When traveling, finding a good hostel is part of the adventure, right? But how do you find the ‘perfect’ place?
Now, there are many websites out there to help you with just that (check out this article from tripsavvy for an overview).
But before you start your search just take a second and ask yourself: What are you looking for?
This might seem like the most obvious question ever. But: every traveler is different. So while the ratings on booking sites might give you a general idea about customer satisfaction, it’s worth taking a closer look. Are you a solo traveler looking for some peace and quiet? Or do you want to socialize and meet new people? Are you a couple looking for a cheap accommodation but still want some privacy and comfort? Are you looking for the cheapest possible option or do you have some basic requirements?
Here is a checklist of things to consider when booking your accommodation:
Does the hostel have a common area/bar?
If you are looking to meet other travelers, make sure your hostel has a common area. Sure, you might get to know your bunk buddies in a dorm room. But a comfy place to hang out with others, play games with total strangers or just relax after a day of exploring a strange city will make your stay that much more special.
On the other hand, if you want some peace and quiet, you might want to avoid hostels with a bar and party nights. Hostels that are slightly outside the city center or off the usual ‘backpacker streets’ might be a safer option. If you are looking for more privacy, many hostels are offering private rooms with private/shared bathrooms or you could go for a guesthouse with fewer rooms.
What’s in your dorm?
Most hostels have mixed and female dorms, so if you are a female traveler, you have a choice to make. It’s also a good idea to check if there are different dorm sizes. Personally, I prefer 6-8 bed dorms, simply because it limits the ‘traffic’ in the room. People entering and leaving the room while you are trying to get some sleep are one of the downsides of a backpacker’s life. However, be aware that fewer people isn’t always better. I have seen 4 bed dorms that were tiny and crammed. The one thing I always try to get is an aircon in the room, as sharing a fan can turn out more difficult than you’d think…
Does your bunk bed come with a locker, a power outlet, a reading light?
These details seem trivial but they can make your life that much easier. A reading light means that people don’t have to switch on the main light in the room when going to the bathroom or before heading out (which means more sleep for others). Hostels rarely mention these details, so check the reviews.
Who says what about the place?
This is probably your most valuable resource. Pictures can be misleading and descriptions are often standardized and biased. Even the overall general rating can be misleading. So it’s a good idea to check how many reviews there are and who is writing. Sites such as Booking and Hostelworld usually give you basic info about their reviewers, such as age group and country of origin. I like to have a look at that, because an 18-year-old first time traveler might have a very different definition of ‘a great place to stay’ than me. A solo traveler might not be looking for the same thing in a hostel as a couple traveling with their kids, and so on.
Where is it?
Is the location convenient for you? Are you close to your points of interest? If not, is it close to public transport? This is especially important if you are staying in a big city. If you are short on time and want to visit the main tourist sites, it’s a shame if you spent half of your day trying to get there. Are you just staying for one night or do you have an early flight to catch? You might want to stay close to the airport. The greatest hostel can’t make up for the fact that it’s a hassle to get to places.
Good WiFi can be hard to come by. And while I would love to say that I am not dependent on it and that I can very well live without it, it’s absolutely necessary to have a decent connection once in a while. Be it to tell your parents you’re still alive, to book that next flight or to handle some matters back home (because life goes on even if you are far away from it), checking if WiFi is available can help you avoid frustration.
Finding decent bathrooms has been my personal challenge while traveling. I have spent a few nights in slightly disgusting places where I preferred to enter bathrooms in flip-flops rather than barefoot, where I held my towel out at arm’s length while showering because I just couldn’t bring myself to put it somewhere (I have developed a true appreciation for hooks). I’ve come to despise push-button showers that leave you hanging mid-soaping. And if other travelers mention that there ‘aren’t enough toilets/bathrooms’, I prefer to avoid that hostel.
Now, this is always great, but especially if you are on a budget. I always try to find a place with free breakfast. It means that you don’t have to run out in the morning and it’s a great way to save a few bucks. Free city tours with local guides are rare, but if you want to explore a new city and don’t have any plans, yet, this is a great way to discover and meet new people. Do they give you bed linen, towels? Is there a fridge for common use? Do they offer pickup from the airport?
My travels have taught me to look for these things when booking a hostel. Granted, even with this list in mind I occasionally spend nights in places I’ll try to forget for a while, but these nights have become fewer since I worked this out for myself. Another thing I always do, is to book no more than two nights at a place. You can almost always extend your stay if you like the place and if not, well, you can survive a night or two, right?