Hostels are a wonderful concept. For those on tight budgets or gap years, these dormitory-style accommodations are often the only feasible option for long-term travel. Despite all the positive aspects of a hostel, people are hesitant to give them a try. It’s a big plunge for newbies! I’ve created a hostel guide for beginners, which is more like a checklist for booking your first budget travel accommodations.
The directions are simple. Each step has a little blurb and an instruction at the end. After going through all seven, you should have a couple awesome hostels to choose from.
1) Location Location Location
If you’re looking for accommodations through HostelWorld or another website, most often you’ll find a map view. This feature is extremely helpful because it helps to visualise the city you’ll be exploring. Everyone is different, however, I believe the majority of people want to be within walking distance of popular attractions. I prefer being close to a subway or train station, which allows me to stay further away from the city centre (cheaper). In addition, I can still get to wherever I want in a reasonable amount of time. Whatever your preference, keep an open mind and be flexible!
Pick a decent sized area on the map. This will narrow down your options considerably and make the next steps much easier!
After narrowing down the area that I would like to stay, the next step is to filter away places with terrible reputations. I recommend staying in hostels with a rating of 7.5 and above. By setting this filter, you’re ensuring that places with rudimentary flaws are taken off the map. For example, a hostel with poor security or not enough washrooms will likely disappear from your search.
Booking the best accommodations can be very competitive. Cancellation policies are quite lax, which means people will place deposits extremely early. Generally speaking, there is a low supply of hostels and a pretty high demand. When in doubt, book early and select the option where there’s no cancellation penalty.
Click the filter button and select “Rating”. Enter 7.5 as the lower end constraint and leave the other side at 10. If there are plenty of hostels to choose from, you can increase this number to 8 or 8.5.
Don’t be fooled by the number displayed on each hostel’s info box. This price is for the lowest level room and is not a true representation of what you’ll end up paying. For example, many large hostels display a price for their 32-bed dormitory, while some are 4 or 8. There’s no use comparing apples to oranges at this point.
Open up +5 tabs for the hostels that interest you the most. Write down a price range you’re willing to pay for each night.
4) Room Type
For beginners, picking the correct room size is very important. If you’re travelling in a small group, selecting a dormitory is much easier. My friends and I had a self-imposed rule of where our group comprised the majority or 50% of the room. For example, if there were four of us travelling we would book an eight person room or smaller. Our train of thought was simple. By having a numbers advantage, we felt more comfortable and safe going into our first hostelling experience.
Solo travellers have a different set of needs when it comes to hostels. The primary difference is a greater need to socialise and interact with other people. Solo travel can get quite lonely and hostels represent an area where these people can meet like-minded individuals. Staying in a private room doesn’t allow for much interaction. Unless you plan on spending a lot of time in common areas, you won’t find anyone to hang out with. Four person rooms are a good start for solo travellers and their first foray into hostelling.
Scan through all the tabs you opened and close any that don’t align with your budget or room size needs.
Personally, the size and availability of lockers are paramount in my hostel selection process. Since I’m travelling with my camera gear, ensuring that my stuff is well protected while I’m sleeping couldn’t be more important. Unfortunately, the size isn’t widely available information. For all other security measures (or lack thereof), the reviews section allows former guests to leave feedback. You should quickly scan through the first ten and see if security was a major concern for anyone. Since we have the rating filter set to 7.5 or above, security shouldn’t be a problem, however, it doesn’t hurt to double check.
For this step, I suggest looking through the listing’s pictures. Try to get an idea of the lockers which will be at your disposal. Most are only big enough to hold your valuables. If you scope out a room with larger lockers, it may be able to store a mid-size backpack. There’s pretty much no way to protect a large rolly-bag.
Look through pictures of the dormitory to gauge locker size. If they do not fit your needs, exit the tab.
Having a kitchen is extremely useful and cost-friendly. This is even more important if you’re travelling for an extended period of time. Not only will it save you money, but you’ll be able to control your nutrition. Not eating properly for a month is a recipe for getting sick and potentially ruining your trip! I prefer having a kitchen if I’m staying in a hostel for more than a couple days. This allows me to familiarise myself with the local stores and minimise the food I’ll have leftover at my departure.
If you’re planning on staying at a particular hostel for approximately 3-4 days or more, make sure there’s a kitchen. If there isn’t, exit the tab.
7) Laundry Room
Forget your big rolly-bag at home. Travelling light is a much better option. Having access to a laundry room is paramount if you’re abroad for a few weeks. Most hostels have these facilities, but some do not! In rare cases, you might find full-service laundry, where the staff will wash, dry and fold your clothes for a small fee.
Going away for more than two weeks? If you answered yes, having access to a laundry room is a must. Your travelling companions will thank you! Exit the tab if there’s no laundry room.
What About Washrooms?
I think beginners worry too much about washrooms. If you’re properly setting the filters in step two, washrooms shouldn’t be a problem at all. 99% of the time, a low rating would indicate any major issues in this critical area. When in doubt, a quick scan through some reviews should alleviate any concerns.
From my experience, if you’re staying in a six person room or above, NOT having an ensuite washroom is much better! Imagine having to share a single toilet and shower with five or more people in the morning. Communal areas are better equipped to handle variation in “demand”. Despite being a tad scary, these areas are generally cleaned a few times per day and not overly busy. In addition, larger hostels will have washrooms segmented by gender.
You’re Ready to Book!
I’m hoping that you haven’t closed the five tabs which were opened during step three. If this happened, go through the seven steps again, but change the location or lower your expectations slightly. In most cases, there should be a couple tabs which you did not close. These hostels will be your first choice. If you’re having trouble deciding, pick the one with the highest rating!
I hope my hostel guide for beginners helped inspire you to give this style of accommodations a try. They’re a wonderful concept, designed for travellers who want to get the most out of their money. Without hostels, there’s no way that I could have travelled to 20 countries over the last two years!
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