While planning your backpacking trip, you’ll be faced with the task of choosing a hostel for each city you visit. Whether you book your hostels before you leave, or you book them while on your trip, you’ll eventually have to decide which ones to stay at. You want to make sure to choose a good hostel because that alone can easily make or break your trip.
It’s important to know that there really is no perfect hostel. Some will be pretty close, some will lack almost everything, and others will make up for their areas of weaknesses by being absolutely great in other areas. Just keep in mind that hostels are are a budget way to travel for a reason.
Here are 10 steps on how to book the best hostel while backpacking Europe
1. Essentially choosing the best hostel for you, personally, comes down to the 6 points listed below:
a. Location – How important is it for you to be close to the attractions, the bars/pubs, and be in the heart of the city? What about being close to a metro stop? How important is getting sleep? (Take into account being close to loud bars, busy streets, the train station, etc.)
b. Personality of the Hostel – How important are the other people of the hostel to you? Do you prefer a party hostel, a quiet hostel, or somewhere in between? How important is it to you to make friends with the people at your hostel?
Note: If there’s a bar at the hostel (meaning it’s probably a party hostel), or if it’s a small hostel, like 20 people, it’s usually a lot easier to meet other travelers. So if you’re a solo traveler hoping to make friends, keep that in mind.
c. Cleanliness – How important is it that the hostel is kept spic and span? What’s your tolerance level for a dirty, smelly place? (Ex. Smells like BO, or piss, or rotten something; walls smashed, paint chipped, dirt and dust everywhere, piss around toilets, toilets don’t flush, bed bugs, etc.)
d. Price – How important is that budget? Can you stretch it a bit, or do you need to cut back?
e. Bed Types – Do you mind a 20 bed mixed dorm? Do you need a female only dorm? Or do you prefer a private room?
f. Politeness/Helpfulness of Staff – Is it going to ruin your day if the staff are rude to you? Will you be completely lost without their help?
Everyone will most likely rank each point a little differently. Some people will place more importance on say, Good Location, for example. Those people will be right in the heart of the city, within walking distance to all of the main attractions, and shops. However, their hostel will either be more expensive, dirty, less fun, etc. Those negative factors won’t concern them too much if their main priority is the location.
The same goes if you’re mainly looking to meet a lot of people, party, make friends, and have a good time. If you choose a party hostel with a ton of like-minded people then you’ll have a blast, even if you have to take the metro to see the main attractions, or if you have to deal with rude staff, or a somewhat dirty place, etc. You get the idea?
Go back through the list above, and rank them in order of importance for yourself. (1 -most important and 6-least important). If you do a good job ranking the points mentioned above with your own personal preferences, then you’ll have an easier time picking the best hostel (for you)!
2. Search for hostels located in your destination.
3. After entering in the city, sort by ranking, price, room type, districts, etc., depending on which criteria is more important to you.
Tip: Look for hostels that have several thousands or several hundreds of reviews. That way you know it’s a legit place, and it’s not some weirdo trying to rent out his bedroom to you. Only kidding, but I suppose that could happen. Usually the more reviews the hostel has, the more popular they are. Those tend to be the party hostels.
4. Check out the hostel’s photos, and find out it’s location.
In this step, look through the pictures of the different hostels listed. You can get a pretty good idea of what each hostel is like by checking out their pictures. You can tell if the place is new or rundown, if it’s a party hostel or a quiet one, and what kind of travelers the hostel attracts. If a hostel interests you, find out where it’s located, in relation to what you’ll be doing in that city. Determine if that location works for you. The ones that don’t work, throw them out of the running.
5. Next, start reading the reviews of the hostels that meet your criteria so far.
Individual reviews don’t really tell you too much, because someone could have had a wonderful stay, and someone else could have had a real lousy stay. The reviews altogether will give you a pretty accurate picture of what to expect, though. So read a bunch of reviews for each hostel.
6. You should’ve been able to weed out more hostels, after reading the reviews, and now you should only have 2-3 hostels left to choose from.
How do you decide from the remaining few? Go back through the list again, and remind yourself which points are more important. Go the hostel’s own website, Facebook, and check TripAdvisor. Get a feel for each hostel.
7. At this point you should have found the winner!
The hostel you choose probably won’t be your absolute dream hostel, but you should be at least somewhat excited about staying there!
8. When to book your hostel?
Okay, so now that you’ve chosen a hostel, you might be wondering when should you book it? I recommend booking at least your first and second hostel before you leave for your trip. You’ll have enough stress to deal with when you first arrive. You’ll be overcoming jet lag, being in a foreign country, and getting the feel for what backpacking is really like. (It can be overwhelming at first!) Definitely have your first couple hostels booked ahead of time.
After that, it really depends on how flexible you are. Do you have a Euro Rail Pass, and can go as you please? Or do you have to book flights to the next city? Do you have a short time limit on your trip, or are you pretty open?
For the flexible traveler, book your hostels at least 3 days in advance. You can always just wing it too, and go to the hostel the day or night you arrive to ask if they have any availability. I did that once. I got lucky. It’ll be a bit of a pain to find another hostel if the hostel you planned on staying at is booked, especially if it’s late at night, so keep that in mind. Also, check for festivals, conventions, or anything that would cause all the hostels to book up. (That happened to me in Munich, and it wasn’t fun!)
For the not-so-flexible-traveler, you should probably have the majority of your hostels booked beforehand. You could possibly book the hostels at the very end of your trip while you’re traveling, but if you already know exactly where you’re going, then just book them sooner, rather than later. One less thing to worry about.
9. Now you’re ready to book your hostel!
To book your hostel, I first recommend booking directly from the hostel’s own website because they don’t usually charge a booking fee, like other booking sites do. If the hostel doesn’t have a website, then use whichever booking site you used to find the hostel, such as HostelWorld. (HostelWorld says they don’t charge a booking fee.)
10. Above all, make the best out of your situation!
If you end up not liking your hostel, just remember it’s not the end of the world. Chances are that you’re only going to be there for a few days. And the majority of your time will be spent away from the hostel anyways! You’ll be outside exploring the city you’re visiting during the day, and probably out at some pub at night. You really only need to be in your hostel to shower and sleep. If it’s loud, earplugs will make it possible to sleep. So don’t stress about it! Enjoy your time in the foreign city!