“Hotel rooms are just so expensive,” – yes, they are. Quick solution? Stay in hostels to save money.
“I don’t have anyone to go with,” – that’s okay! You pay for a bed at a hostel, not a room, so don’t worry about finding 1 or 3 of your buddies to split the cost. Besides, most people you’ll meet at a hostel are traveling solo. Guaranteed. And those who aren’t will still be very friendly if you strike up a conversation 95% of the time.
“Aren’t hostels scary?” – I think you watch too many movies. No, they aren’t. I know they’re not exactly a thing in America (and hey, that’s starting to change! slowly…) but really, they are as safe as staying in a hotel, and in my young 20’s opinion, a hell of a lot more fun. Lots of hostels have 24-hour reception desks, gated security, and sometimes even a guard who keeps an eye out all night.
Now that we’ve gotten a few of these things out of the way, if you’re ready to start looking for a hostel, I’ve got 8 tips for you on what to look for and how to get started.
1. Start with Hostel World
Think of it like a Trip Advisor or Expedia, maybe even an Amazon, but better. On Hostel World you can type in your destination, dates of travel, and search through list after list of hostels that are available during that time. It’s the Mecca of hostel hunting.
2. Filter by Rating
A good rating depends on the city you are in and how many hostels are around. A general rule of thumb I’ve used is to filter for hostels rated 8.5 and above (out of 10). But in cities with lots of hostels (a la anywhere in Europe, basically), you’ll see lots of 9+…I take that to mean that you’ll probably have a great time no matter which one you choose. You may want to run a secondary filter for the price though, to see where the top hostels overlap. Best and cheapest? Cool, I’m sold. Well, not so fast…
3. Pay attention to the details
Each hostel gets a comprehensive rating score but take a look at how it’s broken down. Is the location only a 6? You probably don’t want to stay somewhere that’s a 30-minute train ride away from the center of Istanbul. Consequently, if you’re not looking to party hard, you may not want to pick that party hostel located right above a club in Budapest (but I did and I swear it was amazing. Doesn’t exist anymore but 10/10 would go again). And if you’re a germaphobe, you probably want to stay somewhere with a tip, top cleanliness rating.
4. Facilities, Schmacilities
Ok, not really, but I barely look at this part when I’m booking. There is some useful info on here, though, for people who are more Type-A than I am. I mostly look to see if towels are included (they aren’t always a freebie but even so, they are almost always available for a small rental fee) and/or free breakfast. It’s a nice bonus, since I’m already paying for my bed, and it saves me the cost of one less meal for the day.
5. Read the reviews
Seriously, this is the most important part: anecdotal evidence of a hostel’s rating as fact or fiction. Walking tour on Thursdays? Great! Count me in. It’s an awesome way to meet new people and get to know the lay of the land. The staff will help you find a Thai cooking class? Also sounds awesome.
In Split (Croatia) I stayed in a great hostel where the owner literally drove us in his car to Plitviče Lakes (it’s rather hard to get to and not near many other towns/cities). We even snuck a totally illegal swim in under the waterfall 🙂
6. Staying A While? Check on the Amenities
People with the luxury of time should also consider whether or not the hostel has a kitchen. Buying groceries is so cheap! And fun to do abroad because of things like American Sauce. Laundry facilities are also a great consideration for longer stays, as well as whether or not the hostel has a computer and place to print/fax things. You’re better off bringing your own laptop though, as nearly everywhere has Free WiFi. Hostels in Australia will even offer job searching services for those on their Working Holiday Visa (yes, you can live in a hostel).
7. Look for Common Areas
Is there an outdoor terrace? A bar? A restaurant? A common room or living room? These are places to congregate and meet new people. If the hostel has a bar, you know you’ll meet all kinds of people from all over the world over a good drink, and maybe head out on the town after (lots of hostels do pub crawls too). Also noteworthy – a hostel with a bar is very different from a party hostel. Party hostels are especially scattered around Europe, probably even say “party” in the hostel name, and they’re not for everyone. They are a ton of fun if you want to get belligerently drunk with new friends, but a horrible place if you think you’re going to sleep a lot and catch that early morning flight home.
8. Chose Your Room Wisely
There is often a minimal difference in the prices (except if you want to get your own room), but sometimes, if you’re willing to pay an extra ~$2 a night (could be more, could be less), you’ll be in a 4-bed dorm with aircon instead of the 10-person mega dorm with a fan. My personal preference is female dorms (cause then I don’t have to awkwardly change in the bathroom or by hiding under the covers) and rooms with as few beds as possible, so there’ll be less backpacks crowding up the floor and a lower chance of sleeping next to a snorer.
Now that I’ve shared 8 tips for choosing a great hostel, read on for some very general hostel info if you’ve never stayed in one before and have no idea what to expect. If, instead, you’re a pro at this point, throw me a comment below (horror stories welcome). Thanks guys!
You’re sleeping next to 3-12 other people. Sometimes that means there will be snorers. Unfortunately, other times it means there will be smelly people who haven’t showered in days. But usually, it’s just a bunch of people who are there to sleep. And if you do catch someone hanging out just before bed – talk to them. They’re gonna have an awesome story about where they’ve been, where they’re going next…who knows what amazing things they’ll share.
In general, try to be respectful and everything should go smoothly.
Keep it simple; don’t turn the light on if it’s 2 am, just use your cell phone torch. Try not to make lots of noise late at night, etc.
BTW – one stigma I want to shake is that hostels are just for young people.
This is so not true. I rarely meet older Americans, sure, but foreigners seem not the slightest bit wary if they’re 40, 50, even 60+…age is but a number anyway 😉
Don’t forget to bring a padlock!
I’ve left my valuables in an unlocked backpack and they haven’t gotten stolen (knock on wood), but when you leave for the day, it’s probably a good idea to get yourself a padlock and store your passport/extra cash/whatever else inside a locker. All hostels have them, and for some crazy reason, if they don’t, someone at reception will keep your things safe for you.
Also, wear flip flops in the shower.
And for my last tip, make sure you book with Hostel World instead of on the actual hostel’s website, especially your first few times. Even if it’s slightly more expensive (an infinitesimal difference, really), you have the security protection in case you have to cancel your reservation for any reason. I always pay the extra $1 or $2 to protect my stay. You never know. Also, if I hate a place (hasn’t happened yet), I’d be covered in the event I want to go to a different hostel at the last minute. But you’re going to have a great time staying in a hostel…I promise!