Five Questions to Ask Before Booking a Hostel

Bunk beds in a brick room

[Katherine Wells]/[iStock]/Thinkstock

After an all-night bus ride from Heidelberg and a day of trying desperately to keep our eyes open while touring the museums and parks of Hamburg, my friend and I stumbled over the threshold of our hostel. The floors were sticky as we trudged up the stairs to our room where eight beds lay, configured into something resembling a Tetris game. A faint odor lingered in the room and there were no lockers to be seen; thank God I had my Anti Theft Bag. At midnight the music from the nightclub downstairs pulsated in our heads as the floorboards trembled with the bass. At 2 a.m., just as the nightclub crowd was beginning to dissipate, two of our roommates crept into the room and crawled into bed, but not before one of them pulled out a radio and began playing Christmas music. All night long. “Next time, I pick the hostel,” I hissed at J through clenched teeth. The springs of J’s bed groaned as he leaned in my direction. “It looked okay online…”

While booking online is often a necessary step in securing lodging overseas, it doesn’t have to be a gamble. Aside from scouring the reviews of other travelers, you should ask a few questions before clicking the “make a reservation” button.

Are there lockers?
Unless you’re booking a single room, you’ll want to double check that the hostel provides lockers for you to store your bags. Many hostels provide lockers within the shared room, while others provide a separate area within the building where you can store your stuff while you’re out and about for the day. Never leave your passport or any other valuables in the locker.

Are you located directly above a nightclub?
If you’re hoping to get some sleep, do a quick Google map search to see where exactly the hostel is located and to double check that it’s not, in fact, directly above a nightclub. Earplugs don’t drown out the bass.

Most hostels these days provide Wi-Fi or at least a computer or two to make sure you can stay connected with friends and family. Check to see if there is an additional cost.

How do I get there?
Some hostels are a great bargain for a reason. They’re in the middle of nowhere. If you opt for one of these, make sure that you won’t be paying an arm and a leg just to get there. Do a quick search (or ask the hostel) on the best way to get there. Is there a direct bus or train? Some hostels offer transportation to and from the local airport. It’s not free, but it’s usually quite reasonable and definitely hassle-free.

What’s included in the price?
Is breakfast included? Do you need to bring bedding and a towel or can you rent them there? For the record, I highly recommend always carrying along a silk sleeping bag liner. Fits in a purse or a backpack pocket and is absolutely indispensible. Get one. You’ll use it at some point, I promise.

By Nikki Hodgson