Booking accommodation can be stressful for any holidays, there are so many things to consider. But here are some basics on booking hostels, that will take the stress out of it and make it a bit easier.
Hostels are good for having a good social atmosphere that you won’t get in a hotel. Force yourself to stay in a hostel to get out of your own head every once in a while, get out of your comfort zone in a good way. That does not mean that you should stay in bad hostels, so here are some tips to avoid them.
Match your personality
Pick a hostel matching your personality. Are you a party animal? Then you might want to pick a party hostel than a laid-back chill hostel.
I personally am not a party animal, so I tend to go for hostels that have good reviews about being quiet rather than having a noisy buzzing environment.
Contrary to the popular belief that you won’t be able to meet other travellers if staying in non-party hostels, you can actually make some meaningful connections with other travellers in non-party hostels. Why? Because most of them are sober J You just need to talk and put in the effort.
Most of the times people don’t talk because they are waiting for someone to talk to them, do it the other way around. Be the first to say hi.
Party hostels are usually filled with younger crowds which you might find difficult to connect with. So that is something you have to keep in mind.
On the other hand, if you are totally a party animal, go for the hostels that are buzzing and full of energy.
Pick a chain hostel over a family run hostel
Chain hostels, hostels that have an established presence around multiple cities have more money to spend on their facilities. For that reason, they usually tend to have better facilities. Something that small family run hostels cannot provide.
I prefer hostel chains for this very reason.
Although once in a while it is good to feel the warmth and friendliness of the hosts who run the family hostel. It is a good experience.
If you are a long term traveller like me, you want to pick a hostel with good facilities.
Book hostels with common rooms
Especially when you are travelling solo, you don’t want to be spending all your time in your dorm room. That defeats the whole purpose of solo travelling. You want to meet others and share experiences.
Look for hostels with common rooms. Read recent reviews and see if there is any indicating the difficulty in meeting people for the lack of a common area.
Location is important
Location of your hostel is very important in giving you a good experience in the city you are visiting. You want to be able to step outside your hostel and then preferably within 10-15 mins of walking, be able to reach the buzzing centre of the city. You don’t want to take a bus and then a metro and then walk to get to places. This will rob you of a lot of time that can be spent otherwise. And on top of that will get you tired.
Don’t worry, there are hostels that are still in the centres of cities but still are quiet because of their placement in quiet streets.
When in Europe, look for something that is near the old town or the main market square. This is where usually all the buzz is normally.
Sites like booking.com and hostelworld have location scores that can be referred to for this. On the app and the site of Booking.com you can use the location score filter to filter out the ones that are not very good in terms of location. I normally set it to excellent location score.
There is a location score in Hostelworld as well.
Watch out for bed bugs
Look for reviews that have complaints about bed bugs. Why? That is pretty self-explanatory.
Flights of stairs and lack of elevator
Some hostels will not have elevators and might be located on the higher floors of the building. This can cause a very unpleasant check in and checkout experience especially after long hours of travelling. And if you have big luggage. This usually is not a problem for me because I only travel with a carry-on/cabin bag.
Number of toilets and cleanliness
Some hostels don’t have enough toilets and showers for the number of guests that it can accommodate. This is especially the case with smaller hostels. This can often result in queues. So look for that in the reviews.
An alternative to this is that, postpone your showering to the evening when the queues are small.
Bigger hostels have more toilets and showers, so this should not be problem there.
Something to consider.
Also read the reviews for any negative comments about cleanliness.
Size of rooms
I think 18m2 is a good room size for a 4-bed dorm. You can have a look at the size of the rooms in the hostel listing both in booking and hostelworld. Agoda.com also have this option.
Have a look at the pictures as well to get a feel of the room size. And also read the reviews.
In big cities like London, where space is a problem, sometimes they stack up 3 beds in a single bunk bed. Which not only means that it is scary to be in the top most bed, but also if you are in the lower beds you will not be able to sit up properly.
If you are a little claustrophobic like me you will have difficulty sleeping. Besides, these establishments are totally focused on money and the services are quite mechanical. You won’t have the same relationships with the staff as you normally would.
Sometimes bigger dorms are better in terms of having space to move around. I usually look go for 6 bed dorms than the 4 bed dorms (which sometimes can be really small, even if it means you will have to share with more people).
Go for wooden dorms when possible
Go through the pictures and look for the ones with wooden bunk beds. There are sturdier and better than the metal ones. The metal ones tend to be shaky and make a lot of noise.
Have a list of No-Nos
Have a list of no nos when booking a hostel. This will allow you to easily filter out the bad ones and will save you a lot of time in deciding. This is like having strong boundaries for your relationships. You don’t want it to ruin your experience J.
Well, this list will vary depending on your motivations. For example, WiFi and the café are a must for me (see the below list for me) when I am working. They are not musts when I am taking days off from civilisation and enjoying some quiet on my own.
My list of no nos are
- Bed bugs
- Wi-Fi problems
- Flights of stairs and lack of elevator
- Trouble getting in – Some hostels don’t have a 24-hour reception. This can be difficult when your flight lands after the normal working hours.
- More than 15 minutes of walking distance from a decent café.
- More that 15 minutes of walking to major places of sightseeing when I am in explorer mode
- Unclean toilets
- Homeless people in hostels – happens often in eastern Europe
- Noisy people and dorms being close to the common room
- Dorms overlooking a noisy street
- Lack of air conditioning in the summer
- Lack of heating in the winter
- Reviews about families staying with kids – let’s be honest, they are noisy
Only focus on the Recent reviews
When reading reviews, only focus in the recent ones. And only take into consideration a negative when it is repeated in multiple comments. Because there are sometimes, just angry people who says things that are not accurate.
Look for shared bathroom and not ensuite ones
The ensuite (with attached bathroom) ones though can be thought of as a convenience, it is definitely not a good idea in the dorms. The rooms can feel quite smelly and stuffy, and the people in hostel – normally being youngsters are not the cleanest. You want to separate the two. You don’t want to smell the nastiness when you are in bed to sleep. That is simply quite disgusting.
Important to have the facilities to make a tea or coffee, or toast a piece of bread as a baseline. If you want to save money by cooking at the hostel, especially if you are on a budget backpacking trip, always go for hostels with Kitchen.
Tools to book
You can use the popular tools to book accommodation like booking.com, hostelword.com or agoda.com.
I like the website version of booking.com better than the app, although they are continuously improving the app. Hostelworld app and the website are quite intuitive.
I normally check on booking.com and then hostelworld, simply because it has more filtering options and I trust the location score in booking.com better than hostelworld. Also booking.com shows pictures of individual rooms. Whereas in hostelworld, all the pictures of the hostel are grouped together.
With hostelworld you will have to pay a deposit, when booking a hostel whereas booking.com gives you totally free cancellation or dorms if you want to cancel.
If you are a frequent traveller, you will also get a genius badge on booking.com where you will get access to secret deals and special discounts as well as perks like late checkout and early check in.
I prefer booking.com to hostelworld. The only problem with booking.com though is that sometimes I have found not all the hostels are listed there.
Do you think there are more tips that can be added the list? Comment.