Updated: 2/4/22 | February 4th, 2022
Incredible hostels are always hard to come by. On the road, you’ll have more “this hostel was meh” moments than, “Wow! This hostel is amazing, I never want to leave!” moments.
Because hostels are more than just the physical place.
I’ve stayed in dumps where I had fun because of the people I met.
And I’ve been to amazing, beautiful hostels that bored me to death.
Hostels are an atmosphere. It’s a combination of the facilities, staff, amenities, and people that make a hostel incredible.
While you can’t always predict the people, you can increase your odds of landing in a hostel that you never want to leave.
When looking for a good hostel, here is my advice on what to consider when you look for your next on based on over a decade of experience staying in thousands of hostels all around the world:
1. Cheaper is not always 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. Super cheap hostels are often unclean, the beds uncomfortable, the showers dirty, and the pillows thin. Pay an extra dollar or two for nicer and cleaner digs. Your body will thank you.
Remember, it’s not about being cheap — it’s about getting value!
2. Get breakfast
One thing I hate about hosteling in Europe is that breakfast is often toast, eggs, and coffee. And it begins at 7am (and ends early too)! I’m not sure who the travelers are that 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 8am usually go late). Breakfast is also a great way to load up on snacks for the rest of the day, thereby cutting down your food budget.
This isn’t a deal-breaker rule for me but I think it’s important for a hostel to have breakfast if they have the kitchen space for it.
Also, keep an eye out for places that have other free food perks, such as free coffee/tea all day or free dinners. Not only are these good for saving money but they make the hostel more social.
3. Get a late check out
Never stay at a hostel with a checkout time before 10am. The best hostels have 11am checkout times, and the really good ones let you check out at noon. Sleep is valuable on the road because you’ll rarely get enough of it. Hostels with late checkout times understand this and are often more relaxed and chiller environments. There’s just something wrong about a hostel asking you to be packed and out so early in the morning.
On the flip side of this, I like hostels that have flexible check-ins. Many don’t let you check-in before 2 pm, but I like the ones that say “OK, the bed is ready. Come in now!” (I wish more hostels did that.)
4. Push-button showers
I usually say no to push-button showers. They are annoying and often have no water pressure. The water turns off mid-soaping and it is a bit of a hassle to deal with. Historically, my rule has been that if a hostel has a push-button shower, I don’t stay there.
I don’t take long showers — and I don’t think you should either — because it’s important to conserve water but, man, a push-button shower is annoying!
As a general rule, keep an eye on the reviews for shower information. Many hostels around the world don’t have hot water (or have limited hot water). Water pressure can also be an issue, so make sure you know what to expect!
It’s surprising, but I’ve actually been in hostels that don’t have lockers — or they have them but they 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. If you’re not sure about the locker situation, scan through the hostel’s reviews to see what people say. Always better to be safe than sorry!
This is a dealbreaker for me. No locker = no stay. Just don’t forget to bring a lock with you!
6. Free Internet
While the Internet isn’t a must for all travelers, a hostel with free Wi-Fi is always a plus. While most hostels in the world have Wi-Fi these days, many still only have Wi-Fi in certain rooms (like the lobby or common room). Make sure you know what to expect before you book.
Also, as a general rule I would avoid using any free computer terminals as you can never be sure if there is any malware or harmful spyware on the computer. For basic surfing the web, sure, dive in! But I wouldn’t use them for things like email, banking, or social media.
If you’re connecting to free Wi-Fi with your own smartphone or laptop use a VPN to keep your data private (especially if you’re doing any online banking).
7. A bar
Bars are not a deal-breaker, and there are a lot of wonderful 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.
If they don’t have a bar, make sure they host activities and events to get people together. Hostels are about a social atmosphere. If you want a place where no one interacts, stay at a hotel!
8. Common area
If the hostel doesn’t have a bar, it should have a big common area (ideally it has both). The best hostels are the ones that give travelers a place to hang out and socialize with each other. Common areas facilitate interaction and help solo travelers have an easier time meeting people. The best hostels I’ve ever stayed at always had an amazing common area.
Keep an eye out for common rooms with board games, video games, a TV/movies/Netflix, instruments, and pool tables. Anything that can bring people together and help break the ice!
9. Organized activities
Really good hostels also organize activities such as walking tours, yoga classes, bar crawls, BBQs, or anything else that gets people together. Check out what is offered before you book to make sure it’s the kind of place for you. Additionally, make sure you know what activities are free and what are paid.
Also, do they have free equipment to use like bikes, snorkeling gear, surfboards, etc.? Free equipment will save you money and make it easier to hang out with other travelers.
10. Knowledgeable staff
Employees make any business, and when I find the staff of hostels helpful, knowledgeable, and friendly, I like that place a lot better. A hostel is like a home, and you want the people there to welcome you like a long-lost family member. I never understood why hostels don’t recognize that being a hostel is not about being a cheap place to stay, it’s about creating a warm environment.
11. Location, location, location
Where a hostel is located will have a huge effect on your experience. If you have to spend an hour on public transportation just getting to and from your hostel every time you go into town, you’ll end up wasting a lot of your travel time. The best hostels are close to the action, so you can just step out your door and into an adventure. That, or the hostels are so remote that just staying there is an experience in and of itself. But just inconveniently on the outskirts of town? That’s just inconvenient.
Before you book, check out the address on Google Maps and see where it is in relation to the things you want to see and do. You didn’t travel around the world to spend your time commuting!
12. Is it for digital nomad or backpackers?
As more and more people shift to remote work, hostels have started to accommodate long-term travelers who work on their laptops. If you’re a remote worker, these hostels are great places to stay as they have fast Wi-Fi and make it easy to connect and network with other digital nomads. However, if you’re not working online while traveling, avoid these hostels. Instead, stay at a hostel that caters to travelers like you. It will be much more enjoyable and you’ll have an easier time meeting people.
A hostel doesn’t need to have every one of these things I listed, but it should have the majority of them. A hostel without the majority of these things doesn’t understand who its guests are or what they want. I get that a lot of different people come through hostels with a wide variety of needs. A hostel doesn’t need to be perfect. 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. I would rather stay at a place that is looking to make sure I have a good time.
And to find these places? I read up! When I’m picking hostels, I look at user reviews, pictures, amenities, and star ratings on sites like Hostelworld.
See what your fellow travelers say.
The consensus is going to be pretty spot on.
Pick the hostel that the majority of travels agree is awesome. Nine times out of ten you won’t be disappointed!
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