11 countries down, four more next month. You could say I’ve stayed in my fair share of hostels. Love them or hate them, when you’re traveling on a budget, they’re a necessary stop along the way. Lucky for me, I love them. In fact, many of my favorite memories come from various hostels around the world.
Like that time I got cooking lessons from a super cute Australian guy, or the time I stayed up all night talking to an older Hawaiian lady about age and what it means to travel when you’re no longer “young”, or when I ended up engaged to a Scottish guy for a night. And that’s not even to mention the countless day tours I’ve gone on with people I’ve met in the hostels.
There’s something beautiful about people from all over the world coming together in a common place to break bread, play games, go on tours, and exchange stories. I’ve made so many good friends from my travels, that I’d say that staying in hostels is right up there with my other favorite way to find international accommodations, Couchsurfing.
But how do you find a good one?
The reality of the situation is that not all hostels are created equal. So how do you find one that isn’t going to cost you an arm and a leg in exchange for bed bugs and crazy parties that keep you up until 4am?
Well, to be honest, sometimes it’s luck of the draw. But overall I’ve had great experiences by using these tips for finding the very best hostels:
Actually Read the Reviews
Sounds easy enough, right? Wrong. You’d be surprised how many people gloss over these. Don’t be that person. Before my last trip my friend and I were reading reviews for a place (Airbnb) and person after person was complaining about the same. exact. problem. Cockroaches. Okay, gross. But I think this was a really great example (even without being tied to a hostel) of how people don’t read reviews before they stay in a place…or at least don’t pay attention to patterns if they are reading them. But don’t follow this trend. There’s a reason they’re there, and ignoring them could literally leave you sleeping with disgusting little bugs. Take the extra 15 minutes to skim through the review section.
Look at What’s Offered
I travel with a towel so having one provided isn’t necessary. BUT staying in a place with no Wifi (yes, those really exist – feel free to gasp in horror) is not an option, since most of the time I’m working while I travel. Different things are important to different people. Make sure you’re not going to be hating your stay because essentials are being left out. Here are a few things I look for on every posting:
- Breakfast (Is it included?)
- Lockers (Where can I put my valuables while I’m sleeping?)
- Accessible kitchen (Can I make my own food if I want to?)
- Linens/pillows (Some places charge you more for bedsheets.)
- Wifi/Internet (Non-negotiable for me.)
- Showers (What’s the situation? Check it out before you assume.)
- Location (It really is everything…but we’ll talk more about that, below.)
Location, Location, Location
Here’s the deal. If you pay $10/night, but you’re miles away from anything you want to do, you’re going to spend as much time/money on transportation as you would have on getting lodgings closer to the city center. No matter how much travel-know you think you have, ALWAYS google the address of a hostel, before booking. It takes an extra 5-10 minutes to see what’s in the surrounding area where you’re potentially staying, and saves you a whole ton of stress, once you’re there. This is also when you can see how difficult it is to get to it from the station or airport you’re coming into.
I love social media because I get some of my best recommendations from my friends on Facebook and Twitter. Don’t be shy! There are people out there who have been where you’re going, and WANT to share info and help. Wouldn’t you rather take their advice on a great place to stay, than end up somewhere sketchy? Who knows? They may even have a friend who will take you in for a couple of days (money saving 101).
Okay, so it’s not something anyone wants to talk about, but the fact of the matter is that things get stolen, sometimes. It does happen in hostels, and while it’s never happened to me, personally, I’ve definitely heard stories. But before you throw your hands in the air, know that there’s a rather easy solution. Most hostels have some kind of locker system (but again, never assume) where you can store your valuables. Most of these require a cash deposit of around $10 (for a deposit which you get back once you leave), so make sure that you have cash in the currency of the country you’re visiting before you show up at the hostel.
Think Before You Spend
Depending on the hostel, the prices for different rooms can vary drastically. For instance, when I was looking today I noticed that a room with 6 beds was only $1.50 more per night than a room with 8 beds. Okay, let’s do the math. Is it worth $1.50 to have two less people in the room? Hint: The answer is yes. Make sure you’re comparing the prices of the rooms that you’re staying in before idly clicking away at things that you think you need. Do your research and you’ll be rewarded!
There are lots of ways to book hostels, one of my favorites being HostelWorld. I use HostelWorld the most frequently for numerous reasons (mainly because you only have to pay a deposit down when you book, rather than the full amount). One of my favorite hostels I’ve stayed in, though, was one found by a German friend in Berlin. It wasn’t on HostelWorld or any of the other big sites, and maybe that was part of its charm. Oh, and it was $70…for the entire week.
Your turn! What tips do you have to find that perfect hostel? Share your tricks for success in the comments below!