Top 10 Things To Look For In A Hostel

When I first started travelling back in 2006, sometimes finding a good hostel was a bit like pot luck. I didn’t know what to look for, the reviews were often conflicting, and it was hard to decide over price vs location. It’s only through travel experience however, having stayed in 100+ hostels around the world, that I have become much more consistent in picking a really good hostel. It’s never full proof, especially when you are staying somwhere with limited options, but 9 times out of 10 this check list usually ends up with me finding somewhere nice to stay, and so I thought I would share it with you. Hopefully it helps!

1. Good Location

The first thing I do when looking for a hostel on any major hostel booking website is I look at the map view. I find the hostels that are closest to the train station or bus station I will be arriving into, and then I check out their prices. If they are all really expensive, or my arrival point is very far out of the city, then I start to look further afield. In popular destinations however, you’ll usually find at least one place nearby that is affordable.

Having a hostel close to your point of arrival makes things so much easier because it means you don’t have to humph your backpack around with you, or use a public transport system in a foreign country you may be unfamiliar with on your first day. This becomes more important when arriving into a place late at night too, as you don’t really want to get lost somewhere in the middle of night, especially if you are travelling solo, and you don’t want to spend money on a taxi.

Even if you only book one night, it allows you to get to your accommodation quickly, get your bearings, and find somewhere else for the following night once you are more familiar with your location. If in any doubt however, just book somewhere central. This also usually means you’ll be close to the nightlife, and other attractions.

2. Cheap Prices (i.e. large dorm rooms)

Back in the day I ALWAYS used to go for the cheapest priced hostel. In fact, many times I still do. What I have learned however, unfortunately the hard way, is that booking the cheapest hostel on every occasion can provide variable results. The reason for this is that the reason a hostel may be the cheapest in a certain destination usually has a reason. This could simply be that it is a new hostel, and is therefore trying to attract it’s first customers. It could be that a hostel is offering a promotional rate, as it’s during their off season. It could also just simply be that a hostel has a particularly large dorm room available, e.g. 16 bed, 20 bed dorm etc, and is therefore able to offer a cheap price per night per bed. Other times however, it could be because they are in a bad area, are in the middle of nowhere, or are lacking in some basic facilities. It’s for this reason that it’s important to do your research before booking the cheapest hostel available.

As a general rule however, I always go for hostels which have large dorm rooms available. The more beds in a dorm, the cheaper a hostel can charge you per night for staying in that room. So once I’ve checked out the location, and that it has the basic facilities listed below, I will always select the largest dorm room unless for some reason there is a cheaper price available elsewhere.

3. 24 Hour Reception

Any good hostel will have a 24 hour reception. I have stayed in many nice hostels before which don’t have that facility, but especially when you are arriving in the middle of the night, or during the hours when reception is not open, it just becomes frustrating if they don’t have someone available to help you out. For a start, you need to know you won’t be locked out, and that there will be someone there to let you in. Usually you can arrange with them what time you will be arriving for someone to be there if it’s not 24 hours, but what if your flights delayed for 3 hours? What if they don’t get the message in time as you are booking last minute? Also, what if you do something like lose your key on a night out? Sure, you shouldn’t get drunk and lose the key, but it happen with many hostel residents. Alot. If you have any problems at anypoint during your stay you want to know there will be someone on hand to help you, and so for this reason I never book anywhere without 24 hour reception, unless of course, there are no other options.

4. Internet Access

When you’re travelling around the world keeping in touch with people back home is incredibly important. Not just because you love them, but for your own safety too. Sending an email home, or putting up a quick facebook status to let people know you have arrived is important, and therefore internet access of somekind is something I never go without. All hostels in my opinion should have free wifi available. These days just about everybody travels with a laptop, netbook, iPad, or smart phone, so this just makes it easier for them. It also helps reduce queues on any computer facilities for those people without this luxury. As a bare minimum though, a hostel should at least have one computer available for people to access the internet, even if they charge for people to use it. I will not stay anywhere without internet access. It is just too important. Also, I use it for work.

5. Laundry Facilities

I always try to stay in a hostel which has laundry facilities available. I’m not so fussed about whether it’s self service, or the hostel staff do it for you, but unless they are located less than 5 minutes walk from a laundrette, then I expect there to be somewhere to wash my clothes! Maybe it’s just a personal pet hate, but I really don’t like having to cart all my dirty laundry outside with me while I search for a laundrette. There have been some hostels I’ve stayed at in the past where the reception staff can’t even tell me where a laundrette is located, and sometimes it doesn’t come up in a google search if you’re somewhere that isn’t a particularly popular destination, so I really just like to having washing facilities available on hand that I can pay for, and having my clothes washed, dried, and back to me that day.

6. Common Rooms

Common rooms are where you meet people in hostels. A hostel which doesn’t have one, doesn’t understand it’s customers. Especially if you are travelling solo, I wouldn’t recommend staying anywhere unless it has at least one common room.

7. Kitchen / Self Catering Facilities

Eating out everyday is expensive. The whole reason you are staying in a hostel is to save money, so being able to eat in sometimes is important for any backpacker. For this reason, you want a kitchen.

8. Free map

You can easily print out a google map to use in order to get to your location in the beginning, or use your smart phone, but when you arrive, being given a free map is a very useful tool, and I expect all hostels to give me one. Especially in the big cities. Sometimes you won’t have internet access to check google maps on your phone, and getting lost is something every traveller has to go through at somepoint, so you want to know you have a maps stuffed away somewhere in your handbag or pocket for those times that you need it. A good hostel will always provide this.

9. Free Breakfast

I’m a bit of a late riser, so many a time I have missed the free breakfast that many hostels offer as I’m sleeping off the night before. A good hostel however will usually offer at least some sort of free complimentary breakfast for it’s customers. Even if it’s just toast and cereal, backpackers are on a tight budget, so staying somewhere with any sort of free food in the morning will save you money!

10. Bar (optional)

You certainly don’t need a hostel with a bar, but if you want to almost guarantee you’ll find a hostel with a good atmosphere, check into one which has it’s own bar.

Picking a good hostel can be hard, even for the most experienced travellers. If you’ve never been to a place before, it’s impossible to guarantee it will be good until you see and experience it with your own eyes. The above tips however, should make the process easier. Also, be sure to make use of the facilities available on hostel booking websites such as the pictures and videos they have. If you can view pictures of a hostel, or a guided video tour before booking, it can put your mind at rest to what you will be turning up to. At least in terms of facilities.

 

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  1. […] may seem odd for someone who is 38 years old, but I actually choose to stay in hostels. Sure, sharing a bathroom with dozens of other people can be a chore, and hostels are often noisy […]


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