10 Top Things To Consider When Choosing A Hostel
As a backpacker I think one of the most important things to make or break your stay in a particular city is the hostel you stay in. Paris is beautiful but if that’s where you got locked out or got your car towed, that’s how you’ll remember Paris. It can also work the opposite way. You have could have stayed in a shabby middle of nowhere town with nothing to do but met wonderful people at a charming hostel and you will have the fondest memories of that shabby city.
In general, I think it’s great just to be in a foreign city staying anywhere but with so many choices why have a good time when you can have a great time?
These are the top 10 most important things to look for when booking your hostel.
1) Location, location, location
Where do you want to be located in the city?
In general hostels are usually in stellar locations in the middle of the city. Sometimes they aren’t so make sure if you want to be in the thick of it you aren’t booking a hostel that is 20 minutes away in the outer city or suburbs. Most backpackers I know want to be in the middle of it all. It makes more sense because less time and money will be spent commuting to the major sites and it’s more convenient to stumble home drunk at night. Some people will be happier farther away if they prefer something quiet and usually the farther out hostels are cheaper and/or have nicer amenities. Many cities are huge and have completely different districts. Just because you are staying in Los Angeles or Sydney does not mean you will be walking distance from the beach. Pay attention to exactly where the hostel is on Google Maps and see if this is where you want to be.
2) Ratings and word of mouth
Anyone can do a snazzy website with good pictures but what do other backpackers say?
Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Hostelworld were invented for this reason. Don’t dismiss a hostel if you see one bad review but 5 saying the same thing is something to pay attention to. Everyone is different some people are germaphobes while others could care less about cleanliness. Some people can’t live without a party atmosphere while others need quiet. Know who you are, what your preferences and limits are, and see what other likeminded people have to say.
3) Ease of meeting people
Is the hostel set up where it’s easy to meet and interact with others?
For someone that is looking just for a place to crash for the night this isn’t too important but most backpackers especially ones travelling solo stay at hostels to meet people. Hostels provide a great environment to swap travel stories and information, find people to do activities with, and make new friends. The memories you’ll make at hostels will be some that you’ll never forget.
Hostels nowadays are better than ever to facilitate socialization. When looking at websites and reviews look to see if it contains a bar, big common area, and activities like a walking tour or pub crawl planned. I find the majority of the comments in hostel reviews praise or complain how easy or difficult it was to meet people and if they had fun or not during their stay more than anything else like décor, cleanliness, or Wi-Fi.
4) Type of Hostel
What type of hostel is it? Party Hostel? Practically a hotel hostel? Dorm room in someone’s apartment hostel? Bare bones hostel?
Not all hostels are alike. One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is booking the wrong type of hostel for what they are looking for. Someone looking for a raging party and hooking up will not be as happy with a small quiet hostel with a curfew in the suburbs. Someone that prefers nicer accommodation might not appreciate the charm and price of a bare bones hostel that doesn’t have an elevator and air conditioning. Someone who wants extreme quiet and a good night’s sleep will probably hate a party hostel.
Looking over the pictures and reviews will tell you real fast what type of hostel it is. Party hostels especially tend to have reputations for being a party hostel so I find most people either book because of it or specifically stay away for that reason.
What types of amenities does the hostel offer?
Since hostels have become more and more popular especially in big cities the last few years properties are ever competing for guests with more and more amenities. Why stay in hostel A when hostel B has a game room and a free beach shuttle for the same price?
Hostels range from having hotel style concierge service to single owners manning the desk that don’t give a f. Know where you are staying first, don’t expect a small hostel in Eastern Europe to be able to offer the same things as a big party hostel in Australia.
Some hostels offer organized pub crawls, shuttles to tourist destinations, parties on site, game rooms, libraries, sun decks, saunas, organized dinners, trips to sports games, limo tours, travel desks manned by travel agents booking local or long haul trips, the list is endless.
6) Kitchen and free breakfast
Is there a free breakfast? Is there a kitchen to prepare meals and store food?
Free breakfasts and cooking for yourself vs eating out add up considerably after a while. This is much more important if one is on a gap year or a long backpacking trip. Most hostels offer free breakfast but some don’t. Free breakfast it’s safe to say will consist of at least toast and coffee/tea but sometimes more is offered like fruit, juice, pancakes, potatoes, or eggs. Look at the website for pictures because usually hostels don’t say exactly what they have for breakfast unless it’s more extensive and that is their selling point and people don’t tend to talk about this in reviews unless it is utterly amazing or completely sucks.
7)Type of room or dorm
Can you hack a 16+ dorm or do you need more privacy?
Dorm size and price go hand in hand so figure out which one is more important to you because you can’t have it both ways. I feel that the average hostel has 4-8 bed dorms. Anything more than that gets crowded and anything less than that gets much pricier. Are you a female who needs a female only dorm? Most female backpackers are comfortable with a mixed dorm but some aren’t so make sure when booking to see if the hostel has a female only room available.
Does the hostel offer parking? Provide transfers to the airport/train station/bus station?
Hostels in big cities will rarely have free parking but even if they offer a paid lot many times it’s more convenient using this than trying to decipher local street parking restrictions.
Hostels may or may not arrange transportation transfers but it’s always preferable to stay places that do just because it makes everything so much easier.
9) Hours of Operation
When does the front desk close? Is there access all night? Is there a day lockout?
Knowing the hours of operation when booking is especially important if you are flying in that day. Flights can get delayed and you don’t want to be locked out when you first arrive to a foreign country. You also don’t want to be locked out at night because you came home from the bars late and you didn’t realize your hostel closes up for the night at 12am.
Most big hostels in cities have 24 hour- all access so this isn’t really an issue. However hostels that are boutique, in smaller towns, or have a small staff might have limited hours and access. Some even still employ a day lockout however I find that exceedingly rare. Either way it’s always important to know exactly what the hours of operation are so you don’t run into any of these issues.
Can you afford the hostel with all the extra amenities and is it worth the price you are paying?
Just because hostels are cheaper than hotels does not mean it’s not possibly to go over budget. I’ve known more than one traveler that had to go home early from running out of money so basically be very aware of prices. In big cities hostels can range from dirt cheap to hotel price. In smaller cities the ranges are closer together. Identify what type of traveler you are and what your needs are. Sometimes the hostels with all the extra stuff aren’t worth it if you are just going to crash at night. Figure out what you’ll be using (will you really hang out at the library of the hostel or use the pool?) and budget accordingly.
Splurging happens and is allowed but in general you should always stay at a hostel within your budget and be very aware of the price when booking as well as knowing what the extra ad-ons will be (tax, parking, breakfast).
Doing some research and knowing where you’ll be saves a lot of time and hassle down the road. That being said things will ALWAYS come up that are not anticipated and things can go wrong (inconsiderate roommates, out of date information, lost luggage, getting sick, booking the wrong date, etc, etc,). It’s important to travel with an open mind and good attitude. You will mess up, you will make mistakes. It doesn’t matter in the end because you’ll have the time of your life.