Hostel life is great. It is cheap and you have the chance to meet tons of people. When you’re in the right hostel, there is always this special travellers vibe. Pretty much everyone in hostels is open to meeting new people, giving you a great opportunity to make friends. For some reason, more often than not I meet more people I get along with than people I do not get along with. It seems like most people in hostels are like-minded, at least to some basic extend.
”Especially unfriendly staff and a shitty atmosphere are deal breakers for me personally,,
However, there’s been multiple occassions where I have noticed that the hostel you’re staying at as a backpacker is a big decided of how you’re going to experience the city or region you’re in. For example, when I travelled to Vilnius, Lithuania, some Belarusian band was playing there and every single hostel was booked out the weekend I was there, except for one dodgy one. Sleeping in the same dorm as five old, really fat guy snoring like they swallowed a mist horn, it did kind of ruin my experience of the city at first. Later, I stayed at the popular hostel and instantly felt more at home in Vilnius. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciated the city before that, but having a homely feeling and being with people you get along with is a big deal.
For me, staying at the right hostel is very, very important. I’ve learned what to look out for when booking a new hostel and will share 5 of the most important factors to look out for with you.
1. reviews, reviews, reviews!
Who’s gonna know better than former guests? No one! Even if the description of the hostel seems amazing, always take time to read the reviews. You’re gonna want a hostel that mostly has positive reviews. Look out for complaints about hygiene, friendliness of the staff and general atmosphere. Especially unfriendly staff and a shitty atmosphere are deal breakers for me personally.
One side note is filtering out the guests who are obviously bitching. You can recognize them by book-long essays about their stay where everything was bad. Usually you can even tell by the story that there are two sides to it. Reviews that show both good and bad sides of the hostel are for more trustworthy.
2. Location relative to city center
Having to travel a little to the city center from the hostel is not the worst. However, it gets bad when you have to walk a long distance to a metro, bus or tram stop first. Try to find out how long it’s going to take you to get to city center. If it’s under a 15-minute walk, it should be good. If it is miles away, maybe try to look for another hostel.
Another factor is the neighbourhood the hostel is located in. Especially in countries where criminality is high, you’re gonna want to stay in a good neighbourhood, especially if you plan on getting back to the hostel late at night not walking in a straight line.
”In my native Amsterdam most hostels get this wrong. The ‘common rooms’ are big, loud and unpersonal,,
3. what’s the common room like?
The common room is very important for my decision on staying at a hostel or not. Without a proper common room, it’s hard to meet people, which is probably something you want when staying at a hostel on your own. In many hostels you can meet people from your dorm room, but this way you are restricting yourself to a handful of people, while with a proper common room there’s lots of potential friends out there.
I assess a common room by comparing it to a bar. I do not want a common room that could be a bar too, because that could change the room into a place where people sit at their own table and it’s hard to get in contact with other. The ideal common room for me is one with comfy couches in combination with some tables and a bar or something similar at one side of the room. In my native Amsterdam most hostels get this wrong. The ‘common rooms’ are big, loud and unpersonal.
4. what are the facilities like?
Weirdly enough, the state of the facilities are not in my top 3. Obviously it’s great to have a proper, clean bathroom with warm showers and clean toilets. Still, if you’re staying in a hostel with decent ratings you can assume the facilities are alright at the very least and great at best. What I mainly look for is whether the room has it’s own bathroom or the bathroom is located outside the room. I prefer the latter, as these tend to be bigger and cause less noise in the morning and at night.
5. 24 hour reception
I’ve experienced what it is like when a reception is not 24 hours. Standing outside at 1 AM (which is not even THAT late) without being able to get in. What are you going to do if that happens in a foreign city you don’t know? I ended up making the best of it and just went out again. Still, especially when you’re early this is the absolute worst.
Something similar happend to me when I took a night bus to Warsaw. I arrived at 5:30 in the morning and couldn’t get into the hostel until 9 AM to drop off my backpack, and could not stay in there until 1 PM. As I hardly slept on the bus, this was probably the longest morning of my life roaming around the city. Another benefit of a 24 hour reception if being able to ask things at the weirdest times. I once arrived from a pub crawl at 2 AM and was getting a plane in the early next morning (I know, should’ve slept). I could’ve worked out my trip to airport myself and printed the ticket in the morning, but it was much easier to get that done right after arriving in the middle of the night!
Do you have anything to add to this? Let me know! @oneminutetrips