As an aspiring world traveler, I’ve stayed at my fair share of hostels, the pleasant and the…erm, not so pleasant. So far, I think I have stayed at about 15 in my lifetime and that number will only continue to grow. But wait–what exactly is a hostel? What is it about that extra “s” in the word that makes it so different than a hotel? Read on and I’ll give you the 411!
Okay, so let’s begin with the definition. A hostel is basically a step down from a hotel in the fact traditionally, their only obligation was to provide a bed to sleep in for the night. They are also more geared toward travelers, specifically young ones. Some hostels even have an age limit, so if you are 24-30, keep an eye out for that on their website. Another huge difference between hostels and hotels is obviously the price. You are paying anywhere from a third to a tenth of the price you normally by opting for a hostel over a hotel. That is why they are so ideal for travelers and young college students. All right, so now that we have the basic meaning down, let’s get into how you choose one.
The most important step: DO YOUR RESEARCH! Never fear, I’ll be giving you a list of questions to ask yourself as you leaf through the overwhelming number of options in each city. In regards to website platforms, I like TripAdvisor and Hostelworld because they give very honest ratings and reviews from other travelers like you. I usually book the places I stay on Hostelworld anyway, and I like that while you are searching you can star the places that catch your interest and then compare them side-by-side. I like that because I’m a very visual type of person and that little grid helps me envision and compare much more easily!
The price will fluctuate based on the city you’re visiting, so you can’t always anticipate one fixed price for each location around the world. For example, my hostel in Mendoza, a smaller South American city, ran me only 10 dollars per night. In Paris, if you want to stay at a place that’s not a dump, expect about 30 dollars a night. The market is tricky, but once you have a handle of it, it’s not so bad.
So here’s an important existential question: What kind of person are you? Introverted, extroverted? Do you like the night life or quiet mornings? How picky are you about cleanliness and orderliness? Do you mind co-ed rooms? Do you prefer to stay in a private or smaller room, or do you mind staying in a room with 6, 8, 12 or 20 other people?
Ponder these questions well because the answers play a big role in the hostel you choose! Some hostels are well known as “party hostels” or just have an unsaid reputation of being louder because of the youth staying there. Some aren’t as tidy as others. While reading the reviews, keep an open ear for what other travelers say about these topics.
Although the more economical option is to share a room with the most amount of people, it may not be some people’s favorite choice. In the beginning it’s not so bad because you save a lot of money and meet so many people, but the room starts to smell due to the sheer amount of cohabitants. In addition, sometimes you’re stuck with the creaky top bunk, you have to fight over outlets, worry about being noisy or waking others up with light, or worry about being stolen from. Take these considerations into mind and if this isn’t for you, fork out a couple extra bucks for a private. But hey, try it out a couple times because I’ve met some GREAT people this way—quite a few of which are still close friends!!
Some happy travellers!
Go ahead and copy the following checklist to ask yourself while looking for hostels. It seems like a long list, but these are little things that matter which we often forget!
~How safe is the area?
~How close is this hostel to main tourist attractions or at least to a form of transportation (metro stations, bus stops, the airport)?
~Do they offer free or rented towels? Bed sheets? Breakfast? Wifi? Maps? Tours? Age limit? Curfew? 24-hour front desk?
~How clean is it?
`What is the price for the night (s) you’re staying? Keep in mind the time of year or local holidays.
~Do they have events at the hostel itself? Some of them have get-togethers or themed nights which are lots of fun and great for meeting others!
~Is there a kitchen and/or fridge? (This is important if you plan on staying a while or like to cook your own food to save money or for personal reasons.)
~Probably the most important questions is: HOW IS THE INTERNET. Hey, we’re in the 21st century so this is a big deal. Yeah, their website could say they have it technically…but how is the connection? Read the reviews! You’ll use wifi a lot more than you think—to communicate with others back at home, upload pictures, plan excursions, look up attractions, add new friends on facebook, and whatever else you normally use it for. At the end of a long day travelling, it’s nice to come “home” to some good wifi. (I’m kind of being sarcastic, but kind of not…)
~Are there laundry facilities? This is important for longer trips and especially for backpackers.
~Do you want to meet other people and form friendships, or stay the night and be on your way? For your answer to this question, your best bet is to read the reviews because many will indicate whether or not it’s a good hostel for this.
~Are there many outlets in your rooms?
~Do you have lockers in your room?
~Is there any infestation problem? Bugs, mites, rats, mice, etc.
~Are taxes included in the price?
~When is check-in/check-out? Many places will let you store your luggage for the day before you check-in or after you check out so you don’t have to lug it around with you while you’re out sightseeing.
~Do they take only cash?
What about my personal preferences? I have my non-negotiables, such as WIFI, cleanliness, bed sheets, breakfast and lockers, and I personally like it when the bathroom is “en suite”, which means attached to your room. That way, you don’t have to share it with so many people and you don’t have as much of a hassle getting ready in the morning. Because I am more introverted and not much about the night life, I like a quieter ambience and if I can, I opt for the room with the smallest number of people possible. But hey, that’s just me. I’m the oddball in this situation because the majority of people prefer the nightlife, loud company and meeting tons of people. Take my words with a grain of salt and choose based on what YOU like.
I also found this article very funny and relatable. It’s 22 things you should know about hostels, and I found myself laughing and saying “SO TRUE!” as I read it:
Lastly, but very importantly, DON’T FORGET THESE ITEMS!! This is the “Hostel Survival Kit”—All of the necessities, outside of what you’ll also be bringing:
~Locks: Buy a cable lock with a combination so that you don’t have to worry about locking the key in your locker.
~Flip-flops: For the showers—I’m guessing you don’t want to walk barefoot on the floors where dozens of other people with dirty feet have been treading.
~Earplugs and Eye mask: Believe me…you’ll want these when you’re trying to get some shut-eye in a room with 5-20 other people on entirely different schedules.
~Travel adapter(s)/converter(s): You’ll need this to charge your devices!
~Passport—You MUST have your original passport with you in order to check in!! I learned this the hard way, but that’s another story…
I hope this article has helped clear the foggy air as you contemplate your lodging during your travels. If you have any other questions, please feel free to leave a comment or send me a message and I’ll be able to assist you in whichever way I can. I’ve stayed in the following cities, so I’d be glad to give you some insight!
(London, New York, Paris, Rome, Madrid, Granada, Seville, Toledo, Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Mendoza)
Travel light, my friends!