- Mark Abadi
- Not every hostel is the same.
- For that reason, you’ll want to confirm a few things before a book a hostel, like its location, safety procedures, and wifi.
- A traveler who stayed in nearly 100 hostels, and worked in one, explains what you should learn about a hostel before you book.
Hostels are becoming more popular than ever for young travelers, and for good reason: They’re inexpensive, they’re low-maintenance, and they provide endless opportunities to meet other travelers.
That said, not all hostels are created equally. Hostels vary widely in the services they offer and the type of atmosphere they provide.
I can attest to that – in my years of traveling, I’ve stayed in close to 100 hostels on four continents, and even spent a summer working at a hostel in New York City.
Before you book your hostel, there are some things you’ll want to confirm to ensure your experience is a good one and your choice in lodging is right for you.
Here are 13 things you’ll want to find out about your hostel before you book:
The first thing on your mind when you are searching for a hostel is the location. Most travelers want a centrally located hostel within walking distance to popular tourist areas, or at the very least, a short ride away in a taxi, train, or bus.
If the hostel has a good location, it will probably advertise it prominently in its online description. However, don’t believe everything you read: Sometimes hostels will use vague language like “five-minute walk from the metro,” without specifying which stop. Do your own research to confirm the location is suitable for your trip.
When you’re on vacation, nothing is more important that your safety. Make sure the hostel you book is in a safe neighborhood, especially if you’re visiting a city whose criminals are known to prey on tourists.
- Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty
Depending on which part of the world you’re in, WiFi access is far from guaranteed. Although internet access is becoming more and more universal, there are still plenty of hostels that don’t offer it, and others that only turn on their routers for certain hours of the day.
Internet access may not be the most important thing if you’ve planned your entire trip in advance. But if you’re like me and tend to improvise your way through your vacations, WiFi is critical for booking flights, scoping out future hostels, and connecting with friends across the city.
- Reuters/Paul Hanna
Check-out times vary among hostels, but most will probably want you gone in the late morning or early afternoon.
Make sure your hostel’s check-out time jibes with the rest of your itinerary. If you need to leave especially early in the morning to catch a flight or bus, confirm with the hostel that there will be somebody at the front desk to check you out.
Unlike hotels, 24-hour-a-day service isn’t guaranteed at hostels. If you anticipate having long nights on your vacation, you’ll want to find a hostel that offers 24/7 service.
You’ll also want around-the-clock service if you plan on checking out especially early. You don’t want to risk missing your flight because there’s no one at the front desk to check you out.
- Lennart Preiss/Getty Images
Every hostel has a different social scene, and good hostels work hard to craft a particular vibe for their guests.
Extroverted travelers may gravitate toward hostels that offer social events like food tours and pub crawls. Partygoing types may prefer hostels with a DJ, dance floor, and full bar, not to mention a lack of curfew and lights-out time.
And weary travelers just looking for a place to rest for a few hours will probably want to avoid those scenes altogether.
- Riley Kaminer/Flickr
If getting a good night’s sleep is a priority for you on vacation, you’ll want to seek out a hostel with a noise curfew and mandatory lights-out time. Nothing is worse than needing to wake up early when guests are showing off their guitar skills in the lobby.
On that note, if you plan on staying out late each night, confirm with the front desk it’s OK for you to return at odd hours of the night.
A nice perk many hostels offer is free breakfast in the morning. Of course, you get what you pay for, and in many cases, the breakfast may be nothing more than a piece of toast and a cup of coffee.
If that doesn’t pass muster with you, see what your options for cooking are. Many hostels have communal kitchens, and it’s common practice for backpackers to leave their extra ingredients up for grabs after they check out. But you better do your dishes afterward – it’s a serious party foul if you don’t.
Backpacks are heavy. You don’t want to get stuck lugging one around all day because you had to check out of your hostel in the morning and your flight isn’t until the evening.
Hostels will generally advertise if they allow guests to store their luggage in between their check-out time and departure. It’s a great service to take advantage of, but be warned – it may come at a price.
Method of payment
- Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Not every hostel takes credit cards, so be prepared to take out local currency at a nearby ATM. If you forgot to stop at one along the way, hostels can be more flexible about payment than hotels, and they may allow you to wait until checkout to settle your bill.
Hot water situation
- Anna Omelchenko/shutterstock
Hot water in bathrooms isn’t a given, or even the norm, in many countries. If cold showers are a deal-breaker for you, make sure to confirm the water situation before you book.
If you’re traveling to a country with a warm climate, you’ll definitely want to scope out the air-conditioning set-up of your hostel. Plenty of hostels don’t have it at all, and those that do may choose to only turn it on at the hottest points of the day. Consider whether you’d be comfortable sleeping by a fan or an open window.
Amenities (printing, towels)
Hostels probably won’t offer you the same amenities you’d get at a hotel. While virtually every hostel will provide guests with sheets, a blanket, and a pillow, you might not have access to a towel and soap, for example. Research what you’ll need to bring with you ahead of your trip, or be prepared to buy certain items when you get there.
Other amenities you may want to confirm are laundry service, printing, city maps, postal service, and bike rentals.