How to Pick the Best Hostel

04 May 2015

When we first started staying in hostels, we weren't quite sure what to look for, so we conducted a lot of research. For our backpacking trip throughout Europe, we were faced with having to select 10 different hostels in 10 unfamiliar cities. After a while, we started to form a basic list of amenities that narrowed our selection. And if you make it to the bottom of this post, you'll find some of our favorite hosteling resources!

Before we start booking accommodation, we usually have a short list of things we'd like to do and see. We prefer to walk rather than take public transportation or cabs -- and it saves us money -- so we tend to pick hostels that are centrally located. Bonus points if there is a market or grocery store nearby! 

If a hostel doesn't offer personal security lockers, it's a total deal-breaker for us. When you stay dorm-style, you are going to be bunking with strangers. In most cases, these people are friendly travelers just like you and will leave your stuff untouched. Still, we play it smart and pick only hostels that include a personal storage locker per bed. Make sure you understand the dimensions of the locker. Some will be half the length of the underside of your bed, while others will be tiny cubbies that won't hold much.

Typically, we pass on hostels that don't offer complimentary breakfast. Sure, it's usually just a bit of cereal, toast and cold cuts, but it's another quick way to save money and time. We like to make sure that breakfast is offered until the late morning. When you're traveling long term, you'll want to sleep in every now and then without having to worry about missing the most important meal of the day! And, occasionally, you'll find yourself at a hostel that serves up local fare, pancakes, french toast or something creative!

More and more hostels are offering free internet access. That's a really nice touch, especially if you're going to be traveling for an extended period of time and want to check in back home. As bloggers, free WiFi is becoming increasingly important to us because without it, we wouldn't be able to connect with you guys while abroad!

Reception hours
This one sometimes gets overlooked, but pay attention to front desk hours before you book. We've run into situations where our flight wasn't scheduled to get in until after reception was closed. Fortunately, it's always worked out for us, but this could leave you in a bind. If a hostel appears to have set reception hours but you'd still like to stay there, we recommend checking with them. Sometimes they'll offer an alternative method of entry, or they will have someone available after hours to let you in.

Linens and towels
For long term travel, having linens and towels included isn't a huge priority for us because we typically pack our own. This comes into play when we're booking shorter stays. If you don't want to weigh down your pack or pay extra for these items, double-check the property's policy before booking. Typically, linens and towels are a small fee, but these will add up quickly as your stay gets longer. 

Cancellation policy
Admittedly, we're planners. We prefer to have hostels booked in advanced. While traveling to Budapest, we found that the hostel we had originally booked no longer existed. No joke! So, we ended up wasting most of the day trying to find new accommodation. Rather, we like to sort out our hostel stays before we leave, but we choose ones that have flexible cancellation policies. That way, if our plans change, it's no trouble to adjust.

Still with us? Awesome! Check out these tools to find a hostel that's perfect for you. 

As one of the largest databases for searching and booking hostels, you're likely to find something you like here. We really like that you can book straight from the platform, and we've found the most robust information about each hostel here. 

A newly launched competitor to HostelWorld, Hostel Rocket doesn't have quite as many locations on its roster yet. But we like that it has a pretty awesome blog for travel inspiration, and their listings incorporate TripAdvisor reviews, which is pretty convenient because we use this as a double-check anyway.

This might seem strange, but is actually pretty awesome for hostel searching. We typically won't use this one alone, though, because it often doesn't include clear information about the property's amenities. We do love its function to search by lowest cost per person for when we're booking on behalf of a group. And, out of all of the tools we use, it usually features the best property photos. We like to check these out to get a good feel for what the bed situation is like, and we use this as a gut check for whether a hostel may have more of a party scene. 

When booking hostels, it's really important to read as many reviews about the property as you can. Sometimes ratings can be skewed by property owners posting themselves, or you might find that others' qualms are pretty basic. Hostelz is a great resource because it aggregates reviews from several other booking engines.  

Happy hostel hunting!

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