Staying at a hostel at the age of thirty or more might sound like a really bad idea. I bet a lot of you (also includes me a couple of years ago) would not even consider staying at a hostel. However, when you let go of your preconceptions, you can realize that hostels might not be such a bad idea after all. Especially when traveling alone, it can be too expensive or lonely to stay in a hotel. While traveling in Australia, I tested several different hostels and unconsciously developed a strategy to pick the best ones. How to increase the chances of finding a nice hostel? Which type of rooms to go for?
Where to search?
I begin my search on the Hostelworld page that offers a better hostel selection than Booking.com for example. Of course, I still take a quick look at Hotels.com and Booking.com too. I always aim to do the final booking through the hostel’s own page because they often have some special discounts there. If the price is the same and I can get free cancellation on Hostelworld or collect free nights on Hostel.com, I use those sites instead.
When I have the list of hostels, I organize them according to the reviews. I exclude all the options that have received less than 8 points on Hostelworld’s scale. I read good reviews but also the bad ones and focus on the reasons behind the negative reviews. Is it just for not getting a refund for a late cancellation, or for loud music coming from the bar downstairs. Also, Tripadvisor might be a good place to check the reviews because often customers are bit older than on the Hostelworld site.
What to look for?
I have used two different hostels as an example. They both are located in Sydney and have great reviews. The first one is Wake Up Sydney Central, rated as a 9,3 point hostel. The other one is The Pod Sydney with 9,1 points. The first one seems to be a place to make friends, meet other travelers and socialize with others. The other one is a more private and peaceful place. The pictures are borrowed from Hostelworld.
This is what I take into account
- What are the people like in the photos: twenty-somethings with beer cans in their hands, or people drinking coffee at the breakfast table.
Wake Up seemed to have a nice looking bar. The Pod hostel, on the other hand, didn’t have any people in their photos (a sign of a not so social place?). I often prefer a peaceful place with no party atmosphere so in this case, my points go to The Pod.
This Sydney Central YHA pool party would be a total no-no for me.
- Do the bedsheets and mattresses look comfortable?
- How large are the dorm rooms? Are there any lockers?
At Wake Up, the beds looked slightly uncomfortable but at least they had lockers in the dorm rooms. I always try to see if the dorm beds have individual sockets (there is nothing more annoying than fighting for sockets!) but this room didn’t seem to have.
The picture above is exactly what I like to see. The Pod has lockers, thick mattresses and own sleeping pods with dark curtains. Perfection!
- How clean and big is the kitchen? Is there enough storage space?
The kitchen in Wake Up seems to be filthy even when it is clearly cleaned and without any people. Image this when there are 30 people cooking pasta and tuna sauce. The Pod’s kitchen is below.
I rest my case.
- How are the common areas like?
The Wake Up seems to have a really cozy-looking café with tables outsides. The Pod is definitely an underdog in terms of its social areas.
- How are the showers and bathrooms?
The Wake Up didn’t have any photos of that. The Pod’s showers looked clinically clean.
- What is the overall vibe?
Which one would I choose?
Based on the photos, I would say that The Wake Up is a perfect place if you are out there to make friends. I can imagine that it is the place if you have just arrived in Sydney and don’t yet know anyone. I’m, however, a very private person who prefers a good night sleep over a night partying. So perhaps The Pod would be my pick in this case.
Location, location, location
Location is the king. I want that the hostel is located within a walking distance from the train or bus station. However, sometimes the very central, central location might be busy, noisy and crowded, and you could be able to find more comfortable artistic areas within a short distance.
I prefer unique places with a story
I prefer small, family-owned hostels with some unique idea or ideology and often with a slightly older clientele. Sometimes, not always though, the largest hostels of the city are targeted to the young, party-loving population.
How to choose the room?
I try to prefer dorm rooms of 4–6 beds unless I can clearly see from the photos that the rooms are way too tiny. Often it is really worth paying the extra euros to get a smaller, more private room. When I am making my booking, I add a wish to get a bottom bunk because I hate climbing up to and down from a top bunk.
I often choose a female dorm but not always. If I already have narrowed down my options to nice, more quiet, upscale hostels, it is highly probable that many of the guests are also solo female travelers. They have probably chosen a female dorm by now so by choosing a mixed dorm, I increase my chances of getting a half-empty room for myself. Sometimes hostels also have the smallest rooms as female dorms. This doesn’t make any sense because you often have to pay more for those rooms. Hostel owners think however that women are tidier than men so they don’t need that big of a room. However, women often do have more luggage that fills up the room quickly.
Choosing a hostel is a game of luck. With a couple of small tricks or decision heuristics, you can increase your chances of landing a pretty decent place to stay. Of course, what means a good hostel, varies from person to person. If I would be 18 years old, I would value pool parties, pub crawls, and social spaces. At this age and state of mind, I would go for something totally different. Well, I am planning to do an interrail in Europe this summer, which gives me a chance to put my hostel choosing strategies in action.
How do you choose your hostel?