I LOVE a hostel! As a frequent solo traveller, knowing how to find a good hostel is important, especially when you’re on a tight budget. However, my beloved travel accommodation of choice still has that old stigma attached to it; dirty, cramped ‘hippy holes’. For 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).
Someone I know was once visiting a city at the same time as me. They 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 the bar to bed).
This post covers the basics of how to find a good hostel to suit your needs, whether you’re a newbie or not.
How to find a good hostel
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 rundown 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.
So, “Why use TripAdvisor as well?”, I hear you ask. Well, it’s a backup. Photos on the first two are posted by the hostels themselves. Think about the way you market yourself on Tinder. Would you be putting up any raggedy ‘off day’ pics? Thought not. TripAdvisor lets the user put up all those ‘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 from 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?)
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.
Choosing your hostel room
Solo hostel 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.
Group hostel 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 opportunities 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 your own tips on how to find a good hostel? Is there anything that puts you off staying in hostels? I’d love to hear your thoughts.