Trying to book a hostel while traveling can be a doozy. Sometimes there aren’t a lot of options. Sometimes there are so many you have no idea what to go with. Can you trust the reviews? This one is rated lower but it’s also way cheaper, is the trade off worth it? What amenities do I really need? Last week I wrote about some of the different kinds of hostels you might encounter. This week I want to talk about how you can go about figuring out which hostel you should book.
Step 1: Figure out your price range.
This is important because it will usually help narrow down your options quite a bit. If you are on a shoestring budget, you will of course have fewer options that someone that has a bottomless wallet. But that’s alright, because hostels were made for budget travelers so you will still be able to find something great! To figure out your price range, first you need to know how much money you have budgeted for your whole trip. Calculate about how much you plan to spend on food, transportation and sightseeing. The leftover is what you have for accommodation. Don’t make this too low or you will end up in a lot of not-so-great-bordering-on-actually-dangerous hostels, and no one wants that. You can change what money goes where in your budget as you go. So if you decide you want to spend a bit more on accommodation, then you can just spend a bit less on food or sightseeing and so on.
Step 2: Think about what amenities you need.
There are some amenities that are nice but you can do without, and some that you absolutely have to have. These are different for everyone, so you really need to sit down and figure out what is important for you. Some people plan to eat out for every meal and so don’t care if there is a kitchen. But if you’re on a tight budget? You will definitely want a kitchen so that you can cook your own meals. If you will be doing work while traveling, you’ll likely want decent wifi. Do you have your own sheets or do you need them to be provided by the hostel? Same for towels? There are lots of things that you might not think about until you get to the hostel and they aren’t there. Try to plan out what is really important to you before hand so you can make sure to look for them in the hostel descriptions.
Step 3: Location, location, location.
Do you want to be right in the middle of the city? Or are you okay being a bit further out if it saves you a few bucks? Also check to see if hostels are situated near lots of bars and clubs. If you are looking to party being central is perfect. Not so much if you are hoping to get a good night’s rest. How close is the hostel to transportation (buses, subways, etc)? Is it within walking distance to any of the things you want to see or do in the city?
Step 4: Type of Hostel
As I covered last week, there are lots of different types of hostels. They all serve different purposes and have different clientele, atmospheres and price points. Decide if you are in the mood to party or if you want to be able to sleep soundly through the night before you book. Don’t stay the night at a known party hostel and then be surprised when people are making noise at all hours of the night. And conversely, don’t book at a quiet boutique hotel and then get pissed that no one wants to do Jell-o shots and bang on doors for no reason at three in the morning.
Step 5: Narrow it down to a few favorites, then carefully compare them to find the best deal.
Once you have all of the above figured out, you should be able to narrow down your options to a few good picks. Now you just have to comb through their descriptions and reviews to figure out which will be the best option for you. Which has the best price? Is one a bit closer to the things you want to visit in the city? Does one have complementary goodies? Maybe one place has great staff reviews while the other… not so much. Take your time to figure out where will be the best fit for you.
Step 6: Book it!
Hostel rooms don’t stay available forever! Don’t spend too long trying to figure out which one you want or you might not end up with any of the ones you want. Plenty of places will have walk-in booking, so don’t worry about not having a place to sleep at all. But if you really want a room in a specific hostel, book it as soon as you can. I agree with the often shared advice of only booking for a few nights at first, and then adding more if you decide you really like the place. That way if you hate the hostel and everyone there, you aren’t stuck there for a week because you can’t get a refund and don’t want to throw the money down the drain.
My main resource for hostel booking is the hostelworld.com app. It makes everything super simple and easy, and since lots of travelers use it there are almost always lots of reviews to read through as you are trying to make your decision. I’ve also seen hostels and similar shared accommodation pop up on AirBnb, so you can check there as well if you can’t find anything on Hostelworld.
Once you have decided on a hostel, take a second to check out their website. Sometimes hostels will have discounts available only when you book through their site (I once got 25% off of my entire stay with a code that was on a hostel’s website!) The websites will also usually have more information about tours the hostel runs or is associated with, extra photos, etc.
Hopefully this rambling is helpful if you are just starting to get into hosteling. If you are a seasoned traveler and have some more tips, please feel free to share them in the comments!