barnacles Seaside Inn

The only YHA hostel I stayed in in New Zealand, Barnacles Seaside Inn was perhaps my favorite. But it wasn’t the doily-covered, antique-laden private room I had, or the squashy couches, or the courtyard, or the great coastal views that made it my favorite — it was the people. Run by a lovely couple, Aorangi and Bill, Barnacles just felt like home.

Barnacles, Paraparaumu, New Zealand

I was greeted with hugs, treated like a celebrity, and introduced to anyone and everyone Aorangi could find hanging about the place. When I returned from an afternoon spent hiking on Kapiti Island, Aorangi insisted that I go have a sit-down in my room, and then she proceeded to bring me a tray with coffee, cheese and crackers.

Barnacles, Paraparaumu, New Zealand

This hostel may be older, but it is very well looked-after, and offers a variety of rooms. Many of the others staying there were living there indefinitely as they looked for jobs, and it was clear that Aorangi treated many of them like her own children.

If you ever find yourself in Paraparaumu on NZ’s Kapiti Coast, Barnacles is the place to stay.


So would I do it all over again if I had the chance? Yes, probably. Even though this is one solo girl who doesn’t love hostels, I was able to enjoy my stays in the right ones.

And that’s really what travel is all about — discovering your own style and learning how to work with it.

Are you the hostel-going type? Tell me about some of your favorite (or least-favorite) experiences.


Note: I realize I do a lot of stereotyping in this post — namely suggesting that people who stay in hostels are young and like to party. I know this is not always the case, but it is often the norm in many New Zealand hostels, especially the really flash chain ones. Please excuse my blatant over-generalizations.

Disclaimer: As mentioned, Rainforest Retreat, Nomad’s Queenstown, Downtown Backpackers and Barnacles all offered me complimentary stays. But this in no way influenced my experiences or opinions. And, in most cases, I still had to pay for my Internet access — come on NZ, where’s the free wi-fi??


  • Megan says:

    It’s not just NZ that sucks with the free wifi – it’s Australia too 🙁 And unfortunately us locals also have to pay through the nose for it – it has something to do with the cabling – apparently NZ only has one cable for the whole country?? Not that I really know what that means, but that’s why it’s so expensive – we still pay for data, rather than speed.

    I so know what you mean about hostels – I always stay in them but I do sometimes find the social aspect quite difficult. I’m not so good at just walking up to people and introducing myself (especially if they’re drinking), that’s way too intimidating.
    Megan recently posted..A rickshaw ride through Amritsar

    • DangerousBiz says:

      I don’t know why, but NZ and OZ seem to be soooo far behind the rest of the world when it comes to the Internet. Which is unfortunate, since they’re both so high on many people’s travel lists! I’ve heard the “only one cable” thing about NZ, too. Clearly, they need to work on this!

      And I’m glad I’m not alone on my feeling about hostels…

  • Tijmen says:

    I have very mixed experiences with hostels as well, definitely not into the party hostels. Made the mistake of my life of staying in the base backpackers in Christchurch…., I had good memories of base backpackers from a few years before. But having to stay in a dorm room with 12 other drunk people above a disco, never again. But some of the hostels In stayed in where awesome. Have you ever stayed in the old slaughter house hostel in Hector? I loved it there. Its on the south Island just north of Westport. Next time you go to NZ, which will happen at some point I guess 😛 Definitely have a look at that hostel, its small, but the view over the forest and the ocean is amazing.
    Tijmen recently posted..Covoitur(voy)age

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Party hostels definitely have their place, but they’re just not for me. And, honestly, I don’t think they ever would have been, even if I’d been traveling solo at 18 or 19. They just don’t mesh with my personality. But there are definitely hostels that ARE a good fit for me – as evidenced by this post! It’s just a matter of doing your homework.

      And I’ve never been to Hector, but if ever I pass through there, I will keep that hostel suggestion in mind. Thanks!

    • Roger says:

      Maybe its just me, but isnt it always going to be a mission to get a good nights sleep when booking into a 12 person dorm? Its obviously the cheapest option but Id rather spend some more money and get a better sleep in a smaller dorm. Theres obviously going to be a large mix of people in a 12 bed dorm including snorers/sleep talkers/sleep walkers and at least 50% are going to be heading out to have a few drinks and experience what the local nightlife has to offer. Im sorry but I reckon you should book into a private room next time!

      • DangerousBiz says:

        It’s all about personal preference, of course, and it sounds like Tijmen had had a previously good experience at the hostel with the 12-bed dorms. But, as we all know, things change!

        But I agree with you, Roger. If a good night’s sleep is your top priority, you’re probably better off spending the extra money on a smaller dorm or private room.

      • Tijmen says:

        I didnt stay in the 12 person dorm room by choice, there was simply nothing else available. And since there was also an event in the city all the other hostels where booked out as well. I’m also pretty sure hat disco wasn’t there the first time I visited it. The whole hostel just left a bad impression on me compared to my first visit. Usually a 4 person dorm room is the limit, would never go for 12 if I have a choice 🙂

  • Alouise says:

    I was reading the introduction, and I was actually nodding my head in agreement. I’m not one to start chatting up people at the hostel bar. I’m always so busy that I usually just use the hostel as a place to sleep, rather than a place to socialize. But like you I’ve never taken a trip longer than two weeks. If I was on the road longer it might be different.

    All these hostels sounds great, and very different. That’s one thing I really like is that hostels each have their own style and vibe, unlike hotels where you’ll get the same thing again and again.
    Alouise recently posted..Road Trip Memories Week 9 – How To Handle 21 Hours On The Road

    • DangerousBiz says:

      I spent more time in some of the hostels on this trip, whether due to bad weather, boredom, or because I needed to force myself to get some work done. But, luckily for me, most of these were great. I lucked out with private rooms, and I think this is the only way I’ll do hostels from now on.

      And all of these hostels were indeed very unique. Most of them had their own character, which I appreciated. Much better than staying in chain hostels that are all the same no matter where you go.

  • Rebecca says:

    I am so with you on all points. Plus, I am the lightest sleeper ever, so every time someone walks into and makes a noise in a dorm, I wake up. And for weeks on end, that sounds like the worst! trip! ever!. When I traveled for 4 months around Australia and New Zealand, I only let myself stay in dorms when I was only going to be in a place for one night, otherwise it was private rooms all the way. Because of that added expense, I ended up coming home sooner then I would have liked, but looking back, I had a better time because of it and I wouldn’t change a thing.

    I like the public features in hostels (kitchens, common rooms and I’m sure I am the only girl who will ever say they’d rather have their own tv over their own bathroom but I could go either way on both to save a few bucks), but I am a pretty private person and I like having my own place to escape to.

    That hostel in Qtown looks super flash! Balcony and that awesome view!!
    Rebecca recently posted..Random Weekend: Book: Getting Stoned with Savages

    • DangerousBiz says:

      I’m a really light sleeper, too, AND I have trouble adjusting to sleeping in new places. So hostel dorms where I don’t know anybody are like a nightmare for me. I’d rather pay a little extra and guarantee that I’m going to get some sleep. That way, I’ll be awake and not dozing the next day like everyone else. If you’re dozing on a bus ride or too sleepy to go explore a city, what’s the point of traveling?

      I don’t mind having to share bathrooms or TVs or anything. Just give me a room with my own bed!

      (And yes, Nomads in Queenstown was pretty much the definition of “flash.” Haha.)

  • Jim says:

    Thanks for the fantastic review on my local backpacker hostel.
    Nice one. I’ll have to share this!
    Jim recently posted..DAMARALAND EMBRACE.

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Share away, Jim! Barnacles was fantastic; I’d definitely recommend it to others, as long as Aorangi is there!

  • Laura says:

    These are some of the nicest hostels I’ve seen — at least based on your photos. 😉 I’ve only ever stayed at hostels in Latin America and only when I absolutely couldn’t afford anything else. Occasionally, one or two will really stand out and be great, but the majority simply serve the purpose of a relatively cheap place to stay. And I really dislike sharing bathrooms with lots of people, for me that’s probably the worst part!! 😉
    Laura recently posted..Music in the Port City of Veracruz

    • DangerousBiz says:

      New Zealand and Australia generally offer great hostels. I usually pick where I stay pretty carefully, but I’ve never had a “bad” hostel experience in either of those countries.

      I should have snuck into all the dorms of these hostels to take photos of those, too. … Next time. 😉

  • Before my Asia travels, I was a private room at a hostel kind of girl. And I rejoiced that it was just a cheap, and often cheaper, to get a room at a guesthouse in Southeast Asia as it was to share a hostel dorm. But in time, I found myself booking dorms whenever I could — I loved the community, loved making new friends, loved rolling over and seeing who hooked up the night before. And I had a nice pair of headphones, too. 😉 You never know! Things could change!
    Adventurous Kate recently posted..Chester: The Beauty of Northwest England

    • DangerousBiz says:

      I would never rule out things changing if I went on a long-term trip like you did, Kate. Over time, perhaps my opinions would change — especially if I fell into great groups of travelers like you seemed to. If they weren’t complete strangers, it might be different. Otherwise though, I’m not so sure!

  • Those are some fancy-looking hostels! MUCH better than what I’ve experienced in Buenos Aires. Don’t think you’d want to try out a hostel here 🙂
    The Travel Chica recently posted..My Little Wine Experiment: Can You Tell the Difference?

  • Emily says:

    Hahaha… I love this post because that is so me! I’m not a very good backpacker, either… I don’t sleep in rooms with strangers, and I’m not a partier, either. I’m secretly afraid of hostels 🙂
    Emily recently posted..Future fat girl likes to eat!

    • DangerousBiz says:

      We are clearly kindred spirits, Emily! But you know what? Nobody says we have to be “good” backpackers in order to enjoy travel!

  • Gail says:

    You don’t have to be young to enjoy a good hostel. I stayed in a hostel when I went to Florence, Italy. While there were a limited number of older people who were there, we managed to hold our own. I, however, was not solo. I went with a musical group and shared a room with two people I knew slightly. I was probably the one who snored, but I did so with respect. We got along well, I made two new friends, and I found the hostel to be clean, roomy and comfortable. Like others, i was only there for about 21 days so really can’t comment on a longer stay. Even though I’m old in age, I’m still young at heart and would stay in a hostel again. Heck, I could give you young ones something to talk about!

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Haha, that’s awesome Gail! There are plenty of older travelers who stay in hostels – which is why I added that little note at the end of this post. Hostels aren’t JUST for young travelers, even though that’s the crowd they tend to cater to. If you find a good, clean hostel with the right atmosphere, the rest shouldn’t matter as much.

  • Erik says:

    Good info! I am thinking I’ll probably camp quite a bit to offset the cost of the rental car. I am not really a hostel person either, but it’s knowing there are lots of good options if I need a couple of nights indoors.

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Camping in NZ is pretty easy, too. And, if you’re going to rent a car, consider renting a campervan! You’ll have your bed and you transport all rolled into one.

  • I’m glad someone finally posted something like this!

    I used to be a frequent hostel person, but not so much anymore – I grew tired of not knowing what to expect, cleanliness and people wise. Hostels are too much of a hassle for me now, because as I travel with my fiancé, it often ends up being more expensive to book two beds in a hostel rather than a private room in a 2 or 3 star hotel.

    But with the cute hostels you’ve been to in NZ, it almost makes me want to reconsider my travel choices!

    • DangerousBiz says:

      If you’re traveling with a partner – or even a couple of friends – it’s almost always cheaper or the same price to book a private room somewhere than multiple beds in a hostel. But when you’re going solo… it’s a different story!

      NZ certainly does have some cute hostels with character, though… 😉

  • Jeremy says:

    That Nomad’s room looks bangin! The job I told you I was gunning for would have put me up in one of those for free…now I’m just jealous 🙁
    Jeremy recently posted..The chi of travel

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Haha, the room at Nomad’s was definitely nice! Though, the bed was kinda lumpy. So don’t be tooooo jealous. 😉

  • Toni says:

    I have to say that I’m a bit-of-both traveller. I’m happy in either a private room or a hostel but it mostly depends on my mood. For my first few days in Thailand I wanted to be left alone to have ‘me time’ so had a private room which I loved but then stayed in a hostel with 8 beds in the dorm and partied all week.
    I totally get what you mean about it being hard to push yourself into a groups friendship but I guess, that’s one of the biggest advantages/disadvantages. And btw, Nomads Queenstown looks uh-mazing!! haha

    • DangerousBiz says:

      I think your “bit-of-both” mentality is probably a really good one. As for me, I tend to like my “me time” at night when I’m sleeping… haha. But I also know I need to be more adventurous when traveling and try to break into some of those groups that scare me.

      (And yes, the Nomad’s room was pretty sweet!)

  • Audrey says:

    I love hostels!!! I know what you mean though, it can be hard coming into a room where a group has been together for a couple of days and have had the chance to bond, but most people are still really open and friendly. I find that I always end up befriending the people working at the reception, haha! They’re young, they’re fun, and they’ve got all the interesting stories of the people that have come through and the parties that will be going down 😉
    Audrey recently posted..London Is Flirting With Me

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Everyone’s a little different when it comes to their opinion on hostels… I actually envy people like you who love them! I wish I could, but I’m not sure it’s ever going to happen. That’s okay, though.

      Befriending the people working at reception is a great idea, though! I’ve done that once or twice myself, to learn about good places to eat in town. Haha.

  • Annie says:

    I wish I remembered to names of the places I stayed in NZ, I was not a blogger then! haha. These places sound nice though for my next trip!

    I would usually be turned off by antique-y looking places and your experience just goes to show how wrong I could be. I can’t even imagine how comforting it would have been for you to be treated like family as you were traveling solo through New Zealand. Maybe I should start second guessing myself.
    Annie recently posted..Breathing the Fresh Tuscan Air with Fun in Tuscany Vespa Tours

    • DangerousBiz says:

      I checked out Barnacles online before I went, and I was a little uncertain if I’d like it. But it was the BEST place. All because of the people. I can’t recommend it highly enough!

  • Sam says:

    Hehehe I loved reading this, it is great to know that there are others out there who feel the way I do about hostels! I have recently set off on 6 months of travel and I know that I will have to overcome my fear of hostels in order to make my money last, but it is a daunting thought. I really do not like the forced chit chat when I want quiet time and I always feel like a loser when I want to go to bed and it is still 2 hours until lights out and everyone else is getting dressed up to go out!

    • DangerousBiz says:

      It can give a person anxiety, can’t it? Lol. But I guess my best advice is to just keep reminding yourself that this is YOUR trip, and you have to stay true to YOUR travel style – whatever that might be. Have fun!

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