by Vanya Akraboff
One traveler’s budget paradise is another backpacker’s worst nightmare, complete with all night dorm raves and bed-bug bites the bleary next morning. Needless to say, finding a good hostel is a largely subjective venture, dependent on where you are, your intended budget, and why you’ve decided to go the hostel route. That said, budget travelers are generally a fun and forgiving bunch, and only need a few basics to keep them traveling happy. The following list is as close to a consensus on what makes a good hostel as possible, culled from backpacker websites, hostel reviews, and traveling tips. With more than 6,000 hostels worldwide, there’s a hostel for everyone in almost every country, but this list is a good place to start, especially if you are interested in more than just a place to crash for the night.
- Cleanliness: Something many newbie travelers take for granted, cleanliness standards vary widely among hostels and can drastically affect the quality of your stay. Cleanliness, or the lack thereof, seems to be the top reason certain hostels land in the “horror” category. Decent showers/bathrooms (at a 1/10 ratio to guests, at least), the absence of discernible pests, and some sort of linen turn-over system (or the rental of hostel-sheets) are all good bottom-line benchmarks.
- Internet connections/phones with international call capabilities: When traveling, especially for extended periods of time, the availability of cheap and reliable methods of contacting loved ones becomes a top priority. Another amenity many travelers might not think of first, a good internet connection goes a long way towards restoring a little balance into the harried traveler’s life.
- Cooking facilities: Aside from a good way to stay on budget, cooking in a hostel’s kitchen is a great way to meet others and sample local produce and groceries. Doing your own cooking also helps foster that feeling of really living on the road, as opposed to the feeling of being on an extended vacation. Plus, you can use that saved money to sample the local nightlife with your new kitchen buddies!
- No curfew/lockout: Lots of hostels have curfews and lockouts. The best ones don’t. Being able to come and go as you please makes planning out everything else a lot easier, and cuts down on unpleasant surprises (such as being locked out of your hostel for the night).
- Lockers/safety: Most hostels should have some sort of system in place for securely stashing your stuff, as well as a key/security system that keeps wanderers from randomly entering the dorm rooms. If you are sharing your sleeping space with fifteen strangers, you don’t want to lose sleep worrying about the digital camera in your backpack. There are already plenty of ways to lose sleep in a hostel.
Again in no particular order, these are the little things that have travelers raving about their hostel months after their trip or thousands of miles later. Although the items on the previous list are all good standards to expect, a really great hostel offers the traveler something beyond what one would expect from a budget motel.
- Staff: Friendly and helpful hostel staff immediately put everyone at ease, get you settled in fast, and go a long way towards creating a laid-back and comfortable atmosphere. They can also be a great resource for getting insider information on the town you’re visiting. On the flip side, the institutional and impersonal feel that some hostels have is often largely due to rude or disinterested staff members.
- Common Areas (or the hostel living room): One of the top reasons budget travelers stay in hostels is to meet other like-minded souls. Good hostels have a comfortable area set aside for doing just that, complete with couches and funky light fixtures. Also, the more inviting the common area, the more likely it is that others will treat the dorm as a sleeping area-a big plus if you’ve been up all night on a cross-country bus ride and need a nap.
- Bar/Clubs: This is definitely a hostel extra that can either be a pro or a con, depending on what you’re looking for. In some places, especially smaller towns, the hostel bar is a great place to let loose with your new friends or have a round with some of the locals. On the other hand, a hostel club is sometimes little more than a fraternity-like hook-up scene that segregates the travelers from everything they’ve traveled so far to see. Backpacker review websites do a good job of letting you know what the scene is like at particular hostel.
More than anything else, the thing you’ll remember most about a great hostel is the people you met while staying there. So don’t worry too much about finding the perfect place to stay everywhere you go – there’s nothing like a genuine horror hostel to help you bond with those unlucky enough to be stuck there as well.