Hostel’s aren’t what they once were. While I’m sure there’re lots of sketchy and filthy ones out there, backpacker hostels are mainstream, practical and sometimes even luxurious. After staying in about 10, I want to share what I’ve learned from the experience, and help you choose your next (maybe first) hostel.
Coming from a place of staying in dorms as a solo, female traveler, I know the fears of choosing a hostel over a hotel. However, if you haven’t noticed, I’m always tight on budget, so when I’m alone, it’s absolutely necessary. I’ve never rented a private dorm because they’re expensive alone, and when I’m with friends, AirBnb is almost-always cheaper because of the split cost.
Backpackers hostels are great, and nothing like the movie Hostel. In fact, from my experiences in the western world (USA, Australia and western Europe), they’re fantastic, invaluable experiences to my travels.
1) You meet people from around the world. My Facebook friends list consists of young people from Montenegro to Austria, Korea to England, Canada to Australia, Mexico to Indonesia, and more. We follow each other’s travels on Instagram, and make big plans to visit each other at home. I talk to the girls in my rooms and people at meal time, hang out in the common rooms (hostel bars, lounges, kitchens), and strike up a conversation with someone who looks interesting. When I’m traveling alone, it’s a sure-fire way to find travel partners for the day.
2) It’s inexpensive and convenient. I can afford a hostel in the town center, but could never dream of staying in a hotel with the same location. Because you’re only renting a bed and right to use the bathroom (linens and breakfast sometimes included), they’re inexpensive. While I forfeit access to room service and (sometimes) long, hot showers, I get a fantastic site and heaps more spending money in return.
3) Discounts, local tips and events. Because they’re designed with travelers like me in mind, I can usually buy tickets for city activities and museums with a discount from the hostel travel counter (aka the front desk). The staff can give local tips, and usually know the good, cheap and free ins- and outs of the city. Just like at a hotel, staff can give information on airport transfers, day-trip get-aways and how to get around. Sometimes they even provide free walking or biking tours!
1) They’re not always the cleanest option. If you’re a germaphobe or a stickler for clean showers (who isn’t?), you’ll probably regret your decision at least once during your stay. I know I do, and I’m not at all high-maintenance. Because of the shared spaces and general set-up of the dorm-style rooms, the space itself is anything but convenient, and oftentimes borderline disgusting (especially the bathrooms).
2) A general lack of privacy. I’ve stayed in hostels with curtains for each bunk bed to give occupants a hint of privacy, and I love it. However, in general, expect up-to 10% privacy. I usually reserve a bed in the biggest room possible because they’re the cheapest, so when sharing a room and bathroom with up to 20 other girls, my only private-time is when I’m behind the toilet-stall door.
So when surfing the web for a place to sleep and store luggage, this is where I go, what I look for, and amenities I absolutely require:
1) I often go through booking sites like Hosteling International or HostelWorld. While I’ve recently had problems with Hostelworld’s site and took to Twitter after not getting any answers or repairs, sites like theirs vet the hostels for me, so I already know they’re trustworthy and meet a certain standard of quality and safety. These sites provide customer reviews, amenity overviews and photos. Pro tip: different booking sites often offer different prices, so do a little shopping.
2) While there aren’t many amenities, a few are a must for me: Free Wifi, linens (usually doesn’t include a towel but I bring one), security lockers (locks are rarely included) and female-only rooms. Also, as I’ve discovered the hard way, heating and A/C isn’t a given.
3) When choosing between hostels, if one includes a tours/travel desk, 24hour security, free city maps (will usually include a map made by locals), cafe or food available (or included), or a curfew or age restriction, choose that one. These measures indicate a hostel cares about the safety and comfort of the customers. Plus, you’ll greatly benefit from them.
4) I’ve stayed both inside and directly outside the city center, and I don’t have too big a preference IF the prices vary considerably. However, the closer to the city center, the better. For example, when I was in Brussels, I stayed too far from the center to walk, and after spending money on the metro, I spent the same amount as I would’ve with a centrally located accommodation. However, because the hostel included breakfast, it was worth it. Without the free breakfast, the distance wouldn’t be, so it’s all a balancing act.
5) I always read reviews before I book. The reviews will expose the good, bad and the ugly, and prepare me for exactly what to expect. Is it a hostel with a partying atmosphere or chill? Is the street noise loud? How easy is the commute to the city center really? How often does the staff clean the bathrooms? I stayed in a hostel on the other side of the river from Amsterdam Centraal and was initially turned-off by having to take a ferry the Noord district. But after reading the reviews, I realized it wasn’t a big deal, and deciding to go ahead, I actually enjoyed the ride.
I hope these tips help as you’re making the step to the hostel life. My stays in hostels have always enhanced my visits and given me more stories to tell and experiences to relish.
I highly recommend hosteling, as it has built my personal confidence, helped me realize how interesting people really are, and given me the opportunity to trust people, enjoy their company and experience traveling from rich, diverse perspectives.