Choosing the Right Hostel 101

January 7, 2019

Planning a backpacking trip can be overwhelming. Once you’ve got your dates set, instead of simply being excited about your upcoming adventure, you realize that there are (what feels like) a million stress-inducing aspects you now have to worry about: plane tickets, visas, vaccines, voltage converters, phone plans, booking tours… the list goes on. Suddenly, you google search “accommodation” in your chosen destination, and just about have a melt-down. A thousand websites claim to have the best prices, and a thousand more claim to have the best lodging options in the world. What’s a backpacker to do? Solution: Read, reread, and take note of this list of tried and true tricks to choosing the absolute best hostels available, and for the best prices.

Double Check Reviews using Multiple Sources

There are plenty of options to choose from when it comes to booking apps. Hostel World is probably the most popular among backpackers (justifiably so), alongside TripAdvisor, Booking.com, Agoda, and more. Due to this high volume of choices, it’s important to “consider your audience” when reading reviews on a hostel. A five-star Hostel World review of a joint right on the strip of Thailand’s Full Moon Party doesn’t mean much when you take into account the likelihood that every person leaving a review was too belligerently drunk during their entire stay to notice things like power outages, bed bugs, or literal slabs of styrofoam where mattresses should’ve been. Yikes.

It would be a rookie mistake to book the place, seeing as if you simply double check on TripAdvisor or Booking.com, you would be bombarded with the wide variety of helpful complaints available from an entirely different demographic of backpackers. Similarly, a hostel listed alongside 5-star resorts on TripAdvisor may have a low rating, but it could meet all of the requirements for those booking through Hostel World. Everybody has their own taste—and differences in taste are often reflected on different apps.

Keep Your Location in Mind

No air conditioning may seem like no biggie in the crisp Slovenian mountains, but in muggy Salento, Colombia, you may be unbearably uncomfortable without it. Nothing is worse than planning day after day of activity, and being miserable through all of it because your dorm room is simply too hot to even fall asleep in.

On the same note, walking a mile just to get breakfast might not be too terrible during the cool spring of flat Venice, but on a hot summer day in hilly San Francisco, you may as well take some pre-workout at the beginning of the day—you’re in for a trek. Your location, along with certain amenities, gain and lose importance depending on where you are in the world. It will serve you well to keep those details in mind when booking.

Compare & Contrast Prices Among Apps

Just as important as it is to compare and contrast reviews, it is important to compare and contrast prices. Through experience, you will discover which platforms tend to offer the best prices for the types of hostels you seek out, and you’ll collect a list of 3-4 sites you’ll know to always check prices between. Certain websites, such as booking.com, also offer a “price match guarantee” policy. That means that, if you were to find the same exact room in a hostel with the same exact booking contract for less money on a different site, Booking.com will match that price. Pretty sweet deal, right?

Pro Tip: my list of key apps includes Hostel World, TripAdvisor, Booking.com, Hotels.com, and sometimes even Airbnb. Some hostels list bunks and private rooms on Airbnb for discounted prices, and the reviews tend to be even more accurate than on other platforms.

Choose Your “Must-Haves,” and Stick To Them

Are you traveling with a lot of valuables? Well, lockers might be a must-have for you. Did you not leave enough room to pack your own towel? Towels included (or for rent) is a must-have. Insist on hot water? Strongly prefer breakfast included? Feel most comfortable in gender-specific dorm rooms? Can’t sleep in the heat, and need air conditioning? These are all must-haves.

Many apps have made it easy nowadays by allowing you to filter your search results based on amenities, while also separating ratings into categories. Viewers can check out how previous guests rated certain characteristics of a hostel such as the location, cleanliness, security, atmosphere, and so-on, rather than having to read every single review to see a place’s pros and cons. It’s incredibly convenient for us perspective guests!

Pro Tip: Nothing will make your stay more uncomfortable than a place that just feels incurably dirty, especially when it may cause you to contract an illness. Cleanliness should always be a top priority when picking where you want to stay.

A good rule of thumb is: if any previous reviews mention bugs in the beds, gross bathrooms, or filthy sheets/floors, it’s not worth a bargain price. You’ll more than likely wish you’d bitten the bullet and picked another pricier place to sleep, or worse—you’ll end up miserable, having to switch hostels in the middle of your trip without a refund. Skip the hassle. Be high maintenance with cleanliness. This is one investment you will not regret.

MORE: Packing for a long-haul trip is a lot different than for a week-long getaway. Check out our guide to make sure you know what to bring and what to leave behind for life on the road.