Every time I travel either by myself or with someone my age, my first thought of where to stay is always a hostel. Hostels are hotel-like accommodations that offer shared rooms typically with bunk twin beds where you can either rent out a whole room for a group or just a single bed. They are affordable, safe and they have the added benefit of meeting new people which can be hard to do when traveling alone and staying somewhere like an Airbnb or a hotel. Here is my guide to making sure a hostel is the right choice for you and how to pick the right one.
Best Things About Staying in Hostels
Hostels are my favorite place to stay when I travel. I find that it is the best way to get the best experience as a young traveler in most cities. I have met people in hostels all over Europe and the US that I am still in touch with today. People that are traveling and doing things that I wish I dared to do. Staying in Nashville, I met a girl who was traveling through the continental US, working online, and at hostels to pay her way in a quest to visit all of the states. She had no plan. She just went where her heart took her. I wish I were able to have that kind of spontaneity. She seemed so free and powerful to just move from place to place in that way. When I was in Budapest, I met a guy from New Zealand doing a similar thing. He was just partying and having fun backpacking all across Europe. When I left him at the airport, he was headed to take a boat from Spain to Morocco. At the same hostel, I met a woman from Canada who was building race cars as an engineering student studying in Germany. These are people I would have never met if not for staying in hostels. They inspired me to be more adventurous in my own life and have inspired me to go to places I never even thought of traveling.
Is a Hostel the Right Fit for You?
This can be a hard question that you never really know until you stay in one, but there are a few ways to figure it out without staying in one. Asking yourself these questions could help you better prepare yourself for staying in a hostel and let you know if it’s the right thing for you
Are you comfortable with people being around you when you are doing a personal thing like sleeping, eating, or going to the bathroom (multiple stalls)? This is an essential question since not being okay with these things could make you extremely uncomfortable your whole stay. You need to make sure it is okay with you that you are around people during moments you may usually be alone. If you have many siblings, have gone to camp or lived in a communal dorm in college, this may be something you are more comfortable with since those usually involve continually being with people or strangers. If the answer to this question is no I would consider either staying away from hostels all together or looking for a room that offers more privacy. Some hostels offer private rooms, though more expensive they still let you get the chance to meet people in common areas without constantly being around strangers. You might also consider a room with less people staying in it or a bathroom connected to the room since this would limit your interactions while doing more personal things down to only four or six people.
Why are you going on this trip? If you are traveling for an event that entails you getting a lot of sleep, a hostel might not be the right choice. In a hostel, people are coming and going at all times during the day, so you need to make sure you are either a heavy sleeper or okay with possibly not getting a lot of sleep. I rarely stay in a hostel where I feel like I can’t sleep because of the people in my room. Still, I have had instances where people are snoring or talking to each other while I am trying to sleep, and if I had been doing something important the next day other than just exploring the area, a hostel might not have been the right fit. If you are traveling for business or a conference you may want to consider a private room or hotel in order to get more sleep and privacy.
Are you okay around strangers? Many of the people you encounter at a hostel are strangers unless you rent the room with a large group of people. Think about if you are okay talking to people you don’t know and being around people you don’t know since you’ll be doing it the majority of your stay. Many people stay in hostels to meet new people, so don’t be surprised if people strike up conversations with you when you are in your room, brushing your teeth or eating in the common space.
Are traveling with inherently valuable items? If so, a hotel or Airbnb might be a better choice since fewer people will be coming into your room. Of course, theft is always a chance when staying anywhere, but it can be a little more so in a hostel. I have never had an issue with theft even when leaving things like clothing and luggage out and only storing my valuables, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Most hostels have a place where you can store your valuables in each room or in the shared spaces, but if what you’re traveling with is large and valuable, it might be hard to fit, and you may risk it being stolen.
Quick List of Questions:
- Are you okay with people always being around?
- Are you okay spending time with strangers?
- Why are you traveling? (Work, fun, to see family or friends)
- Are you okay talking to strangers?
- Are you traveling with valuables?
- Are you traveling with a group who may want their own space?
- Is having a kitchen important to you? Are you okay possibly eating out for every meal?
- Is climbing a ladder to bed hard for you?
- Do you require special accommodations?
- Can you sleep in a twin bed for the trip?
- Do you become sore easily? Do you need a really nice bed to be comfortable?
How to Pick the Right Hostel
Picking the right hostel is very important to have a good experience. A hostel that one person thinks is great might not be right for you and visa versa. The things that I pay attention to when looking for a hostel are location, food options (especially vital for me), number of people in the room you’re looking at, do they offer female-only or male-only rooms, cost, activities, reviews, and rules. I explain each below – ordered from most important to least (in my opinion) – followed by a list of questions to ask yourself when looking at a hostel.
Reviews are one of the most important things to read. This shows how previous people have felt about the hostel but also shows you how the hostel has been recently. When checking long term reviews, it is essential to look into things like location, staff, or room layout. Things that don’t typically change as time goes past. I have found that if the staff is friendly and helpful, usually the people staying there are as well. I don’t know why but it’s been true of most of the places I have visited. However, the thing that I find the most imperative to look at is the more recent reviews this tells you about the cleanliness of the hostel. This is important to know for mold or bedbugs (these are rare but can be present). I check this without a doubt, even if I have stayed there before, to make sure it’s still the same as it was the first time I stayed there.
Location is one of the factors high on my list since it can save you a fair amount of money staying in a hostel that is either centrally located or located near one of the main lines of transportation (bus, metro, tram, etc.). This would mean you would have to take less Uber’s or taxis to get where you need to go, saving you money. I typically look for something more central so I am able to walk wherever I’m want to go in the city, but something on a transportation line further away might be less expensive.
Female-only/male-only room if privacy is of much importance to you, you might want to consider staying in a same-sex room. I find that female-only rooms are more common, but I have also seen male-only rooms, though they are less common and might take some extra research. I only stay in female-only rooms partly for safety and partly for noise. Men tend to snore more than women, and I tend to be a light sleeper, so I prefer to share a room with women. I also feel more comfortable around women, especially when doing things like sleeping, changing, etc. so I tend to lean towards hostels that offer female-only rooms. I have also stayed in a female-only hostel (Amsterdam – listed below) where the only guests were women which was nice but gave less opportunity to meet male travelers which I still enjoy when traveling.
Food options this is something that I find more important than the regular traveler due to my dietary restrictions, but it is still something worth the research. I usually look for a hostel with a kitchen that lodgers can use, but I have stayed in hostels without them that has a restaurant or somewhere nearby. I know I would feel comfortable eating food that I have prepared rather than putting my health into the hands of a stranger which is why this is so high up on my list. This is also something that could save you a lot of money, either making your food or purchasing it from a grocery store nearby is a lot less expensive than eating out three times a day for the entire trip.
The number of people in the room is something that I don’t always look for, but if you are a light sleeper, it could be something to search for. The fewer people in the room, the less chance people can interfere with your sleep through snoring or extra noise. This could also be something to look into if you are traveling with expensive things. There would be fewer people to worry about as far as theft goes. Like I said earlier, theft is something I’ve never worried about or experienced in a hostel, but it is one of the top worries when people stay in a hostel for the first time. Usually, hostels have options to stay in a room with 4 – 20 people in it. As the rooms go up in the number of people, they typically go down in price. I usually stay in rooms with at the most ten people in them since most places don’t have only female rooms with more than that.
Activities are a great thing to look into when booking a hostel. If you are interested in meeting the people staying in your hostel, it is much easier if that hostel has activities such as drinking games or tours of the city that give you an excuse to talk to other people. I have stayed in some that even offer meals (breakfast or dinner) that are included with your stay. This is also a great way to get the “best bang for your buck.” You are able to tour the city or go to a local bar or club for free through the hostel, which is usually lead by the staff there, and you get to meet new people that also love to travel.
Rules are something that you need to look into especially if you are staying in a hostel not far from your home. It can be off-putting if you arrive at the hostel and aren’t allowed to check-in or aren’t allowed to bring in drinks or food. Some hostels have age limits, don’t let anyone within a 90-mile radius/same state stay there or allow you to bring in outside food or drinks other than water. I usually check for a curfew, especially since I typically go out to the bars when I’m staying in a hostel. This makes it difficult to do so, so it’s important to know ahead of time if that is somewhat of an issue.
Quick List of Questions:
- Is the hostel in a central location?
- Are you okay if public transport/Uber is needed to get to the city center?
- Is a kitchen important to you?
- Are there good restaurants nearby?
- How many people stay in each room? Is this number okay for you?
- Does this hostel have female-only or male-only rooms?
- Are there shared bathrooms between men and women?
- Are the bathrooms in the room or down the hall?
- Are there any free or discount excursions or activities offered by the hostel?
- Does the hostel offer any activities meant for meeting other lodgers? (Drinking games, dinners, etc)
- Does the hostel offer any meals?
- Have you checked the overall reviews? (Location, cleanliness, staff, etc)
- Have you checked recent reviews? (Bed bugs)
- Are there any rules that would contradict what you’re doing there? (Quiet hours, stay minimum, no alcohol, etc)
- Do the people who work there speak your native language?
- Are there lockers in the rooms?
List of Hostel Chains I Would Stay in Again
Freehand – Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago
Nashville Downtown – Nashville
Generator – Miami, Washington DC
Hostel One – Barcelona, Budapest (Basilica) , London, Madrid, Prague, Krakow, Seville, Porto
St. Christopher’s Inn – Amsterdam, Barcelona, Bath, Berlin, Bruges, Cardiff, Copenhagen, Edinburgh, Interlaken, London, Newquay, Noordwijk, Paris, Prague
Generator – Amsterdam, Berlin, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Dublin, Hamburg, London, Madrid, Paris, Rome, Stockholm, Venice
YHA (all across the UK)- London, Wales, Manchester, Newcastle, Cardiff, Brighton, Yorkshire, Bristol, Liverpool, Cambridge, Oxford, Bath, Suffolk, Swansea, Kent, etc.
Hostelle (female-only) – Amsterdam
Kick Ass – Edinburgh
Palmer’s Lodge – London (Swiss Cottage, Hillspring)