I've been backpacking (and did a bit of van life-ing, too) for the past nineteen months through seven countries. Throughout this time, I've been staying in hostels; in fact, in 2019, I lived exclusively in hostels!
Why I Love Hostels
I mean, I could probably write a book about why I love hostels but here's a few of the main reasons that come to mind:
- They're usually the cheapest form of accommodation.
Since you'll be sharing a dorm room with other travelers - I stayed in an 24-bed dorm in Fiji - you can save on the costs of private rooms such as you would have in a hotel. In Indonesia, I stayed in dorms for as little as $5 a night.
- You meet so many cool people.
If you love traveling and are looking to find other people who are into what you're in to, then hostels are going to be the best place! Like-minded people come together to share tales of the road, experiences they've had and do's and don't's aplenty to offer.
- There's most often every amenity you need - laundry, showers, wifi and a kitchen.
Hotels and other typical forms of accommodation most often only provide your room with an en-suite bathroom. Hostels are awesome in that they take it up a notch and provide everything travelers could need. Laundry is usually available for a reasonable price, there's showers (even if they're communal), wifi and a kitchen, all there for you to use and feel comfortable.
- You can cook for yourself so you don't need to eat out.
Every hostel I've been to has a kitchen which is fully stocked with everything you need to prepare your own meals. This is the perfect way to save money on the road as you can pick up groceries and cook for yourself instead of having to fork out money for restaurant dining.
There were a few exclusions to this - in Fiji, I traveled on a package pass which included my meals and in Indonesia, the food was cheaper at restaurants than to buy in the grocery store. Otherwise, I'm always using the kitchen!
- They're like a home away from home.
Hostels are designed to make you feel comfortable and safe while you're in a foreign country. The people who work there hang out with travelers all day every day. They're likely to have loads of recommendations for the area - from things to do to where the closest grocery store is. Utilize these wonderful resources and your trip will be enhanced in more ways than one.
How to Choose a Good Hostel
So, now you're convinced that hostels are the way to go when you're backpacking - but with the hundreds to choose from, how do you make sure you're picking a good one?
- Read the reviews
Before I ever book a hostel, I ALWAYS check the reviews. This is the best way to figure out if the place is decent - firsthand accounts from other travelers who have nothing to lose. The hostel's website or social media pages are always going to show the highlights, but reviews on sites like Booking.com and Hostelworld will give you a good feel for the place. I aim to go for a hostel with at least an 8/10 rating.
It's likely that you'll be doing most of your traveling on foot or by public transport, so you're going to want to choose a central location that's near everything you want to see. For example, in Sydney, Australia, my hostel was across the road from the Central Train Station which meant getting anywhere was a total breeze, even places further out of the city.
Price should definitely be a factor in your choice - although don't let it define your decision. The saying "you get what you pay for" rings true here. If you go with the cheapest option, don't expect to have as much comfort or cleanliness as you may get from paying a couple bucks more per night.
Price will also depend on your location - I found national parks in New Zealand to be really pricey but I found that big cities in Indonesia (like Ubud) were super ridiculously cheap.
Make sure the hostel has a kitchen - you're going to want to be able to cook for yourself and keep stuff in the fridge. I made this mistake in Perth, Australia and it was not just a great situation.
Before I book a hostel, I always check that there are lockers to store your personal belongings - especially when you may be sharing a room with lots of other people! Not that your fellow travelers aren't to be trusted, but you just never know. I carry a padlock when I go backpacking and make sure all my stuff is securely locked into my locker at all times.
The reviews will help a lot here - you want to make sure there's no reports of mold, damp and especially bed bugs. Those are just not things you want to get close to or have to deal with while you're backpacking.
Not that wifi is absolutely crucial, but it sure does help a lot for staying in contact with friends and family and updating blogs or other social media with your travels. Personally, I need wifi as I'm always on my computer working, writing and editing photos.
Most hostels in New Zealand and Australia had free, unlimited wifi. I found that the Oceanic Islands and in Indonesia usually had wifi but it would be paid wifi and not as strong. In these countries, I bought a temporary SIM card with data so at least my phone could stay connected.
In the end, it's the people who make the hostel. You may end up at the number one hostel in the country but a not-so-great bunch of people might ruin the experience. Or, you may end up at a dumpy old place but meet such a great group that it turns into one of the best experiences of your trip.
It may seem overwhelming picking your first hostel or even your tenth, because there's so many factors to take into account. Go at it systematically, using this check list to compare your options and I hope you'll find yourself feeling confident in where you've booked.
A good thing to note - when I head to a new country, I usually just book the first one or two hostels to allow myself the flexibility to change plans, meet people and change my mind.
So, follow your gut, always read the reviews and then just go for it!
Let me know if you have any more tips for choosing the best hostels around the world 🙂