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Travel Planning: What You Need to Know about Staying in Hostels & How to Select One

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This post describes why you might incorporate hostels in your rotation of accommodation choices.


Depending on who you talk to, hostels evoke certain images. For some, it’s of meeting fellow travelers. For others, it’s of curmudgeonly roommates.

This guide is going to walk through the benefits of staying in hostels & what you should look for when selecting one.

What is a hostel?

You can think of a hostel as a shared accommodation that ranges in the types of amenities and services offered to a wide variety of travelers.

Why should I stay in a hostel?

  1. Reduce the cost of accommodation

  2. Meet other travelers, from all parts of the world & all demographics

  3. Participate in curated cultural activities and tours through the hostel (usually at cost)

  4. Participate in activities within the hostel itself like group dinners, game nights and cultural exchanges

  5. Utilize the kitchen to make creature comfort food

Hostels offer accommodation of varying types

A typical hostel offers the following sleeping arrangements:

  • A single bed within a #-bed spaces in a shared dorm + bathroom, mixed gender

  • A single bed within a #-bed spaces in a shared dorm + bathroom, single gender

  • A single bed within a <6-bed spaces in a private dorm + public bathroom

  • A single bed within a <6-bed spaces in a private dorm + bathroom, mixed gender

  • A single bed within a <6-bed spaces in a private dorm + bathroom, single gender

  • A double bed in a private room + bathroom — you pay for the entire room (hotel style)

What kind of room should I book in a hostel?

You can book any type of room.

Typically, the larger the room, the cheaper. And louder. They’re meant for socializing and meeting people. Occasionally you may run into a group of friends who book out half of a room so the noise-level depends on the chemistry of the group. Buyer, beware.

For solo travelers, we recommend a less-than-6-bed arrangement. You’ll find yourself getting to know a handful of travelers more intimately, without the overwhelm of too many people. The travelers who book these rooms usually tour for the day and like to catch some alone time too. Mid-level noise, mid-range price.

The double beds are typically booked by couples, travel companions, older travelers and the occasional singleton who wants his/her privacy in a room but the ability to meet new friends and shared kitchen through a hostel. Quiet but pricier. Sometimes the double beds cost the same as a hotel.

What should I look for when researching a hostel?

  • Location, location, location

    • Being centrally located makes it easy to see all parts of the city without having to incur the cost of a transport.

    • We recommend finding a hostel where public transport is available within a block of two of your hostel.

  • Types of guests your hostel attracts

    • You will be sharing a space with at least one fellow traveler, which means you’re going to have to accommodate their behavior, habits and schedule.

    • People are respectful of one another in hostels, but that doesn’t mean that you will always jive when it comes to the type of hostel you’re looking for.

    • Read hostel reviews to get a sense of the type of hostel and vibe of where you’ll be staying. Is it a hostel known for throwing parties, or subsidizing free drinks? Is it located next to the hottest club in the city, where the music is playing at all hours of the night? Is it the place to be for 18 year olds?

    • If you can’t control that because the selection of hostels in your city is slim, or that’s all you can afford, then at least try to book the smallest sized room possible.

  • Cleanliness

    • Check that there are no reports of bed bugs

    • Does the hostel regularly clean the common areas like the bathrooms and kitchens?

  • Bedding

    • Some hostels charge separately for using sheets (up to 5 Euro per night per person). Confirm that sheets are included in your booking price.

  • Constant steam hot showers (no push buttons)

    • To save on costs, some hostels will require you to push a button every 30 seconds while showering.

    • Others will have a water heater that takes forever to heat the water, or there’s a limited supply in the morning.

  • Free wifi

    • Some hostels will charge you per hour to use their wifi. Be careful about hidden fees on this one.

    • Also make sure that the wifi across the entire properly functions and is not only available in the common rooms.

  • Full sized lockers to store valuables

    • Though the cardinal rule of hostels is to never touch other people’s stuff, we like having this peace of mind that our things are secure, especially as we’ve brought our cameras, computers and phones on trips.

    • Be sure to take a locker lock with you to avoid the rental fee the hostel may charge.

Other considerations:

  • Check-in/check-out times

    • Know exactly when you are able to check in to the hostel.

    • If the hostel does not allow you to check in early, ask if they have free luggage storage, and if you can use the showers ahead of the reservation. Better hostels will offer both.

    • Find a hostel that offers 24 hour reception. When traveling without a fixed schedule, you don’t want to get caught in no-mans land if you arrive to reception after check-in hours.

  • Washer/dryer facilities on-site

    • Not an essential, but certainly a nice to have. This helps reduce the amount you need to pack for your travels. If no washer/dryer is located in your hostel facility, is there a laundromat close by?

  • Kitchen

    • Another great way to save on costs is to prepare your own food. Having a kitchen that offers pots, pans, and cutlery is great to prepare a few meals throughout the day.

Where can I search for hostels?

Hostel aggregators like www.hostelworld.com or www.agoda.com are good resources for getting a sense of the favorite backpackers locations within a city.

We recommend booking directly through the hostel’s website itself, to make sure that you can see all available booking options and get a more favorable rate on the room.

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