Choosing the right hostel can be tough. Where you stay during your trip away can be so much more than just a place to stay for the night. In fact, sometimes, the hostel that you stay in can be the thing that makes your trip most memorable. Indeed, other times, it can be the thing that ruins your stay.
A lot of people simply think they need to find a hostel which is cheap and offers them a decent night’s sleep and a shower the next morning. But hostels can offer so much more than this. From meeting incredible people you will never forget, to learning from the local staff where the best, off the beaten track places are.
So, how do you pick the right hostel?
When you are choosing the right hostel, this is something that is really so important to bear in mind. You could pick the most beautiful looking hostel in the world, but if it is miles away from any of the main sights you are hoping to see during your trip, then you might have a problem. No one wants to be trekking 30 minutes home after having a quiet beer in town. And you certainly don’t want to have to pay for a taxi- you’re on a budget remember?
Likewise, you don’t want to pick a hostel which is right next to some of the main sites, but quite a walk from any of the transport links which bring you into the city in the first place. Imagine this. You have just got off the plane, wait for your bags before jumping on a bus into town. When you get off, you need to then walk another 20- 30 minutes just to get to your hostel.
The right location would be somewhere which is close enough to the main attractions and city centre, without being too far from all transport links. That way you can visit everything you want to visit, without having to navigate your way too far on check in and check out.
Just because you are travelling on a budget doesn’t mean you aren’t going to have valuables with you. And whilst the majority of people staying in hostels are good people, who have no interest in stealing your stuff, you still want to be able to keep your gear safe. Therefore, when looking for a hostel, make sure that they have lockers available in their rooms. Being able to lock your valuables away at night gives you the peace of mind to get a sound sleep.
Some hostels may not have lockers, and offer to keep your stuff in their luggage room. This is fine. However, try to opt for a hostel with in room lockers.
With the competition around for hostels in major cities nowadays, accommodation is getting cheaper and cheaper. This isn’t a bad thing. It allows travellers to spend longer in their destinations than they otherwise might have been. But, just because your budget is tight, don’t simply opt for the cheapest hostel available. When somewhere is far cheaper than everywhere else, there’s probably a reason. Always take a look at reviews and don’t be put off by spending a couple of pounds extra for somewhere.
Look for a place which has high cleanliness ratings, and in particular, take a look at the showers. Being able to come back from a busy day sightseeing and enjoy a nice warm shower in a clean environment isn’t something which is going to make your trip, but the opposite could certainly make you feel miserable.
Clean shower reviews show that the staff are always on point in terms of cleanliness. People go for showers throughout the day, so they are constantly needing cleaned. If your hostel has good reviews for showers, it shows that they care.
If possible, try not to go for push button showers. It’s not the end of the world if you can’t, but it’s not nice when your shower cuts out half way through washing your hair!
This is an absolute must! Many hostels still charge people to use their internet, and when they do, it is shaky at best. However, with the nature of modern day travelling, it is important that guests have access to WIFI all the time.
The WIFI should be strong enough to do all the necessary things. However, if you are trying to stream a movie for example, don’t be surprised if it runs slow. There is a whole hostel full of other people using the WIFI too, so it might not run super-fast all the time. However, being able to check emails and surf the internet is important, and the WIFI should be strong enough to do so.
Do try and bring your own device to use the internet with. Unfortunately, many communal computers can run very slow due to all the different guests that have used them over the years.
This one isn’t a deal breaker, but it is a nice little extra and shows you that the hostel understands its guests. Having a light in your bed is one of the simplest things but can make life a whole lot easier when staying in a dormitory. If you need to get up in the night, or early in the morning, and don’t want to wake your dorm mates up, using your bed light is a great solution. Need to check a travel document in the middle of the night? Just turn on your bed light.
As we said, it is not the most important thing, but it is a great way to make dorm living a lot more convenient.
If there is one thing that can make or break a hostel, it is the staff. You could stay in a pretty dire place, miles away from the city, but if the staff are friendly, then everything is so much better. When we welcome people to Haystack Hostel, we are welcoming them to our home, and as such, we treat them like our own personal guests. And that is the way it should be. Just because you are spending less than you would at a hotel, does not mean the service shouldn’t be as good. Good customer service costs nothing.
Good staff will make you feel at home. They will go out of their way to make sure you are comfortable. Whether that means making sure you are able to get your luggage to your room if you are struggling, or giving you extra blankets if you are cold.
Great staff will also make sure that any questions you may have are answered. They will know all about their city, and be able to tell you where to find all the things you want to see. And if they don’t know the answer, they are honest and tell you they will find out. One thing that is so great about staying in a hostel is that it is a lot easier to get to know the staff, and in turn, find out more about the city. For example, if you are interested in live music, the staff may be able to tell you all the hidden local spots to catch the best gigs. And they may even come along with you!
If you have already planned your whole trip from beginning to end, then this may not apply to you. However, taking part in hostel activities can be a great way to get the most out of your city break or trip. Nowadays, hostels either offer their own activities, or work with other companies. These activities can range from quiz nights, pub crawls and free walking tours.
Taking part in these activities can be a great way to meet other people. Some people feel awkward simply walking up to someone in the common room and saying hi. And there is no problem with this. But hostel activities provide a great situation for guests to meet and get to know each other. Activities may also be a great way for you to learn more about the culture you are visiting, or visit some sights you may not have heard of. For example, at Haystack Hostels, we often put on a haggis supper, where we tell our guests all about the national dish of Scotland.
Some activities will be free, others may have a small fee. But the important thing is, a hostel that puts on activities understands their guests and wants to add more value to their stay,
Always always check the reviews. A place can look lovely on the surface, but when you dig a bit deeper and read their reviews, you will see that they maybe aren’t the perfect place for you to stay. It is really important to note, hostels can’t please everyone. What is amazing and comfortable for one person, might be awful for the next. Indeed, one person’s idea of cleanliness might differ from someone else. However, on the whole, you can find out a lot from reviews. If you want a quiet place to stay rather than a big party hostel? Reviews can tell you that. Want somewhere with a huge kitchen? Read the reviews.
More and more hostels are offering breakfast to guests during their stay, and quite rightly so. When you are in a new city with unfamiliar surroundings, it can be difficult to find somewhere offering affordable breakfast when you are still half asleep. Wouldn’t it be better if you could get out of bed and go straight to the hostel breakfast? It allows you to refuel and get yourself ready for a busy day of sightseeing. What’s more, its another opportunity to meet other guests.
The standard of breakfast varies from place to place and country to country. Obviously, if you pay for breakfast, you may receive more options. Many places offer breakfast in their price. Don’t expect too much from a free breakfast. Remember, hostels, especially smaller ones, don’t have huge budgets. However, if a place can offer you bread, milk, tea, coffee and cereals, then that’s a pretty good way to fuel up for the day ahead.
The common area is an important part of any hostel. It doesn’t need to be massive, or high tech, but every hostel should have one. Some hostels have bars instead, which is also okay, but nothing beats a nice, cosy common area. This gives travellers a place to relax, meet each other and plan their activities.
Of course, you can do all of this in your dormitory, but it isn’t the best atmosphere to do so, and some people may be sleeping off jet lag whilst you do. And if you only speak to the people staying in your dorm, then you will miss out on meeting all of the other people in the hostel.
If you are able to find a hostel which has all of these things then you have hit the jackpot. However, there are plenty of great hostels that don’t meet all of these requirements. A good hostel does its best to make sure its guests have as brilliant a stay as possible. However, they can’t please everyone. That’s why it is important to read up on your potential hostel as much as possible to make sure it is a good fit for you. Remember, whilst hostels do their best, they are budget accommodation and can’t always offer the same facilities as a 5-star hotel. As long as you remember this, look out for the points mentioned above, and go in with an open mind, you will have a great hostel stay which will add many memories to your trip.