So, you’ve (finally) decided to take the plunge and stay at a hostel. Congratulations! A world of new friends and stories inevitably awaits you. Maybe you’re traveling solo and want to make some friends, or maybe your bank account’s just been feeling a little empty lately.
Whatever the case, I’m here to help with choosing a good hostel, one that’s right for you. Don’t worry, staying at a hostel is nothing like the movie Hostel… at least, not if you follow my tips for choosing a good hostel that is 😉
What is a hostel?
Hostels are lodging establishments that provide you with no-frills housing at a low-cost. More often than not, you’re paying to rent a bed within a room. However, I do have to note that the rooms and quality thereof range wildly. There are upscale private hostel rooms that cost more than an average hotel, and there are basic 20-bed dorms that cost $10 per night – and everything in between. The key to choosing a good hostel is to understand this, and find one that suits your needs.
The good and the bad:
- Cost effective: It’s always cheaper to do a shared dorm than stay in a hotel, but if you prefer your own room, a hostel might not always be the cheaper option!
- Social: It’s incredibly easy to make friends in a shared dorm or in the common room. Just make sure you don’t have resting b*tch face 😉
- Cheap / free breakfast: Even if it’s just toast or cereal, it’s always cheaper and more convenient than finding breakfast elsewhere.
- Free WiFi: There’s pretty much always free WiFi, but the quality is up for debate.
- Communal kitchens (sometimes): If you need to buy pasta and cook for yourself stretch your budget, you do you.
- Location: Hostels are usually in / near the city center and / or public transport.
- Local knowledge: Other travelers on a budget often find the best and least expensive things to do. Same goes for the hostel staff. Some hostels even run their own budget excursions.
- Unique: Some hostels have a fun, quirky theme going on. You don’t get that from a chain hotel!
- Limited privacy: If you’re staying in a dorm, chances are you’ll be constantly meeting / speaking with people and your opportunity for alone time goes virtually out the window. If you’re a person who needs lots of alone time, a shared dorm might not be the best choice.
- Shared bathrooms: Depending on how many people you have to share a bathroom with, this could potentially be a nuisance. Just pounce whenever the bathroom is free and it’s usually a nonissue.
- Curfews (sometimes): Lots of hostels don’t have 24-hour reception desks, so you have to ring a buzzer or follow a system to be let in. Others take it a step further and enforce a curfew. If you miss curfew, well then, I guess you’ll need to extend the party for another few hours.
- (Potential) Theft: Given that you’re sharing a room with a bunch of strangers, the risk of theft is actually fairly high. Bringing a luggage lock is a necessity, and don’t ever leave your valuables unlocked and unattended in a room. Better safe than sorry!
- Inconsiderate roommates: This is probably the biggest con to staying in a hostel. Roommates can be loud, messy, or even creepy. People are considerate most of the time, but all it takes is a few bad eggs…
- Mediocre amenities: You get what you pay for. Sometimes there are limited AC hours, thin blankets, or crappy showers. That’s why it’s very important to read the hostel reviews, which I’ll get to next.
Tips for choosing a good hostel:
Firstly, I have to say this: even though I travel on a budget, I am not a backpacker and I’ve never shared a room with strangers. I’ve shared rooms with large groups of friends a few times, but I like my privacy and quiet time too much to deal with random strangers in my space, especially if I’m traveling solo.
My favorite site to find hostels and budget hotels is Hostelworld (affiliate link). Once you go in and do a search for your city and dates, a bunch of options will pop up. Click on the “filter” button: this is where you should be able to narrow down your options, which will help a lot with choosing a good hostel.
- Price: the maximum amount you’re willing to pay for your room.
- Rating: I suggest 7.5 at least, but you can change that according to your preferences. This is the average rating of the hostel by the guests.
- Type: Hostelworld also offers apartments, hotels, BnBs, and campsites. I usually uncheck campsites.
- Room: This is arguably the most important filter. If you leave it unchecked, you will see all room types. But you can also filter by smaller rooms, ensuite rooms (if you want a bathroom in your room), or single-gender rooms. Note that sometimes the smaller rooms make you purchase all the beds in the room, so be sure to read the rules carefully before booking.
- Facilities: What amenities or facilities are non-negotiable for you? For me it’s free WiFi, but I might also include AC if it’s summer, and luggage storage if I’m arriving really early or late. It’s up to you.
- Map: Once you apply your filters and hit search, be sure to check the map before booking. Sometimes hostels are way out of the city center, and if you’d prefer to be in the heart of the hustle and bustle, get something close to the city.
Next, read the reviews. Seriously. Read a bunch and take note of what people are complaining about. When choosing a good hostel, remember that what what works for others might not work for you. If you want a party hostel and people are saying that it’s quiet, don’t book that hostel. If there are bed bugs (more common than you might think), stay away. Also check out the policies, things to note, and cancellation sections before committing. If you’re checking in or out when the reception is supposed to be closed, email and ask if that’s allowed.
One of the great things about hostels is that there are almost always places available last minute, so if you’re hesitant about a place, just book it for one night and go from there.
What to bring:
Many hostels are pretty bare bones in terms of offerings and will charge you to rent towels, use the luggage storage, or check out late.
- Locks: Seriously, lock up your stuff. I don’t care how nice and trustworthy your roommates might be. A friend of mine had his laptop and iPhone stolen in Thailand when he left them in his room to go and eat breakfast in the common room. Call me paranoid, but I’d lock up my stuff even if I were just going to shower. You’ll need a lock if you want to do luggage storage at any point, so it’s worth having either way.
- Shower shoes: Remember when you had these in college dorms because you had to share a shower with a bunch of people, and you weren’t quite sure how clean the shower was? That’s exactly why you should bring them with you. A cheap pair of flip-flops will do.
- Towel: Most hostels don’t provide towels, and, if they do, they charge you for them. Bring a microfiber towel that dries quickly. (affiliate link)
- Shower tote: Because dragging four bottles plus your underwear to the bathroom while wearing just a towel is just really too annoying of a task. Plus tote bags always come in handy!
- Earplugs and / or eye mask: If you’re a light sleeper, these are a necessity.
Last but not least:
Don’t be that guy (or girl), the one that comes back to the room belligerently drunk, stomps around really early (or late for that matter), or turns the lights on in the middle of the night. Be respectful of your roommates and hopefully they’ll do the same. Get ready to make some friends!
P.S. If you’re planning on booking a hostel, please consider booking through this link. It’s free for you and I make a teeny tiny profit so I don’t have to put advertising on my site. Thanks and happy travels!
Have you ever stayed in a hostel? Did you succeed in choosing a good hostel, or was it less than perfect? Share in the comments below!