Pretending I Learned Something: Hostels

As I’m winding down to the end of my time in South America, I thought I’d put together some travel tips based on my time down here. They’re mainly going to be geared toward long-term backpacking-type travel, but some stuff might come in handy for South American travel in general. This is part one of my “Pretending I Learned Something” series and today we learn about: hostels!

All hostels have a stated check-in time, but few hostels will actually deny you an early check-in when there’s a bed available (even when you’re outrageously early, like 4 AM). The ones that actually do make you wait are obnoxious and should be checked out of as soon as possible.

When you check out, the bill is almost never correct. They’re not trying to rip you off; they just don’t really have their shit together accounting-wise. They’ll undercharge you about as often as they overcharge you. I just calculate an itemized total beforehand and correct them when they give me a wonky total.


“Complimentary Breakfast” means that you will be given two pieces of bread and tea. Consider the breakfast exciting if they also offer cereal with milk and/or fresh fruit. A hostel with a scrambled egg buffet is the jackpot.

There’s an unspoken rule in hostels that you have to be friendly to everyone who talks to you (note: English people seem to be exempt from this rule). The result is that you can start talking to whoever and they have to be nice to you no matter how weird you are. The corollary is that you, in turn, have to be nice to really weird people.

“WiFi in guest rooms” means you will intermittently get 1 bar of signal in the room closest to the wireless router.

If you book a hostel in advance, write down both the hostel’s street address and the telephone number (even if you don’t have a phone). Cabbies will claim they know any address you give them until you’re actually in the cab and have been driving around lost for 20 minutes. If you have the number, the cabbie can call when they get lost.

Despite the popular perception of hostels, it’s not that hard to find a hostel with hot water in the showers.


Your valuables are pretty secure if you do the bare minimum to secure them (i.e. keep them locked in a locker). I’ve never talked to anyone who’s had anything stolen from them in a hostel. I’ve only heard secondhand stories and they always involve something like an iPhone being left unattended all day on a bed in a shared dorm room. If there’s a thief in your hostel, there’s likely to be so much low hanging fruit in terms of other people leaving valuables out that if you just store your theft-attractive stuff in a locker (even if that locker is made of balsa wood and your lock can be opened with stern language), you’re pretty safe.

Every rule in the hostel can be broken without anyone really caring much. This is especially true if you’re on friendly terms with the staff.

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