I frickin LOVE a hostel. As a frequent solo traveller, they’re a must for getting the most out of your trip, especially if you are on a tight budget. But my beloved dwell areas still have that old stigma attached to them; dirty, cramped ‘hippie’ residing holes, similar to that place we all saw Leo stay in at the start of ‘The beach’ (my friend stayed there by the way).
Recently someone visiting a city at the same time as me told me to “come meet me at my hotel, it’s way nicer than your place”. It made me a little angry. Sure, your hotel was probably a lot bigger and shinier than my hostel. But that particular hostel was actually home to one of the cities most popular bars, frequented just as much by locals as tourists. So who had the better atmosphere (and a 30 sec walk home from bar to bed)?
Where to start
Oh the internet is a wonderful thing! For every new city I visit, I have 3 must have sites/apps.
The first two simply ask you to pop in your dates, location and away you go. They’ll give you a full run down of hostels in that place, complete with distance to the centre and a shed ton of traveller reviews. You can browse pictures of dorms and communal areas from the hosts, full price lists of different dorm/room sizes, and booking is done with two clicks of your mouse/Iphone/whatever.
So ‘why use Trip Advisor as well’? I hear you ask. Wellllll.. it’s a back up. Photo’s on the first two are dropped by the hostels themselves. Think of yourself on Tinder; would you be putting up any raggedy ‘off day’ pics? Thought not. Trip Advisor lets the user put up any ‘dirty bathroom’ pictures, that might ultimately be your deal breaker.
Decide on your ‘non-negotiables’
A lot of people make the common mistake of choosing a hostel because it has the top rated score, or because they’ve read an article somewhere that sings its praises. What might be high scoring for you might not be as important to another traveller.
Both HostelWorld and HostelBookers will let you filter your searches by ‘Rating’. Once you’ve done that, have a good look through the actual reviews that people have written. On a recent trip, I was itching to go stay in a hostel I’d read was (quote) ‘one of the coolest hostels in the world’. It scored OK, but a lot of solo travellers had commented that it was so big that meeting people was difficult if you were by yourself. I immediately scored it off the potential list.
Choose at least two ‘non negotiables’. The things you care about the most:
- Value for Money (are you on a budget?)
- Security (are you concerned about the area?)
- Location (do you want to be as close to tourist spots as possible?)
- Staff (do you care if the staff are tentative?)
- Atmosphere (are you looking to make friends?)
- Cleanliness (is it next to godliness?)
- Facilities (do you want extras like kitchen to do your own cooking?)
Once you know what you can’t do without, you can eliminate accordingly
Be aware of the number of reviewers
This is another thing that catches folk out. Each hostel will have a little number beside it, telling you how many reviews they’ve had. A hostel might be scoring high, but may only have 10 reviews (I’d be cautious that this isn’t many people to go by). If a hostel is scoring over 90% with more than 500 reviews, i’d say it’s doing pretty well – you can’t please everyone. Again, go see why it was down scored.
Choosing your room
Solo traveller: If you’re a solo traveller, I URGE you to stay in a dorm. Pleeeaasssee!! On most occasions, someone is bound to talk to you if you’re sharing a room with them; it’s by far the best way to meet people.
If the idea of sharing a room with loads of people puts you off, don’t be dismayed. A lot of hostels now have a good few different room options; private rooms with en-suites, private rooms with shared bathrooms, 4 bed dorms, all female dorms, 10 bed dorms etc etc. Obviously, you will pay less, the less fussy you are.
Group travellers: My friends are a social bunch, half the fun of travelling together is that we like to meet new people together. As a result, we’d still stay in hostels. Weekends away or holidays that you have a larger budget for are the prime opportunity to book yourself into a cheeky private room. A lot of hostels will give you extra benefits, free towels, breakfast etc. Making friends is a lot easier in a pair (or more), so private rooms will give you all the social benefits in a bit more luxury (some of the rooms are unreal!!!).