The best hostels save you money on accommodation with quality sleep compared to a hotel. The best alternative is free accommodation — you can see CouchSurfing for that. I’ve stayed in hostels in multiple countries. There are certain things I research when picking the best hostel.
Here are my tips to choosing the best hostels.
Read the Reviews
This tip is obvious, but important. Reviews provide first-hand experience of the hostel. I read most of my reviews on Hostelworld and sometimes on TripAdvisor. The latter has genuine hostel photos from travelers. You’ll have to tune out the one great review for a bad hostel and vice versa. All hostels have one or two-off reviews, so it’s best to conclude what is the average review. Plus, there is the overall rating which is usually scored out of 5 or 10. The best hostel in the area generally has the highest rating.
Location, Location, Location
If you’re looking for authentic experiences, you need to wander around town. Having your hostel located near a metro or bus station is key. You can also take public transportation from the airport to your hostel to save money on taxis. Be careful though, depending on location, taxis may be safer.
The best hostels are centrally located or provide a cultural experience. Do you want to travel like a tourist or a local? Hostels located near the city center will have a higher ratio of tourists to locals in the neighborhood. It depends on who you want to meet. If you’re learning a new language, you’ll want to meet locals that force you to practice.
Then there’s the nightlife. The city center usually has more nightclubs and bars if you’re a party-goer. I prefer to travel like a local and mingle with them. When I go to a bar, I try to find one with fewer tourists. These are usually outside the city center. You can also ask the hostel staff where the best place to party is.
Wi-Fi is a deciding factor when I choose a hostel. I use it to work on my blog and photography. All travelers need Wi-Fi to search for flights, reserve tours, etc. Hostels indicate if they have Wi-Fi but rarely its quality. This is where reading reviews help again. Some travellers, including myself, comment on the Wi-Fi signal strength and speed. I use the browser’s find tool to search for Wi-Fi reviews faster. You may have to search Wi-Fi with different spellings. The best hostels invest in high-speed internet and hardware.
Dorm or Private Room
Dorms are cheaper, noisier, and less space per person compared to a private room. There are 4-bed dorms and even 20-bed dorms. Which one should you choose? That depends on how many people you can handle driving you nuts at once. Noise is usually one of the bigger complaints, especially if you have party-goers returning late-night while you’re asleep. Then there are snoring machines which are impossible to avoid — I introduce you to earplugs, or sleep with your headphones.
But with each extra person in a dorm is a potential new friend. Sometimes the common room in a hostel isn’t that social. You’re closer to travelers in a dorm and are almost forced to mingle.
You’ll have to choose co-ed or same-sex dorm rooms. All travelers are different. Some get along with one sex more than the other. Some want to mix-it-up. In addition, some travelers want romance. I see guys put on their game, usually drunk game, towards girls in hostels. Co-ed dorms help break-the-ice without liquid courage. I personally stay in the co-ed dorms, but I don’t hit on my roommates. I may have in my early twenties. I just don’t want to be in a room with a bunch of balls. If getting laid is on your priority list, seek a party hostel: Sunday Funday.
When you want to avoid the hassle of a dorm, switch to a private room. They cost more, but you’ll have quality sleep without anyone waking you up at night or in the morning. The best hostels will have noise insulation. If you’re a travel photographer like me, keeping your equipment in a private room is more secure. The lockers in a hostel don’t always have space to place your equipment.
Keep the Chef in the Kitchen
An adequate kitchen keeps food costs low while eating healthy. Cooking your own food saves money. The best hostels provide a fully equipped kitchen with pots and pans that aren’t worn out.
Several hostels include breakfast with your stay. Be wary of included breakfasts as they’re not usually great. Sometimes the breakfast is only cereal or packaged pastries.
I enjoyed the included breakfasts at the Colombian Home Hostel. They prepared different meals for breakfast everyday which included eggs, toast, fruits, coffee, etc.
Having your valuables stolen or being physically assaulted can put a crater in your travel plans. Thieves are everywhere and hostels are responsible for keeping them out. When picking a hostel, read their security measures. A locked entrance and front-desk reception goes a long way to keep criminals out.
I once stayed in a hostel in Panama where there was no front gate and the door to the hostel was always open during the day. There was rarely anyone at front desk. Anyone can walk right into the dorm rooms. At night, the same hostel at least locked the front door and had an attendant.
The door to your dorm room is important, too. Are you able to lock it or not? Hostels with safety deposit boxes are useful for securing your passport, wallet and cell phone. Travelers can be low and steal from other travelers.
Choose Your Price
We all have a budget to work with unless you’re in investment banking.
When it comes to price, I start with the cheapest hostel with at least an 80% approval rating. I find this a good base. I then move up the price and rating ladder depending on what features the hostel offers and its location.
Keep in mind, expensive hostels don’t always mean better. And sometimes you should avoid the cheapest hostel so you don’t run into any problems (e.g., no air conditioning, poor security, low-quality frying pans for cooking). Price also varies depending on where you stay. I found great, dorm-room hostels for 12 USD/night in South America, whereas the same in Western Europe can cost 30+ USD.
Remember, staying in a hostel is meant to be budget-friendly, so don’t expect Fairmont Hotels quality. You’ll have to give some leeway.
What are your tips to finding that almost perfect hostel? Good luck at finding that best hostel.