Hostels can be the BEST way to travel if you know how to pick one!
My go-to site for finding amazing hostels is Hostelworld. Here is where you will find practically everything you need to know about where you’ll be sleeping for your next trip far from home. Sometimes you can even book such a great hostel that you won’t need to spend tons of additional time information gathering about what to see or do because many of the best hostels have social events and tour recommendations there waiting for you when you check in.
Now how do you make sure you are heading to a safe, comfortable place to sleep? Know what you need to be comfortable. Once you figure out what is most important to you, select these items in your search criteria. Are you okay with a mixed gender room? If so, you’ll probably find more options and at a lower rate. If not, that’s perfectly manageable too. Girl only rooms are still pretty common in many cities and are usually just a few more bucks a night. Are you looking for a quiet room for a restful sleep? Consider the location and the cost of the hostel. If it is near the heart of the nightlife in the city, expect roommates to come home drunk (even if that’s you!). If it is one of the cheapest option in the city, this will probably also attract younger travelers (think undergrads!). This could be exactly what you’re looking for, but if it’s not then pick your hostel accordingly.
My most common search criteria?
First I enter my max cost per night (depends on the city, but usually $30) and minimum review rating (never below 8/10). Then I select air conditioning, security lockers, 24 hour reception, and free breakfast. Sometimes this narrows the search too much, but then I work backwards usually knocking free breakfast and air conditioning off the search until I get several good looking options to choose between.
My most important requirement is security. I travel with my laptop, cash, camera gear, and of course my passport. I need a locker to ease my anxiety about leaving this stuff behind (ie: if I go out to a bar I can’t take this stuff with me). Ideally, I prefer a good hostel-wide security situation (locking dorm room doors, locking main doors, etc). Sometimes the search criteria can eliminate hostels that actually have security lockers (it could be that the property just didn’t let Hostelworld know they have this feature). So, be sure to look closely at the dorm room pictures to see if you can spot the lockers if you care about this aspect. All this said, I have never had anything stolen at a hostel. This could be that theft in hostels is uncommon, that I am extra meticulous with my important possessions, or a bit of both.
From here I look at the location on their map feature. The proximity to train or bus stations is so important to me. I would rather be further from a city’s main attractions and closer to transportation terminals if I have to make a choice. Taxis and Ubers add up very quickly and are normally not part of my travels. A short, easy walk from a train station can be such a relief when I’ve got a heavy backpack and it’s a hot summer day.
Do not skip reading the reviews, even if it has a high score and tons of reviews. Be sure to read the recent reviews too, as this will give you a better idea of what to expect. I have found tons helpful tips and information in the reviews. For example, some hostels are on the third floor or the doorway is down an alley. Hostel administration usually tell you these things, but getting the feedback from some one else who had to find it on their own can be such a help (it’s not always as simple as using Google Maps, especially if you don’t have international data).
A hostel with thousands of reviews is also a tip that it’s one of the most popular hostels in the city. This can be a sign that it could be more of a party hostel and a place where you should expect some noise.
Related: Hostel Etiquette
Another good tip I have learned from experience is that hostels that get a 9 or above on their rating are practically guaranteed to be a good experience. I would not choose anything less than 8 unless I had to.