I’ve stayed my fair share at hostels across Asia, Europe and the Americas. I’ve also mixed them around a lot! From sleeping in a private room in a quiet hostel to diving right into a 18 bed mix dorm at a party one, each experience has been unique and quite unforgettable.
How to pick a hostel?
- List down what’s most important to you as a traveller –
- Walkability to attractions
- Proximity to public transport
- Included Amenities like breakfast, wifi, sheets & towels, free tours etc
- Quiet Vs Social
- Additional facilities like an onsite pool or bikes to hire
- Use sites like hostelworld and booking.com effectively –
- Use filters to filter out any hostel which doesn’t meet your ‘must have’ criteria. For me, location is one of THE biggest factors, followed by reviews on their washrooms and wifi!
- Use the ‘map’ feature on hostelworld to see all options close to the city centre/train station. It helps to see them visually on a map before taking a call
- Really go over the reviews, some sponsored hostels may pop up at the top of the list but they may not be the best. Winning formula for a sure shot good hostel is an over 9 rating with at least 500 reviews
- Look at the more recent reviews to make sure the hostel is still good, not undergoing any current maintenance, not had a management change etc. In large review pools, sometimes the newer ones may not dent the rating but they do share a more current picture
- Booking.com is also a great site for hostels and in some countries preferred & cheaper! You just need to filter to ‘hostel’ and see the options available to you
How to pick a room type?
If this is your first time staying at a hostel and want to ease into it, you have 2 options:
- Pick a private room with an ensuite bathroom in a bustling and social hostel. This will give you the vibe you’ve been craving for and the opportunity of meeting fellow travellers and participating in hostel activities which maintaining your private quarters. It’s a great option if you’re travelling with a friend and split the cost
- Pick a smaller mixed dorm. Most hostels have dorm rooms starting from 4 to 6 beds. Pick these over larger 18 bed dorms if you want a quiet night’s sleep and still get the ‘feel’ of communal hostel living and the change to meet other travellers. I suggest mixed dorms even if you’re a single woman/group of women travelling. I’ve experience mixed dorms to be quieter and travellers to be more respectful of space than women only dorms
Larger Mixed dorms. These are easily the cheapest option available at any hostel. The largest dorm I’ve stayed at was a 28 bed mixed dorm room in Taipei and it was surprisingly really good. While picking a large mixed dorm it’s good to note few of the facilities listed below. Having privacy curtains being a big one – they really help when a fellow boarder decides to rummage through their rucksack with a torch in the middle of the night and ends up flashing it right at you!
What In-Dorm Facilities should I look for?
- Charging points: Convenient charging points at your bedside may seem like a ‘basic’ facility but you’ll be surprised how many hostels don’t have it! Make sure yours does. It helps to have 2 plug points and all the newer/ refurbished hostels have this
- Reading light: Again, this is a must have even if you aren’t much of a ‘reader’! Your personal reading light lets you look through your stuff, read a book or just have some LIGHT when the dorm goes dark at night
- Curtains/Blinds: While some dorm rooms don’t necessarily need privacy blinds for each bed considering their capacity, it’s still nice to have the option to roll down the blinds when you sleep. This isn’t as common in the older hostels but most new ones have them
- Air conditioning/heating: While this may seem like a basic, I’ve been stuck in a non air-conditioned hostel and it wasn’t pleasant. There aren’t too many of these but it’s a good thing to also make sure yours isn’t one of them
- Lockers & Storage: Some hostels have lockers in rooms/right outside to keep your bags in while some ask for you to bring your own lock for these lockers/ to store bags under your assigned bed. Either way, there should be some facility for your valuables like your passport! I’ve been at hostels without these facilities and have had the reception hold my passport with them for the entire stay as that seemed like my safest bet
- Towels & Linens: Many hostels provide bed linen with your stay but MANY don’t. Make sure you check on this and towels (even if they are at a charge)
- Ensuite Vs Common Washrooms: To be honest, I’m not sure! I personally prefer common washrooms as they end up being cleaned more often by the staff plus save me the embarrassment of my roommates hearing me flush in the middle of the night (I’m weird!) But they do have the advantage of being closer, knowing when they are free without having to walk across a hostel to find all occupied & if your roommates are tidy people- clean!
What to watch out for before you book?
- Make sure your booking is cancellable. Even if you’re 100% sure you’re making that trip, things can change. Look at the COVID-19 scenario we’re all living
- If the room isn’t refundable, make sure you pick the ‘standard- flexible’ option on hostelworld. This cost you a dollar more but gives you the option to cancel a booking and get the money spent as hostelworld credits to use for future bookings. This is a great option when, like me, you change plans mid vacation and want to move stuff around!
- Reception timings: Some hostels don’t have 24X7 front desk which means if you’re arriving at an ungodly hour, you may be in trouble
- Curfews: YES, some hostels have curfews. Make sure the one you pick doesn’t because who wants THAT on a vacation
- House Rules: Before you book any hostel, always go over their house rules. This is a good spot to catch any overheads or information you may have missed.
Friendly Tips to thrive (not just survive) at hostels
- If there is free breakfast, get there early! Unlike Hotels, things run out in hostels and you don’t wanna be the one scraping that last bit of peanut butter out of the jar
- Ensure you pack SMART. Separate packing cubes so you aren’t rummaging through your entire bag to find your last clean pair of underwear!
- Picking the right time to do your laundry – mid day is a good time! You don’t wanna be lining up in the evening when everyone is there
- Picking a good time to shower – YES, bathing in the morning isn’t a great idea when staying at a hostel! If you aren’t busy sightseeing, mid day is again a great time because most washrooms get cleaned by the staff late morning and are fresh and clean for you. Night time is another good option as most showers are likely to be empty plus you get to clean all your sightseeing grime off
- Sign up for free activities when you check-in. They are a great way to see the city you’re in and interact with fellow travellers.
- Ask your hotel staff for tips and things to see. They will usually give you the best tips on where to eat, what to see and where to grabs drinks!
Some people may think that Hostelling isn’t for everyone. I don’t agree. If you’re smart about it and pick your options right, anyone can stay at a hostel AND have a great time at it. Tell me about your hosteling adventures below!