Know what you want from a when booking a hostel before you book.
I’ve been travelling and staying in hostels for many years on and off, so I think I can call myself an expert in choosing and booking a suitable hostel. What I mean by suitable is, there are certain things I would search for and want my hostel to offer me to stay at it. This could be meeting new people, relaxing by a pool, convenient location a kitchen to cook a meal or just wanting to use the free wifi to catch up with work and the rest of the world! So if you are planning your travels and considering staying in a hostel, here is what to look for when booking a hostel bed.
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Where to look for a Hostel
Hostels are often the ‘go-to accommodation style’ for budget travellers. When I first started travelling I stayed in many hostels. There were two ways you would look for and book a hostel. Firstly, you would buy a book listing hostels. Secondly, you would join the Youth Hostel Association in your country which would provide a free hostel listing book with your membership. Then while travelling, you would look in your hostel listing book and ring ahead to see if a bed was available. Or we would just arrive and hope there was a bed available. Nowadays, a hostel bed is at our fingertips. The two best ways to find a hostel is through either the HostelWorld app or website or the Booking.com website or app. Both are great and provide a lot of information about a hostel plus reviews from those who have stayed there. But what should you look for when booking a hostel?
What to look for in a Hostel
It is important to know what to look for when booking a hostel but more importantly, what you want from a hostel. Everyone is different, and everyone’s needs are different but if you know what you want, and what to look for, you will be able to book a suitable hostel for you. Here are 17 things to look for when choosing a hostel to stay at. Some hostels may offer all of these things while others may only offer a few. It can depend on how long you will be staying at a hostel as to what things you will require. If just for a night, having a pool may not be on your requirement list, but if staying a week, it might be.
I always look at the location before I look at the cost of the hostel. This is because to me, it is a no-brainer, that a good location, close to public transport and to the city is important. After a long day of sightseeing there is nothing worse than having to spend an hour on public transport to get to your hostel – now you know why it was cheaper! The booking sites of HostelWorld and Booking.com both advise the distance of the hostel to the centre of the city. Closer the better for me sometimes. I don’t have to carry my luggage far and I know I will be close to things like cafes, restaurants and top tourist sites. But you may not always be near a city, you may be in a coastal town and want to be close to the beach. Perhaps you are hiking and want to be close to the entrance or exits of the hiking tracks. I think you get this picture! Definitely look at the location on a map before you book the hostel.
After location, security is next on my list to consider before booking a hostel. You won’t get a safe but you should get a locker. Having a locker that you can lock will ensure your valuables are safe. The locker may not be in your room, but if it is, even better. It is mostly safer to lock your valuables in a locker rather than carry them around with you. I have found the more I can lock away the better. That includes that brand new shampoo and conditioner I’ve just bought because I have found things like shampoo, food and clothes can often ‘go missing’. For security, I always travel with a lock, just in case a lock isn’t provided by the hostel.
Check-in and Check-out Times
Most hostels are like hotels, you can’t check in until after 3pm and you must check out by 10am – sometimes 11am. Be aware of these times as you may be locked out. As our transport can sometimes not comply with these times I hope your hostel will be flexible enough to let you check out late or check in early! You can only ask!
Atmosphere – Party Hostel or Homely Hostel
What atmosphere are you seeking? From the wording in the hostel information you should be able to tell whether the hostel is a party hostel or a homely hostel. If the hostel has a bar with weekly get-togethers or a weekly BBQ you can ascertain that this hostel likes people to mingle, or party. If the description includes words such as ‘homely’ then this hostel will be a lot quieter and a great place to relax, sleep and maybe work!
Nice looking Facade and Common Areas
There should be a number of photos in the commentary about the hostel that you can look at. Is the facade appealing? Though it is really what is inside that matters. If you plan to use the common areas, check they look modern, well maintained and welcoming? If you plan to cook, is the kitchen clean and well stocked with utensils. Do the couches in the communal lounge look comfy? Are there plenty of dining tables if there is a cafe or restaurant? You can also check reviews to see if people have mentioned what the communal areas are like.
It is hard to tell from some of the photos, but the cleanliness of the hostel is one of the top things I look out for. I don’t need a pristine environment but I do like a clean bathroom and bed. I don’t mind paying a little extra knowing the hostel is clean. Check out the reviews again as many seasoned backpackers write reviews about the cleanliness of a hostel. In fact it is one of the most complained about things! Definitely read the reviews to ensure there have been no bed bug complaints.
Bathrooms will vary from hostel to hostel as does the plumbing. Let’s hope there are plenty of toilets and showers for the number of guests staying and that they aren’t pokey little rooms. Be aware that some showers may be push-button or require a coin to operate. And sometimes the water pressure isn’t that great. Check out the reviews of the hostel you would like to stay at and see what others have said. If a bathroom is really important to you, then you need to be comfortable with your choice of hostel before you book it. Though some backpackers often think, ‘I’m only here for a night so I doesn’t really matter’. Well if your bed linen isn’t clean and you get bed bugs you will be kicking yourself you didn’t spend those extra few dollars.
Heating and Cooling
Heating and cooling are not often considered when looking at hostels to book. However, if you are travelling Australia in summer you will definitely want a hostel with air conditioning as the heat in an uncooled room can be stifling. And if you are travelling in a country where it is snowing outside you will definitely want heating. Not just in the common areas either, but in your room.
I was so surprised at how many hostels I have stayed in had a pool. This of course, depends on the location of the hostel. If you like relaxing by a pool and are staying for a few days in an area where a pool is appreciated, then by all means, filter a pool into your hostel search.
Number of Beds in a Room
The more beds fitted into a room, known as a dormitory, the cheaper the accommodation usually is. You can find 4, 6, 8 or more beds in a room. Nowadays, hostels are competing with other hostels and hotels for your dollar, so they are offering single and twin or double rooms to get some people in. Of course the price to stay in a single room in a hostel will be more expensive however, it might be a choice for you now and then particularly if you need to work but still want the atmosphere of staying in a hostel.
Bed Curtains and Lights
One of my pet hates is being fast asleep in my bed and in comes someone and turns the main bedroom light on. This is why having a small light above the bed is a must for me. Add curtains and I have my own private space that can be dark or light. Beyond privacy while you sleep, they are great for changing behind, getting some work done and showing your roommates that you don’t want to be disturbed for a while. Check the photos of the rooms available during your search on HostelWorld or Booking.com.
Free Clean Towels and Bedding
What luxury to have a fresh, clean, fluffy real towel while backpacking is something we all love. After all, we mostly travel with a microfibre towel as it is dries quickly and folds up small. Not all hostels will offer free towels but you can always ask when you check in. As for bedding, you should be given your bedding when you check in. If you aren’t, ask for it otherwise you might discover bedding already on your bed. But the problem here is, you don’t know when it was put on the bed and whether it is clean. Some hostels charge extra for linen, if you don’t want to pay extra for it, then look for hostels that offer free linen. Though a couple of extra dollars for clean towels and bedding could mean the difference of a good or bad nights sleep!
Free and Fast Wifi
While perhaps not so important to some, it is essential for me as I run my online business as I travel. Plus, it is nice to check in with social media and family and friends back home while travelling. So free, and hopefully fast Wifi is a must for me. It should be listed in the services that the hostel offers or check out reviews before booking a hostel without knowing whether it has Wifi or not. Be careful using free Wifi though, ensure you are using a VPN to protect yourself while online.
Communal Kitchen and/or Free Breakfast
If you stay in a hostel offering free breakfast, you’re really going to save money. This will take care of one meal for the day! Same if the hostel has a communal kitchen as it can be expensive to eat out all the time and having free breakfast and/or a kitchen at your disposal will really help you save money and stay healthy. Now free breakfast can vary greatly from free toast with butter and jam to a fully cooked meal consisting of local recipes. Such as an English Breakfast of sausages, bacon, eggs and toast to rice or noodles with eggs. A good hearty breakfast will keep you going.
Having clean clothes while I travel is a must for me – it makes me feel more comfortable knowing my clothes are clean and don’t smell. I don’t always need a laundry in every hostel I stay in but knowing there is one available is a great resource to have when staying in a hostel. I do often wash some clothes by hand but it can be very hard to find somewhere to hang the clothes in a room when you are sharing with 3 other people.
Organised Activities, Booking and Renting Services
Some hostels are large enough to have a booking and renting service available. This can be very convenient as you can book onto tours and transport straight from your hostel. You could also be able to rent a bike or a car for the day. Very handy to know these things are available rather than you having to travel to somewhere else in the town to book. Or you could look at a service such as GetYourGuide which allows you to purchase entrance tickets to sites. Some hostels even have organised activities. One I stayed in in Bunbury, WA, Australia had a mini bus and every day ran tours to the local harbour to see the dolphins! Another hostel in London had a free walking tour of the area. These are great ways to discover where you are and meet other like-minded people.
Knowledgeable and Friendly Staff
Now I know a lot of hostels are staff by other travellers and may not have the knowledge of the local area but hopefully there is staff who do. And on top of being knowledgeable they need to be friendly. These two things go together to create a warm environment which we are all seeking when staying in a hostel. After all, it’s not about finding the cheapest accommodation all the time.
How to find the best hostel to book
Now you know your requirements you need to know where to find a hostel. I always head to Hostelworld first, then Booking.com. This website and app provides me with all the information I need to choose a hostel. Plus, I can then book it. If you go to the website and search for a hostel in say Sydney, all the hostels will pop up. It is here these hostels then sell you on what they offer. Because remember, booking a hostel is not about how cheap it can be, but what it offers you.
Final Words on What to Look For when Booking a Hostel
So these are the things I look for before I book into a hostel. Some may be yours also! As I have been travelling for many years and have stayed in many hostels, I have learnt, sometimes the hard way, the things I want from my hostel stay. My biggest tips are, do your research and read hostel reviews to make sure the hostel provides the services that you want and need for your stay. Cheapest isn’t always the best but it can depend on your circumstance. I’d love to hear about things you like your hostel to offer in the comments following. As I’ve mentioned visit HostelWorld and Booking.com to find the best hostel for you. Happy Hostelling!