Happily for us, no one else had thought to book a Valentines getaway at Dar Zerhoune and so back in 2009, we had this entire beautiful Dar to ourselves.
The Dar itself is gorgeous, the product of three years of intensive renovation and decorating. Hot showers, gorgeous lighting, and a feeling of warmth and home that I often find missing from top end guesthouses, Dars, Riads, and hotels. A rooftop terrace offers a stunning view of Moulay Idriss and Volubulis.
The salon was well stocked with comfy chairs and sofas and plenty of English language reading material, including books and up to date copies of Newsweek and Time.
There is also free wifi throughout the house, I however had decided to leave my laptop at home since I knew if I had it, I would feel compelled to work.
Dar Zerhoune has single, double, and triple ensuite roooms plus a dormitory for backpackers who are looking for some intense luxury without an intense cost. Rates are far less than you would find in any of Morocco’s bigger cities with the triple ensuite going for only 600 dirhams per night.
Don’t think you are getting less though because this place has it all. The kitchen is available for personal use or if you want to have delicious meals cooked by a local, you can do that too. In short, awesome experience and awesome value.
We took a walk through the Medina and learned of the history, festivals, and traditions of Moulay Idriss. We considered taking some of the treks to lesser known Roman ruins, scenic views, beautiful cascades, and even horseback trips.
Our time in Moulay Idriss was wonderful in no small part thanks to Dar Zerhoune.
We knew that we would be back to enjoy more of what this wonderful place has to offer.
I wrote this nearly a decade ago – it was one of the most popular posts on the old Vagobond.com – feel free to disagree. I don’t even agree with me at this point. I have not stayed in a hostel since I wrote this, so I hope that things have changed for the better.
First of all, here are the main reasons you might choose to stay in a hostel:
1) Cheaper than a hotel – good for budget
2) You want to hook up (or hang around) with foreign women/foreign men
3) Budget group activities/free breakfast
That’s it for the positive as far as I can tell. In my opinion, these are all bullshit. Here are the 25 reasons not to stay in hostels while you travel.
1) They aren’t really that cheap. Generally, you can find a 1 or 2 star hotel for the same price as a bed in a hostel dorm room. In the past few years, hostels have gone way up in price so in many cases if you take the time to look, you can find a private hotel room for less than the cost of a hostel or something even better on AirBnB.
2) If you want to make friends with foreign people you should go with Couschsurfing or AirBnb instead. If you want to have sex with foreigners, there are probably better places to meet them than at hostels.
3) The truly interesting, intrepid, and attractive travelers usually aren’t at hostels. Instead you find boring, cheap, and unattractive in just about any way you can think of people – often not travelers at all, just down and out.
4) Hostels are filled with thieves and creeps. I know, not everyone is a thief or a creep, but as a former hostel manager, I can tell you that there are a lot of both in hostels. If it can be stolen, someone in a hostel has stolen it whether it is food you put in the refrigerator, your laptop, money from a ‘security box’, or your girlfriend. Date rape, by the way is very common in hostels.
5) Rubber sheets. If you like sleeping on rubber sheets – just stay at a hostel. If there aren’t rubber sheets you may want to consider how many drunk pukers, bed wetters, or droolers there have been before you.
6) Bed bugs and other pests. More likely to happen in a hostel than in a well run hotel.
7) Squeaky top or bottom bunks. There’s nothing like sleeping in a bunk bed as an adult and having to wake up every time the person above or below you moves or needs to take a piss.
8) People who snore, fart, or breathe loudly. In hostels you are sharing a room with strangers and you get to know all their bodily sounds and smells intimately.
9) People who turn on the lights while you are sleeping. – My drill instructor used to do that but I don’t want some 20 year old English kid to wake me up that way either.
10) Crappy breakfasts. The breakfast in the Shelby County Jail of Memphis Tennessee consists of white bread, jelly, and tang. That’s pretty much what most hostels offer guests. How much would you pay for that? How much does it cost? $1 or less – is that really worth it?
11) Shitty locations. Out of the way, in bad neighborhoods, or in disgusting buildings. It’s probably worth it to pay a few bucks to avoid these – there are exceptions, but not many.
12) A total lack of privacy.
13) The sound of people’s bags when I am trying to sleep another hour.
14) One television set to a program I don’t want to watch or hear.
15) Drunk teens or 20-somethings – there are websites you can watch drunk teens if that is your thing, me, I’m not amused by them.
16) Rude staff. I don’t know if they get this way because they are used to dealing with people who don’t speak their language or if they become condescending to people with no money, but far too often, hostel staff are rude as hell. It could also be that they are working for no money and so don’t feel they have to be nice.
17) Hostel rooms are generally about as cheery as a jail cell and just like a jail cell you don’t get to choose your cell-mates.
18) You won’t meet the locals staying in a hostel. If you do, they are the down and out locals.
19) Filthy bathrooms. Even good hostels have filthy bathrooms after the 4-8 people you share the dorm room with use it. Or, maybe it’s shared with everyone in the hostel…no thank you to gas station toilets.
20) Uncomfortable mattresses. Hostels make a lot of money and they squeeze every penny they can by keeping old uncomfortable (usually cheap to begin with) mattresses.
21) Cigarette and change bummers. I watched a guy bum a cigarette from four different people this morning in 30 minutes.
22) Wankers. Seriously. In hostel dorms…give me a fucking break.
23) Couples sharing a single bunk. Seriously. In a hostel dorm. Give me a fucking break.
24) Pukers. Just tonight (the last time I will stay in a hostel) some kid in the bunk next to mine puked all over himself and made the whole room smell like red wine vomit.
25) Having to navigate around other people’s messes. There are usually lockers so why is there always a huge pile right next to or hanging on the ladder to the top bunk?
Yeah- I’m not 25 anymore. I’m married and not looking to screw some drunk Danish girl or British girl away from home for the first time. I’ve done my share of ‘partying’ and I don’t have much tolerance for it any longer.
The fact of the matter is that a hotel can be cheaper, get you a better night’s sleep, and provide more of everything else too. If each of the above is worth $1 to avoid, then you can add $25 to the $20 you pay for a hostel bed and get a decent 2 or 3 star hotel and buy your own breakfast. Or, if you are really broke, you can just go to jail and get the same experience as being in a hostel cell.
Enjoying travel is easy. The hard part is making sure everything works.
In terms of accommodation, it comes down to 1) figuring out how to get where you want to go and 2) figuring out where to stay when you get there. Sure, there are other factors like finding the money to travel, what to eat, how to stay in your budget, and of course the biggest challenge for those not born with a magic ticket passport – getting the visas.
But, by and large I would say that transport and accommodation are the two biggest challenges. What are the relative merits of a few types of places you might consider staying.
First of all hostels – I’m not a huge fan of hostels now that I’m no longer in my twenties, but, for people who aren’t like me, there might actually be some very good reasons to stay in hostels. Here are just a few – hostels are great places to meet people, hostels are sometimes cheaper than a hotel (but not always), and hostels can be good places to find cheap tours, activities, etc. My personal recommendation is to avoid the dorms and get a private room – even if it means finding a new friend at the hostel and sharing a private the next days you are there. A private room at a hostel is probably the best value and you don’t have to deal with inconsiderate, crazy, or drunk dorm-mates. Here’s another but though- if you are going to get a private room at a hostel, have a look at hotels nearby because you have a pretty good chance of getting a more comfortable room for the same or less money at a one or two star hotel and sometimes even the three stars can surprise you. Don’t assume that hostels are the cheapest option because often they are more expensive than a nicer room somewhere else.
As far as hotels go – there are really a few different types of accommodation that fall under that category.
Bed and Breakfasts are essentially hostels for grown ups as they generally have common areas where guests can converge (for breakfast for example) and more personalized service than a hotel – this can, in some cases, be annoying if you just want to have a place to sleep and be left alone by other guests and staff but most people find it to be pretty nice. The staff and owners at good B&Bs are generally interested in who you are and getting to know you…if you don’t want that, just get a hotel.
Guesthouses are along the same lines but without the interest in you from staff. You may or may not have breakfast or common areas – these can range from a lakeside house in Koycegiez, Turkey to a Dar or Riad in the Fes Medina – to me, a guesthouse is characterized by a host who lives in the house or somewhere nearby and is available to answer questions or help arrange activities, transport etc.
Vacation rentals are a mixed bag. This could be an extra room in a family house or a whole property dedicated to being rented out on a short term basis. These days, you can find vacation rentals that fit with everything else that is described in this article from a spare couch or van parked in someone’s driveway to a luxury home with a butler and private chef.
Motels are places you can drive your car to and park. Motor + Hotel – In South Korea, they tend to be places where you can get some loving with a special someone (either that you just met or who you already know – up to you) and they also tend to be much cheaper than hotels. They call them Love Motels for a reason. In the USA, these are hotels that are along motorways, highways, and freeways. I grew up staying in motels since my dad was a musician early in my childhood..
Hotels are places generally in cities where visitors can stay. Service tends to be detached, professional, and standardized. A managerial staff usually runs the hotel rather than the owner of the property. This is your best bet for privacy, comfort, amenities, and location. Hotels are rated by stars, but there are many hotels that have never been rated that offer exceptional value. Many that have been rated degrade over time or fail to provide the standards you would expect. In general – no stars means it has not been rated, 1 star means basic room with toilet and shower, 2 star means the room has additional comfort features (like shower gel and soap, daily cleaning etc) and the property may offer food or drink, 3 stars means that there are additional features like telephone, television, hair dryer, extra pillows or blankets etc. It also means the hotel likely has a complaint system in place and works hard to make guests comfortable and happy. 4 stars brings you additional comforts like a bathrobe and slippers, minibar, room service, couch and/or upholstered chair, patios, cosmetic products, etc. And finally, the 5 stars (or five diamond) hotel brings you fresh flowers in the rooms, welcoming drinks, personalized service, shoe shining, ironing service and everything else you can imagine in terms of comfort and service.
Finally, a resort is a hotel in a specific setting usually with shops, restaurants, activities and much of what you could want on holiday all in one location. Examples would be Hilton Hawaiian Village on Oahu, Hawaii ; Disney Resorts; or Resorts World Sentosa in Singapore.
So, which is the best hotel? As with most things in life- it depends. The star or diamond system is a great general guide but in many cases hotels don’t live up to the stars they have or far exceed them. For my money, a three star hotel that aspires to four stars is the best thing going. Or – a hotel that hasn’t yet been rated that aspires to four or five stars. The worst? A four or five star hotel that is living on it’s reputation from long ago – these are the kinds of places that charge you for internet access or have terrible expensive restaurants in the lobby. If you are just looking for a bed and a place to stash your bag – a one or two star will usually give you the same or better accommodation and rates than a hostel private room. Even if they are one star, they value it and want to keep it- a hostel doesn’t have stars and won’t get them – although in some cities I’ve seen hostels that behave as if they are five stars while giving less than one star treatment.
A final note on what used to be my favorite means of making friends and learning about new places. Couchsurfing. For a while Couchsurfing was an amazing underground way of finding free accommodation and making new friends. Then it became more mainstream. Then it tried to monetize itself like AirBnB had done. Then it all fell apart. I’ve tried to use it over the last seven years and found it to be more trouble than it is worth. However, it may still be worth it if you can figure out how to make it work.
I need to emphasize this – you can’t really put couchsurfing on the same level as hotels, hostels, or motels. First of all, you aren’t paying with money. You are, however, paying with a guest/host relationship that has responsibilities. If you are going to couchsurf but don’t want to interact or spend time with the hosts – you shouldn’t couchsurf. Often, your hosts will provide you with experiences you wouldn’t find elsewhere, but never forget that couchsurfing is about friendship. Would you call your friend in a different city and say “I’ll be arriving on the 5th at 10 pm, please have my room ready. I’ll work all day the 6th so you won’t see me and then I’ll leave on the morning of hte 7th at 6 am. Can you arrange transport?”
If you would do that, I’m guessing you have no friends. I certainly don’t want a friend like that and neither do couchsurfing hosts. Couchsurfing can provide you with all kinds of levels of comfort from filthy, stinky, sketchy drug shacks to mansions and villas with private gyms and saunas. It depends on the host. The reason they are hosting is because they want to know you and become friends – if you don’t have the time or desire for that – don’t couchsurf.