8 Questions to Consider When Booking a Hostel

Today I am flying back from Amsterdam (can’t wait to tell you all about it!) but in the meantime I am excited to be back with my good friend and travel pal, Ruth McNulty. Last month, we shared a compilation of our top tips for packing only a carry-on. Today we bring you answers to eight common questions beginners ask about staying in a hostel.

For those who don’t know, a hostel is a lodging option similar to a dormitory with shared rooms (usually bunk style) and communal areas. They are significantly cheaper than hotels (sometimes also cheaper than Airbnb) and offer the added benefit of having a place to prepare meals, join discounted and organized group outings, and easily meet and make friends with other travelers.

The significant benefits of hostel life are sometimes overshadowed by misguided generalizations. Some new to the idea of hostels may be intimidated by the idea of sharing their space with strangers, worried about having to deal with crazy party-goers, or fearful because they saw something crazy in a movie. All are understandable concerns, but not accurate portrayals of hostel life. We hope the following Q&A will help ease your mind and encourage you to try a hostel next time you’re traveling.

What Kind of Hostel Should I Choose?

Hostels vary in size, quality, and party atmosphere, so, first off, decide what kind of break you are looking for (party or chill, for example). Do a bit of research, so you can match your preferences as much as possible and make your first experience a positive one.An easy way to find (or avoid) the party hostels is to simply read the reviews on sites like HostelWorld.com or Google. Look for comments about noise, atmosphere, ease of meeting people, events, etc. and then make your choice accordingly.  You can also Google organized bus tours, like Contiki Tours, and find out where they are staying. We try to avoid these spots because the tour groups tend to be loud, young 20-somethings looking to party, get wasted and “hook-up.”

How Do I Choose What Part of The City to Stay In?

Choosing the wrong location can quickly become annoying if you have to trek back and forth across the city, so before booking your hostel take some time to research your destination and determine an outline for your itinerary. I (Catherine) like to put all my “things to do” in a Google Map and then add the possible hostels. Once I have some idea of where I will be spending the majority of my time, it is much easier to decide where to stay. If you’re into partying and going out at night, you might want to stay in a more central party zone. If you want to be able to sit on the beach and read every morning, you’ll want to pick something closer to the beachfront….

Should I Go With a Historical Hostel or Something More Modern?

It can be really fun to stay in a vintage hostel with lots of history, but there can also be some pitfalls.  I (Ruth) stayed at an Art Deco hostel in San Francisco and, while it was cool, I saw two girls almost having a punch up over who got to use the only outlet in our room next.When you stay in an older place, you get the ambience of your home having “a story,” but you may also miss out on some of the more creature comforts. When considering where to stay, it’s important to ask yourself how important modern facilities are like bedside lamps, USB outlets by the bed, extra bathrooms, etc… Checking out the photos in reviews, on the hostel website, and the Facebook page can give you a good indication of what to expect from that particular place. Besides outlets, we like to look for a shelf and small light next to each bed, sturdy looking bunks and ladders, space between beds, adequate sized lockers, bathrooms...

What Matters?

What perks matter to you? Different hostels offer different perks for their guests. Before booking, determine which ones matter most to you and look for a place that includes them.

  • Free breakfast

  • Discounts on local attractions

  • 24 hour reception

  • Lockers and padlocks

  • Bar/restaurant on premise or other communal space

  • Events Calendar

  • Number of showers/bathrooms

  • Laundry facilities

  • Bedding and Towels

  • Pool

  • Kitchen Access

  • Airport Transfer

Do I Have To Share a Room With Boys?

Most hostels will have a variety of room options available: private room; male dorm room; female dorm room; male and female dorm room. All dorm rooms have a varied number of beds (2-4, 6-8, 10-16, for example). If you’re looking to be more social and party, consider going with the bigger mixed gender dorms. This isn’t a travel rule but a more general observation. Looking to be social but still want a decent night’s sleep? Try a medium sized (6-8 beds) single gender or mixed gender dorm.If your priority is sleep, go with the smaller, single-gender dorms and, remember, you will still have plenty of opportunities to connect with other travelers during the day in the common spaces.

What Should I Know About the Bathrooms?

Some hostels have ensuite (in the room) bathrooms and showers while others have shared facilities (out in the hallway). Ensuite can be handy because you don’t have to worry about accidentally locking yourself out of the room when you need to go pee in the middle of the night. On the flip side, a toilet flushing every time someone needs to pee in the middle of the night can become annoying.  If you’re like me (Catherine) and have to pee a million times before falling asleep, you’ll probably want to look for an ensuite bathroom. But if you’re like Ruth and have a grown-up sized bladder and don’t care about having to walk the halls in a towel, you may decide that neither one is a deal breaker for you.

How Can I Be A Good Roommate?

Try to remain flexible and considerate of how you would like to be treated. If people in your room are sleeping when you get up in the morning or come in at night, don’t throw the lights on, slam doors, or start blow drying your hair. Before going out at night, get your night things ready and have them easily accessible for when you come back in. This way, if everyone else is already sleeping, you can just use the flashlight on your phone and will be able to get ready for bed quietly and with minimal disturbance. Likewise, if you are planning to head out early in the morning, prepare your things the night before so as not to disturb the entire room in the morning.Finally, try not to get too upset when other people are not as respectful as you. Most of the time we have had great experiences, but every now and then there will be a clueless roommate. Just offer grace and always bring earplugs and an eye mask with you.

How Can I Make Friends?

How To Select a Hostel - Her Bags Were Packed

Introduce yourself to your roommates and ask them about themselves (where they’re from, for how long they are traveling, where they were before this, where they are going, if they have any suggestions on things to do, etc.).

If you’re going out to eat or to some attraction, invite people that you’ve connected with (but also don’t be offended if they say no, they may have something else planned or just need some solo time).

Check out the hostel’s schedule of events and participate in any that you find attractive. This may be a walking tour of the city, a pub crawl or just breakfast.

Take advantage of the common areas. Need to catch up on emails? Instead of hiding in your room, bring your laptop to one of the common areas and work in there. Eat some meals in the kitchen and talk to other people while you’re in there.

I hope Ruth and I answered all your questions about staying in hostels. If we missed something, please ask additional questions in the comments, and we will do our best to answer them. We are also interested in your experiences - have you stayed in a hostel? What tips would you add for other readers?