What makes a good hostel common room?

Last year (2011) I visited 17 countries. Other than a few nights staying with friends, and one month renting a flat in Seville, I stayed in backpacker hostels the entire time. In fact, since I took my first backpacking adventure in 2006 I’ve by enlarge stayed in hostels throughout the entirety of my travels.

In that time I’ve experienced all manor of weird and wonderful hostels – some good, some bad. Despite a saving in cost compared to more traditional forms of accommodation, the atmosphere and ease of meeting other backpackers is a huge part of why I rarely stay in hotels on the road.

The key to a good atmosphere in a hostel is a good, social, common room! Why? A common room is the area backpackers from all around the world go to meet each other, and it is what makes a hostel distinct from hotels, other than for the dormitory style rooms it houses.

Open area seating

If you want to get people chatting then you need to have seats that are in an open format. By that what I mean is facing seats and sofas, preferably in a circle formation rather than categorised off into sets that are back to back. If you arrive into a hostel where everything is closed off in terms of seating then you know the hostel management haven’t really thought about or put the effort into how they are naturally going to get you mixing.

Making things comfortable

Bean bags are cool, but one of my pet hates is hostels that ONLY have bean bags. I think the Wake Up Hostel in Sydney was my first experience of this in their tv lounge room. It’s really annoying if you want to sit up and have drinks with people and still remain comfortable. By all means have a few bean bags. They’re cheaper than an extra sofa most probably, and act as spare seats… but not as the actual main stay seating! You need something where people can sit around a table, place their drinks, and be able to lounge comfortably so they’re relaxed, but also be able to sit up properly and talk to people.

More than one common room always results in a better hostel atmosphere

Not everybody wants to party 24/7. Sometimes even the most hardcore party boy or girl wants to chill now and again… even if it is just to get over a hangover from the night before! There will be some guests who like to read a book quietly in a common room or watch tv, and others who’ll want to sit there drinking, talking loudly, and getting up to all the fun debauchery that you do as a backpacker. Neither is bad, but when you mix the two types of people in one room it usually doesn’t work. One wants peace and quiet and thinks the other is interrupting their chill time, the other thinks these moany quiet people are being party poopers, spoiling their party. Having two common rooms solves this problem. One quiet room, and one for drinking or anything loud.

Pool tables, table tennis, movies…

If a hostel really is as good as they say they are they will make an active effort to get everybody socialising and mixing with one another. Something as simple as a free pool table, table tennis, or movie nights could do this. Ideally they should arrange a few nights out a week for everybody. This is especially helpful to solo travellers who may not know anybody yet but would still like to go out.

Free booze

I once stayed at a hostel in Lagos (Portugal) that gave us 6 huge buckets of sangria to drink for free out on the terrace. They did this once a week. The hostel made it themselves, buying in some cheap ingredients from the local supermarket. I doubt it would have cost them too much to buy in, and the reaction from the guests was “WOW! I LOOOVE THIS HOSTEL” Free booze is always going to go down well, no matter how cheap it is. We got drunk for free out on the terrace, followed by a crazy night on the town. Everybody wanted to book another night.

Hostel staff to get the party going!

I’ve always found hostels who employ backpackers to mix with guests to have a much better party atmosphere than those who don’t. Often they’ll just offer free accommodation in exchange for a long term backpacker chaperoning guests about to various clubs they have promotions with, or getting the party going in the hostel common room. Because it’s someone who was already a backpacker at that hostel, they understand exactly what the guests want, are usually friends with most of them already. If I ever set up my own hostel, I’ll definitely be adopting this technique! It really helps boost the atmosphere greatly.

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6 Responses to “What makes a good hostel common room?”

  1. Peter says:

    Excellent points Jane, I’m all for more sofas and free booze! Could you also write a series of posts, What Makes A Good Hostel… Kitchen, Bathroom, Dorm Room etc?

  2. The communal guitar is definitely something nice as pictured in your photo and offered at only a few hostels I’ve ever been to. If you’re a traveling minstrel like myself, but don’t feel like lugging your trusty lyre around with you, strumming on an old acoustic for a few minutes is something nice and familiar.

  3. A hostel with free booze?! That’s awesome. I totally agree with you on hostels having more than one common area. Our recent hostel experience in New Zealand was great in that most hostels had tv lounge, dining room, another common area for “quiet” time and internet room. Something for all types. 😉

  4. Krystal says:

    Well first and foremost it should be very clean with TV lounge and dinning room

  5. Employing a profesional socialite? I have never heard of that! What a strange concept!

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