What Makes the best Hostels in the world, the best?
So what makes the best hostels in the world the best? With so many options to choose from when booking a hostel it can be difficult to know which hostel is going to be best. But there are a few indicators that can help you in picking the perfect hostel for you. Here I have made a list of that I always use to help me decide on my next hostel. These aren’t ranked in order and every hostel isn’t going to have them all but the more boxes it ticks, the better.
The location of a hostel can make or break it. If a hostel is located too far away from where all the action is then you are likely going to spend a lot of money on transport each day which is not good on a budget. Even if it’s the cheapest it might become one of the most expensive when you add in the daily transport costs of travelling from there. On the other hand you don’t want a hostel that is located right in the middle of all the bars and clubs because late at night it will be very hard to sleep.
Ideally you want a hostel that is 5-15 minutes’ walk from all the bars and food places. Hostel world and Booking will usually tell you how far away a hostel is from the city centre and you can also view it on a map which can help you to decide. On the rare chance that you already have your own transport, then this might not become that much of a problem except for when you go out drinking and need to get a taxi back.
2) Plug sockets for each bed
The biggest downside to phones, laptops and cameras is that they all need regular charging. Every hostel has sockets to charge your devices but it doesn’t mean there will be enough for everybody to charge theirs at the same time. I once stayed in an 8-bed dorm that had 1 plug socket with a 4-plug extension cord attached to it. The extension was on a table in the middle of the room and when you did manage to find a free spot then there were some selfish people that thought their phone charging was important than yours and unplugged other peoples.
While it is rare for hostels to have poor facilities like this, it does happen more than you’d think. That’s why I prefer hostels that have a plug socket next to each bed (including the top bunks). It means there is no fighting over plugs, you can charge your phone overnight and still use the alarm. It also gives you some extra security since you know all of your gear will be on your bed and not in the middle of the room.
One thing you can do to solve this problem is to take a portable charger with you. It’s a lifesaver when your phone is also your map! There are so many sizes to choose from that no matter the size of your backpack you can find space to take one. This is the one that I use and I can go days without a power source thanks to it.
3) Common area
A hostel is a place where you come to meet people from all around the world and a good common area is the perfect place to do that. I have found that the best common areas have a variety of seating options. Some sofas and tables for smaller groups and then the longer tables / benches are perfect for having a drink with a bunch of strangers. If you are looking for a social hostel to have a drink at then things like pool and beer pong can turn a good common area into a great one.
It’s also nice to have some music playing although you aren’t really going to find out if a hostel has this until you get there. In hotter countries (especially Asia) they will usually have swimming pools which are great for lounging around during the day and are also quite sociable places.
Price is going to be one of the biggest factors when deciding on a hostel as a backpacker on a budget. The cheaper the hostel the more to spend on other things like trips and beers, right? This was my approach when first starting travelling in Asia and I always picked the cheapest. For the most part it didn’t go so bad but I soon learned there were reasons why hostels were offering cheaper rates than the rest. These reasons weren’t always bad as one of the best reasons was because of economies of scale (the bigger the hostel the lower the price they can offer like Walmart and a small corner shop).
Hostels with more beds in the dorms can also offer a lower price per bed and new hostels will offer lower prices until their reputation increases. But there are others where the facilities are so bad that it would be criminal of them to charge anything more. You can usually tell this from the reviews from fellow backpackers who weren’t so lucky to realise this before booking.
The price will also determine which crowd is attracted to the hostel. In general, I found that the cheaper hostels attracted more of a party crowd and the more expensive hostels were more populated with those wanting to explore the sights of the city. Of course, there will be a mixture of both in all hostels but this is the general rule of thumb I found.
5) Free Breakfast
A free breakfast can save you a lot of money while travelling depending on the country. Sometimes they can be simple like a coffee and toast but other times you can hit the jackpot and get a buffet breakfast included for free. I once stayed in a hostel in Sucre, Bolivia that was £6 per night and included a breakfast buffet of: fresh fruit, toast, pastries, cheese, ham, cereals, fruit juice, coffee and a variety of teas.
While on a budget it is wise to make full use of this and fill up on breakfast. There is usually a cut off point for breakfast which can be as early as 9:30am so make sure you don’t wake up too late and miss it! Browsing through the reviews, you can find out what’s on offer for breakfast to help you decide. One more tip, sometimes the price of the “free” breakfast will be reflected in a higher price compared to other hostels and it could be cheaper to just find your own breakfast at a nearby café.
6) Type of beds
You can get a good night’s rest on most beds but some certainly do a better job than others. From experience I can tell you that bunkbeds made from wood are superior to those made of metal. The wooden ones are a lot sturdier and the metal one’s creak, a lot! On some metal beds any slight movement from you will be heard by everyone in the room and vice versa which makes getting a restful sleep hard especially if you are a light sleeper like me.
Another trend that I have seen in hostels is the introduction of personal curtains or pods. These were almost non-existent 4 years ago but now, they can be found in hostels all over the world. They give you an extra bit of privacy while trying to sleep and can make a 20-bed dorm almost seem like a private room. It’s also good if you want to leave something charging while you are away from the room as nobody will know it’s there so it gives you some extra security. The cost of this added privacy is some of the social aspect is lost. It’s very common to meet and chat to people in your dorm room but I have found the curtains/pods can make it a little more difficult.
7) Free Wifi
In my opinion wifi should be included as free for all hostels as standard. The best hostels will offer free wifi but others still continue to charge for it. I have found that it happens more often in the more developed countries (Australia and New Zealand for example). Try to find a hostel with free wifi included as its certain that you will need to use it at some point during your stay and the costs can soon add up if you stay there for a while.
Whether it is to plan the next stage of your trip or to keep in contact with friends and family across the globe, it’s an extra cost that you shouldn’t have to pay for. There are some exceptions to this such as staying in remote areas where wifi really is a luxury and in countries like Cuba it is hard to find wifi in places.
8) Shared Bathrooms
There are generally 2 types of bathrooms in hostels which are shared or ensuite. While ensuite sounds a lot better than a shared bathroom, in reality it is the opposite. A shared bathroom means that there is a separate room (usually one for males and one for females but not always) for the bathroom that you will need to leave your dorm room to use and ensuite, you can probably tell, is a separate room inside the dorm.
The problem with the ensuite is that it is 1 bathroom between the whole room and when you are in anything bigger than a 6-bed dorm then it starts to become a problem. If you need to use it during peak times (usually evening as people are getting ready to go out or the hour before checkout in the morning) then you are going to have to wait. Also, whenever somebody needs to have a sh*t then unless there is good ventilation in the bathroom then the smell will leak into the dorm room. For these reasons I always try to book a hostel with a shared bathroom.
9) Recent Reviews
I find that reviews can be extremely helpful when deciding which hostel to choose. The best hostels in the world usually have thousands of reviews to browse through. They are mostly from likeminded travellers that have already been there and done it. So reading a few reviews can give you a general vibe of what the hostels are like. Give more weight to recent reviews as problems in older reviews may have been fixed but new problems may have arisen since.
One review on its own could be a one off angry customer but if you see the same problem appearing in multiple reviews then it’s likely the problem is real and could affect your stay. It’s always good to give reviews, good or bad, so that you can help other travellers out. It also gives the hostel some feedback on what they are doing well and what they need to improve on.
10) Lockers / Free luggage storage
When I set out on my first journey, the only valuable things I had were my phone and my passport. Now I travel with a laptop and camera so I place more value on a decent sized locker at hostels. They do not need to be huge as long as you can fit your most valuable items inside. Hostels will say if they have lockers and you can browse through their pictures to see how big it is. A Luggage storage room is also going to be important whether you have valuables or not. When arriving hours before check-in or checking out hours before your bus you will want to store your bags somewhere.
All hostels will offer baggage storage but the level of security will vary and some will charge for this. It could just be a corner in reception or others have a ticketing system in a locked room. I would recommend to put any valuables in your daypack and just leave your main pack at the hostel. I haven’t heard of anybody’s valuables going missing while in storage but it’s better safe than sorry.