We’ve all been there: you book a trip and choose a hostel that seems perfectly fine at first glance, only to discover when you arrive that it’s not at all what you’d hoped for. It’s an understandable dilemma: more and more hostels are popping up all over the world, and each offers its own unique experience that may or may not be right for you.
Fortunately, with a little research ahead of time, you can increase your chances of finding that perfect fit. Before you book your next trip, check out our tips for finding just the right hostel for you. (Still not sure whether a hostel is right for you at all? Check out our guides to choosing between a hostel and a hotel and a hostel or an AirBnb).
1. Decide what vibe you want, then make sure the photos match
No two hostels offer exactly the same experience, so it’s helpful to start your search knowing what kind of vibe you want. Then, check out the photo galleries for each hostel you’re considering and see how they’re portraying what it feels like to stay there.
Is peace and quiet at the top of your list? Best to avoid hostels that post photos of their super-crowded on-site bar. Looking for a party hostel? Seek out those photos of people letting loose. Are you hoping to meet other travelers during your stay? Be on the lookout for photos of inviting-looking common rooms or, even better, people hanging out in them. The photos a hostel posts online don’t just show the facilities; they also convey the experience the hostel aims to deliver in real life. So, pay close attention.
2. Do the same for guest reviews
A hostel may have loads of glowing – or not-so-glowing – reviews, but you won’t get the full picture unless you can put those reviews in context. The bottom line is, people’s reviews speak to whether or not their experience met their expectations, so it’s important to pay attention to posts where the reviewers’ expectations mirror your own. Think about it: if a hostel has hundreds of 5-star reviews praising its party atmosphere, but you’re looking for a good night’s sleep, those reviews don’t do you a lot of good.
Hostelworld, an online travel agency specializing in hostels, makes it super easy to check reviews for what’s important to you. One of its most useful features is the option to filter reviews by the age group of the person who left them (let’s be honest: gap-year travelers and business travelers don’t necessarily want the same things out of a hostel); other review sites will tell you whether the person leaving the review was traveling alone, for business, as part of a couple, or with a group of friends. Lots of review sites will also break reviews down for you based on cleanliness, friendliness off staff, and location, so it’s easy to quickly see how high the hostel rates on whatever’s most important to you.
3. Consider location
Before you book your hostel, decide whether you’d rather immerse yourself in the concrete jungle, or escape the city’s hustle and bustle. There are pros and cons to both: stay smack-dab in the middle of the city and you’ll likely end up very close to its main tourist attractions, but it can also be noisier and harder to get a feel for the way locals really live. Choose a quiet, smaller hostel in a true neighborhood and it will be easier to integrate yourself into local life, but you’ll likely need to spend a bit more time on the bus or train to get to the main tourist sights. Decide which kind of environment you’ll be happier in, and choose accordingly.
4. Weigh the amenities against the price
Remember, the cheapest hostel doesn’t always offer the best value. If one hostel charges a few dollars more than another, compare the amenities to the price tag. Breakfast, Wi-Fi, tours and activities, and luggage storage are common travel expenses that can really add up if you need to pay for them out of pocket, so it may be worth shelling out a little more if you find a hostel that offers them for free.
5. See what room types are available
Most hostels offer a variety of room types. These could include anything from small shared dorms with a few bunks, to larger rooms with dozens of individual beds, to private rooms for individual travelers, couples, and families. Which kind of room is best for you? It depends on your priorities. If your number-one goal is to meet new people on your trip, you can maximize your interactions by staying in a dorm. If you’re the type of traveler who wants a quiet spot to recharge after socializing, consider booking a private room (you can still meet tons of new people in the hostel’s common areas whenever you’re ready).
Not all hostels offer all room types, though, so make sure you know what you’re looking for. Bottom line: if you know what type of room you want and you find a hostel that doesn’t offer it, it’s best to keep browsing.
6. Think about your planning style
When you travel, do you wake up in the morning with a schedule and checklist already planned out? Or are you more the spontaneous type, figuring out your daily plans as you go? Hostels can be great for both types of traveler, but if you fall into the latter camp, some hostels may make your life easier. If a hostel offers organized tours and activities (especially free or low-cost ones), you can just join whatever’s going on during your stay. Chances are, you’ll get a good dose of local culture and check a few of those sights off your list without having to plan an itinerary. As a bonus, you’re likely to meet plenty of your fellow travelers on these tours.
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