This website doesn't exist to sell you anything. It exists to urge you to listen to my ad-free podcast, which is available here. I just like telling stories.

When I landed in Cartagena, Colombia in July of 2019, I knew just two things: I knew nothing, and I needed a bed. I’d only left North America once in my life - for a ten day-jaunt to Spain with two close friends - and now, I was here. Indefinitely. Job? Quit. Fiance? Gone. Apartment? Moved out. The air I’m breathing is my home. That’s it. 

Before I left the airport, I Googled “hostels in Cartagena.” I barely knew what a hostel was, to be honest. But I knew they had beds, and that was enough. I clicked the first one I saw. Boom. I had a home. Solved.

In hindsight, I really couldn’t have been luckier.

I stayed at Republica’s Cartagena outpost. It’s a beautiful three-story building with a big courtyard in the middle. It has all the trappings of a quaint, family-operated locale (I would learn to prefer those), but Republica is a chain and it’s resourced accordingly. In hindsight, I can’t have asked for more. 

In those first few days, the stakes feel high. Everything is fragile and everything matters. Or it feels like it does. Republica swept me away from the fear and isolation that plagued my mind and dumped me squarely in the center of the traveler mentality: see the world, build friendships, treat people with respect. The rest will work itself out.

I believe there are, ultimately, three types of hostels. First, there are the intense, outlandish party hostels. They’re often chains, but not always. The Wild Rover chain in Peru and Bolivia is a classic. Books Hostel in Rio is another fan favorite. I personally hit my limit at 36 hours in these places before I need a real sleep. If you start here, you’re going to quickly equate traveling to partying. They’re different, and they should remain as such in your mind. 

Second, there are the off-the-beaten-path places. They’re way out on the edges of civilization. Distant from the big cities. You’ll meet wacky people, you’ll have all sorts of crazy stories, and you’ll never, ever forget them. I’ve loved Pacifico Hostel on Colombia’s Pacific coast and Casa de Huespedes in Leticia. If you’re in your first week backpacking - ever - these aren’t the place to start. You’ll see some shit.

No, when you first show up, you need a laid-back urban hostel. You need a place that feels like family. A place where you can let the ground stop shaking under your feet, have lunch with a stranger and realize that’s not just okay - that’s what travel’s all about.

So, if you’re just getting started: download HostelWorld and look at a few reviews. The keyword you’re eying here is chill. Make sure they have maybe an 8.0 rating or higher. And book it.

This website doesn't exist to sell you anything. It exists to urge you to listen to my ad-free podcast, which is available here. I just like telling stories.

Will Conway


Former political software guy. Now a traveler and adventurer, which isn't a job, and host of the @heybaggageclaim podcast, which really isn't either. Travel stories no one tells.