I’ve stayed in a LOT of hostels. A lot of ’em. Not just in researching our upcoming Costa Rica guidebook, but also in my own journeys abroad.
Hostels can be an amazing part of your travel experience. They’re a great place to meet fellow adventurers, get resources and tips for the town you’re in, and so much more.
But how do you choose a hostel if you’ve never stayed in one before? What do you look for?
Well, here you have it, ladies: a beginner’s guide to choosing the right hostel for you.
First, ask yourself these questions:
How social do I want my hostel to be?
A good hostel will have a social space—whether it’s a kitchen or common room or both—where it’s easy for guests to trade stories, eat together, have a beer, get to know one another. Often there will be communal dinner opportunities, activities or other organized events you can take part in.
Some hostels, usually ones with built-in bars, are more known as party hostels. These can be fun, too. It all depends on what you want out of your experience. Even if you don’t want to get crazy drunk, the bar is usually a social hub and is a great gathering spot to meet people. There are downsides, of course: noise, general debauchery, etc. so take that into consideration.
And, as we like to remind our solo female travelers, please make good, safe choices when drinking, whether you’re in your hostel or out at a pub.
How personal do I want my hostel to be?
Some hostels are big—as in, hotel-sized, with many floors. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just a different experience from staying in a hostel where you know the entire staff—and most of the guests—by the end of check-in.
What kind of perks do I want?
Do you need someone to do your laundry for you? Do you want a hostel with a tour desk where you can book activities? Do you want free breakfast? Do you need to rent a towel or have you packed your own? These are just a few amenities and options you might consider when choosing where to stay.
Do I want to stay in a mixed dorm, or a single-sex dorm?
This is totally a matter of personal preference, and there are pros and cons to both. Do what you feel most comfortable with.
Pro tip: in our books, we always note whether there are female-only dorm options!
What can I afford?
Prices will vary greatly depending on the country you’re visiting, the time of year and even days of the week you’re looking to stay in a place, not to mention the number of amenities and services a hostel offers.
What can I look for to stay safe?
Reception hours: We here at Go! Girl Guides tend to recommend staying in places with 24-hour reception when possible.
Lockers: We prefer hostels with lockers big enough to store our valuables (better yet—entire backpacks!) If there are none, make smart choices. Don’t leave valuables out on your bed, and ask if there is a safe deposit box in reception.
Location: It’s important to know where your hostel is in relationship to public transport or the area of town you’ll likely be hanging out in. Be sure there is a safe way to get home if you’re out at night.
Then, find a resource!
Websites & guide books
I like to start with the websites like Hostelworld or Hostelbookers because it’s easy to find reviews and sort by price or average ratings. Also, you can easily see what rating a hostel receives in terms of things like atmosphere, cleanliness, security, location, etc.
Pro tip: Keep in mind to see how many reviews have been written! A 98% approval rating doesn’t mean much when only 5 people have reviewed a place!
Guide books can be great places to discover hostels, too. If you’re going to Mexico, Argentina, Thailand or London anytime soon, we’ve already got you covered!
Next, read reviews
I tend to look for common complaints., especially having to do with sanitation and safety. If there are too many reports of something I’d consider to be a problem, I generally tend to nix it.
And remember, if you liked a place (or hated it), write a review yourself after staying there. They are really useful for other travelers.
Finally, book it!
Sometimes, a city or town might not have a hostel that meets all your regular requirements. It is up to you then to prioritize. Everyone is different, and what I might choose as a traveler could be different from what you choose—and that’s fine!
One thing to keep in mind: almost all hostels have private room options. If you want to pay a little more for some privacy but still have the option to socialize in the communal atmosphere of a hostel, consider booking a private room.
Have you stayed in a ton of hostels? Have any favorites, or tips? Share in the comments!