How to Choose a Hostel

You’ve just arrived into a new country/city/town/location and you need to find a hostel. If you’re like most backpackers, money is tight and you don’t want to settle for the first place you come across, but you also don’t mind spending an extra dollar or two if it comes with some wonderful perks such as free WiFi or hot showers. So what exactly should you look for when searching out a hostel? Here are ten little things to keep in mind when you do your research.

1. Shop Around

Whatever you do, don’t settle for the first place you come across (unless you did your research in advance). I can pretty much guarantee you will find something that is closer, cheaper, better, and nicer if you shop around. It takes a bit more time and effort, but it’s worth it if you’re going to be spending more than one night there.

2. Cost

This is a pretty obvious thing to ask about when you get to the hostel. But don’t necessarily always pick the cheapest place even if you’re trying to save money as you’re probably missing out on a few things if you always go for the cheapest option. The dollar or two you save might end up getting spent on internet because they didn’t have free WiFi. I paid $1 US for a bed outside with a mosquito net when I was in Cambodia, but I also watched a giant rat run across the top of my outdoor shower when I was freshening up. You get what you pay for.

3. Location

Location is a really important aspect when choosing a hostel. You don’t want to have to worry about taking a cab or a complicated bus system to the things you want to see and do in a new city. If you can find a hostel close to everything you want to do and can simply walk there, you will save more time and money. Also important is making sure the area you are staying in is safe. For a perfect example of not doing this, check out my article on the Hooker Hotel in Honduras I stayed at.

4. WiFi or Internet Access

In these glory days of instantaneous connection to loved ones back home, finding a hostel with free WiFi or free access to a computer with internet is pretty important. If I can pay an extra dollar or two a night but be guaranteed internet, I will gladly spend the money. I am a tech junkie so I need to have my daily dose of internet reality. But if you’re wanting to get unplugged for a little while, then choosing a hostel without internet is a perfect option as well.

5. Hot Showers

This is one of those little luxury things that I really really want in a hostel. I get it, you’re in a tropical destination, it’s incredibly hot outside, so a cold shower doesn’t seem too bad, does it? Yes, it does. No matter how many cool or cold showers I have, I will never get used to them, so I always tend to ask if they have hot water. It might seem a bit pretentious but shaving your legs with goosebumps is neither fun nor effective.

6. Free Breakfast

There is nothing like a free breakfast to rouse hungover or exhausted travelers from their tiny little beds. In fact, I don’t think I know anyone, backpacker or not, who doesn’t like a free breakfast. It might simply be toast and jam, but it’s pretty thoughtful of the place to supply you with the most important meal of the day. Just remember to leave some for the patrons who didn’t wake as early as you did.

7. Social Scene

If you’re traveling on your own, a hostel that has a good social atmosphere is a great place to meet other travelers and have a fun night or two out on the town. The only downside to hostels like these is they often have bars on their main floor and it might not be the easiest to get a good night’s sleep with the base from the bar speakers rattling your windows at 4am. Not all have bars in them though but social hostels also tend to have more people stumbling into the dorm room in the wee hours of the morning waking you up. And late morning sleepers. I’ve seen people sleep until mid-afternoon and you always feel like you’re disturbing them when you want to turn the light on at 2pm to find your stuff.

8. Safety

Along with making sure your hostel is in a good location, safety is another thing to think about when choosing a hostel. Do you get a key to the front door if you’re planning on staying out late? Or do they have a curfew you need to be back by? Is there someone on staff all night long in case something happens? Does the hostel offer up a secure safe or personal lockers in the room if there is no lock on your dorm door? Safety both around and in the hostel are important things to consider when choosing where to sleep and store your stuff while you’re checking out the sites.

9. Private vs. Public Bathrooms

If you’re room is private, then yes, a private bathroom is always much nicer than sharing with someone down the hall, although you might pay more for this feature. But you might also think having a private bathroom in your dorm room is the best option, but I disagree. Sharing one bathroom between 8 to 12 people is not very convenient or practical; especially if someone is getting up early to leave and needs to blow dry their hair after their noisy shower. And when your sleep isn’t being disturbed, you’re usually waiting in the queue to use the toilet or mirror or shower. So pick a public bathroom over private when you’re in a dorm.

10. Communal Kitchen

This is a nice option whether you plan to cook all your meals or only want to store some snacks in the refrigerator. A communal kitchen will save you a lot of money on eating out when you’re traveling. If I had to eat out while I traveled through Australia and New Zealand, I would have only been able to travel for a month or two instead of half a year. Kitchens in hostels make it possible to eat healthy, offer ease of mind if you have dietary restrictions and cannot comfortably dine out, and are awesome places to meet other people staying there as well. Just remember to clean up after you’ve finished using so it’s tidy for the next person. Not sure on hostel kitchen etiquette? I’ve got you covered here.

And lastly, two other little things to think about when choosing a hostel is whether they have 24 hour electricity and mosquito nets. Some remote areas won’t have power until they turn the generators on in the evening. This especially comes into play when you need to charge your laptop or camera battery, so make sure to take advantage of the few hours of electricity there are. Also of note is making sure there are mosquito nets over beds when in malaria and dengue fever zones. Nothing ruins a vacation more than a trip to the hospital or an early trip home because you caught malaria.


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