Not all hostels are created equal.
Not all hostels are created equal. The best hostels have less to do with location or amenities and more to do with the people and staff that stay and work there. In fact, I’ve stayed in many cheap hostels that didn’t have the best amenities or facilities, and yet I had the most amazing time because of the people I met. On the other hand, I’ve stayed in beautifully decorated and expensive hostels, and it wasn’t the experience I was hoping for.
It’s very important to pick a hostel that suits your needs and caters to your interests, and trust me that will go a long way in ensuring a quality travel experience. One of my favorite sites to book hostels is via hostelz.com because it has all the listings from Hostel World, Hostel Bookers and Booking.com all on one site. It makes searching simple and easy and I trust the reviews, which in my experience have been pretty accurate.
So, in no particular order, here are my top ten tips you should consider when choosing the right hostel for you!
1. Don’t Always Pick The Cheapest Hostel
Most backpackers will want to pick the cheapest option available hoping to save money and thus prolong their trip as much as possible. However, cheaper is not always better. Always be sure to read the description of each hostel online, but oftentimes the difference between sleeping on paper-thin mattresses, dirty showers, unclean facilities and painfully slow Wi-Fi is usually a few dollars more per night. It’s much better to spend a little bit more to get a quality hostel than to pinch some pennies when it’s not always worth it.
2. Location, Location, Location.
I always look for a hostel that’s situated close to a train station or bus station. It just makes it easier for me on travel days when I’m ready to move on to my next city. Staying close by also means you won’t have to worry about waking up so early to get to your train or bus on time, since you’re right there!
3. Find A Hostel With Breakfast
One of the biggest pet peeves I have about hostels is if they don’t offer breakfast in the morning or only have limited breakfast available, like toast, eggs, and coffee (or you’re only allowed one plate!). Not to mention, if breakfast begins early in the morning (like 7 a.m.) but lasts only for an hour or two, then I won’t even consider staying there. If you’re out all night or perhaps are a late-riser, you’re going to miss out on breakfast, which isn’t great. I recommend finding a hostel with a good breakfast time frame in the morning that doesn’t end too early and has a good menu, too. Breakfast is also a great time of the day to meet fellow travelers and even take some snacks with you for the rest of the day.
4. Late Checkout Is A Must
Late checkouts are an absolute must for me when choosing a hostel. Think about it, you’re probably not going to be awake, fully packed and dressed ready to leave for your next destination by 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. You’ll find the best hostels understand this and have much later checkout times, such as at 11 a.m. or noon. Though I’m an early riser myself and I love the mornings, I don’t like the pressure of having to get ready so soon in the morning, especially when I probably went out the night before.
5. Always Stay At A Hostel With Lockers
You may be surprised but some hostels do not have lockers, and that can be a deal breaker for me. After almost having my bag stolen in Barcelona on my very first day in Europe, I will never consider a hostel unless they have lockers. Make sure the hostel features lockers large enough to fit your backpack and have some sort of security (i.e. closed door with lock, wireless entry via smart card). Remember, never compromise on security and safety, that’s an absolute must.
6. Find A Hostel With Free (And Good) Wi-Fi
Now, this may not necessarily be a deal breaker for most, but having good Wi-Fi is a pretty big deal, especially if you’re like me and you’re working and traveling at the same time. Many hostels will have community computers that can be shared by all hostellers, but I need my laptop when working on business emails and writing my next article, so having good, fast and reliable Wi-Fi definitely factors into my decision when choosing a hostel.
7. Find One With A Bar
Of all the things I listed, a hostel without a bar is not the end of the world. However, it’s a great way to meet people and it’ll probably have much cheaper drinks than going out. Almost all the hostels I stayed at with bars have really fun activities, like beer bong or trivia night, that make it worthwhile to stay at (if you happen to be in La Paz, Bolivia, stay at Loki Backpackers La Paz!).
8. Hostels With Common Areas Is What You Want
A large, spacious common area is always a plus for me. I like mingling and meeting with new travelers and usually the best place to do that is in the common area. It’s the place where everyone’s going to hang out, eat, swap travel stories and just chill. Not to mention, if you’re a solo traveler, which is how I travel 90% of the time, this is where you can meet new travelers to get advice on new routes or locations or simply feel more comfortable being in a new city by yourself. The best part of traveling is meeting new people and socializing, and having a good common area is definitely part of that equation.
9. Any Hostel With Organized Activities Is A Great Hostel
Many top hostels will have staff-led pub-crawls, dinners, theme nights or any other organized activity that will help travelers not only feel comfortable with their hostel-mates but allow them to explore the city at the same time. As a solo backpacker, I always appreciated hostels that made the extra effort to host such activities, because it often made my experience in their city that much better.
10. A Knowledgeable And Friendly Staff Is Key
This is a big one for me. I can do all the research in the world, but it will never compare to the wealth of information that the staffer sitting behind the help desk can provide me. I always defer to the knowledge and expertise of the staff because they live in the city in you’re in, so why wouldn’t you listen to their advice or tips?