Traveling on a budget means you will likely be staying in hostels for at least a portion of your journey. The trick to enjoying your stay is knowing how to pick the best hostels.
A few years ago we decided to put down roots in Seville Spain for two weeks and drifted from one unsatisfactory budget establishment to the next until we found an Oasis. Almost literally.
Located near the center of the city, Oasis Backpackers Palace is a mega-hostel with 30 sleeping rooms, 40 bathrooms, and a maximum capacity of 210 people at any given time. Undeterred by its size, we decided to book it for a night and ended up extending our stay over a week.
Oasis quickly became one of our favorite budget accommodation of all time, and is our pick for the best hostel in Seville. Having frequented dozens upon dozens of hostels and hotels around the world we immediately realized that this place was a gem.
In fact, it inspired us to write this very article about what makes a hostel great and what you should look for before booking your next stay.
Here are ten things all great hostels have in common.
Cleanliness is one thing we almost never compromise on when choosing a budget accommodation. A quick look around the hostel, its kitchen, and its bathrooms will tell you everything you need to know about the establishment. A good hostel has staff that make the rounds multiple times a day to clean up after the ever changing roster of guests.
How many bathrooms does Hostel X have per number of beds? This can be an overlooked question but it’s oh so important from a logistical standpoint.
We once stayed in a hostel in Mexico that only had two bathrooms for roughly thirty people. This led to a bathroom traffic jam of epic proportions in the mornings… and made for a pretty stanky place to shower for those last in line. No bueno!
Our favorite hostels would not have been so if they had surly managers, dickish bartenders, or jaded desk staff.
Helpful and staff that return your smiles can make or break your stay. Some of the best hostels we’ve stayed in were full of happy staff members that answered our questions in a thoughtful, patient manner, even though they probably heard said questions a thousand times before.
So when reading reviews for hostels before you book them, be sure to pay attention to what previous guests have to say about the staff.
A hostel that makes the effort to create an interactive environment is usually a hostel that cares about the experience of its guests. Our favorite hostels have a number of cozy communal areas for guests to mingle in, and we’ve even stayed in a few that have had epic pools, memorable bars, or outdoor spaces that will make you want to stay well beyond your checkout date.
Well Stocked Kitchen
Cooking for yourself saves a ton of cash when traveling longterm. Thus, a nicely equipped hostel kitchen is key. Look for things like well organized refrigerators, adequate counter space, stove tops that work, and a good supply of pots, utensils, plates, cups, bowls, knives, cutting boards, toasters, and coffee makers.
Recently we spent a few nights in Vienna, Austria and our hostel has an incredible kitchen! We’re talking two professional stoves, ample counter space, any kind of cookware you could want, real knives, cutting boards, and loads of dishes. We instantly fell in love and it made cooking for ourselves a fun activity rather than a chore.
Location, location, location! It’s one of the most important things to know about a hostel before you book it. Sometimes you want to be centrally located and within walking distance of everything and sometimes being at a remote and quiet location near a beach is all that matters. Decide which you prefer before starting your research, and narrow down your choices from there.
You should also determine if a hostel you are considering is near all the main attractions or if you’ll have to take public transportation (if available), and how you will get there from the airport, bus station, or train station. You’ll also want to find out if there are any markets, restaurants, or bars nearby.
Walking tours of surrounding landmarks, trips to the beach in the back of a pick-up, or Flamenco lessons on the roof. Group activities are another sign of a hostel that aims to create amazing experiences for its guests. Which, in turn, means the hostel cares about more than just your money.
Group activities at hostels are also a fantastic way to meet other travelers, so check out a hostel’s website to see what activities they offer guests before you arrive. The more, the better!
We both love a good party but a 24/7 fiesta is not something we look for in our hostels. Ask about mandatory “SHHHHH” time before checking in to ensure you get a good night’s rest.
Also ask if the hostel has a 24/7 reception or at least a night manager on duty after hours. We recently stayed in a hostel in Slovenia that didn’t have either. This, of course, resulted in an extremely loud all night party in the dorm room next to ours. Needless to say, we checked out the next morning!
Our favorite hostels are ALWAYS a good deal relative to other available options but remember “you get what you pay for”.
Taking Oasis Hostel in Sevilla as an example, it might be a couple of Euro more expensive than some other Pensions (hostels) we stayed at in the area but it was such a huge upgrade in so many ways that the extra money was well worth it.
Social Consciousness and Responsible Tourism
This is an often overlooked factor when choosing a hostel, and usually requires a bit of research to uncover. However, a socially responsible hostel that encourages sustainable tourism is a huge plus, especially in developing countries. We wrote extensively about our favorite hostels in Cambodia, the Mad Monkey, gushing over their incredibly conscientious business practices and their care and love for Cambodia and its people. Read all about it here.
A Few More Things to Look For in a Great Hostel
- Lighting – Dark and dingy can really ruin the ambiance of a hostel. Look for windows and well lit lounges.
- Outlets – If you are like us and traveling with a fair amount of electronic devices you need outlets. Look around to make sure your room has enough.
- Lockers – A good hostel provides individual cubicles or lockers for its guests. We always travel with a small lock for that reason.
- Over crowding – a twenty six person dorm room? No thanks! Pay attention to the number of beds in your room to avoid being packed like sardines in a tin can.
Disclaimer – We have included a few handy little affiliate links in case any of our readers want to book accommodations. We receive a small commission for any sales made, without any additional cost to you, our dear reader.