Finding a hostel is simple enough, it’s finding the right one for you that’s the tricky part.
This time last year I was sorting out an epic trip to South America. It took hours of travel research, budget calculations and planning. But one of the things I didn’t really think about until I touched ground was where to stay. I assumed that thanks to the magical interweb, I wouldn’t need to do much homework.
Consumer sites like hostelbookers, hostelworld and tripadvisor are really handy. They let you compare details, rates and rankings anytime, anywhere. You can book your bed ahead of time (for a fee), or print out the map and wing it. At first glance, it seems all you need to worry about is location and price. But there’s so much more to consider:
Service isn’t everything
Friendly, helpful, English-speaking staff are always good. But, if you’re not staying long, already know your way around the area, or simply feel like having some time to yourself, it’s not a deal breaker. People also have different standards of customer service – as hardy Londoners, we’re not exactly expecting the receptionist’s life story.
Freedom vs. security
A 24-hour reception stops random people continuing the party in the dorm across the hall, but what if you’re the one who wants to bring friends back to yours? Many big hostels now use wristbands, similar to a club, so only the people staying there can enter. Curfews are a good idea if you need shuteye, but sometimes too many rules can be a real buzz kill.
Safe storage and trust
Big cupboards that can be locked with your own padlock are great. So are smaller lockers at reception, lockers with power points to charge electricals, and a decent left luggage system (actually using tags and locking stuff away rather than just shoving people’s stuff under the stairs). A hostel without any of these things means that it’s either very unorganized, or the people staying there actually trust each other. Feeling at home and not worrying about nailing down your stuff means you’ve struck hostel gold.
How much dirt can you handle?
Think about the kind of person who has taken the trouble to log on to a website and write a long description about some mould in the bathroom. This person probably shouldn’t have signed up for a shared bathroom; or hostels in general for that matter. If you’re staying somewhere for a few dollars a night, a bit of grime is a small price to pay. Bring your own bedding just in case and flip flops for the bathroom. Other than that, where you draw the line is up to you.
Party or chillout?
Big party hostels with pool tables, hot tubs, cheap bars and themed nights are all well and good, but if you’ve just come back from a 10-day trek you may not feel like doing jelly shots out of someone’s belly button. If you want a relaxing hostel, look for a decent, well equipped kitchen, a TV room, and smaller dorms. Also look at the location, is it on the main drag or is it in a quieter, more residential area?
Big breakfasts, free tours and other extras will all hike up the price of your bed. If you tend to sleep through breakfast and do your own thing, don’t be seduced by frills. Save your money for the local bakery instead.
Image courtesy of Flickr