Don’t let Hollywood form your opinion. Contrary to what you 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 the minimum the hostel staff is eager to recommend sites/restaurants/places to enhance your experience in that city.
For me, choosing to stay in hostels while backpacking around Europe was a quick and easy decision. However, choosing which specific one to book in each city took a bit more thought. After staying in nearly 20 hostels in a three-month period, I’ve compiled a guide to help you choose a hostel that meets your interests and expectations.
First, what is important to you in an accommodation?
Next, search for the hostels in the area you are visiting on HostelWorld.com. You can use any hostel booking site, but I prefer Hostel World. It’s by far the most popular booking site in the industry. They even have an app!
If you are a good planner [ which you obviously are – look at you! You’re reading this post ], spend 10 – 15 minutes reading the user reviews.
Here’s how to dissect the information on a specific hostel:
- Scroll through the user-uploaded photos and look for reviews related to the “hostel atmosphere.” It will be very obvious if a hostel is a party-centric hostel. I personally prefer a low-key, more family-friendly hostel. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good glass of wine [ or bottle ] but I prefer that the party happen in a local bar or pub, not where I am sleeping at night. That’s why I looked for reviews that portrayed a hostel that is family-friendly and low-key. Some reviews may list this kind of hostel as “boring.” I’ll take it! Many hostels have connecting bars, which is the best of both – a fun place to enjoy a beer and meet new people, but also a comfortable, quiet room to sleep in afterward.
- Determine what style of room/dorm bed you prefer. Examples are six-person room, 10-person room, female-only or private suite. 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 for just the women in the female-only dorm.
- Typically, the bathrooms are cleaner.
- Decreased likelihood of changing in the bathroom stall [ I have the “we’re all girls here” mentality! ].
- 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!
- Determine the exact hostel location. Many hostels will boast their “superb location” but be sure it meets your expectations. Research the directions from the hostel to the main sites you plan to visit. 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.
- Everybody loves FREE. Check out the “facilities” page to determine what’s complimentary. Here are my non-negotiable items:
- Complimentary breakfast: The reviews will pinpoint what’s cookin’ for breakfast.
- Wi-Fi connection: Don’t let them fool you. Read the reviews to make sure the Wi-Fi works in the dorm rooms, not just the common areas.
- Bed linens: Many hostels provide the bed 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!
[ Here’s a hint : Safety, atmosphere, affordability … They are all very important when choosing a place to stay. But there are many other items to look for that are less obvious. ]
When dissecting the online reviews, try to find the answers to these questions as well:
- 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?
- Is there a locker for each person in the room?
- Is there on-site storage for your belongings the day you check out?
Have any questions about hostels? Want to share your experience? Please write a note in the comment section below.