Hostel, such taboo things sometimes. For some reason, they have a somewhat bad reputation, so much so that a lot of travelers choose to avoid them. But you shouldn’t! They are not as difficult or awkward to navigate as a lot of people think. We prefer staying in hostels for a few reasons, even as a couple. What are these reasons you ask? Well, it’s way cheaper, we can cook our own food (which saves money and makes us feel a bit less touristy), you meet amazing people, and the list goes on and on. We love hostels so much we volunteered at one in New Zealand, that was a love-hate thing. But there is a lot to know and learn about staying in a hostel.
Like we said, there can be a lot of moving parts when picking a hostel and figuring out how they operate. Which, can turn people off from staying in them. The other reason we find people avoid hostels is that they think they’re full of young people partying all day and night. That might be true at some hostels it’s certainly not the norm.
So let’s look at some of the things you should consider when booking a hostel and things you should know about staying in them. Having this knowledge is going to make you look like a pro and hopefully relieve some stress. If we are lucky it may even break some stigma that hostel life seems to have.Most hostels will have photos of what their rooms, kitchens and common areas look like. These are a good place to start to see if the hostel is clean, kept up and just overall appealing. If it looks like crap in a photo it will probably look like crap in real life. None the less it’s a good starting point.
Your first step, like anything we do in the 21st century, is to go online and find a hostel at your destination. We recommend checking out HostelWorld and Hosteling International. They each provide a lot of variety and have well over 30,000 properties across the world you can look into. These sites will usually offer some photos of the hostels as well which can help you determine quite a few things. The obvious being if the hostel is clean and kept up. If the photos look like crap, the hostel probably does too.
Let’s dive into this guide so you can learn what you should look into while booking a hostel and some tips for navigating a hostel successfully. We have tried to break them down into some easy to understand categories. Side note…our photos are more just for show than anything throughout this post considering all hostels are different. We don’t think it’s necessarily worthwhile to showcase the inside of only a select few facilities. Kay, we will be honest we haven’t really TAKEN a lot of photos inside or outside of hostels. There are a few in this post but we tend to forget to take them…OOPS. But all of the photos in this post are from places taken within 5km’s (or so) from some of the hostels we have stayed at around the world.
Types of Rooms
Some dorm rooms are bigger than others. You can sometimes have up to 17 people in one room! We found most rooms were only around 5-6 though so don’t panic. It’s hard to be selective at all when you get put in a dorm room. Typically you are assigned a room and when you enter that room you get to pick which bed you want, some hostels also assign you a bed. If they don’t assign you a bed just take a look to see if you can find clues that the bed you want isn’t already taken by someone else. There’s definitely no secret to picking the bed, just whatever you prefer.
We prefer to stay in private rooms because there are two of us. When we split the price it usually ends up costing around the same price or close to it. Not to mention as a couple it’s sometimes a bit too much being in a room with five other backpackers. Private rooms in our opinion are basically no different than getting a hotel room but WAYY cheaper (and arguably a bit smaller).
Types of Beds
Are all the beds bunk-beds or are they single beds? This is something you can gather from the photos. Private rooms are almost always going to be double or queen beds. Sometimes they have two single beds too. But dorms will almost all have bunks beds. You can fit more people in a room when you stack them on top of one another! So if you can’t sleep on a bunk bed you may want to find a room without them or request a room without one. Beds in dorm rooms are first-come-first-serve most of the time. So even if there is one single bed in the room you cannot guarantee you will get it.
Linens & Towels
The second piece of information you can gather from photos is if the hostel offers towels and linens. The photos usually have the linens spread out on the bed so you can see them easily. It’s how they stage the photos of the rooms typically. It’s nice to not have to unpack something from your bag and get it dirty, it’s also helpful if you happen to forget a towel or don’t usually pack them.
Linen, most really good hostels will provide linen and will strictly deny any use of personal blankets or sleeping bags. Why? Two words no one wants to hear. Bed Bugs. They cannot control bed bugs as easily if hundreds of people are constantly coming in and using personal linens. Which brings us to the bed bug thing. CHECK YOUR MATTRESS. Those buggers don’t go away so the best method is to just prevent them. Check the seams of the mattress on all corners to check for bugs moving around. Do this before you put your luggage on any chairs or the mattress. I literally check every bed we ever sleep on while traveling. We have been lucky enough to never find them, thankfully! Yes…I am paranoid.
If you see them, immediately go to the front desk and let them know. They will either provide you a new room or you can get a refund. If you want to be really sure before you book you can check out the North American bed bug registry online here. It may not be accurate so it’s still a good idea to check when you arrive.
Back to linens.
When you get to your room the linens are usually placed folded on the bed and you have to make your bed. Then upon your departure, you have to take the linen off and put it in a laundry basket somewhere for the hostel cleaning staff to take care of. If you can’t tell from the photos if linen and towels are offered to guests just take a look around their website. The hostel will mention it as an amenity if they offer these items as part of their price.
Places To Charge Your Gear
You may not gather from the photos whether or not the room has plenty of outlets. Some hostel rooms will offer individual reading lights (again it will most likely be listed as an amenity) usually, these reading lights will have a plug-in attached to them. Hostel websites will list these reading lights usually, otherwise just contact the hostel and ask about outlets. There is nothing worse than trying to charge your gear with one outlet and ten people waiting for it. This applies more to dorm room than private rooms.
INSERT TRAVEL HACK. If you have the space in your luggage, pack a small power bar. That way you don’t have to share and other backpackers will LOVE you.
Not very many hostels will write on their website how many bathrooms they have in their building. So this one might be a bit tricky to figure out. But if you can find the information, the more washrooms the better. There’s nothing worse than waiting for the bathroom for twenty minutes only to find out the person in their before you took a crap and didn’t flush the toilet.
Now that’s something worth waiting for…..yyyaaaaaa……
The more washrooms the more likely you are able to use one. It also ups the chances you have of using a cleaner bathroom. A lot of hostels have staff that clean their bathrooms every day once a day. With 5 bathrooms and 40 people, you have a 1/8 chance of using a bathroom that’s relatively clean. But 2 bathrooms with 40 people give you pretty bad odds. The other tip…find the most remote bathroom in the place and use that one. People are inherently lazy, which means they probably won’t walk around the building to find the most out of the way bathroom.
Now that goes for the public bathrooms. But sometimes dorm rooms and private rooms will have ensuites. Which you may pay a little extra for but at least you can guarantee they’re cleaner than a completely public one.
Keeping Your Stuff Safe
A good hostel will provide you with a locker, usually in your room. Make sure and bring yourself a lock! Private rooms don’t usually have lockers, you will mainly see these in dorm rooms. This just helps give you piece of mind that your stuff will be safe while you are venturing around and exploring. Locking up your valuables and personal items is always a good idea!
Ask the front desk or check their website before booking to see if the hostel has free luggage storage. It’s really nice to be able to leave your luggage somewhere secure on your last day of your adventure after you have checked out. Not having to take your luggage around with you is a blessing in disguise. That also guarantees your belongings are safe and secure.
One of the biggest benefits of staying in a hostel is access to the kitchen. This is going to help you save money! Buying groceries and cooking is so much cheaper than going out to eat three meals a day. You should in our opinion still try some of the local food and spend a bit of money on that. But you by no means have to spend your entire budget on it. Good hostels usually have everything you need. Pots, pans, plates, utensils, you name it. It’s usually a good idea to wash your dishes before you use them because you’re never too sure how well the last person might have cleaned them. But there is a general rule at hostels where you must clean all the dishes you use.
Label your food
Label your food! People will take it from you if you do not have your name on it. Honestly, we have had food taken from our hostel cupboards even if they were labeled. We once saw a guy try and take a whole plate of cooked food from a girl. If there are lockers for you to lock your food up in we highly recommend doing that too. Putting your refrigerated food closer to the back of the fridge is a good idea too. People automatically assume food in the back of the fridge is old and has expired. It’s also less likely someone will sit there and DIG through the fridge just to get to your food.
Kitchen Free Bin
Look in the kitchen free bin EVERYDAY or every time you walk by it. You will find some awesome things in those bins. It will also help you save money! When people are leaving and can’t bring their food with them they just leave it behind in the bins. Sometimes you can find salt and pepper or other spices all the way to full jars of Nutella with a full loaf of bread. You knew it was going to be a good day when you saw that full jar of Nutella sitting in that free bin. Most of the items are either completely unused or just barely touched, you now get to benefit from someone else’s spending. Win-win! There is usually lost and found bins in the hostel as well. It’s full of items people have left behind. Sometimes you can find some good stuff from there too!
It’s like a mini thrift store.
Having a common room is great for spending your evenings. Look for board games, books, a TV with movies or local channels, or maybe even just a place to hang out and meet other travelers. Sometimes the front desk will hold any board games or movies up there too so don’t be afraid to ask them.
You’ll also find bulletin boards in the common room, which is a GOLD MINE. Bulletin boards show you endless amounts of awesome information. While we were buying a campervan in New Zealand the bulletin boards were our main source. Other travelers constantly post items for sale on these boards, so if you need something you’ll find it there. It’s also where the hostel will post any activities they offer like cooking classes or even free city tours. There is nothing sweeter than free stuff.
The more amenities you get from a hostel for the price the better. We live in the 21st century, which means you’re going to want wifi. Hostels will either just give you free wifi or they will give you access to wifi for a certain amount of time or bandwidth. Obviously, you want a place that is just going to offer unlimited free wifi over an allotted amount of time. But also keep in mind WHERE you are. In New Zealand and Europe we got endless wifi but places like Fiji we were on a limited wifi. Fiji is obviously going to have a much harder time getting a wifi connection than larger land masses. So just keep that in mind.
At some point, you are going to have to do laundry. If your hostel has laundry facilities you’re going to have a much easier time than going to a laundry mat. They probably won’t be free, so don’t get your hopes up.
24 Hour Reception
Having that extra time to reach your hostel can alleviate a lot of stress. Trying to rush to the hostel to check in is extremely nerve wrecking. With 24 hour reception or at least an after hours check-in will take that stress away.
Does the hostel you are looking at booking offer a membership price? Places like Hostel International (also known as YHA in some places) are part of a network of hostels. These hostels are required to meet certain standards that are a huge benefit to its guests. You can also pay a low price for a membership which will save you a little on every room you book. Don’t know about you, but we love saving money.
We don’t drink so this one has yet to affect us. But if you do, you should check to see if it’s a dry hostel or if they have quiet hours. If you like to party and you pick a hostel that has no tolerance for that sort of stuff you may not want to stay there. But if you do like to party you can find lots of really active hostels too. There’s something for everyone out there. Also don’t leave alcohol in the fridge either because it will get stolen.
Where are they located?
Are they in the main area of the city? Do they have transit nearby? Do they offer transport to and the from city center? Check into these things so you have an idea of how easy it will be to get around. It could also save you move on transportation.
Do this with a grain of salt. People are more likely to post their negative experiences. So read through a few reviews and get a good idea of the pros and cons. If you find a common theme that is negative then you should probably look more into it. But if it’s just one person complaining about it, it’s probably not a huge issue.
Beware of hidden fees
We like to pre-book our hostels before we arrive so we usually know the exact price we are going to be paying. Or it’s already been paid online. This will also help you uncover any hidden fees. Upon arrival, if they try and charge you something extra after you’ve paid online it’s best to refuse these charges. They’re probably just trying to scam you. This type of stuff usually pops up in reviews too. So again, read those through a bit. Good hostels (and hostels through hostel international) don’t have any hidden fees.
Staying at a hostel is not by any means scary. Whenever we travel we also look to see what hostel’s in the city or town there are. Even when we travel within Canada (our home and native land) we stay in hostels! Was there anything in this post that surprised you? Or was there anything we were missing? Sound off in the comments below! We would love to hear from you.
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