Tips and tricks for picking the right hostel
1. Stick to the best online platforms
When searching for a hostel, stick with Hostel World for sure. They have a ton of reviews from travellers as well as photos, maps etc.
If you have an ISIC (International Student Identification Card) card from STA Travel, you don’t pay a booking fee with Hostelworld which also saves you. Also this site is very well known and has many reviews that you can trust by fellow travelers.
2. Listen to word of mouth
Throughout my time I have only booked a hostel purely through online sources a handful of times. Usually, once you’re in the relevant country or continent, the people you meet will have recommendations from everywhere they’ve been, which can be where you’re going next.
If you hear the same hostel name dropped a few times, that means it usually has a good reputation. This also gives personal validation by asking people first hand their experiences, rather than trusting reviews online.
3. Double check check-in times
Checkwhat time your flight/bus/train gets in, and more importantly what time you would literally be at the door of the hostel (it can take hours from after you land). Make sure the hostel is open for check in at this time, or has 24/7hr check in.
If you’re arriving in the middle of the night, it wouldn’t hurt to shoot them an email so they are expecting you. The amount of times I’ve shown up to a ’24hr’ reception that is closed has been frustrating. They weren’t expecting me at that time so they closed up.
4. Does it have a bar or common room?
If you’re looking to meet people, the hostel bar is the place to be. Full of cheap drink specials and fellow travelers who are staying there, it is a great place to make new friends. If they don’t have a bar, a good common room can be the next best thing. This is where everyone chills out, indulges in wifi and watches TV.
Check the reviews online to see what people say about the bar or common room atmosphere, as some will be raging and social, and others will be empty, uninviting and the last place you will meet people. This is really important if you’re travelling solo and can be a deal breaker for me.
5. Deciding on the size of the room
When picking a hostel, you can choose how many other travelers you want in your room. Dorms can range in size; some of the standard choices are 4 bed, 8 bed, 10 bed and 12 bed. The more people in the room, the cheaper it is, and the more potential friends you can make.
However, this also means there is a higher risk of being stuck with one of the backpackers worst nightmare; a snorer, a couple loudly having sex, someone waking up at 5am to pack or leave for an early flight, or people stumbling in drunk at 5am turning on the lights (usually me).
How do you solve this issue? Bring stacks of earplugs!!!!
6. Pick a prime location
Location is everything! Make sure you Google map where the hostel is to see how far it takes to walk to the main street, attractions and bars. You will be happy with yourself at 3am if you are a short walk home from the club rather than an expensive taxi or delayed public transport ride home.
Hostels in a central location can cost a few dollars more a night, but compare this with how much you’d spend on transport getting to and from the city from your outer skirts hostel and see if it’s worth it.
7. Is there an airport shuttle?
Check to see if they offer a free or cheap airport shuttle. If not, look up the airport transport to the city and see how fast/convenient/direct it is getting to your hostel. After all it is usually always a lot cheaper than a taxi.
8. Do they supply linen and towels?
This might sound weird if you’re a first timer, but this can really vary. Some hostels have beds neatly made with sheets, duvets, towels and all. However some will have literally nothing, and you can rent them for a small(ish) price, or you have to bring your own. It is important to know this in advance, as you may need to come prepared!
9. Do they offer any tour services?
Many of the best and most famous hostels act as a quasi travel agency as well and can book you tours with a discounted rate. Some also run free walking tours which I would highly recommend doing. This is much easier than booking with an external company.
10. Prepare for little electricity
The supply of power points varies dramatically in hostels depending on the age of the building. Some will have one plug for the entire room, which can be catering anywhere from 4-20 people. Some will have a plug next to each bed (which is extremely generous).
This detail is often left out of the ‘facilities’ listed online, so do yourself a favour and bring a mini power board to charge your electronics. Also, you can’t bank on having a bed close to the power point, so bring a charger with a long cord (mines 2m), so that if you’re on the top bunk you can still use it while it’s charging.
11. Is breakfast included?
This is SO important.
Firstly, it saves your budget. Even if the hostel is a few dollars more expensive but includes breakfast, it is worth it (as you won’t find breakfast for a few dollars on the street).
Secondly, it saves you time. It is so much easier to stroll downstairs in your pyjamas and scrounge up some toast and coffee, than to get fully ready, find a café and eat breakfast. This digs into valuable exploration and drinking time!
12. What kind of luggage storage do they have?
This is something that you usually won’t find online, however it can have an affect on your stay. Some hostels have large lockers underneath each bed like cages which can fit your whole backpack in. Others have small lockers to put your valuables in and often come with a charge.
However some hostels poorly don’t have any security storage. I’ve never had a problem with safety, however it can be unsettling leaving the hostel for the day with all your belongings just lying on the floor. If this is the case, take your most valuable items with you for the day in a secure little backpack.
So pick wisely and enjoy the hostel culture!