Last Updated: 6/21/22 | June 21st, 2022
I love hostels. Even after over fifteen years traveling the world, I still stay in hostels because they’re the best way to meet people and the cheapest accommodation option in much of the world.
But what makes a good hostel?
And how do you avoid a bad hostel?
After staying in over a thousand hostels since I first started traveling the world, I’ve become adept at figuring out very quickly if the hostel owners know what they are doing or just randomly woke up one day and said “Let’s open a hostel. It sounds like fun.”
While hostels are all about the people, management can do a few things to make their hostel the perfect framework for making your experience better. Certain features make a hostel memorable (common rooms, group activities, and kitchens) while others can make them forgettable — or worse (push-button showers, general filth, and unknowledgeable staff).
All of my favorite hostels share common traits that make them some of the best in the world. In the video below, I talk about the six main things you want to look for when picking a hostel to stay at.
Here’s a breakdown of what I talk about in the video, plus some new information to help you know how to pick the best hotel for your next trip.
1. Is There a Common Room?
I love meeting new people when I travel. Since I usually travel solo, I need to go out of my way to meet people if I want to be social. Common rooms in hostels make that easy. They help me find people to chat with, get tips from, do activities with, or even travel with.
Plus, they’re good for just having fun. They usually have pool tables, TVs/movies (perfect for rainy days), foosball, ping pong, and comfy couches. If you want to be social, make sure you stay somewhere that has a decent common room.
In warmer destinations, a common area outside is also a big plus. Rooftop bars, patios, BBQ areas — anything social outdoor space is a must.
2. Is It Centrally Located?
Location, location, location. Whenever I’m looking for a new hostel I make sure that it’s near the things I want to see. I don’t want to spend all my time commuting when I get somewhere new. For that reason, I always make sure my hostels are in a central location and that they’re close to public transportation. That way, I can get around easily and don’t need to worry about having to waste money on taxis.
This is especially important in large cities where things are spread out and when you’re on a shorter trip and time is of the essence. Don’t waste your vacation in transit; book somewhere central!
3. Is It Clean?
Sure, budget travelers like things cheap — but that doesn’t mean we like things dirty. While hostels have come a long way in recent years, there are still many that are poorly maintained and in need of a thorough scrubbing. Since it’s easy to get sick on the road, avoid dirty hostels. Gross bathrooms and showers (as well as the increased risk of bed bugs) aren’t worth the risk — even if the hostel is cheap. Invest in yourself. You deserve a clean room!
Since the photos hostels post on their website and social media can be misleading, make sure to specifically read reviews on sites like Hostelworld for hints on cleanliness. If just one person complains, maybe it’s not a big deal. But if numerous reviews mention the lack of cleanliness, take that as a cue.
4. Did You Read Reviews?
Always read reviews before you book. Is the hostel quiet or noisy? Is it a party hostel or more laid back? Are the mattresses comfy? Are the bunkbeds squeaky? You can usually answer all of these questions (and many more) by reading reviews.
While you’ll want to take them with a grain of salt, they are definitely helpful when it comes to picking the best hostel. (Make sure you leave reviews too — good reviews help hostels grow and bad reviews can warn your fellow travelers so they don’t make the same mistake).
Additionally, make sure you only stay at hotels with lots of reviews. A hostel might have a high rating on Hostelworld but if it only has 10 or 20 reviews then I’ll likely stay away from it (it’s easy to fake ratings like that). However, if a hostel has hundreds (or thousands) of reviews and still has a rating of 8 or 9 out of 10 then that’s a good sign it’s a solid place to stay.
5. Do they Organize Group Activities?
If you plan on staying at a social hostel and want to meet people, choose a hostel that offers group activities. These could be walking tours, pub crawls, trivia nights, cooking classes, or BBQs. These events are a great way to meet other travelers and learn about your destination.
My favorite hostels are always social hostels that organize events. It just makes your stay much more fun and lively!
Additionally, here are some smaller things to look out for:
- Free breakfast – Look for a place with a decent breakfast (i.e., more than bread and cheese) or at least one that begins and ends when people are actually awake (breakfasts that start around 8:30 usually go late). Breakfast is also a great way to load up on snacks for the day, cutting down your food budget.
- Late check-out time – Unless you’re a morning person, never stay at a hostel with a check-out time before 10am. The best ones have won’t make you check out until 11am or later. Sleep is valuable on the road because you’ll rarely get enough of it. Hostels with late checkout times understand this.
- Lockers – It’s surprising, but I’ve actually been in hostels that don’t provide lockers or will charge you for them. In this day and age, lockers should be standard, and you should never pay for security. This is a deal-breaker for me (especially since I travel with electronics).
- Kitchen – Try to look for hostels with kitchens since you can then prepare your own food, lower your food budget, and share a meal with your new friends. Nothing binds people closer together than a shared meal (and a few glasses of wine).
- Clear rules – Not every traveler is familiar with basic hostel etiquette so it’s important to stay somewhere with clear rules. When do the lights have to be off? Are there set quiet hours during the day or night? Can you smoke inside? Are bunks assigned or is it a free-for-all? Staying somewhere with clear rules just makes life easier for everyone.
What makes hostels great are the people. A top-rated hostel can be home to an unpleasant experience if the people are bad, while you can fondly remember the dirtiest, grossest, and most disgusting hostel in the world if you enjoy good company while you’re staying there.
But removing people from the equation, I look for hostels that have many of these qualities I’ve mentioned. Great, memorable hostels know what you want as a traveler and will enhance your travel experience.
How to Travel the World on $50 a Day
My New York Times best-selling paperback guide to world travel will teach you how to master the art of travel so that you’ll get off the beaten path, save money, and have a deeper travel experience. It’s your A to Z planning guide that the BBC called the “bible for budget travelers.”
Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner. It’s my favorite search engine because it searches websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is being left unturned.
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as it consistently returns the cheapest rates for guesthouses and hotels.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
- SafetyWing (best for everyone)
- Insure My Trip (for those 70 and over)
- Medjet (for additional evacuation coverage)
Want to travel for free?
Travel credit cards allow you to earn points that can be redeemed for free flights and accommodation. They are what keep me traveling so much for so little. Check out my guide to picking the right card and my current favorites to get started and see the latest best deals.
Ready to Book Your Trip?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use when I travel. They are the best in class and you can’t go wrong using them on your trip.