The word ‘hostel’ conjures up an array of images for different people. What you think when you hear ‘hostel’ depends on your age, how many you’ve stayed in, what kind of traveller you are and how many horror films you believe! But there are some truly amazing hostels out there, so you shouldn’t be put off by the horror films.
Just like anything else, you get good, bad and ugly hostels. There are vast differences within cities, let alone between countries! Generally, you get what you pay for, so if you find one that really is dirt cheap compared to others nearby, there probably is a good reason! But you can’t always judge on price, listen to people, look at online reviews, have an idea. Not knowing what you’re going to get is part of the excitement of finding a hostel. You may find a hidden gem or you may get a dive, who knows?
So what makes a really amazing hostel? Here are my seven that I hope for:
1. A Great Communal Area
Let’s face it, travellers use hostels, not just for their cheapness but for the atmosphere. A communal area can make or break that atmosphere. Some hostels have more than one communal area, there may be an outdoor and an indoor, or there may be a ‘film room’. More than one is good, or a large area is also good. Comfy chairs and sofas for you to relax in, tables for eating and writing. Some hostels go even further, with board games and games consoles available. I’ve even stayed at a couple that had hot tubs, this was especially appreciated in Picton after finishing the Queen Charlotte Track!
2. Amazing Staff
A hostel is only as good as the people that work there. Rude staff that don’t care ruin the ‘hostel vibe’. Staff should be knowledgeable about the area that you’re in and not be fazed by being asked: “So I’m here for 24 hours, what do I do?” (Thanks Base Backpackers, Brisbane for helping us out there!) The staff should care that you’re happy and seeing the city. A hostel with great staff can normally help with your onward journey and hold events so you all get to know each other.
3. Free Breakfast
The most important meal of the day, especially for backpackers! Not having to worry where your first meal will come from takes a weight off your shoulder. Many hostels offer a free breakfast nowadays, or charge a minimal fee, but some really excel in their offerings. The usual fare is toast and jam, which suffices. But I love it when you get something different, we had pancakes in a New Orleans hostel, with a choice of toppings and bagels at the Green Tortoise may not sound thrilling, but to me it was. Or in some developing countries, breakfasts can be really amazing. Some of the free breakfasts in Mexico were so good.
Check out the times for breakfast though. Some hostels have weird ideas about backpackers, with breakfast served 7am-9am. Who wants to be up that early? A great hostel has an extended breakfast time that doesn’t finish till at least 10am.
4. Decent Kitchen Facilities
There’s nothing worse than a bad kitchen. You don’t want to eat out every night when backpacking, you generally can’t afford it. So when you go to cook you don’t want to be greeted with a grubby, small kitchen with next to no facilities! At a minimum, there should be a few hobs spread around, and plenty of utensils, pots, pans and crockery. If you get an oven that’s a bonus! The worst kitchen I had backpacking was on Magnetic Island. The kitchen was a room with three, maybe four camping stoves, nothing else. Any pots, pans etc you had to borrow from reception after putting a deposit down. Mental! Although I now really appreciate enough pans and more than one proper hob in a kitchen.
Some great kitchens also have a place to leave food that you can’t take for others to use. Some have a spice rack that the hostel fill up. Some have free pasta and rice. Some even have communal dinners.
5. Good Showers
You really appreciate a good shower on the road. Even just walking around a city can be tiring and make you feel in need of a decent shower! Hot water and decent water pressure really make you think you have hit the jackpot! And if there’s an actual door and not just a curtain, even better!
Avoid push button showers at all costs! They always stop at the worst moment and as soon as the warm water goes you feel cold! Not to mention the fact that you can’t change the temperatures!
6. Laundry Facilities
On a long trip you need to do some washing, simple. Yes, most cities have plenty of launderettes, but do you really want to be dragging your dirty washing across town? Across the road is bad enough! Then you risk getting it dirty again on your way back! Whether it’s a do it yourself job or one where the staff do it for you, you will need it! I got stuck without a laundry once, well kind of, and it was not fun!
7. A Bar
A bar is a great bonus in a hostel. Whether it’s on the premises or a short walk. This can be a full bar or just a fridge behind the reception! Bars are a great place to make friends with other backpackers and locals. Even better is when they offer you cheap meals and drink discounts because you’re staying with them! Some hostel bars are really great, I loved the one on Eastern Comfort, though it was probably just because it was on a boat!
But to be honest, the people staying there can make or break a hostel. A hostel can have all the amazing facilities, but it’s the people staying there that makes the place. Sometimes terrible hostels are made great by the people, other times amazing hostels became not so good, all due to the people. But at least if you look for these seven bits, you can hopefully have a good chance of an incredible stay.
You’re very unlikely to get all these things in one hostel, but just a few of them make a hostel stand out as amazing. I tend to always start my search with Hostelworld, so why not check out hostels on thee too?