I would conservatively estimate that I have stayed at over 100 hostels throughout my travels. Some have been nasty, others have been amazing. Some have been tiny, some have been huge. But, until now, one thing they all had in common was staff. Then I decided to head to the Lake District.
The Lake District, being the highly touristed destination that it is, is chock full of beautiful hotels, Inns and B&Bs. Since all of these were outside of my budget I, as usual, went on the hunt for a hostel to call my home for a few days. While there is an Inn on almost every corner, hostels are pretty few and far between in that area and those that do exist tend to be part of large chains (i.e. YHA) vs. small indie ones which I prefer. I was preparing myself to go the chain route when I stumbled upon the Windermere Backpackers Lodge. It was small, in a good location, reasonably priced and, I discovered after a brief email exchange with the owner, available for the weekend so I booked myself in.
By booking directly with the owner, I was able to take advantage of a 2 GBP discount per night (on stays of 3 nights or more) and with a quick paypal deposit sent, I was all set. Paul emailed me the instructions for entering the hostel. I found this a bit odd, but I didn’t realize how odd until I arrived.
When I arrived at the hostel, I discovered that *there are NO staff*. Everything is handled on the honor system and via email/phone. There is no reception. Instead, a guest pins the faxed arrivals list to the wall and you sign yourself in. You then put your money into an envelope and drop it in the safe and head to the room indicated on the arrivals list. While technically easy, for someone who is used to a warm hostel welcome, it was somewhat confusing! And I wasn’t the only one who found it so. On almost every occasion when I was in the common room when new visitors arrived, guests were pretty shocked and confused about the process. Eventually it became kind of funny.
While it’s far from being the worst hostel I’ve stayed at, you do feel the lack of staff. There is no welcome, no one to give you tips and info and no one to give you a quick tour and make you feel at home. The advantage of no staff is that their prices are lower than the other hostels in the area. In my opinion though, they should consider doing a work exchange and give someone a free bed in exchange for them being the “receptionist” for a few hours a day. It would present a much more friendly experience and I think the guests would feel more welcome.
I also had to wonder just how much their system is abused. Since there is no one there monitoring and the codes don’t change, it would be easy for a guest to stay there once and then return and stay for free with very little chance of being detected. They do have security cameras on site but you have to wonder if they’re actually connected.
All-in-all, I would stay there again, because the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, but it wouldn’t be my first choice and will never be my favorite hostel.
TIP: Book directly to get the discount if you’re staying more than 3 nights and carefully choose your bed as the mattresses vary drastically in comfort and quality level.