Knock on wood, but I have rarely ever stayed in a bad hostel. Between a mix of being insanely prissy/ pretty chill and pretty cheap, I have spent many a day searching through hostel websites and travel blogs to find the best choices for the best price. I’d call myself lucky that I have managed to avoid bad hostels, but it’s also a lot of research and knowing what I want.
The only time luck played in was when I had nothing to do with booking accommodations, but even then my friends who did were as organized as I am. I admire people who can drop in a city and find a place to sleep all in the same night the same way I admire backpackers. I love their stories and their spirits, but I will never nor do I have a desire to ever be that person.
I’m a planner, and I like lists, Pinterest boards, and highlighters. Here’s how to book a hostel that won’t only not break your bank but that you’ll also love! From my college study abroad travels through western Europe and my travels through Asia, here are some tips:
How to Book a Hostel the Right Way
What are the little things that make you squeamish? What are the things you can do without? Are you on the prissy side or the chill side? How do you feel about being barefoot? How do you feel about air conditioning/heating? These are silly things to know, but they factor in to how you’re going to enjoy a hostel. I need my toilet to be clean and working well, but if I can’t flush the toilet paper all the time that’s okay (aka every place in Thailand except the train). I don’t like smelly bathrooms, so if that’s even mentioned more than once, I’m out. I’m also okay with not having a specified shower area. I don’t care about my feet being bare and leaving my shoes outside, but if it’s humid, I need air conditioning.
Try to Stay in Private Rooms
If you can afford it, try to stay in a private room. By yourself or with one or two other people (depending on who you’re traveling with). Obviously when I was dirt poor living in Spain, I couldn’t really be picky with the euro. However in Thailand and Cambodia, with a salary, I could afford to spend a few extra dollars (and really, sometimes the difference is $5) to give myself a little more privacy. If you can, go for it. And if you can’t, get it as private as you can. I don’t think I can stay in a huge, 24 person mixed dorm. I could do an 8 person mixed, preferably female, dorm provided there’s some security measures in place.
Ignore Ratings Below 80-85% or 4/5
Don’t do it. It’s not that much cheaper, and I have yet to hear of a good experience with people staying hostels with low approval ratings. People are giving negative reviews for a reason, and if it’s enough to get it below 80%, it’s not worth your effort to then make sense of the reviews.
Look for Common Themes in Bad Reviews
I also edit the review section to put all the bad reviews together. Sometimes reviews seem negative, but they only say positive things, so you can throw those out too. Over all, look for common themes and intelligent reviews. Obviously, super prissy people can be nasty, but if multiple people in recent months are commenting about cleanliness, location, noise, etc, than they’re probably on to something. I always look for cleanliness, any bathroom issues, security, helpfulness/friendliness of the owners, and chances of overbooking.
Make Sure Reviews Are Within 3-4 Years
Obviously, a hostel has had changes since 2006! Make sure your reviews are fairly recent. It’s silly to spend time reading reviews from years ago when hostels change over time. I’m sure wi-fi wasn’t as common as it is now a decade ago.
E-mail Hostel with Any Questions Beforehand
Don’t hesitate to e-mail your hostel with any questions before you book. Even little things, like, “Do you have towels?” or “How far are you from…?” Good hostels will have reliable contact information, and they will be helpful and friendly and fairly quick in their response.
Sites I Use:
If you’d like reviews of specific places, check out our Where She Stayed section.