choosing a hostel
1st Time Travel,  Solo Travel,  world

How to choose the right hostel

I LOVE a hostel! As a frequent solo traveller, choosing the right hostel is important, especially when I’m on a tight budget. However, my beloved dwell areas still have that old stigma attached to them; dirty, cramped ‘hippie holes’. To many, it conjures up images of that place you see Leo Dicaprio stay 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, “Come meet me at my hotel, it’s way nicer than your place”. It made me a little angry. Sure, their hotel was probably a lot bigger and shinier than my hostel, but that particular hostel was actually home to one of the city’s most popular bars. It was frequented just as much by locals as the  tourists. On that basis,  who had the better atmosphere? (and a 30 sec walk home from bar to bed).

This post covers the basics of finding a hostel to suit your needs, whether you’re newbie or not.

hostel relax

Where to start

The internet is a wonderful thing! For every new city I visit, I have 3 must have accommodation sites/apps.

The first two simply ask you to pop in your dates, your location, and away you go. They’ll give you a full run down of hostels, complete with distance to the centre and a shed ton of traveller reviews. You can browse host pictures of dorms and communal areas, full price lists of different dorm/room sizes, and booking is done with two clicks of your mouse/I phone/whatever.

hostelworld main

So ‘why use TripAdvisor as well’? I hear you ask. Well.. it’s a back up. Photo’s on the first two are posted by the hostels themselves. Think of yourself on Tinder. Would you be putting up any raggedy ‘off day’ pics? Thought not. TripAdvisor 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 removed 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 a kitchen to do your own cooking?)

hostel reviews

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 people 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, check reviews to see why it was scored down.

hostel scoring

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 when 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. Obviously, you will pay less, the less fussy you are.

hostel rooms

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 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!!!).

These first steps and tips should get you through your first hostel booking experience.

Did you use my guide? Do you have a love for hostels? Is there anything that puts you off staying in hostels? I’d love to hear your thoughts?

Travel writer, marketing adviser and blogger based in Edinburgh, with a focus on budget and vegan travel. 39 countries to date, with extensive knowledge of travel within Asia, particularly within Thailand.

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