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!
Hostels are more than the physical place.
I’ve stayed in dumps where I had fun, because of the people there.
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 makes a hostel the best hostel in the world.
While you can’t always predict the people but you can at least increase your odds of landing in a hostel that you never want to leave.
When trying to pick a good hostel, here is my advice on what to consider when you look for your next one based on over a decade of experience and thousands of hostels:
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 thinner than a supermodel. Pay an extra dollar or two for nicer and cleaner digs. Your body will thank you.
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.
3. Get a late check out
Never stay at a hostel with a checkout time before 10am. The best hostels have 11 am 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!
It’s surprising, but I’ve actually been in hostels that don’t have lockers or that 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.
6. Free Internet
You’d be surprised that there are many hostels in the world that still charge for the Internet. While the Internet isn’t a must for all travelers, a hostel with free Wi-Fi is always a plus. I would avoid using any free computer terminals though, as you can never be sure if there is any malware or harmful spyware on the computer.
Also, if you’re connecting to the free Wi-Fi with your own smartphone or laptop you should consider buying 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.
9. Organized activities
Really good hostels also organize activities such as walking tours, bar crawls, BBQs, or anything else that gets people together.
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.