Hostels are a mix between a hotel and a college dormitory. A hotel in the fact that they have lobby, security, and a concierge, and a dormitory in the fact that they can be noisy, fun, and always have something going on. Larger hostels can have over a hundred rooms and look like a hotel. Smaller hostels can have five to ten rooms and be located in a converted home.
Hostels have several rooming options. You can choose a private room with one to three beds (typically $30-$50 a night). Or you can choose the cheapest, least privacy rooms. These can have between 6 to 16 beds in a room (typically $10-$25 night). Hostels come with kitchens where you can make your own food (GREAT for stretching your money!). They also usually have community rooms with sofas, TV’s, computers, and even instruments. Most hostels are big on providing information on fun places to visit, tours, and events-especially on weekends.
***Notes: You have the option of choosing all guy rooms, all girl rooms, or co-ed. We only stay in all girl dorms when traveling alone. Less awkward that way.
Types of Rooms in Hostels
Private Room – These rooms usually have either one large bed or a few bunks. You can only book them per room. Which means, if you have two people traveling and you book a private room with three bunks, you will have to pay for all three beds. (For instance, you may see something similar to this on the site: “A Standard 3 Bed Private Ensuite sleeps 3 so to book this room for 1 – 3, you must still pay for the equivalent of 3 people.”)
Four or Six-Bed Room – Room is set up similar to college dorm room with bunks. Ten+ Bed Room – Room is set up similar to college dorm room or summer camp bunks. You won’t have as much privacy in these rooms, and you’ll want to have earplugs along. Usually these large rooms are “Ensuite”
Ensuite – Any room listed as “Ensuite” means that you will have a bathroom connected to the room. This could mean more privacy (depending on how many people are in the room). If you’re not sure if the room is En-Suite, ask the manager before booking. (Non-Ensuite) – If a room is not “Ensuite,” then you will be using general restroom/shower facilities. There is usually at least one per floor, and they are almost always separated into male and female restrooms. If you’re not sure if the room is En-Suite, ask the manager before booking. Male/Female Only Dorm – Just as it says, these rooms are only for guys or girls. We usually try to stay in female-only dorms when we travel. Mixed Dorm – Both males and females can stay in these rooms. Many times couples that are traveling stay in these rooms. Other times, it may be the only available option.
Booking a Hostel
Check the Feedback
When booking hostels, always check out the feedback from people who have stayed there in the past. It’s always a good sign when the management is responding to compliments, concerns, or complaints from previous customers. Anything over 85% Approval rating for the feedback should be a fairly good place to stay.
Most hostels will be centrally-located or near trains, but not all. If the hostel is located a distance from town, you may end up paying additional fare to get to the hostel.
Book Ahead for Popular Areas
If you’re traveling to a popular place on a weekend or during a festival, the best hostels will fill up. We’ve found it’s better to book ahead and have a for-sure place to stay. You can always cancel and lost a few dollars of a deposit. If you’re traveling off-season or during the week, this won’t be as much of a problem and you can wait longer to book.
Most hostels, especially when booked through general hostel websites, will require that you place a 10% deposit when you book the room. Luckily, if the hostel is cheap, then this is only a few dollars.
Always check the cancellation policy before booking. Some hostels may allow for cancellation with no penalty if you book directly through them. If you cancel within 24 hours of your stay, you will most likely be charged for a night’s stay. Otherwise, you will probably lose your deposit.
Allows you to cancel and rebook on their site as many times as you like, giving you the freedom to change your plans as you travel without losing your booking deposit. However, sometimes this cancellation protection is almost as much as the deposit We usually choose cancellation protection if we are not sure of our plans and may want to switch locations.
Girls’ Tips for Staying in Hostels
Start with private room or female-only dorm
If you’re unaccustomed to staying in hostels – no worries. Just start with a private room on your first visit. It will give you the experience of being in a hostel but in a private room similar to a hotel. Most of the time, just staying in a hostel once eases girls’ fears about the experience. (And they keep coming back!)
Pack a lock
We’ve never had a problem with theft at a hostel, but it doesn’t hurt to be safe. Pack a lock to secure your belongings when away.
People snore. Even if they say they don’t….they’re lying. Trust us and pack earplugs.
Ask to change rooms if someone makes you uncomfortable
Don’t be afraid to request a different room. It’s your stay, and you should have a good experience. The staff don’t know if someone is being offensive or annoying. If you’re uncomfortable, ask to have a different room.
Ask the front desk for local tips
The staff usually has a list of things to do on a budget – and for female travelers. Ask away! Also, they may have events planned specifically for hostel residents for which you can join. You can meet new friends and see the town.
If you're traveling alone, meet your female roommates
Kinda has traveled quite a bit alone and stayed at hostels. Not only has she gained great friends by meeting her roommates, but she’s gained someone to see the town with (see: added safety). Also, you can let your roommate or the staff know if you’re going out late so someone will expect you back.
Web Resources for Booking Hostels
Hostelworld.com – This is the main site that we use when we book hostels. Partly because it’s been very dependable for us, and partly because it has an option to pay a small fee and have flexible booking – which allows us to cancel at the last minute if we need to. As of now, we’ve had nothing but good experiences with this site, and we have chosen them as our affiliate recommendation. hostels.com – Also has a very good selection of hostels. hihostels.com – (Hostelling International) Specializes in youth hostels. You must purchase a membership to get the best booking rates. www.independenthostelsireland.com www.independenthostelguide.co.uk
(Independent Hostels – Some hostels only book through their own individual websites. In the past, we’ve Google-searched to find these independent hostels. Luckily, there are a few sites that compile this info.)
Are hostels safe?
We think that’s a bit like asking the question “Are hotels safe?”. There are a wide variety of hostels, just like there are hotels. But we will bet that you will think hostels are much less creepy than you pictured in your mind. (Darn that American “Hostel” movie!) Of course, you should take every safety precaution at a hostel that you would anywhere else. Trust your instinct if something doesn’t feel right or safe. And we like to stay in girls-only rooms or private rooms at hostels.Kinda: I actually feel much safer staying in a hostel than a hotel when I travel alone. I meet people there and get to travel around with them if I want. I have stayed at several locations, including Niagara Falls, where I didn’t feel safe walking around the town by myself at night. However, I met girls in the hostel, and we all went to see the sights together! One ended up being from my hometown.
Do hostels provide food?
Many hostels will provide a free continental breakfast – toast or cereal and such. It will usually say this in the description about the hostel. Also, some hostels have special barbecue, spaghetti, or wine and cheese night where they bring in free food on a certain day of the week. Check with the hostel to see if they have any of these special events planned. Otherwise, you can use the hostel kitchen to cook groceries that you have purchased.*note: Many hostels have a “free food” shelf where travelers leave leftover groceries to cook with. If you’re creative, you can make a tasty meal from this!
Do people steal things at hostels?
We have heard of this happening through urban legend, but we’ve never had it happen to us. Most hostels will have lockers that you can store your valuables if you wish. When it gets right down to it, most people staying in hostels are just travelers like we all are, and many are college students and families traveling together. We still like to use wisdom and keep our valuables locked away safely. No use gettin’ crazy about it.Kinda: Before I stayed in my first hostel, I pictured myself sleeping with all of my valuables under my pillow and preparing to leap up at any strange noise during the night. When I arrived at the hostel, it didn’t feel that way at all. My roommates and I hit it off and even became friends (we still keep in touch). By the end of the trip, I was much less worried. I still carried my wallet with me everywhere, but it felt less like a crime ring and more like a friendly college dorm.