If you’re anything like other normal young adult travelers (read: your last name is not that of a global hotel chain) then you’re probably concerned about where you’ll be sleeping at night and making sure it doesn’t cost an arm or a leg.
So when I first got to organizing my thoughts on accommodation, I started by doing the same thing everyone does.
I googled it.
ac·com·mo·da·tion əˌkäməˈdāSH(ə)n/ noun
1. a room, group of rooms, or building in which someone may live or stay.
synonyms: housing, lodging(s), living quarters, quarters, rooms;
2. a convenient arrangement; a settlement or compromise.
The first definition is very literal, describing the physical nature of the word. The second definition, however abstract, is just as applicable in describing hostel living: convenient, and to some extent a compromise.
Although it’s not a luxury option, staying in hostels is by far one of the most affordable and fun ways to travel the world and meet other young backpackers who don’t mind sleeping with strangers (not literally but…..)
My go-to site for finding the best hostel accommodation options is Hostelworld – it’s a comprehensive, well-established global source with a user friendly mobile interface – especially for people on the road. It’s one app you can not backpack without. Bookings can be as cheap at $9! But in general, you get what you pay for – so read on for tips on getting the best value in your budget accommodation.
*looking for a SUPER cheap & alternative way to travel? Check out HOW TO LIVE ABROAD FOR FREE
After searching for your dates and destination, the next page allows you to narrow down your search to get the hostel that best fits your needs. The filters allow you to rule out any hostels that don’t meet your criteria, such as price point and minimum guest ratings.
My go to parameters are:
* RATING >8
*FACILITIES include breakfast, free wifi
*PRICE – as low as possible while still returning results
Hostelworld provides average guest ratings on all the important things the hostel has to offer: value, security, location, staff, atmosphere, cleanliness, and facilities. It’s up to you which categories matter the most for your stay.
Value for money
Another abstract concept for describing accommodation, but it speaks for itself. Getting the best quality service and overall stay as compared to the cost is literally what this whole article is about… sooo a high rating in this category is *almost* always a green flag IMO. We’re looking for Shoprite prices with Trader Joes quality.
Hostel security can vary drastically. Some larger hostels will have 2-3 locked access doors before you reach your room (very Fort Knox). Some hostels provide sensors, access cards, or old school metal keys to access the building and/or your room. Most provide lockers, or some type of safe box to keep valuables (although sometimes you may need to pay for it).
This is definitely an important category to consider. Centrally-located hostels may cost a bit more, but if the public transportation systems are lacking in the city in question, it may be worth it. Do some research. Figure out the main attractions you want to see and where they’re located. Find the train station, or airport, or bus station you’ll be arriving to. *if your arrival is quite late, this may be the most important proximity factor in your hostel search. There is nothing worse than carrying your backpack for miles or struggling with public transportation when you’re already exhausted, plus it’s not the safest situation to be in.
A good hostel staff is friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable. You want to be welcomed by someone warm and comforting like your grandma but given suggestions on what to do from someone who lives like a local – familiar with the best pub crawl or a good cafe nearby, the best tours and the worst tourist traps to avoid. Half the time hostel staff are people just like you – travelers who want to meet people of different cultures. Or they can be grumpy and completely unhelpful – so definitely give this category a glance.
Are you looking for a party, or a quiet night’s sleep? Somewhere you’re guaranteed to make friends, or are you already bringing a crew with you? The atmosphere in a hostel can range from borderline frat house to quiet and hotel-like.
An obvious concern, unless you already do live in a frat house (see above). Shower shoes are pretty much always a given. I’ll save us all the mental image and not come up with any more metaphors for this category.
This category spans things like the kitchens, beds/furniture, and lighting, to common room space and wifi. Some hostels can be located in buildings that were built centuries ago – this adds to the character, but doesn’t lend to updated facilities. Take a good look at pictures to see the state of the place. At the same time, beware of hostels that are “brand new” – I once stayed in a hostel that had been open for a month and literally everything was broken – none of the kinks had been given time to be worked out… even the recessed ceiling lighting was leaking water. You’d think that would be a fire hazard???
Stuff that matters:
- PICTURES! If a hostel has poor quality pictures, or only a few pictures, that is probably a good indication that they do not take their listing very seriously. Seeing as Hostelworld is the leading hostel-booking platform on the web, a lack of attention to the visual representation of their hostel is a red flag. Real recognize real.
- DESCRIPTIONS! Similar to above, you want to take into account not only the actual words that are describing the hostel, but also the thoroughness of the descriptions. Make sure to note reception hours/curfews, extra inclusions like towels or linens, and any city or tourist taxes that might not be included in the prices.
- REVIEWS! Read them!! Pictures may be worth 1000 words, but words are still…. well you know what I mean. You can’t determine the quality of the wifi, or the comfort level of the mattresses, or the friendliness of the staff by a pretty photo of the common area. Who cares if pictures of the shower facility shows fancy tile mosaics and a rain shower head if the water is freezing cold?
Make sure to separate the complainers from the reviewers, though – someone giving bad reviews for a snoring roommate is not exactly something the hostel can control, but lack of air conditioner during an Australian summer definitely is.
At the end of the day, a hostel is just somewhere to keep your stuff while you’re out exploring and place to sleep after you’ve had a few German pints. You’re not paying Ritz-Carlton prices, so don’t expect luxury service. My biggest suggestion is to be FLEXIBLE! I’m not saying you should lower your standards of comfort or safety – I just mean it is possible to find a place that checks off the important boxes, even if that means sharing a room with strangers.
*looking for a SUPER cheap and alternative way to travel? Check out HOW TO LIVE ABROAD FOR FREE