Ah hostels, the hit-or-miss dormitory/prison/horror film setting enjoyed by countless youth every year in Europe and beyond. Hostels are defined as group accommodations, where strangers occupy the same multi-bed rooms and share community bathrooms and kitchens. Every backpacker has a good hostel memory and a bad hostel memory. It’s part of the learning process of your first backpacking experience. But, with a few tips you’re more likely to avoid a large quantity of bad experiences. For the sake of this article, we are considering youth hostels. In some countries, when the term hostels is used alone it signifies something more akin to a halfway house for degenerates and recovering junkies
Every hostel has a different atmosphere or mood which attracts very specific clientele. Without going into too much detail, there are two basic styles of hostels, relaxed and party. Party hostels involve late nights, loud music, almost guaranteed vomiting, probably lots of fun, a slight increase in danger and an increase in fun. You’ll recognize party hostels because they blast music at all hours of the day, usually contain bars and have the general appearance of a frat house. Relaxed hostels are great for reading, getting a good night’s rest, making toast and for their clean bathrooms.
Many budget minded backpackers will choose hostels based purely on money, but the cheapest hostel is not always the best. The most expensive hostels are usually run by international organizations like Hostelling International. While expensive, these hostels often provide a free breakfast, free internet, lockers, showers and some sort of concierge service. Cheap hostels usually have few if any amenities, providing only a bed and use of bathrooms and kitchens. Just like a hotel, you should consider what your most important amenities are and then choose the cheapest place that still offers those services.
While not always the case, cheaper hostels are often less safe because they are not overseen by some larger organization. Cheaper hostels are usually less likely to keep up with maintenance and have less supervision. You experience broken door locks, malfunctioning lockers and a minimal staff.
Like any accommodation, the closer you are to the action, the more you’re going to pay. But centrally located hostels are just about more money, it’s about convenience. Having the option to walk to all major attractions is a huge bonus. If you get a hostel on the outside of the city to save money, consider how you can get to and from the building, especially late at night when transportation services might be cut. A cheaper hostel that’s 20 minutes away from downtown won’t end up saving you any money if you end up having to pay for a taxi cab at the end of the night.
Whenever you’re in doubt about a hostel, just ask around. Ask backpackers you see at coffee shops or train stations. At the hostel, ask to see the room where you’ll stay before you agree to pay. Sometimes, because of language barriers or other communication problems (aka, getting swindled) you may not clearly understand the accommodations until you see them for yourself.