How To Find A Good Hostel
I always use Hostelworld. It’s customizable, easy to use, and the most popular site for booking (and reviewing) hostels. Reviews can only be completed by hostel guests and they are also categorized by gender, travel type, age, etc. which makes it easy to find people “like you” and see what they had to say about their stay. Another favorite among backpackers is Hostelbookers but I have not personally used that site for booking. The instructions below apply to Hostelworld.
To find a hostel, go to the Hostelworld website and complete the following steps:
1. Input your desired destination (city), dates of travel, and number of guests.
Hostelworld will only show you what is available on those dates. Changing the dates will change your search results based on availability.
2. Filter your results for specific options such as rating, price and wifi.
I usually filter by rating 8.0 or above and check off wifi and air conditioning (since a/c isn’t standard in some parts of the world). I then sort the hostels by rating (best to worst) to see what the “best” hostel will approximately cost. After that, I re-sort by price (low to high) to see how cheap I can be while still staying in a “nice” hostel. Make sense? Set your parameters. See how expensive the best ones are. Sort cheapest to highest to find the sweet spot for your budget.
Filter for price and other options
3. Check the number of reviews.
You want the highest rated hostel that meets your needs AS WELL AS a hostel with plenty of review. You should select a hostel with at least and 8.0 rating, preferably higher than an 8.5 if possible. Be sure to check the number of reviews too. A hostel with a 8.4 rating and 2,346 reviews would rank higher (for me) than a hostel with a 9.7 rating and 23 reviews. The more reviews, the more popular it is, the more trusted it is, and the better your chances are with the property.
Sort by rating
Example of 8 reviews versus 587 reviews (below)
4. Start opening some hostels! Click “continue” to read more.
Note that some hostels may appear much more expensive than others, but those most likely will say “privates from” next to the price, whereas the cheaper ones will say “dorms from.” You want the dorms. Simply skip over the more expensive ones and start opening a few hostels that peak your interest based on rating, number of reviews, thumbnail picture, and price.
5. Read the descriptions, look at the pictures, and check the reviews.
How do you know what’s considered “good” if all the hostel descriptions sound the same? I’ll explain what to look for below, but to me, “good” is a term that means “it meets my wants/needs.” Sometimes I will be looking for a party hostel (explained below) and other times I want something quieter. What’s good for one person may not be good for another. This is where you need to ask yourself what you want out of this hostel and then check the description and reviews for that. Make sense? There are tons of other little details to look out for like wifi, free breakfast, etc. and I’ll include all those below too. Just so you know, hostel hunting takes me an absurdly long time because I’m overly detailed and re-read everything a dozen times. You can easily fall into this time warp trap. I usually end up picking the 1st or 2nd one I saw so trust me, just go with your initial instinct!
Hostels, also referred to as “youth hostels,” are where most backpackers choose to sleep. Note: Youth hostel does not mean “hostel for young people,” its just a general term. Some hostels look like apartments, others look like gorgeous hotels, and some look like token bunk neds. The similarity between all of these is that a hostel sells beds, not rooms. You purchase a bed (usually a bunk bed) in a shared room. The number of people per room can vary anywhere from 1 person up to 40 people (that’s just an estimate) and you will know this number ahead of time. Most backpackers choose to stay in rooms between 4 and 16 people, but its entirely up to you. Usually the more people per room, the cheaper the bed.
Amenities & Events
Hostels may also have features such as kitchens, bars, laundry facilities, common areas, computer centers, etc. Some hostels even have rooftop bars overlooking the city and rooftop pools! Social hostels may have scheduled events such as free walking tours, cooking classes or bar crawls, while other hostels may not. You will find all this out when reading the hostel description and reviews.
Cleanliness & Security
Hostels are clean! Not all of them, but a lot. Pictures and reviews will help you decide before booking. Hostels are safe too! Again, security measures will vary by hostel (and some are not secure at all) but I’ve stayed in many hostels with electronic key access that limits you to the common areas, floor you’re staying on, and specific room. Some hostels I’ve stayed in had a special knock, while others had a security guard checking wristbands and IDs after a certain time to make sure no unwanted guests came in at night. Again, read the descriptions and reviews. Note: Most hostels have a locker for you to put your belongings in. Sometimes it’s big enough for your whole bag, other times it’s just big enough for your passport, cash, camera, and computer. Either way, there are safety measures in place.
The bathroom situation varies by hostel and by room. I’ll explain more below but basically you can have a “private” bathroom for the people in your room or “community” bathroom for the people on the floor. Community bathrooms usually have several toilets, sinks, showers, etc. Most community bathrooms are gender specific but I have also stayed in plenty of coed ones too. Again, read the description and the reviews if this is important to you.
Types of Hostels & Social Scene
There are many different “types” of hostels. While these are not official categories, backpackers have a general understanding of the different types such as party hostel, social hostel, chill hostel, couples hostel, etc.
If you are staying at a party hostel, expect noise and expect a party. These hostels will make it known in the description that they are a party hostel. They typically have a bar inside the hostel and/or a bar crawl scheduled every night.
Social hostels are similar to party hostels, however they are less rowdy. Typically the description will not include the terms “party hostel” and the reviews will be mixed with noise complaints and people who loved it. I tend to stay in these hostels since they are usually very popular, highly rated, and super social.
Can you believe this is a hostel lobby? There’s a cafe and dining area to the left and a bar downstairs!
What To Look For In A Hostel
Rating & Reviews
The #1 thing I look for is a good (above 8.0) rating on Hostelworld. Next, I look to see if there are “a lot” of reviews. A great rating with 1 review means nothing to me compared to a good rating with over 1,000 reviews. If the rating is good enough and there are a bunch of reviews, I consider clicking the hostel to see the pictures and read the description.
When reading the descriptions, I first look at the pictures. Does this look like a place I’d want to stay? Do I like the vibe? Is it clean? Do the people look like they are having fun?
If a hostel passes the picture test, then I read the description. When reading the descriptions, I’m looking to understand the vibe of the hostel and what they showcase or promote in the description. Some places will say parties, others might say quiet, etc. Note: Sometimes you will want the crazy party vibe and other times you will want a place that is quiet and perfect for a good night’s sleep. Don’t feel bad skipping the well-rated crazy party hostel if that’s not your thing.
The first thing I look for in the description is wifi. The hostel must have free wifi and it must be in the dorms, not just the common areas. I read the reviews to confirm this. This is not negotiable for me since wifi is the only form of communication I have.
A/C & Showers
The next thing I look for is air conditioning and hot showers. After staying in way too many places without air conditioning, I’ve learned this is important to me in some climates. Check the reviews for the time of year you plan to go and see what other people have said about the temperature. The same with hot showers! Some places you’re completely screwed (no hostels have them), but once you’ve taken your first freezing cold shower, you’ll quickly understand it’s importance. Side Note: I once opted out of showering for several days because the showers were FREEZING cold, outdoors, and the outside temperature was below 50F / 10C. I tried it once then never again!
I also look to see if there are quiet hours or rules. Hostels with quiet hours can be great! That means people are allowed to party in the common areas but the dorms must be quiet by 10pm (or whatever time they decide). Be on the lookout for hostels where the front desk controls the lights. Its not common, but it exists.
I don’t normally look at the location of the hostel if it is well rated and rated by a ton of people because I assume it has to be in a good location; however, if I know I want to be in a certain spot in the city, there’s a map feature on Hostelworld to find hostels only in that area. Reading the reviews will also tell you about the location and access to public transit.
Check in and check out times, cancellation policy, cash or credit, extra fees such as city tax, if there is a minimum # of nights required, free lockers in each room, 24 hour desk (just in case you need help), free breakfast (or dinner), scheduled activities, and common room areas/bar.
Free towels, kitchens, and laundry services are nice to have but not always necessary. Age restrictions are also nice so you know children aren’t staying at your place. (I once stayed in a hostel with twenty 12-year-old girls. It was so loud!)
One more thing I’ve noticed is “lock out” times for cleaning. This means they can kick you out of the hostel at this time. Read the reviews to make sure this won’t interrupt your stay.
Dorms & Privates Explained
Hostels can be purchased in a variety of ways: privates, dorms, mixed dorms, female-only dorms, ensuites, etc.
Privates display the cost per room, not per person. In the example below, this private room costs $106.55 for the room and sleeps up to 6 people. This means you will pay $106.55 and 6 people can split the cost. If you only have 4 people, then only 4 people will split the cost. Private rooms are usually 1-6 people per room.
Dorm prices are the cost per person/bed. Prices vary by number of beds, gender, and whether it is “ensuite” or not. Obviously the more people per room, the cheaper the price will be. Expect to find bunk beds and lockers in each room. I personally like to stay in a room with 6-10 people. If you have too few people, there’s less opportunity to make friends and its also easy to figure out who’s making the most noise. It sucks if you’re that person and the whole room hates you. When you have 6+ people, it gets harder to decipher who exactly is to blame for the 3am drunk wakeup or the 6am early morning bus and the combinations of noises start to act as white noise in the background. But too many people and it does get chaotic. Try out a few different rooms and figure out what’s best for you. Don’t forget ear plugs!
Female Only Dorms
Female only dorms tend to be a slightly more expensive only because they must find a female to fill the remaining spaces whereas a mixed dorm can be filled by anyone.
Ensuite dorms are more expensive and they have a private bathroom inside the room as opposed to a common bathroom for the floor. I personally hate these rooms. Imagine 6 people trying to get ready and only 1 person at a time can shower, go to the bathroom, put on makeup, etc. Also, if someone is sick, the whole room hears it.
Choosing a Bed
Always ask for the bottom bunk when checking in. The bottom bunk gets to utilize all of the floor space while the top bunk person is very inconvenienced. Side note, try to pick a bed close to an outlet. I suggest bringing a USB Power Strip with a long cord to share. If someone is using the outlet, I simply ask if I can plug this in and share with them so we can all charge our items. Usually everyone says yes.
This hostel featured private lockers next to your bed with USB chargers inside the lockers so you could charge your stuff and leave it during the day without worrying! Yes!
Real Life Example: What would you do?
I had the choice between 4 hostels in a specific location I wanted.
- Hostel #1 was rated the BEST hostel in the city, but the only available option was a 22 person dorm.
- Hostel #2 was so cute in the pictures (and clean) but the reviews said the scene was a little quiet.
- Hostel #3 was also very clean, however all of the reviews said there was no social scene and this was a good place for sleeping and not being bothered. Note: I will be arriving after 48 hours of travel and sleep might be smart.
- Hostel #4 was grungy looking, had blurry pictures, clearly lacked the amenities of the other hostels, however it showcased people who looked like they were having the so much fun. I read the reviews and it was highly rated and had recurring comments, “best hostel ever”, “they make you feel like you’re at home”, and “I made friends for life.”
Which would you choose? This was so hard for me to decide but I ended up picking hostel #4! After 48 hours of travel I definitely was tired but I also didn’t want to feel isolated or alone at the start of my trip (been there, done that). This was the best decision! Friends for life! [Note: Eventually I went back and stayed in the 22 person dorm and this hostel completely changed my views about “large” dorms. I love them! You never know what you might like so be willing to give new things a try!]
Don’t Judge A Book By Its Cover
Some of the grossest hostels I’ve stayed in have turned out to be the most fun! Hostels that resemble a friend’s apartment and look kinda grunge when you walk in, typically have the best family vibe, tons of scheduled activities (since its a small group), and friends you’ll make for life. On the other hand, hostels that look super clean and highly commercialized in the photos can have a sterile vibe and lack organized social activities. Switch it up, see what you like!
Walking in, I thought I was going to be miserable. This was my first hostel ever. It was gross, it was loud, and it ended up being so much fun!
Hostelworld vs Hostel Website
I check both Hostelworld and the hostel’s website for pricing before I book since the prices can be different. I always check the cancellation policy on both sites and make sure I have a way to “get out” of my reservation just in case something happens. I am one of those suckers who pays the extra $1 on Hostelworld for flexible cancellation. You’ll see it when you check out. For me, its been a lifesaver. It doesn’t matter which place you book on as long as you get a confirmation number or email. If you decide you want to stay longer while you’re there, reserving an extra night is usually really simple. Sometimes you’ll have to switch rooms or beds but the hostel tries their best to meet your request.
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