Photo Courtesy of Hostelworld.com
Traveling on a budget probably means that you’ll be staying in quite a few hostels. Personally, I LOVE hostels. (For the most part…) Staying in hostels makes it that much easier to meet travelers from all over the world and build new friendships with some really cool people. But if you don’t do your research right, you can end up in a hostel that isn’t the greatest, and that could potentially ruin your experience in whatever city it is you’re visiting. When I book hostels, I like to use HostelWorld.com because they have tons of options with reviews and ratings AND they don’t charge you a booking fee.
First things first… Figure out what’s most important for you during your travel. For me, the things I look for most when choosing a hostel are security, location, atmosphere, and cleanliness.
Security is important because you don’t want to end up in a shady or unfortunate situation. Besides just the fact that I’m a young, female traveler, having proper security in the hostel you choose is a big deal. You want to make sure that there are lockers for you to store your belongings, and if by chance the room doesn’t have lockers (don’t worry, most hostels do), you want to make sure that the hostel at least has a security box which is monitored by a camera, where you can keep the really important things. So I always make sure that the security rating is high, and I also click to look through the ‘facilities’ in each hostel to see if they do have the lockers and/or security box. You can look at facilities once you’ve selected a hostel. Along the top, the menu offers ‘info’, ‘rates’, ‘maps and directions’, ‘reviews’, and ‘facilities’. Take a look. Make sure they have what you require.
Location is also extremely important, because if you end up in a hostel that you maybe chose because it’s cheaper priced, but that is out of the way from everything you plan on doing, you’ll end up spending more money on transportation getting to and from where you want to go. Make sure you’re aware of where the hostel you’re choosing is, and that its location is going to work for you. You also don’t want to end up in a hostel that’s in a shady location. (I did that once… Walking back late at night meant carefully hiding in my hand the small knife on my wine key. Not the funnest way to get back to your bed.)
And atmosphere… Atmosphere is a big one for me. I’ve stayed in hostels where there is absolutely no atmosphere… Nobody sitting in the common room, nobody trading conversation and stories with strangers. Everybody just sticks to themselves. And if that’s what you’re looking for – peace and quiet and nobody bothering you – then by all means, go for a place with a lower atmosphere! But personally, I prefer the hostels where the guests and travelers are sprawled all over the place, everybody being friendly and getting to know each other. Because that is when and where you’ll meet the majority of your new friends. Especially if you’re solo traveling, atmosphere is a BIG one, because you’ll have more fun on your trip if you can share experiences and do things with new people you’ve met.
Of course cleanliness is a big one. Not as big as the other three, in my opinion, but still important. I like feeling like I’m residing in a place that’s kept up and clean, but I’m not going to be a germaphobe about it. Again, this is all up to your personal preferences. I can’t handle spiders and bugs everywhere, and gross looking unwashed sheets and overly grimy bathrooms. But I can handle dust, and not having pristine bathrooms and rooms. Traveling is not comfortable. Moving from place to place, sleeping in a different bed each week, and living out of a backpack is not comfortable. So when I travel, I am not expecting perfection in terms of cleanliness. I just expect to not feel like I’m living in grime and dirt.
Each of these different things has its own personal rating on each hostel page, along with the hostel’s overall rating. Besides just security, location, atmosphere, and cleanliness, there is also value for money, staff, and facilities. All of those are important, but I have my opinion on what’s most important for me, and you will have your opinion on what is most important for you. So keep your priorities in mind when comparing and contrasting two hostels that are similarly rated. You can look at the specific ratings and see which one has more of what you prefer.
Choosing a hostel is a lot more than just looking at ratings. It is a LOT of comparing and contrasting. When you’re picking from different hostels in one city, you should be doing a lot more than just looking at the ratings. Look at the photos they provide, see what looks better to you. Look at the facilities, see which one has more included. Read the entire info page. It will tell you a lot about the hostel and what they do or don’t allow and offer. Many hostels aren’t 24 hour check in, so you want to make sure that whatever their check in times are, you’ll be able to make it in time. Don’t get stuck at your hostel with nobody working there who can get you into your room.
Make sure to thoroughly check out the rates. Let me create a picture… You’re going to London, and you search for hostels in London during the time you’ll be there. Most hostel’s are showing up as around $45 per night. But one hostel shows as $20 per night, so you click that one. But you look at the rates, and the room that is $20 per night is actually the 26 bed mixed dorm room, and maybe you don’t want to be in a room with 25 other people. But the 16 bed mixed dorm room at this hostel comes out to $50 per night, while some of those more expensive hostels on the main page are $45 for the same 16 bed mixed. So just keep an eye out, and make sure you’re comparing all the rates more than just the first glance of them that you see on the search page. Also, some hostels have different prices on different days of the week. So to see how much you’ll pay in full for a stay, choose a bed in the room you would want to be in, and see what the total is. Sometimes, the ‘price per night’ on one will be cheaper, but they don’t make obvious that other nights during your stay are more expensive, so it could end up being more expensive than a higher ‘per night’ room in which the price doesn’t fluctuate.
And my personal favorite… read the reviews. Read pages of them. Even good hostels will most likely have a couple angry guests, and if it’s one bad review out of many good ones, you can probably disregard it. But a lot of times, the reviews will tell you things about a hostel that you wouldn’t know from their info page, or their photos and ratings. For example, in Prague I stayed at Prague Square Hostel. Good hostel, besides a couple random things, I really had no problems with it. Something I didn’t know about it until I was there though, is that the bathrooms aren’t privately locked rooms. They are unisex rooms in which there are just a bunch of stalls with shower heads. The stalls are see through, and there really is no privacy during the shower. I had no problem with that, but I know that there are probably a good amount of people who aren’t comfortable being seen while showering, even if it is someone of the same sex. So I wrote that in my review, so that people researching the hostel after me would know this small detail about it that may or may not be the deciding factor for them. My reviews are not the only ones who will tell you helpful things like that. So make sure you read them.
Now you know how to find out everything you need to know about a hostel to know if you’ll be happy there. Picking a hostel can still be difficult though, whether you’re deciding between a much lower price or a better location, or if you’ve just found two incredible hostels and you know you’ll be happy in both and can’t decide which to settle on. As I’ve said already, the entire process is comparing and contrasting. Know the full prices of each hostel, know what their pros and cons are, and decide what YOU want for your stay. Sometimes I will let my ratings slide a bit if it means I can be in a bit of a cheaper priced hostel, but I still refuse to go under 80% and I try as hard as I can to be at least at an 85%. If I find a good, inexpensive hostel for 90% or higher, I am one happy traveler.
I hope these tips have helped you in your important decision of which hostel to choose. Now I’ll just give a little shoutout to my favorite (and not so favorite) hostels!
My favorites, in no particular order…
1. PLUS Florence, Florence, Italy
PLUS Florence was super big and super fun. They had a great pool with many sun chairs, a bar, a club, and in general a really great atmosphere and great place to meet people. The staff were all very nice, and the bartender Koomba was super cool to me and my friends. Also another plus (no pun intended) is that the bathrooms, which were ensuite, were cleaner than my bathrooms back home. Awesome place, I will definitely stay at PLUS if I’m ever back in Florence, and since PLUS is a chain, I’ll most definitely stay in another one if I’m in a city that hosts it.
2. 5 Terre Backpackers, Cinque Terre, Italy
Staying at 5 Terre Backpackers was an absolutely INCREDIBLE experience. It’s a small hostel, about 20 minutes drive from the Cinque Terre town Monterosso, in a region called Corvara. The hostel is small, sleeps only 16 people, but it was great. Francesco, the owner, provides a shuttle pick up that takes you to and from Monterosso every day, free of charge. He is so welcoming, and treats you more like a visiting friend or family member than a paying ‘customer’. Each night he cooks a ‘family dinner’, which you do pay 10€ for if you decide to partake, but sitting all together with everyone eating a DELICIOUS home cooked meal (Francesco is a great cook) is worth it. And not to mention the views from the hostel. Since Corvara is a mountain region, the hostel is nestled into the mountain and the views are stunning. Great place to come back and chill after a day terra-hopping, and the small size means that all the guests get to know each other.
3. Francesco’s, Ios, Greece
Staying at Francesco’s was also a wonderful experience. Ios is a party island, and Francesco’s is right in the middle of the party. At midnight, the nightlife completely takes over the small village of Chora, and no matter where you’re staying on the island, Chora is where you’re headed for the night. Francesco’s is located in Chora, less than a 2 minute walk from the beginning of all the bars and clubs. The drunk stumble home is much easier when you only have to go a few blocks (and I should know…) Not only that, the rooms are great, the terrace is spectacular – huge pool and with a breathtaking view of the coast of Ios, not to mention tons of sun beds – and of course, the bar in the hostel. On top of all that, Francesco himself, and his wife Maria, are two of the nicest hosts and made my stay really wonderful. They clearly care about making sure all their travelers are happy at their hostel. Nothing more you could ask for!
4. HomePlus Hostel, Budapest, Hungary
I didn’t take any photos of HomePlus, so you’ll have to take my word for it. Although finding it was a little difficult, it was worth the experience once we were in! The location is great, and the staff are wonderful. They’re all travelers too, people who came to Budapest to work in a hostel and get to experience life there! Breakfast is included, but it’s not the usual piece of toast or some Cheerios and milk. They lay out so many options for you to choose from, and you can eat until you’re happily full and satisfied. Along with that, 3 nights a week the staff cook a DELICIOUS meal for anybody who is there at the time of serving to enjoy. They had a large common area and kitchen, so it was so easy to meet people, and they also had tons of fun drinking games for everybody to play! Great experience there, I will certainly be staying with them again next time I’m in Budapest.
5. Hostel Postel, Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic
Cesky Krumlov is a small town in southern Czech Republic. We only spent one night at Hostel Postel before we were on our way to the next city, but the beds here made me want to stay another night! Since Cesky Krumlov is a small area with not much nightlife, we (myself and my travel buddy for the trip, Laura) spent our day exploring the town but decided to have a night in – our first night ‘in’ in over a month. We got comfortable in our beds and binge watched America’s Next Top Model while relaxing and I swear, these beds and pillows were more comfortable than mine at home. It was so good to have such a nice sleep as that one, definitely much needed after a month of constantly being on the move. Beds aside, it was a very clean hostel, good location, and they had a quaint outdoor patio area as well as a kitchen that the guests could use. Again, I don’t have photos of this one, but just take my word!
6. Let’s Rock Hostel, Krakow, Poland
Let’s Rock Hostel was definitely a rockin’ hostel. You do have to climb a few flights, which can be unfortunate for those of us with big backpacks and tired feet, but don’t let that deter you from staying here. I had a great time staying here, despite the stairs and despite the fact that they really should get some more bathrooms (changing my clothes under my covers didn’t end up working out too well… funny story, I’ll keep that one to myself). The staff was really great and helpful in answering any questions, and the hostel even helped book a pub crawl for anyone interested. It is in a really great location, just around the corner from the main square. On top of all that, each night the staff puts together a fun event for anybody who wants to enjoy. One night there was waffle making, another night vodka tasting, and each night of the week is something different! Did I mention it’s free? So is the breakfast each morning! Free is definitely my favorite number…
7. The Yellow, Rome, Italy
Okay well if I’m being completely honest, I didn’t actually stay at The Yellow… But I really wish I did. Let me explain. First of all, my hostel in Rome was AWFUL. You’ll see it in my ‘not so favorite’ in just a few minutes. But after I already had my hostel booked, a friend told me about The Yellow, but it was too late. Then, it turned out that some people we made friends with in Florence would be in Rome at the same time as us, and they were staying at The Yellow. Our first day in Rome, Laura and I made a friend in an ice cream shop and ended up spending the day wit him. Turned out, he was staying at The Yellow too (apparently, Laura and I were the only ones who didn’t get the memo…) He told us that The Yellow is not only a hostel, but also a bar, a restaurant, and at night, a club. So we all went there to get some food and drinks and proceeded to find out about the PARTY BUS that The Yellow hosts almost every night of the week. We decided to sign up and ended up having a great time on the party bus. For the rest of our time in Rome, when Laura and I weren’t sight seeing, we’d be at The Yellow. We were only at our hostel to sleep, the rest of the time was at The Yellow. If you’re looking for a party hostel, this is your place.
Those are my favorite hostels up to this point in my life… I can’t wait to stay in more places and find more favorites, but for now I hope you all take my advice and if you’re ever in any of those cities, you stay in one of those hostels!
Luckily, my favorite list is decently long, and my not so favorite list isn’t long at all. But here it is.
1. Four Seasons Hostel, Rome, Italy
So I didn’t actually stay at The Yellow, but I did stay at Four Seasons Hostel. I did NOT like it at all. I know I mentioned the stairs at Let’s Rock in Krakow, but that was only 3 flights. Here at Four Seasons, you have to go up 5 (very long) flights of stairs, unless you want to get into the sketchy elevator that can’t even fit you together with your backpack. The staff was incredibly rude, and the bathrooms were disgusting. The location was the worst. It was in a very sketchy area of Rome (which is already kind of sketchy) and I definitely felt uncomfortable when Laura and I had to walk back late at night. Remember my previous mention of hiding the knife of my wine key in my hands? Yeah, that was here. If you’re in Rome, don’t stay here… Stay at Yellow instead.
2. Aloha Hostel, Paris, France
I typically book my hostels well in advance so that I can claim a good price in higher rated places, but in Paris we ended up booking once we were already there, which might explain why it wasn’t the best – all the good ones had already been booked. Aloha Hostel, while not in a terrible location, was not the best stay. There was absolutely no atmosphere and it was extremely difficult to make friends with people. Actually, we made zero friends in this hostel. The bathrooms were disgusting, as were the showers. Not only disgusting, but taking a shower was difficult, because to keep the water running, you had to push a button on the wall every 5-10 seconds. Not to mention, the water was always either too hot or too cold. Not down…
There you have it… My tips and tricks to choosing the perfect hostel for you AND some of my suggestions for hostels you should either check out or steer clear of!