It's a well-known fact not all hostels are created equal. That being said, there are many great hostel properties that exist offering more than just a good night's sleep. Before booking your next hostel, do some research and find out if it has the following:
Before booking a hostel, I make sure there is free breakfast and free WiFi. Those are the two things I would usually end up spending a notable amount of money on, so I like to have them included. Other amenities that are sometimes offered free at certain hostels are linens, towels, parking, laundry, walking tours, certain activities and luggage storage. Think about what you want to save money on and book accordingly.
While not as common as they once were, hostel curfews do still exist. This is when the front door to the hostel gets locked at a certain time, meaning if you arrive back after that time you may not be able to get in. While you sometimes can still get in with a key or by trying to get someone's attention, it's usually more of a hassle than it's worth. Check to make sure your hostel doesn't have a curfew and you won't have to worry about when you get back for the night.
A Style That Fits You
Not all travelers are alike. While some may want to stay in a hostel where they can party all night, others may desire a quieter and more cozy atmosphere. Generally, hostels with common rooms, communal kitchens and bars are more social. You begin cooking together, watching TV together and drinking together, allowing for friendships to form on the road. However, be cautious when choosing a property with a wild nightlife scene. This can be great for those who want to drink all night, but a disaster for backpackers wanting a restful night's sleep. If you want to stay somewhere with a family style, opt for a smaller hostel with a communal area for easier bonding. At some hostels, property owners will even hangout with you or make you a home-cooked meal, making the hostel seem more like a home than an accommodation. Additionally, if you're simply staying in hostels to save money but like solitude, opt for a simple hostel without so many chances for encounters and that offer single rooms.
As stated above, a communal kitchen allows for socializing, which is great for the solo traveler and hostel-goer looking for make new friends. Additionally, having a kitchen can save you a lot of money. Being able to cook your own meals means you set the price. When I'm backpacking, certain cheap and satisfying grocery store staples include pasta, eggs, canned veggies, potatoes and burgers. Making a burger in your hostel will cost a fraction of what it would cost to eat at a restaurant. Bonus: You can ask other travelers to go in on a meal with you to save even more money and make new friends.
A Competitive Price
This doesn't mean book the cheapest hostel you find without doing some research. If a hostel is $10 a night but is located way out of town, doesn't include breakfast or WiFi and gets bad ratings for cleanliness and customer service, it's probably not your best option. Compare prices and see what's included with each hostel to figure out who's offering a great deal and who's ripping you off.
A Good Location
Everyone loves a good deal; however, if a hostel is cheaper than the others but is located miles away from anything you're interested in seeing you'll end up spending what you saved on public transport and misery. Try to find a hostel that allows you to check out some of your itinerary on foot, as walking a city is the best way to save money as well as get to know it on the ground level. Moreover, the more centrally located you are the more you'll save on public transportation.
Many hostels offer numerous ways for you to stay safe. The number one thing to check is if there are lockers included for your valuables. You'll most likely be sharing a room with other travelers you don't know, so locking up your passport, money and electronics is a must. Furthermore, you should see what kind of security they have in place. Is there a guard or staff member on duty all night? Do you need to show a card or enter a password to get into the building? Safety should be your number one priority when traveling, so make sure it's the hostels, as well.
Located off a Main Road
While a main road location isn't always a problem, sometimes it can lead to noise. If your room is facing a strip of bars, chances are you'll be listening to techno beats and drunk party goers all night. If possible, book a hostel off the main road or ask for a room not facing the street.
If you find a hostel where staff like to go out with guests, you know you've found a good one. Hostel staff know the best there is to find in a city. They know the best bars, Mexican restaurants, cafes, lesser-known sites, quirky shops. The best part is you'll be more likely to interact with locals and learn more about the city from their point of view.
Think about what kind of ambiance you're looking for. Do you want a bohemian vibe with bean bag chairs and travelers playing guitar? Or would you rather have something a bit more luxurious? Are you looking for a community vibe? For me, I like hostels that are reflective of the city I'm in. For example, Art Factory (artfactoryba.com.ar/) in Buenos Aires allows guests to explore the city's street art culture through graffiti painted all over the hostel. At Hostelling International in New York (www.hinewyork.org/), they showcase local art in the hallways as well as host open events for NY-based start-ups and small businesses in their ballroom.
Many hostels give travelers a chance to experience the city for free or on the cheap through a calendar of activities. Think walking tours, dance classes, cooking workshops, open mic nights, standup comedy shows and more.
Is it a Hostelling International or Independent Hostel?
Both Hostelling International (HI) and independent hostels have their pros and cons. When you opt for an HI hostel, you know you're getting a at least a minimum standard of quality. That being said, just because a hostel isn't HI-certified doesn't mean it isn't great. Independent hostels tend to be better for travelers looking for more relaxed rules as well as a quirkier experience.
Read the Reviews
The best way to learn the truth about a hostel is to read reviews. Of course, don't believe everything you read. If someone writes that Hostel A is absolutely disgusting because there was a hair in the sink, you may want to move on to see other reviews. That being said, reading reviews is a great way to see other people's experiences and learn if the hostel really is as centrally located and customer-service oriented as they claim.
While there are many places to browse hostel critiques, Hostelz.com ensures genuine reviews by not allowing hostels to alter any comments left about their property. Moreover, the site sources reviews from all major hostel booking sites to give users a clearer picture of the hostel. And when it's time to book, they source search results from multiple booking sites so users can get the best price and available dates.