It’s loud and dirty, but a lot of people seem to really like it anyway,” the guidebook said of my hostel in Jerusalem. That was exactly how I felt about the place. It had a good vibe.
What worked for me back then, might not work for me now, but I have learned that really liking the place you stay in matters. You will enjoy a locale more if you like your lodging. Therefore, it’s only fair to your destination to stay in a decent place. So, beyond the basics of clean and safe, how do sniff out a good place to spend the night? Here are a few thoughts on how to choose the right hostel for your needs:
Location, Location, Location
The best place to stay depends on why you’ve decided to come this corner of the world in the first place. Are you only planning to stay one or two nights? Blowing into to town to see that one famous site that’s been on your bucket list for years and then leaving? If so, you may be best off staying in the hostel that is closest to the bus/train station or airport.
If you’re going to be hanging out for a while then location is all about access- access to the town, to the sights, to restaurants and grocery stores, to the beach. Look for a central location. If you’re in an isolated place than you may find yourself stuck eating at only one restaurant, which can get old fast.
What you don’t know can hurt you – so try to be as observant as possible. A friend and I arrived in Yangshou at five in the morning and checked into a quite and cozy hotel room. I remember thinking that since we were checking in so early, I was really getting my money’s worth. That evening we had a rude awakening. The hotel was above a nightclub that blasted techno music until 4:00 AM.
Party Animal or Party Pooper
Many hostel rating sites have a “fun” factor. This can give you an idea of whether a particular hostel is the place to get a good night’s sleep or the place to drink all night with fellow travelers. “Fun” equals noise. On the other hand, if you’re going to be hanging out in town for several days, a comfortable public area (TV room, garden, etc) will make your stay much more pleasant and relaxed (and possibly cheaper as you won’t need to be hanging out in a restaurant).
Size Does Matter
You need to have enough space to get in and out of your bed without crashing into strangers. Too many bunks in a room means an overload of body order, snoring and tripping over other people’s packs. Also, after a certain age, you might find yourself unwilling to climb into an upper bunk.
A well-planned hostel, can make all of this easier. I once stayed at a place that had a reading light for every bunk, curtains that you could pull around your bunk, and large lockers to put your pack in. (This was Sims Cozy Hostel in Chendu- and they also had one of the best hostel restaurants I’ve ever eaten at.)
The Air in There
Heat, air conditioning, ceiling fan? The air conditioning in a lot of tropical places smells musty and a night of sucking it in will leave me sick for a week. On the other hand, I’m likely to spontaneously combust if there isn’t a ceiling fan. You need to be comfortable so you can get a good night’s sleep and have energy for the next day’s activities.
And for Breakfast…
If a hostel serves breakfast and has a kitchen where you can prepare lunch or dinner, than it’s pretty easy to limit your eating out to one meal a day. This can save you a lot of money. A six-pack of eggs, a few veggies, some instant rice, soy sauce packets carted along from the last time I ordered take-out Chinese. I’ve got a couple of fried rice dinners and can hard boil some eggs to supplement the bread, fruit and coffee breakfast that the hostel provides.
And if you happen to be in Merida, Mexico, the Hostel Zocolo has an awesome breakfast which includes made to order omelets and crapes.!
Hostels that are on a major travel circuit compete with each. Therefore, they frequently offer extra conveniences such as Wifi, travel booking services, lockers, laundry service, and book exchanges. These little extras can go a long way towards making your stay more pleasant. And of course, the most important commodity a place can offer is friendly professional staff. Check reviews on the internet and talk to other travelers. Word of mouth is your best bet for getting information in advance.