One of my earliest hostel encounters concerned a Bengali tiger. Wicking his tail in agitation, a he crouched just before me — 3 feet, maybe — with full intent to pounce.
Now, let’s say this tiger was, in fact, our temporary Norwegian roommate. He was easy to confuse for the real thing since all he wore was a pair of sweat stained, tiger print briefs. When we first entered the room at my Singapore hostel, he was face down on my bed. He went through his yoga flow, dripping out last nights mistakes on my microfiber towel. The room smelled of overpriced gin and pineapple juice — Singapore Slings. We turned around and headed downstairs for another Tiger Beer. Beer always makes a dorm room better.
As with all challenging relationships, this was hardly the moment that would make us give up on the backpacker hostel — far from it, even. I like to think of the incident like a quirky wedding toast that a drunk best man might tell; it was just one dysfunctional moment punctuating a love story that would span continents and months on end.
What can we say? We just really love hostels. Whether you’re traveling solo, or making your travel budget go as far as it can go, we’re sure you will love hostels too. Interested in experiencing hostel life for yourself? Here are the essential details.
What are hostels?
Hostels are an alternative to hotels that offer shared accommodation and communal facilities in exchange for a lower nightly rate. The standards vary tremendously from one hostel to the next. Dorm rooms can have anywhere from 3-30 beds, and the bathroom situation can be similarly uncertain. Generally speaking, all hostels will have some sort of common area, dorm rooms, and lockers where you can store your stuff. The extra amenities like desktop computers, kitchens, bars, etc. will totally depend on the hostel. The vibe is normally a lot more social than a hotel, though it depends on where you are; in some hostels, you’ll find people chatting in common areas over bombers of beer and hookah, while others will be pretty vacant.
The pros and cons of staying in hostels
- Price: In cities where hotel rates run high, you can book a hostel room for significantly less. You’ll pay only for the things you want and get most of the same amenities at a fraction of the cost!
- Experience: When you sleep in backpacker hostels around the world, you will encounter a whole range of experience. When’s the last time you got a great story at a hotel?
- Social: Rather than retreating to a lonely, cheap hotel in Berlin, you can explore the city with a couple of wild Thai friends instead.
- Access to Common Areas: If you don’t feel like going out, you may have a place to cook or lounge for the day.
- Privacy: The hostel lifestyle certainly can take some getting used to. If staying in dorms, you sacrifice elements of privacy and personal space in the name of budget travel.
- Security: With people everywhere, missing items can be particularly hard to locate. Most hostels have a front desk to prevent break ins, but it’s a lot harder to protect yourself from a scheisty roommate.
- Comfort: While some hostels afford the luxury of air conditioning, fresh towels, and clean facilities, many of them just don’t. Before going hosteling, you’ve gotta prepare to be uncomfy from time to time.
Best places to book a hostel:
Our personal favorite is Hostel World.
Here’s how to pick a great hostel.
1. The Initial Search: Pop in the city, the dates of your stay, and the number of travelers. In some cities this could yield a whole lot of options, but we’ll get to ways to narrow them down!
2. Filter by Neighborhood: When visiting a new city, picking the right neighborhood can make or break your experience. Do a bit of research on which neighborhood you’d like to stay in. After your initial search, switch over to the “Map View” and browse options in a particular neighborhood. If you still don’t know where to start, zoom into areas where you see a cluster of properties as this is likely one of the desirable neighborhoods for travelers to stay in. Find out if it near any metro stops or major attractions nearby.
3. Filter by Price: Slide the “Price Range” filter around to get an idea of the average cost for a hostel bed. Get an idea of what the very low end is, and then look for prices just above that. The prices are normally displayed on a per person basis, so don’t be mislead by the “private room” rates!
4. Filter by Rating: Go back to the “View List” and sort by “Overall Rating”. There are two factors to consider here: satisfaction rating and number of reviews. If you want to try out a less traveled hostel, check out the detailed reviews to be sure the reviews are honest and not written by hostel staff or bad robots.
5. Detailed Research: Narrow your search down to 3-4 properties you like and skim through the specs. Properties are reviewed for location, safety, cleanliness, fun, facilities, etc. so pick the pieces that matter most to you. If you’re traveling with expensive camera equipment, you might value safety and the availability of a rental safe. If you’re arriving late at night, you might want to find a spot that is well located and right near a metro stop. If you’re traveling alone and looking to make some friends, check out the common area and how people have found the general atmosphere at the hostel.
6. Book Now! Be sure to double check which nights you’ve selected and the room type you’ve selected. You’ll put a downpayment on the room, and it will be ready for you when you get there. Now all you’ve gotta do is get there.
Tips for Traveling in Hostels
- Bring your own padlock. Most hostels have lockers available or for rent. Even if your bag is just filled with sweaty clothes, it is a bit assuring to have your own private space in a room of 20. Many hostels won’t accept cards or charge a 3-5% fee when you pay by card, so bring cash just in case.
- Bring along earplugs and an eye-cover so you can weather even the most dysfunctional of sleep patterns.
- A sleep sheet and microfiber towel will save you the $3-5 it costs to rent them from the front desk.
- Meet the staff. Not only will they know sights and directions, but they’re normally locals that can give you some unique perspective on the city.
- Pick places with late check out times so you can make a leisurely departure.
Think you’re ready to brave the world of hostels? Get out there, and remember… always watch for tigers.
Have you ever stayed in a hostel? What advice would you offer to someone hostel booking for their first time?