I’ve had some people ask for more posts on travel tips and tricks. While there’s a lot of information available on different hostels, there’s very little on what you should look for when you’re booking a room. After staying in 60+ hostels myself across 5 continents, I have a pretty good list of my ‘must haves’.
Choosing a hostel:
- Several websites to help find a good deal. The two I use are hostels.com and hostelworld.com
- Read reviews and look at the overall approval rating. I prefer to only stay in places that are ranked 90% and above (or 9 out of 10). Sometimes there aren’t high ranked options, in which case, I’ll dip into the 80’s. This percentage is based on how other travelers have rated the hostel. You can also read their comments to see why they gave it a low or high score.
- Hostels are ranked in various categories depending on the site: atmosphere, security, location, facilities, value for money, staff, and cleanliness. You’ll need to decide which are most important to you. If a hostel is ranked low in atmosphere, for example, but you don’t really care about that, then you might decide that it’s still the best option for you.
- Make sure you take location into account. I’ve learned the hard way over the years that spending less on a room that’s a little further away isn’t always the least expensive option. If you’re having to spend money daily on a bus or train to get around the city you may actually end up spending more than if you just splurged a little extra to stay in a prime location.
- Hostelling International (HI) hostels vs. local. HI hostels are part of a chain. They have memberships that give you a 10% discount on your room. Some HI hostels only allow members to stay there, others are open to everyone. They have a full list by country on their website. I know some people love HI hostels because they feel more secure. Personally, I find that they are sometimes lacking in personality and I actually prefer to stay at smaller, local hostels. I usually suggest if people are traveling for a long time that they try both options to determine their own preference.
- Dorm vs. private. Most hostels offer both dorms and private rooms. Dorm prices vary based on how many people are in a room. Note: private room prices are per person. A ‘double-bed private’ means you have to pay for two people even if you are the only one staying there. If you’re traveling in a group, it’s sometime cheaper to get a hotel than to pay individually for beds in a hostel.
- Dorms: female-male-mixed. Generally the cheapest rooms are the mixed dorms with the most people. I’ve always stayed in mixed dorms when available. In some countries, it’s not socially acceptable for men and women to share rooms, so there isn’t this option. I’ve generally not had any issues with sharing rooms with males, but you will need to decide if you’re comfortable sharing rooms with the opposite sex.
Amenities – I won’t stay in a hostel if it doesn’t have the following:
- Free breakfast (one less meal you have to pay for)
- Locker (take your own lock)
- Free wifi
- 24 hour reception (nothing worse than having your train arrive late and not be able to get into your hostel)
- No curfew (in some countries having a curfew is cultural, however, I always avoid them where I can)
- Luggage storage
- Kitchen: I prefer to stay in places that have a kitchen for use. It’s great if you can store leftovers after a meal out.
- Sheets: many places have ‘linens included’ in the price of your bed. However, some charge extra. I travel with a sleeping bag and will opt to use that instead, but some places mandate that you use their sheets and pay an extra fee.
- Some sites have laundry facilities, restaurants, bars, common rooms, book exchanges, game rooms, media centers, etc. Based on the experience you’re looking for, you will need to decide which of these are important to have in a hostel.
Once you’ve chosen a hostel, check the policies on their own webpage for the following. These usually aren’t listed on hostels.com or hostelworld.com
- Check age limits: some hostels don’t allow children or have age restrictions with a cut off at 30 or 35. I’m realizing how much this sucks now that I’ve crossed this threshold myself.
- Out of country rules: some hostels also restrict locals from using their services and you have to provide proof (passport stamps) that you’ve traveled out of country in the past few months.
Personally, I love staying in hostels. I know Airbnb is big these days, but to be honest, I’ve never used it. Usually I’m in places for too short of a period for it to be worthwhile financially, or I’m moving there and getting an actual apartment. Plus, I love the social aspect that comes with staying in a hostel. Yes, at times it can be tiring when you want personal space, but overall, I’m an extrovert and love meeting other people and hearing about their travels. This is also a great way to score some additional travel tips!
Have you stayed in hostels? What tips would you add?