While some may be of the opinion that any hostel is the perfect hostel as long as it’s got a bed and a toilet, I see things a bit differently. I believe the hostel you stay at can make a huge impact on your perception of the city you’re staying in.
I had a less than favorable experience in Rome because it was nearly 90 degrees at night and the air conditioning in my room was broken. I spent my whole time there cranky and miserable because I barely slept. On the flipside, I had an amazing time in Nice thanks to the lovely people I met at a free dinner facilitated by my hostel.
It can be difficult to find the right hostel for you, especially if you’ve never stayed in one and all you think of when you see the word ‘hostel’ is that cheesy horror movie from 2005. Here are several tips to keep in mind when picking a place for your travels!
#1 READ THE REVIEWS
It is true that a lot of reviews are fake and written by the business to attract more guests but you can quickly figure out which ones are authentic. I like to see reviews that are detailed, rather than the ones that read “OMG best hostel ever, totally coming back!” Make sure you read a few pages of reviews to get a good idea of what the place is like. Also, pay attention to recurring comments; if you keep reading mentions of the crappy showers, know that you’ll probably find less than desirable bathrooms during your stay. My favorite way to research hostels is through hostelworld.com!
#2 LOOK IT UP ON A MAP
Sometimes people fall into the mindset that the cheapest hostel is the best option. While I agree that you shouldn’t spend a fortune, you shouldn’t cheap out so hard that you end up in a hostel that’s a 30 minute bus ride away from the city center. You don’t want to waste your time and money getting to all the cool places that you’re actually there for. If spending an extra $5 puts you right next to sick spots that you know you’re going to visit, just do it. I assure you that you’ll be happy you spent those few extra dollars!
Also, research the neighborhood of the city that the hostel is in. You don’t want to end up in the sketchy part of town where you can’t even walk around at night.
#3 BIGGER ISN’T ALWAYS BETTER
You’ll probably find that there are several large hostel chains that have locations in a lot of the popular cities. They’re probably nicer than a lot of the hotels you’ve been in, and you’re spending less for a bed. My issue with these chains is that they’re so...corporate. The people at the check in desks seem impersonal to me, unlike the employees at your typical backpacker run hostel. The big chain hostels also usually have hundreds of guests and I feel like it’s way harder to meet people and make friendships despite there being more people staying there. The best experience I had was in a smaller hostel where the staff held nightly communal dinners and really encouraged everyone to hang out. Yeah, this hostel wasn’t as “pretty” as one of the big name ones I stayed at, but I had a way better experience.
#4 CHECK OUT THEIR AMENITIES
When I’m researching hostels, I immediately cross any off my list if they’re missing what I consider key amenities. These include:
Storage lockers to keep your belongings locked up while you’re out exploring the city
Multiple outlets per room (preferably one per bed)
Free, strong WiFi
Air conditioning during the summertime (I’m looking at you Rome!)
24 hour reception (for when you find out at 1am that the A/C isn’t working at and you need to beg for a fan)
Free or cheap breakfast
Ample showers and bathrooms (you don’t want to be waiting in line for 30 minutes to pee)
#5 HAVE BACKUPS
If you’re planning to not have a plan for a trip, you should still research hostels ahead of time. Why? Well, you don’t want to show up in Paris in July and find that every bed in every hostel is booked. While I understand the appeal of going with the flow (which is exactly what I’m doing on my trip next year), you will save SO much time and money making a list of hostels you approve of for all the big cities you think you’ll end up going to on your trip. I have a Google Doc with a list of every city I want to see and at least 3 hostels per city with their price per night. I don’t want to wander around a whole city with my heavy backpack weighing me down trying to find a hostel that isn’t ridiculously expensive or unappealing. You will thank yourself later for doing this.