There is no such thing as the perfect hostel – one person’s ideal can be another person’s nightmare – but there is such a thing as the perfect hostel for you. You’re unlikely to find it though by just rocking up somewhere and hoping for the best. Hostels come in just about every category there is – from totally tranquil to completely crazy and from smack bang central to tucked away in some off-the-beaten-track corner.
First, decide what is important to you – the cleanliness aspect, what facilities it has (e.g. Wi-Fi, kitchen, garden, tour-desk, hammocks, swimming pool etc.), security, location, vibe or anything else that matters and then do some research to find your perfect match.
Have a look at the hostel’s own website and use hostel booking sites such as Hostel World, Agoda or Booking.com or general travel sites such as www.tripadvisor.com to check out the reviews. If Johnny, 21 from New Zealand gives a hostel 5/5 read why. His idea of awesome may be because there is an on-site bar which parties all through the night; great if this is what you’re looking for too…or not!
2) Out of Sight – Take a Padlock
The personal lockers which almost all hostels provide these days are little use without a padlock. Sometimes the hostel will rent you one and in rare cases you’ll be provided with one but in most cases it’s up to you. And you will need one – sadly, valuables left lying around do go walkabout in hostels on a regular basis. Opt for a lock which has thin closures so it will be sure to go through various sized locking holes. A cable lock would be a good option.
3) Size DOES matter – How Many Beds is Too Many?
Once you have stayed at a few hostels you will quickly come to realise that there is no such thing as a standard dorm – quite what bang you get for your buck varies enormously with regard to comfort and amenities.
The most obvious difference is found in the number of beds. Unless you are looking for party central, dorm rooms with 10 or even more beds significantly increase the chances of room-mates coming and going at all hours or the possibility that at least one of them snores. Additionally, huge dorms often destroy the whole social aspect of hostel living too – you are just one more anonymous person among many. 4 to 6 beds are ideal – keeping sleep disturbance chances down while actually increasing the likelihood of forming hostel friendships – it’s almost impossible not to at least say hi when things are more intimately set-up.
4) The Traveller’s Friend – A Sleeping Bag Liner
In some places in the world, budget hostels are none too fastidious about the cleanliness of their beds and bedding while others don’t supply bedding at all. Your own bedding – in the form of a sleeping bag liner – allows you a little more comfort as well as protecting you from potential nasties such as bed bugs and mosquitoes.
Cotton liners are cheaper but if you can afford a little splurge on a silk sleeping bag liner you will find you barely notice it in your backpack – super-light and able to fold up to a barely-there size. Additionally, silk keeps you cool when the temperatures are soaring and warm when the thermometer nose-dives.
5) Sharing is Caring…Sometimes
Sharing space is a great idea but there are some of us who like to pick and choose when we are sociable – something that isn’t always possible in a dorm. If privacy and retreat are something you value – or guaranteed undisturbed sleep – then that is still possible in a hostel. Many of them have at least one or two private rooms with private or shared bathrooms although you will of course pay more than you would for a dorm.
Additionally, if the idea of boys and girls together bothers you, there are many hostels now which offer female-only and, somewhat less frequently, male-only dorm options.
6) Know the Ropes – Hostel Etiquette
Many hostels have their particular rules pinned up to walls around the building but there will also be another, no less real, set of rules which you’ll never see written anywhere. Most of the ‘law’ book of hostel etiquette comes down to common sense and basic respect so if you’re a decent person used to sharing living space you might feel you can skip this bit.
don’t nick other’s food in the communal fridge
come and go quietly so as not to wake your roomies – at night or early in the morning don’t turn on lights, slam locker doors or rustle your dirty laundry bag
don’t Skype loudly or make long and loud phone calls from your bunk and don’t play your taste of music anywhere without asking others first
don’t hog power points, the bathroom or more than your share of any communal space
don’t be a dorm slob and leave your belongings spewing from your backpack so others have to work around your stuff or it ends up invading their own limited personal space
clean up after yourself in the kitchen including washing all your dishes
ask for a consensus of opinion before ratcheting up the A/C or opening windows
single beds are for one person – get a private room if you want to get snuggly with some-one you’ve me. No-one wants to hear you
7) Let There Be Light…with a Head-torch
Late night dorm returns or early morning wake-ups ready to catch a bus are tricky if you follow the hostel etiquette above. However, with a hands-free light things become a lot easier. You don’t risk your neck when groping your way to your bunk while negotiating various obstacles in the pitch dark, you can read at night, search for suddenly needed items buried in your backpack after dark and be ready for power outages which are a common occurrence in some countries.
8) The Hostel Survival Kit
Ear plugs – if you sleep like a log don’t worry, otherwise these might be worth their weight in gold.
Travel towel – the big fluffy bath sheet from home obviously has no place in a backpack but you will need a towel of some description. Hostels sometimes provide them or rent them but a lightweight, fast-drying purpose-fit travel towel is just the thing.
Multi-plug/adaptor – the most wonderful hostels ensure each bunk has its own power point but in some places there may be one socket for the whole dorm room and an almost constant fight to get your gadgets charged. A device which turns a single socket into a multi-way one means you’re less likely to find your phone dying just as you need to make that all important call.
9) Everything AND the Kitchen Sink
Unless you are somewhere with super-cheap street food and if you’re on a tight budget – and let’s face it, most of us are – getting a hostel with a kitchen can save you a fortune. As with hostels themselves though not all kitchens are created equal – some are fully equipped while others are so sparse they will leave you contemplating fashioning pots out of duct tape. Choose carefully if this is an important factor for you.
10) Don’t Be Shy
Striking up conversation with complete strangers can seem intimidating at first and don’t think you’re alone – everyone has been through that at some stage. Typically speaking though, guys and gals come to hostels in order to meet people, swap travel hints and tips and share stories. Smile, say hi and before you know it you’ll be hooking up with your fellow hostel folk like a seasoned pro.