Things to look for & things to avoid
Hostels are the backbone of modern day backpacking, and they’re not necessarily what you think. They may have been dingy, run-down housing back in the day, but these days, they’re completely designed to attract people like you. They’re where you’ll spend most of your time, and they’re where you’ll make friends with other travelers. It’s important to do a bit of research and listen to fellow travelers when picking hostels to stay at, because they can make or break your experience in a city.
1. Always look through online reviews
Always, always look into your hostels online beforehand. Photoshop and instagram have made it really easy for hostel owners to highlight the “best” aspects of their locations, while cleverly hiding the flaws and shortcomings. Do your research and pick based on what you read over what you see. Hostelworld generally has dozens, if not hundreds, of reviews to scroll through before booking.
2. Listen to fellow travelers
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the best advice you’ll get is from fellow travelers. Ask others where they’ve stayed and see what they have to say. Generally, they’ll be more than happy to offer tons of recommendations and warnings of places they’ve been to. And who knows? Maybe they know of a cool spot that’s not online.
3. Pick hostels that are suited to you
This one is important. Because hostels try to appeal to so many different kinds of people, there are tons of different kinds of places to stay. There are party hostels, boutique hostels, eco-hostels and much, much more. Think through what kind of experience you’re looking to have, and book based on that. You don’t want to be woken up by club music and loud sex when you have to be up for a hike the next morning. And you don’t want a stodgy, bookish place to stay either. Thankfully, there are tons of options in between. Most hostels will have a curfew for in-hostel parties, where they’ll close the bar and ask guests to go out if they’d like to continue drinking.
ProTip: I always like to stay in mellow, lounge-type hostels and go out to drink. I much prefer having a quiet room to come back to after drinking than a dirty, loud and drunk dorm that rages all night.
4. Check for non-negotiable amenities
When looking through hostels, be sure to have an idea of what sort of amenities you’re looking for. Most hostels will have WiFi, but not all will. Some will have AC or just ceiling fans. Some will come with free breakfast and others don't. Some will have optional dinners for a low added fee. Many will have an info desk where you can book hikes, trips, tours, and buses. Most will have lockers that you can use to store your stuff when you’re out. Thankfully, Hostelworld has done much of the vetting for you. On any of their pages, they’ll show what amenities that particular location does and doesn’t have. Be sure to look out for missing ones if they’re important to you.
5. Location, Location, Location
When you’re traveling to a new place, you’ll want to make sure you’re somewhat close to the attractions that drew you there. Most hostels will be, but some may be farther out than you expect. Don’t be drawn in by fancy amenities and rooftop bars. If the hostel is far from your destination, it defeats the purpose of going there. Thankfully, Hostelworld includes location as part of its review system, so be sure to check that before booking. You should really have no problem finding dozens of spectacular spots close by to the primary local tourist destinations, so just be aware of where your hostel is located.
6. Avoid Bedbugs like the plague
Bed bugs are the most pervasive predator of backpackers. Often through no fault of the hostel, bed bugs will sneak in and infest the whole place. Be very cautious of this. Bed bugs will follow you wherever you go, and can only be killed through extensively heating your entire backpack and all your clothes. You do NOT want to bring them home. I’ve had them and they’re mind-numbingly difficult to get rid of. Be on the lookout for bed bug posts in the reviews section on Hostelworld. If you see even one, I wouldn’t recommend staying there. And keep in mind, there may be times when hostels will try to hide the info from guests so as not to scare them off or attract bad reviews. Be on high alert and listen to your fellow travelers.
7. Don't be put off by "Boutique Hostels"
With all the new types of people that hostels are trying to attract, you’ll inevitably hear about boutique hostels. These places generally offer higher-end accommodation, boasting more amenities and remarkable cleanliness for a slightly higher price. They sound fancy, but they don’t necessarily have to be. If the price is right, staying at a boutique hostel can be a fun and relaxing break from the hustle and bustle of scrappy hostel life. I stayed at one in Colombia that felt like a high-end mountain resort, with a fire pit, fresh coffee from the local farm, and included breakfast and dinner, all for just $10. When you’re constantly on the go and staying in shared dorms, sometimes it’s nice to treat yourself.
8. Hostels can be SO much fun
Truthfully, hostels are one of my favorite parts of traveling. Many of them are incredibly fun and engaging, hosting daily events like trivia and beer pong to foster connections between guests. Many of them will have chill pool lounges and hammocks, with great spots to detox after a long or overwhelming day in town. And most importantly, they’re where you can meet the bulk of your travel friends. I personally have never seen such camaraderie among strangers as I have in hostels. People with absolutely nothing in common, not even language, can become good friends purely because of where they are in the world in that moment. It's remarkably cool and worth being a part of, so don't be scared to try them out!
My Hostel Recommendations
These are my top hostel picks from the ones I've stayed at so far. Some are party hostels, some are eco-hostels, and some are boutique hostels, but each one of them had a huge impact on my experience in its own city (mostly good!)
Check them out. I think you’ll like them!
La Paz- The Adventure Brew Hostel