Don’t let Hollywood form your opinion. Contrary to what you may see in the movies, hostels are great places to stay. They are typically affordable and clean, and they usually have a welcoming environment. Many host their own walking tours and social outings, or at a minimum the hostel staff are eager to give you recommendations. After staying in nearly 20 hostels traveling around Europe for three months, I’ve compiled a guide on how to choose a hostel that meets your interests and expectations. If you are staying in a hostel for the first time, it will also help you create a packing list of hostel essentials and decode the hostel reviews.
Determine your hostel must-haves.
First, determine your non-negotiable items in a hostel. Does it need to be a family-friendly hostel? Party hostel? Does it need to have the best location? Are you looking for the lowest price? Is safety your highest priority? Cleanliness?
Hostel dorm room types
Determine your preferred dorm room type. Examples are a six-person room, 10-person room, female-only room or private suite. On Hostelworld, you can search by room type. I only book a hostel if a female-only room is available (Sorry, boys!). I do not feel comfortable sharing a room with men for a variety of reasons. Perks of female-only dorms:
- Most of the time there is a private bathroom in the female-only dorm.
- The bathrooms are usually cleaner.
- Decreased likelihood of having to change in the bathroom stall.
- Boys are stinky and snore (a stereotype I’m OK with never challenging).
- Female-only doors are typically 3 or 4 euros more per night … Worth it, ladies. Worth it!
Search and review options on a hostel booking site
I think Hostelworld is the best hostel booking site (and certainly the most popular), but there are several to choose from. In fact, Booking.com is starting to offer hostel lists (and you can even filter by hostel). Search for available options by inputting your destination and travel dates. Spend 10 – 15 minutes reading the hostel reviews based on your hostel must-have items. Here are a few ways to decode the hostel reviews:
It will be very obvious if it is a party hostel, as most reviews will mention the social atmosphere. Family-friendly hostels will have words such as “boring” and “quiet” weaved into the reviews. If you are wanting a quiet place to sleep, yet want to meet other travelers, look for hostels that have an adjoining bar. That way, you can enjoy a beer in the bar but also have a comfortable, clean room to sleep in afterward.
Read more: A great example of a clean hostel with a connecting bar is Snuffel Hostel in Bruges. Check out what to do in Bruges, Belgium.
Many hostels will boast their “superb location” but read what others put in the reviews. You want to determine how close the hostel is to the main sites you plan to visit. Use Google maps to look up the exact location.
As expected, the hostels outside of the city center tend to be more affordable. If you are comfortable using public transportation or walking, determine if the cost savings are worth it.
The reviews will tell you immediately if the hostel is clean or not. Find a hostel that has positive reviews for their clean bathrooms and dorm rooms.
Nearly all hostels have complimentary WiFi. But do not take their word for it. Read the reviews to make sure the Wi-Fi works well in the dorm rooms, not just the common areas.
Don’t book a hostel simply because they offer a complimentary breakfast. Read the reviews to pinpoint what exactly is cookin’. It could be a full spread (like Shelter City hostel in Amsterdam) or could be a pathetic piece of white bread and a slice of cheese.
Lockers and on-site luggage storage
Be sure the hostel provides each traveler with their own securable locker. The reviews will help you determine exactly what kind of lockers are in the dorm room – and whether you need to bring your own lock or if you will create a code to lock/unlock.
Also, be sure that the hostel has on-site luggage storage. Should you arrive early and not be able to check in, the hostel should be able to store your bags securely on-site. The same goes for the day you check out. You may want to leave your luggage at the hostel for a few hours after check out.
Other items to look for in hostel reviews
- Are there outlets by each dorm bed?
- How many bathrooms are there? Do the reviews make it seem like the bathrooms are always crowded?
- Are there washing machines (and dryers) on the property? What’s the cost?
- How often are the rooms cleaned?
- Are bed linens provided? Many hostels provide the linens upon check-in (so you will make the bed yourself). Don’t let it bother you, at least you’ll know they are clean!
The hostel should provide almost everything you need for a comfortable stay. However, there are a few hostel essentials you should bring with you. For a long-term trip, check out this detailed three-month packing list.
- Thin sleeping sheet (in case the linens look questionable)
- Collapsible water bottle
- Power bank or extra long phone charger: The outlet may not be right next to your bed (especially if you are on the top bunk).
- Combination lock: The hostel should have individual lockers, but you need your own combination lock.
- Quick-dry towel
- Compact hair dryer: Most hotels do not provide hair dryers.
- Eye mask: There is always someone who turns on the lights at 6 a.m.
- Silk pillowcase (to put over the pillowcase provided)
- Headphones: These are a must! Since you are in a shared sleeping space, people may be coming and going at times when you are asleep.
- Flips flops (to use as shower shoes)
Have you stayed in a hostel? Share your experience in the comments below.
Ready to plan your adventure? Here are a few resources to help you get started.
- How to Plan an International Trip
- A Packing List for Backpacking Europe
- Five Easy Ways to Save Money, Spend Less and Travel More
- A Three Month Itinerary to Europe
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