Finding the right hostel can sometimes be really difficult. Even with useful sites such as HostelWorld, filtering through the hundreds of search results can be not only confusing but also super time-consuming! Searching becomes even more difficult when you’re on a budget because you might find the right hostel but the wrong one for your budget…
I spent three months hostelling around Europe, so it’s safe to say that I came pretty accustomed to filtering out the good and the bad. I can’t say I ever had a horrible experience in a hostel!
Below is my guide on what to look for to find the perfect hostel…
#1 Free Breakfast
A free (or cheap) breakfast is something that I always try to look for! Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and when it’s free that makes it even better. Even if its just toast, spreads, fruit and cereal you can make a free hostel breakfast go a long way. It also forces you to get up early so you don’t miss out!
Now I know a lot of people don’t eat breakfast – such as my boyfriend – but it means you can stock up on food for lunch/the rest of the day! I know it might seem a bit cheeky taking some food that’s already free. But as long as it’s not a mountain of sandwiches and a bag of cereal you should be safe…
Pro tip: Try to make at least two sandwiches and wrap them up in some serviettes. If there’s fruit, take a piece and discreetly sneak it out along with the sandwiches – you’ll be set for the day!
#2 A Kitchen
Cooking your own food is definitely the cheapest way to eat when you’re on a backpacker’s budget. A hostel with a kitchen is priceless. It can be very expensive to eat out, and also even more time consuming when you have to search for a place to eat at…
Now I know it can be tempting to have some meals out and believe me I did. However, when it was too late to find somewhere to eat or I was really strapped for cash a kitchen was a life saver. Of course, you’d try to cook some local cuisine too. Say if you were in Italy you’d try to eat some pasta, right? Well, a bag of pasta and some sauce from a grocery store will only set you back about €4, compared to pasta at a restaurant which would normally be upwards of €10…
Pro tip: If you’re on a really tight budget, stock up on things like pasta and sauce when you see them for cheap. It may be a bit of a hassle to carry them around, but you’ll be thanking yourself later when it’s more expensive, or there are no supermarkets…
#3 Free Walking Tours
Free walking tours are the most valuable thing to look for in a hostel. The guide is often a local, and normally they will take you into the heart of the city and provide you with some awesome information about a particular place.
I know it says free in the name, but the guides that provide these tours often rely on tips. This means that they will normally put a lot of effort to give you the best tour possible. You don’t have to give a tip, but if you can afford it I’m sure it would be greatly appreciated.
#4 Good Reviews
As with anything good reviews are the MOST IMPORTANT thing to remember when looking for a hostel. Reviews are awesome because they tell you what a hostel was like before you even arrive. Make sure it a genuine review from genuine people though, we’ve seen hostels that have gotten lots of bad reviews and a few generic good ones (obviously from hostel staff) to try and up their rating.
The way you interpret reviews depends on what you’re looking for. For example, someone may give a hostel a bad review because there was too much partying – but you might be a party person! Make sure you read the most recent reviews and avoid anywhere that has the words ‘bed bugs’!
Pro Tip: Make sure you leave a review when you leave to help others who might want to stay there!
#5 Close to Where You Need to Be
ALWAYS make sure you have a quick look on Google Maps to double check where your hostel is located. You might find the perfect hostel but then realise when you get there that it’s nowhere near to the city centre! Or you might realise that from where your bus or train drops you off it’s located on the other side of town.
Yes, this can be easily solved using public transport, but using this can not only be expensive but also irritating when service stops late at night and you have to find your own way home. Checking where the hostel is located can also be useful if you’re catching a flight out from the airport the next day. You’d hate to be on the opposite side of town and not be able to make your flight!
#6 A Bar
Having a bar in a hostel definitely doesn’t have to be a prerequisite, however, it comes in handy when you’re trying to make friends. Hostel bars will sometimes be a little bit cheaper than some other bars in the city and are a handy place to find other people to tag along with if you decide to go out later.
When I was staying in Belgium my hostel had a bar. They had almost every type of Belgium beer at low prices and were also selling pizza at a cheap cost. The bar even had a beer tasting every night!
#7 A Good Atmosphere
This is another reason why reading the reviews come in handy. You definitely wouldn’t want to end up somewhere creepy! A good atmosphere was always a must for me when I was looking at hostels. It’s never fun when you end up somewhere with creepy owners, a rude receptionist, or other travellers who won’t talk to you!
Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert I think a good atmosphere is always something you should look for. You never know who you might meet, and its also a nice feeling to feel safe where you’re staying!
#8 Free Cancellation
The option of having free cancellation is one of the most IMPORTANT things to look for (and if they don’t have it for free, make sure you spend a little extra to make sure you have it). Plans can change, flights can be missed, buses and trains can run late, you can get sick, have to go home early, or you might find a better hostel deal!
If those reasons aren’t enough, then just trust me. You’ll more than likely need to cancel something, and if it’s not free you’ll have to normally pay at least the cost of the first night you would have spent in that hostel.
#9 Dorm Size and Type
Unless you have enough money/friends to buy a private room, it is more than likely you’re going to be sharing with other hostel goers. It’s always important to check the dorm size and type of room you’re sharing. This varies person to person, but make sure you book something that’s going to suit you.
Say for example you’re a solo female traveller. You’re probably going to want an all-female dorm with only 4-6 people. Or if conversely there’s 5 of you travelling together all of the mixed genders, then you could go for a slightly bigger dorm at a cheaper price, because you’re going to take up most of the room anyway.
Pro tip: When I was travelling with my boyfriend, we always went for a mixed dorm with at least 6-10 beds, depending on what was available and how much they cost. Even though these dorms where ‘mixed’, more often than not it was me, my boyfriend and all other guys. So just be careful if you’re booking one of these mixed dorms.