Whenever I travel, one of the decisive factors that is the hostel I chose. Especially on solo trips. Not because the “comfiness” of the bed. But because that’s where I meet the people I hang out with. It also changes how much time I’m spending on transportation and where my money goes (less accommodation fees lead to more money for food and activities!) I like to think I’ve became quite the expert on choosing great hostels (Ok, maybe not, but don’t burst my bubble!). Anyway, here’s my advice on how to pick your hostels.
1. Why chose a hostel as an accommodation?
There are many accommodation options when you travel. Couch surfing, staying at friends’ houses (or friend’s friends’ house (or friends’ friends’ friend’s house)), hotels (if you are rich and fancy), airbnb, etc. My favourite are hostels. Couch surfing and locals’ houses can be great because it automatically puts you in contact with people that know the city and can tell you the best places (rarely the same as the tourist places). Plus, it’s free. But, personally, I love discovering new places with people that are also seeing them for the first time. It’s more exciting for all and it brings more chances of getting lost. And getting lost is important when you travel. When I look back to all the people I met in hostels, people from all around the world, I think of a bunch of great friends I share great adventures with together with conversations where filled with diversified cultural inputs. I’ve always been amazed about how easily friendships can be built between backpackers. We’re kind of all going through something similar. We’re all broke nomads, tired of wearing the same outfits but dazzled by the adventures that come to us each day. You want to meet other backpackers, they make your trips a thousand times better. Hanging out with other backpackers shouldn’t keep you from meeting locals and discovering local places!
2. Why book in advance (and how)
Depending on the time of the year and the place you travel to (low or high season and the destination’s popularity), booking a hostel in advance can be really important. I wouldn’t recommend booking all your hostels before the beginning of your trip: you want to keep your flexibility. However, booking a hostel 24 hours before arrival once you’ve book your bus/train/plane ticket to the destination can assure you a much better accommodation compared to finding something on the spot. I’ve been booking with hostelworld.com and hostels.com for quite a few years and it’s been really good. These sites help me find all the information on hostels. I’ve never had a problem with a booking upon arrival. Hostelworld app is easy to use and the booking payment is safe!
3. Money and general rating (Value for money!)
Something I love about hostels.com is that you can filter your search to find hostels that fit within your budget and your taste. Depending on where I travel to, I will range the price limit from 10$ – 35$. Then, I range the rating to higher then 85%. Most of the time, the best “value for money” will show up first. Normally, all hostels with a rating over 85% are pretty good, over 93% is excellent! Careful: the prices you see are not necessarily the one you will pay: they indicate the starting prices of dorms and private rooms but depending on a few things, you might have to pay higher. Going to the “availability and rate” section shows you what rooms and dorms have beds available and what are the prices for those beds. The rating “value for money” is often a really good indicator of if you found a great place or not!
4. Location & Atmosphere
Location and atmosphere are the two points I find the most important! You might find a really cheep hostel that seems super clean and fun, but if it’s 1h bus trip away from everything you want to see, you’ll regret it. There is a rating for the location but I recommend that you check the location yourself with google maps. Check how far of a walking distance it is from the places you are planning to see. If it’s a small city, you should be able to walk everywhere easily. If not, make sure the access to public transportation is easy. Something you also might want to make sure is that it is easily accessible from where you will arrive: always check the itinerary with google map from your arrival spot to the hostel. A high atmosphere rate is crucial; I learned it the hard way. I stayed at a few boring hostels before this became a priority in my selection. If people rate a great atmosphere, it means there are more opportunities (room, activities, etc.) to meet other people. If you are traveling alone, believe me, you want a hostel with a great atmosphere!
5. Staff, cleanliness and security
These are points that are a little less important to me; however, I make sure there are generally over 60%-70%. You want the staff to be willing to give you info about the city. The level of importance I grant to cleanliness and security will depend on where I’m traveling. If the destination is known for cockroches and stuff, you might want a higher cleanliness rating. If it’s known to be a dangerous town, you might want it to have a higher security rating in order to feel safe when walking back at night. The security rating also depends on the presence of backpack storages or small lockers.
6. Facilities and policies
Have a look to what the hostel list as their facilities. Do they have free wifi? Is breakfast included? Can you rent towels? Is there a kitchen? Can you bring in drinks (or do you have to buy them at the hostel bar)? Also, you want to have a look at their policies. Is their reception 24h? If not, what happens if you have to check in or check out late? Is it possible to be refund if you decide to leave earlier?
7. Read the reviews!
You don’t have to read them all but you want to look at the last five reviews, minimum. The way other backpackers felt about the place will tell you a lot. Bad reviews can be linked to stuff that are not as important to you. However, if everybody seems to have bad experiences… run! Oh, and if anyone (especially in the last months) wrote about bedbugs presence at the hostel… run. Faster.
8. What kind of room you should book?
I personally always book the dorms with the most beds. It’s the cheapest, a great way to meat people and, if you are lucky, they will place you in a smaller dorm if the hostel isn’t fully booked. Don’t be afraid of mixed dorms. However, if you are a really light sleeper or feel uncomfortable sleeping around lots of people, you can go for a small bed room… that doesn’t mean you won’t meet anyone. Most of the people I became friends with in hostels, I met in the kitchen or in the hang out room!
So, go ahead, book that hostel, meet awesome backpackers and go on crazy adventures, you fellow antevasin!