When you’re travelling, picking a hostel can be overwhelming. There are usually a lot of options (which is great) and a lot of things you need to consider (which is sometimes not so great). If you’re anything like me you’ll overanalyze all aspects of your options before they start to blur together. So let me help you break down the most important components that separate the good, the bad, and the exceptional hostels from one another.
In my opinion, the close the hostel is to the city center the better. Unless you’re going with the specific intention of staying off the beaten path or you want to add an extra 10,000 steps to the likely 10,000 steps you’ll be taking every day, hostels close to the city centre definitely have their advantages. You’ll be closer to the typical tourist sites and attractions as well as essentials like restaurants and bars. If you’re looking to meet other travellers then being closer to the city center is also the way to go because you’re going to be in an area more populated by your comrades.
One of the best parts of travelling is getting to meet people you would’ve never otherwise met. Hostels provide the best opportunity to meet people from around the world and make unexpected friendships. Unfortunately, not all hostels are built the same and staying at a hostel does not guarantee you’re going to be living in a place with a good atmosphere. In fact, I found that many hostels advertising themselves as party hostels did the bare minimum to actually create a good social environment because they would think having a bar attached to the hostel is all that was needed to make a party. I found that looking for hostels that plan social activities beyond just happy hour was the easiest and most accurate way to have a good time. These hostels usually have the best staff and they attract the best travellers because they create an inclusive social environment in which people are encouraged to get to know each other before they go out partying later that night.
Booking directly through the hostel is likely going to be cheaper than booking through Hostel World. That being said, you’ll have to weigh the few dollars worth of savings versus some of the advantages that come with booking through Hostel World such as having access to hostel and city group chats. If you’re in Europe and travelling with a Eurail/Interrail pass then you’re going to want to check your app because you will often have access to special discounts for specific hostels. Also, some hostels will provide deals and discounts on meals or drinks from their associated restaurants or bars which is a big appeal when you’re trying to save a buck or two. This is especially true if you’re booking directly through the hostel’s website rather than a third-party site like hostelworld (although I’m a supporter of hostelword too).
Is there 24/7 reception? Does the hostel provide lockers to keep your valuables safe in the dorm? Does the hostel provide luggage storage before/after your stay? Is the hostel near the city’s redlight district? These are things you need to look into when you’re considering booking a hostel. Safety is something that you’re going to be harped about by your family and your peers, and for good reason. You’re going to a foreign country without your usual support system and if you’re like me you’re a female solo traveller which means there’s an extra risk you’re taking. Do yourself (and your loved ones a favour) and choose a hostel that has a good safety rating.
When looking at a hostel pay close attention to some of the amenities they provide for each bed in the dorm such as a personal light, a personal outlet, and a curtain for your bed. Although these are all things you can live without, their convenience and privacy definitely provide a comfort that can make or break your hostel experience. Towards the end of my trip, I was specifically picking hostels based on whether or not they had privacy curtains because I was getting tired of constantly living out in the open with others. Moreover, more modern hostels may have laundry service, a pool and complimentary breakfast.
I never thought cleanliness would be one of the number one factors I considered when choosing a hostel. I’ve roughed it camping since I was a toddler and I’ve never really considered myself a germaphobe. But after finding out the difference firsthand between a 10-star rating on cleanliness and a 7-star, it’s become a priority. Taking a shower becomes kind of redundant when you feel just as gross coming out of the shower as you did going in.