Top Tips on How to Pick a Good Hostel

Written by: Chris Richardson

Choosing the right hostel can make or break your travel experience.

In my years of exploring, I’ve learned that where you lay your head at night is just as important as what you see and do during the day. A good hostel offers more than just a cheap place to sleep; it’s a hub for meeting fellow travellers, discovering local insights, and finding a sense of community.

In short, find a hostel that’s good for you and your entire stay and experience in that city or town will be fantastic. Pick a bad hostel, and you’ll leave with a dislike for the city all because the hostel you stayed in soured your experience.

Guests gather around a hostel reception desk, where a sign lists "Top 10 Tips on How to Pick a Good Hostel." Backpacks and luggage are scattered nearby

From cleanliness to the friendliness of the staff, every aspect of a hostel contributes to its overall appeal. 

I prioritize staying somewhere that balances affordability with comfort and security to find the best of what I need.

Understanding the significance of location, reviews, and amenities can help guide you to a hostel that fits your preferences and enhances your journey. It shouldn’t just be about the cheapest hostel or the one with the good breakfast etc. You want to stay in a hostel doing many things right.

My tips are designed to assist you in navigating the vast array of hostels available and selecting one that will serve as a stellar base for your adventures.

Understanding Hostel Types

When selecting a hostel, it’s important to understand the different types of accommodations they offer and the overall theme and vibe the establishment promotes. These factors greatly influence the experience you’ll have.

A bustling hostel lobby with various types of accommodations displayed. A sign with "Top 10 Tips" prominently displayed

Dormitory Versus Private Rooms

Hostels primarily offer two sleeping arrangements: dormitory rooms and private rooms.

  • Dormitory rooms are shared spaces, usually with bunk beds, that accommodate multiple guests. They are ideal for travellers on a tight budget and those looking to meet fellow travellers. You can find dorms separated by gender or mixed.
  • Private rooms resemble basic hotel rooms, offering more privacy and space. These are suitable for couples or travellers desiring a quieter experience. They cost more but provide the benefit of your own space.

Hostels often provide linens and may offer towels for a small fee or deposit. Check if the hostel provides lockers in dorm rooms to secure your belongings.

Hostel Theme and Ambiance

The theme and ambience of a hostel can range from laid-back and quiet to vibrant and party-oriented.

  • Laid-back hostels often focus on creating a peaceful environment. They may feature cosy common areas, book exchanges, or quiet hours.
  • Party hostels typically emphasize social interaction with events like pub crawls or nightly activities. They are geared towards travellers looking to make new friends and enjoy a lively atmosphere.

I recommend reading up on a hostel’s booking page and checking out their calendar of events or facilities to ensure it aligns with your travel expectations. Remember, the ambience can significantly impact your overall experience.

Evaluating Location and Accessibility

A hostel surrounded by public transportation, restaurants, and attractions. Clear signage and well-lit entrance. Accessible entrance with no stairs. Nearby parking options

When I look for a hostel, I prioritize two key aspects: how close it is to the main attractions and the availability of transport links. These factors can significantly influence the convenience and enjoyment of my stay.

Proximity to Attractions

  • Distance Matters: I check the distance between the hostel and the attractions I plan to visit. Closer proximity means I can save time and money on transportation.
  • Walkability: If a hostel is within walking distance of major sites, it adds value to my stay. I also look for pedestrian-friendly areas which enhance the overall experience. I love walking cities, you see so much this way.

Transport Links

  • Public Transportation: Access to public transport options, including buses, trains, and subways, is crucial. I always make sure that the hostel is well-connected. Nothing is worse than having to lug your backpack or suitcase a long way down old streets.
  • Airport and Station Access: Proximity to the airport, bus, or train stations is important for easy arrivals and departures. I look for hostels with direct links or short transit routes to these hubs.

Checking Reviews and Ratings

Travel guidebook open on a table, surrounded by a laptop, pen, and notepad. Top 10 tips for choosing a hostel highlighted

When choosing a hostel, I consider the power of peer feedback indispensable. Reviews and ratings often paint a vivid picture of the experience you might have beyond the marketing spin.

Reading Reviews for Insights

Take time to sift through reviews for genuine traveller stories.

Personal accounts of cleanliness, safety, and amenities help gauge whether the hostel meets my expectations.

Specific comments on room conditions, staff helpfulness, or social atmosphere are valuable.

  • Cleanliness: I look for repeated mentions of cleanliness to confirm consistent standards.
  • Staff: Positive remarks about staff usually indicate a welcoming and helpful environment.
  • Amenities: Detailed descriptions of amenities let me check if they match my needs.

Importance of High Ratings

High ratings often correlate with overall guest satisfaction. I pay attention to ratings with a:

  1. Scale of 1-5: Hostels above 4 are generally reliable.
  2. Large number of reviews: More reviews can validate the accuracy of the rating.

I use ratings as a quick filter but always couple it with a thorough review analysis to make an informed decision.

Assessing Security Measures

A hostel entrance with a security guard, key card access, CCTV cameras, and well-lit surroundings. A list of top 10 tips displayed on a notice board

When I choose a hostel, I prioritize safety by thoroughly evaluating the security features in place. This focus ensures peace of mind during my stay.

Lockers and Luggage Storage

I always look for hostels that offer secure lockers or luggage storage options.

Lockers should be sturdy and spacious enough to store my backpack and valuables.

I check if they can be secured with a lock, preferably one I provide for added security. 

Safety Procedures

I examine the safety procedures the hostel has established.

This includes 24/7 reception or security personnel, electronic key cards for room access, and well-lit common areas.

I also confirm if there are clear emergency exits and whether the hostel provides guests with safety tips upon check-in.

Considering Amenities and Facilities

When I select a hostel, my comfort and convenience hinge significantly on the amenities and facilities available. These factors can vastly improve my travel experience.

A hostel with clean, modern facilities and a variety of amenities such as a communal kitchen, comfortable common areas, free Wi-Fi, and organized activities for guests to enjoy

Essential Amenities

In my experience, essential amenities are non-negotiable for a satisfactory stay. Here’s what I always check for:

  • Clean bathrooms: I look for hostels that ensure their bathrooms are clean and well-maintained.
  • Secure lockers: I must have a secure place to store my valuables, so secure lockers are a given.
  • Wi-Fi: Staying connected is important hence reliable Wi-Fi service is another essential amenity for me.
  • Bedding: A comfortable bed with clean sheets is fundamental for restful sleep.

Additional Hostel Facilities

Beyond the essentials, I consider additional hostel facilities that can enhance my stay. Here’s a list of facilities I find beneficial:

  • Common areas: Lounges or common rooms where I can socialize with fellow travellers. If you are travelling solo, you want a place to meet others. Making friends in each hostel is both fun and a great way to enhance your backpacker experience.
  • Kitchen access: Having a place to prepare my meals can help save a lot on dining costs.
  • Laundry services: Long travels warrant having laundry facilities for convenience.
  • Activities and tours: Some hostels organize social events or excursions, which I find great for meeting people and exploring.

Understanding the Cost

A group of travelers gather around a bulletin board, reading and discussing tips for choosing a good hostel. Maps and guidebooks are spread out on a nearby table

When I select a hostel, I am keenly aware that the price is only the beginning. To truly understand the cost of my stay, I need to factor in the upfront room rates and any additional fees that could apply. A cheap hostel might be hiding hidden fees or costs you didn’t notice at the time of booking.

Room Rates and Taxes

The room rate is the base price of a stay in a hostel, typically per night.

I always check if the rate includes taxes, as this can affect the total cost of my stay. In some cities, tourist or city taxes are collected and may not be included in the displayed rate.

  • Room Rates: Vary by room type (dorm, private, etc.)
  • Taxes: Additional, often not included in the displayed rate (VAT, city tax, etc.)

Hidden Fees and Deposits

Some hostels charge fees that are not immediately apparent. I look out for fees for:

  • Lockers or safe storage
  • Towels or linen, if not included
  • Late check-out fees

Deposits are another consideration. They may be required for:

  • Key deposits
  • Damage deposits

Example of Fee Outline:

  • Towel Rental: $2
  • Key Deposit: $10 (refundable)
  • Late Check-Out: $10

Exploring Social Opportunities

Guests gather in a cozy common area, chatting and sharing travel stories. A helpful staff member provides tips and maps to eager travelers

When selecting a hostel, consider the opportunities for social interaction as a crucial aspect. These come mainly through two avenues: the common areas and the affiliated social events or activities.

Common Areas

Common areas in a hostel act as the heart of social engagement. A hostel without a common area is a big no-go for me. It’s just not fun without the ability to chat with others.

I always look for a hostel that has well-designed and comfortable communal spaces. This could include:

  • Lounges: Couches and seating arrangements that facilitate conversation.
  • Shared Kitchens: A space with cooking facilities where guests often mingle while preparing meals.
  • Dining Areas: Large tables to join others for a meal or conversation without feeling crowded.

Social Events and Activities

Hostels that organize social events and activities are key in connecting travellers. Here’s what I identify as significant:

  • Scheduled Events: Nightly or weekly events, like quiz nights or cultural dinners, are listed on the hostel’s event board.
  • Tours and Outings: Group outings, such as city walking tours or visits to nearby attractions, often led by staff or local guides.
  • Workshops: Occasionally, some hostels might offer workshops, like cooking classes or language exchanges, that encourage guest interaction.

Checking Policies and Rules

A bulletin board with "Top 10 Tips for Picking a Good Hostel" surrounded by various hostel-related images and symbols

When choosing a hostel, I review their specific policies and rules carefully. These can significantly affect my stay and level of comfort.

Check-in and Check-out Times

Check-in: Hostels can have a set time window for check-ins.

I confirm these times to ensure my arrival aligns with their schedule.

Check-out: Knowing the check-out time is crucial to plan my departure. Late check-outs can incur additional fees. And as you’ll find out, you’ll want to sleep in now and then and not rush out the door on departure day. 

House Rules

  • Quiet Hours: Adhering to the hostel’s quiet hours is important for a restful night. I check for these times to avoid any disruptions.
  • Age Restrictions: Some hostels implement age limits for guests. I verify this to ensure I am eligible to stay.
  • Visitor Policies: Understanding the visitor rules helps me know if I can invite friends who aren’t staying at the hostel.

Investigating Hygiene and Cleanliness

A clean and tidy hostel common area with labeled hygiene products, organized kitchen, and spotless bathrooms

When I pick a hostel, I pay close attention to hygiene and cleanliness as they are critical for a comfortable stay. Here’s how I assess these factors:

Bed Linen and Bathrooms

  • Bed Linen: I always check if the hostel provides a clean set of bed linens for each new guest. A good hostel should either provide fresh linen or offer it for rent. I look at the linen’s colour and smell; it should be white or have a light colour and smell freshly laundered.
  • Bathrooms: I observe the condition of the bathrooms. They should be well-maintained and cleaned regularly. I check for visible signs of mould, excess water, or unpleasant odours as indicators of neglect.

Overall Cleanliness Maintenance

  • Common Areas: The state of the common areas often reflects the overall cleanliness of the hostel.
  • Kitchen: A hostel’s kitchen should be well-organized and free from leftover food or dirty dishes. I look for a cleaning schedule posted in a visible area, confirming regular maintenance.
  • Storage for Cleaning Equipment: I take note of where the cleaning equipment is stored. It should be separated from the living and eating areas and organized neatly. This indicates a professional approach to hygiene.

Asking About Meals and Kitchen Facilities

Guests inquire about meals and kitchen amenities at a hostel. Tips for choosing a quality hostel are displayed

When I choose a hostel, I often inquire about meal provisions and kitchen facilities, as these can significantly affect my budget and eating preferences.

Included Meals

Breakfast is the most common included meal in many hostels.

I always ask if there is a free breakfast included and what it consists of, whether it’s a full buffet or just toast and coffee. Usually, it’s just toast, cereal, buns and cold meats.

Some hostels may offer other meals, and it’s worth checking if they are free or available at an additional cost.

Guest Kitchen Use

Access to a guest kitchen is a major plus for me. It allows for meal prep and can be a great way to save money.

I look for:

  • Appliance Availability: Is there a stove, oven, microwave, and refrigerator?
  • Cookware and Utensils: Does the hostel provide pots, pans, knives, cutting boards, and dishes?
  • Storage: Are there allocated spaces for my groceries?
  • Cleaning: What are the expectations for cleaning up after myself?

I also check for signs of cleanliness and maintenance in the kitchen area, as this reflects the hostel’s overall care.