Good hostels are always hard to come by. Places can be very hit or miss and usually, the reason a hostel is good has more to do with the people staying there than the physical place. I’ve stayed in dumps where I had fun in because of the people there and amazing hostels that bored me to death. Hosteling is, after all, about the people you meet. However, staying in a place that knows a traveler’s needs is always better because it enhances the travel experience. When trying to pick a good hostel, here is my advice on what to consider:
Cheaper is Not Better – Budget travelers have a natural inclination to go with the cheapest thing around. However, don’t try to save a buck just to save a buck. Many cheap hostels are unclean, the beds are uncomfortable, the showers dirty, and the pillows thinner than a supermodel. Pay an extra dollar or two for nicer and cleaner digs. Your body will thank you.
What’s for Breakfast? – One thing I hate about hosteling in Europe is that breakfast is toast and coffee. And it begins at 7 in the morning. I’m not sure what travelers they know but I’ve never known any to wake up that early, even for a good breakfast. Look for a place with a decent breakfast (i.e. more than toast) or at least one that begins and ends when people are actually awake (breakfasts that start around 8:30 usually go late). It’s also a great way to load up on snacks for the rest of the day, cutting down your food budget.
Check Out Time – Never stay at a hostel with a check out time before 10 A.M. The best hostels have 11 A.M. check out times and the really good ones let you checkout at noon. Sleep is valuable on the road because you’ll rarely get enough of it. Hostels with late check out times understand this.
Push Button Showers– Just say no to push button showers. They are annoying and have no water pressure. You don’t want the water to turn off mid-soaping. My rule of thumb is that if it has a push button shower, I don’t stay there.
Lockers– It’s surprising but I’ve actually been in hostels that don’t have lockers or charge you for them. In this day and age, lockers should be standard. You should never pay for security. This is a deal breaker for me, especially since I travel with electronics.
Internet– While the internet isn’t a must for all travelers, a hostel with free WI-FI and computer terminals makes your life a lot easier. You don’t have to search for internet cafes and the internet at hostels is usually cheaper (and in many parts of Europe, free!).
A Bar – Bars are not a deal breaker and there are a lot of hostels without them but they make for a great place to socialize with other hostel guests. Usually if a hostel has a bar, they put a strong emphasis on making sure the people staying there are having fun, interacting, and being festive.
Common Area – If the hostel doesn’t have a bar, it should have a big common area. The best hostels are the ones that give travelers a place to hang out and socialize with each other. For me, a hostel without a common room is a deal breaker. Common areas facilitate interaction and helps solo travelers have an easier time meeting people. The best hostels I’ve ever stayed at always had an amazing common area.
A hostel doesn’t need to have every one of these things but they should have the majority. A hostel without the majority of these things doesn’t understand who their guests are or what they want. Outside of the above criteria, I’m flexible on everything else. I’d like a clean kitchen but it’s not a deal breaker. Dorm room doesn’t lock? That’s what a locker is for. Hostel showers are always dirty which is why I wear flip flops in them. I’m not looking for a 5 star resort, just basic security and comfort.
What makes hostels great are the people and even the worst hostels will be great if you meet good people. But removing the people from the equation, I look for hostels that have some of the above qualities in them. Hostels that know what you want as a traveler are there to enhance your travel experience not simply take money from you in exchange for a bed. And I would rather stay at a place that is looking to make sure I have a good time.