Planet Traveller Hostel, Toronto, Canada

Friendly? 2 out of 5

Planet Traveler touts itself as a very ‘green’ hostel. You can read all about it on their website - http://theplanettraveler.com/?page_id=5

It’s why I chose to stay there in the first place. And overall it was an ok place to stay. But I did have a few issues.

Mostly, Toronto is a very fine place indeed. But there’s one thing that took me a while to get used to, and that’s the local habit of adding tax to a price on top of the price quoted. It wasn’t much fun when I arrived at the Planet Traveller Hostel, having reserved my pricey dorm bed (my dorm bed in Budapest the week before had been £9, and here in Toronto it was £20, yet Budapest is arguably one of the first world’s great cities) via the very reliable www.hostelworld.com and been assured that I owed only 108 dollars for my stay, to be told by the front desk staff that I had to cough up about 128 dollars instead.

‘It’s the tax that makes it more, is that ok?’ asked the receptionist, obviously knowing that it wasn’t, since she dealt with tourists every day and had to suffer our looks of shock whenever she asked for more money on top of the already very expensive bed rate.

It’s the same wherever you go in Canada unfortunately, any price you see for anything, hotel, meal, drink, it’s all minus tax. And sometimes the tax is 13%, and sometimes it’s more (I brought some Sake here in Toronto yesterday and the tax was 25%!!!). No reason for conducting business this way really, other than that’s how they do it in the neighbouring US, and as a customer, it feels like a very deceitful and unfriendly way of going about things.

So, back to Planet Traveller. Actually, the tax business wasn’t the first thing that annoyed me about the place. The front door was locked when I arrived at 12.45 pm. There was no sign indicating what callers should do. There were 2 buzzers on the wall, should I press them? I did. No answer. I tried again. After 5 minutes a girl opened the door.

‘You want to check in?’ she frowned, as if this was a very unnatural thing to be wanting to do, at a hostel.
‘Yes, I’d like to. It’s 12.45, that’s ok by you is it?’ It wasn’t, apparently, and I had to wait downstairs for another 90 minutes before the bed was ready. Ok, not a great start. But I’m pleased to say that there’s only two other major gripes I have about this hostel.

Firstly, they do not answer their emails. I’d tried to get in touch with both the reception and the manager on 3 occasions before I arrived, over a period of 4 weeks, but not once was my email even acknowledged. And this is the Number One hostel in Canada, apparently, and some would say North America (the home of customer service? I think not). I did meet the manager during my stay and he was as brash in person as I’d expected.

The other main issue I had with Planet Traveller was that whilst there are 2 in-house Wi-Fi networks, neither of them are very good unless you sit in a certain corner of the common room. It was rare, during my 4 day stay, to get a good connection in my room, and when it did appear it didn’t stay around for long. Now, I’m not saying you have to have wi-fi but if you’re charging as much as Planet Traveler are, and you claim to have wi-fi, then you should provide it.

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The downstairs common area seemed a bit too hipster at first, full of 20 something kids trying to be very trendy. The stereo played the Gyspy Kings reciting the Eagles, a girl walked barefoot across the room like it was 1967, some Irish guys swore loudly and laid their accents on far too thickly to be real and I thought ‘Why the hell am I here.’ It certainly seemed on this first aquaintance that the Planet Travel hostel was just like the people it was housing; insecure and shouting out at every opportunity ‘Love me, Love me, please, I’m really cool and hip, just love me.’

But then I looked around the communal kitchen and it became better. Breakfast was still being served (it’s served from 7am til 1pm every day) so there were a row of 8 or 9 cereal boxes laid out, together with a bowl of bananas and pots of jam and peanut butter. Shame none of it was organic, even the bananas, or ‘green’ in any way. Maybe some locally made muesli might be an idea?

The kitchen itself was very well equipped with everything you might need to cook and eat your own meals, plus microwaves. There were also 2 large fridges for guest use.

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In the next room to the kitchen were 4 washing machines, they cost 2 dollars each to use, and washing liquid was free. There were also 2 phone booths offering free local calls, a large screen TV and 3 mac computers, all free to use. Excellent.

My dorm room was nice enough. 6 bunks with pretty thick and comfy mattresses, clean bed linen (that seems obvious but there’s been plenty of hostels in the past where my bed has been dirty on arrival), a locker for each bed and an attached bathroom with a good shower.

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The staff, apart from the manager, were really helpful and security in the building was tops; each guest had a key card that gained them entrance into the building, then their landing, then their room. The surrounding areas were good to walk around too; Chinatown is a 10 minute walk away, and the extremely multicultural Kensington Market is right around the corner.

All in all, Planet Traveler has good green credentials if you ignore the standard of food on offer (if you’re going to shout about being green then serve organic bananas at least, please!) and is a good option if you are single. If you’ve got a little more money to spend, however, we’d recommend the Holiday Inn Downtown, it is much closer to downtown Toronto and much better value if there are 2 of you.

You can see Planet Traveller at www.theplanettraveler.com

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