There are many ways to travel; from the five-star hotel to the inter-city campsite, every person has their own style. While I don’t mind sharing a room with five or six relative strangers, I found out very quickly that the rating and cleanliness of a hostel say very little about the hostel experience.
I won’t begin with the bad stories (not that I have any horror stories- just that I’ll save some of the spicier for later) but rather with my favorite hostel, Ivan Hoe. Hostel Ivan Hoe is located right in the middle of Rome, squirreled away in a typical cobble-stoned alleyway, a few blocks away from the Coliseum, and a two minute walk from the metro stop. The funny thing about this hostel is that it has few of the qualities that comprise a “good” hostel experience; there were a very few, very insecure personal lockers, the beds were almost certainly infested with bed bugs, the breakfast was not free, and there was a five-hour lock-out, from 11 am to 4 pm (the hottest, most miserable part of the day in a Roman summer), every day.
However, for some odd reason, this hostel was the highlight of our trip. Maybe the brightly colored walls made the hostel more homey than the white-wall-and-linoleum sterility that you find elsewhere. Perhaps because of the lockout we were forced to explore (and enjoy) the city more, and because of the tiny, cramped bedrooms, everyone congregated in the kitchen and living room areas, sharing in the preparation and enjoyment of food, because hiding in your room simply wasn’t an option. (Or it certainly was not an enjoyable one)
While I was there, I made friends from all over the globe, discovered that I love cornichons, and learned how to make chicken marsala and use an Italian espresso maker. We wandered the city by night, taking in monuments and statues over wine or gelato, joining the other young people in the Trastevere, and generally, wreaking as much havoc as possible. Although Hostel Ivan Hoe was not sterile, was hardly even trustworthy, it set my standards for the hosteling experience.
Lessons learned: pay attention to ratings when booking your trip, but, more importantly, read the reviews, because amenities account for a minuscule part of the journey.