Well, planning ought to be the operative word! If you are soon to stay in a hostel for the first time, check out this helpful advice to make sure you sleep with the best on your first occasion & enjoy the experience.
First thing first, booking!
There are a few elements to the hostel booking process which simply become second nature to the habitual-hosteller, but won’t be so familiar to nomadic-noobs. Here are some of the main things to keep in mind when searching & booking your hostel online.
How to book - There’s a plethora of hostel & accommodation sites vying for your eager attention, these are known as OTAs; online travel agencies. The somewhat ugly mechanics of the online accommodation booking industry are well hidden behind carefully crafted customer-facing veils that make searching and booking somewhere to sleep a smooth and simple task, as it should be, but there is a very small number of very powerful players effectively monopolising the process. So, what? I hear you ask.
Well, when you make an online booking through these sites, the property is charged a hefty commission and as the monopoly becomes more and more powerful, their commission take increases (it’s been happening for years already) and, of course, this means the properties end up having to increase prices to offset this, making your bed more expensive.
Arguably, hostels would ideally love if people booked their beds directly, bypassing third party booking sites altogether, but for the vast majority, and especially for first-timers, that just simply isn’t likely; multiple-choice, ease of comparison, peer reviews, convenience and familiarity are essential components which come together on good OTAs in a way that booking direct just cannot provide. However, there is a next best solution in HostelCulture.com – we’re the cheapest hostel booking site out there, with no booking fees and applying an automatic 5% discount to all prices, saving you a pretty penny, and we’re the lowest commission taker in the sector, meaning a much fairer deal and more sustainable channel for hostels to sell their beds. We’ve got a sexy little app for ya too!
Use the filters
A great way to help you focus your search is by knowing your priorities. Different hostels offer different vibes, be it a party hostel, a chill-out hostel, beach hostel or a straight-up hostel with no particular angle. Once you’ve selected your city, filters give you a choice pool by hostel type, as well as by facilities - for example, 24-hour reception, own bar, free breakfast, linen included and so on.
If you know that you primarily want to party and maybe get a little messy, then there’s no point ending up at a 'dry' hostel, that is one that doesn’t permit alcohol on site, instead you might be happier at an out-and-out party hostel, likewise if you want to relax and enjoy a leisurely pace, then a chill out or homely hostel might be best for you.
You can also filter by budget, and property size too. Which is handy.
Use the map view to get an insight as to which hostels are best located for your interests or needs. If, for example, there are certain sites or sights you know for sure you want to visit, then scope out hostels that are close by. If you have a ridiculously early flight on the morning of departure, then consider a hostel close to good transport hubs linking to the airport.
And, of course, if there’s pizza nearby you will absolutely be glad of this at some point during your stay!
Price is, of course, important; but it isn’t everything. Don’t be too tempted to go straight for the rock bottom price you see, but rather weigh it up as just another decision-making factor along with those mentioned above. Remember, hostels are much more than just a cheap bed, and your experience shouldn’t be based solely on getting the cheapest price. Is it going to be worth saving a euro or two per night by staying 20 minutes further from where you’d really prefer to be? Probably not. Is it going to be worth saving three or four euro more by staying in a large 16 bed dorm rather than an 8 or 6 bed dorm? If you’re a light-sleeper or new to hostelling, probably not. Use a little thought and you’ll find the perfect balance.
And, don’t forget, we’re making this a little easier for you too with an automatic 5% discount on every hostel on Hostelculture.com, applied at point of booking.
Some insider knowledge...
In most hostels, the guest-to-bed allocations (ie. who sleeps where) can be done well in advance of arrival, the evening before for next day arrivals, on the morning of arrival, or at the point of arrival and this process is a bit like playing Tetris (if you’re born in the late 90s or noughties and not a hipster, you might need to Google that), snuggly fitting blocks of different length bookings into available bed spaces in the system.
This is good to know for two main reasons;
If you’re travelling with friends and want to stay all together, then book all together in one booking. If you each make individual bookings, albeit for the same dates and room type, you’re not actually guaranteed to all be in the same room as many hostels will have multiple rooms of the same type. Each of you having booked a bed in an 8 bed dorm, for example, doesn’t mean you’ll all be allocated to the same 8 bed dorm. If a single booking for the group isn’t possible, then at least email the hostel with all your names & booking reference numbers in advance of arrival to inform them and request to be allocated to the same room.
For this same reason, it’s good to book the entire duration of your stay in one online booking, but If you do make separate additional online bookings before arrival, for example to extend your stay for consecutive days, let the staff know when you check in (or well in advance) that you have more bookings. If you don’t, you may well end up having to change bed or room once or even every day during your stay. The fact that these separate bookings are under the same name and in the same room type means sweet-f-all; again, the hostel may have multiples of the same room types, and the lovely reception crew may see hundreds of names daily.
Most hostels require the balance due to be paid on arrival. This is pretty straight forward when you’re travelling solo, but worthy of thinking about when you’re a few people together on one booking.
One of you will have booked using your card and paid the deposit on behalf of everyone in the booking. It’s normal to want to split the total amount evenly among each of you, just have it figured out before you arrive to check-in so payment on arrival is a smooth process for you and the lovely hostel receptionist who really doesn’t want to watch you discuss who owes who for the bus from the airport, who paid the deposit at the last place, and the like.
Trust me, I have been that lovely hostel receptionist, and when you want to ask questions and get some solid local advice a little later, the level of commitment you get may well be influenced by whether that first-impression inspired internal screaming, or favourable bias – we’re professionals of course, but only human after all.
Ok, so it’s been a bit ‘wordy’ so far, but hopefully it’s useful practical advice. I’ll keep things short & snappy on the home stretch with a few things to keep in mind for having a great hostel experience.
sharing a room with strangers might be a bit daunting when you’re not used to it, but strangers are just people waiting to become friends. The joy of hostel-culture is a shared joy, you’re not just sharing sleeping quarters & common facilities, your sharing experiences. You’ll get out of it what you put in, so embrace it. From the local staff to fellow travellers, travelling is as much about the people you meet, as the places you meet them.
Join a free walking tour
Not only is it the perfect way to explore and get a unique insight to the authentic culture, heritage & history of the place around you, but it means top quality at a fair price as you’re free to decide what the tour is worth or what you can afford to ‘tip’. Free tours are also great for meeting other travellers and locals during a fun experience. Many hostels have free tour pick up service from their reception and you can also check on Freetour.com & the Freetour app for the best free tours around the world.
Join a Pub Crawl
An ideal way to experience the local nightlife with a ready-made crew of party-buddies. Generally, pub crawls offer a good cross section of pubs, clubs and shenanigans with free shots & drinks, discounts & drinks specials, and free club entry, so it’s perfect for fun-lovin’ budget travellers. And some pub crawls, like the Backpacker Pub Crawl, even let you return as many times as you like for free! Most hostels either organise their own pub crawl or work with a local pub crawl, with tickets often available from reception.
I know I’ve mentioned it already, but it’s worth repeating. Find where your nearest pizza place is and remember it – a slice will be a life saver on a late-night journey back to the hostel.
If you use the self-catering facilities, such as a guest kitchen, tidy after yourself. It's only manners.
Bring a padlock, toiletries & a towel, but fear not if you forget them as most hostels sell, rent or lend these anyway.
Check before you travel for mention of needing to rent linen. It’s fairly uncommon these days, but some hostels still don’t include bed linen as standard. If so, bring your own or budget for renting them at the hostel.
Be respectful – treat others as you would like to be treated, don’t be an asshole, be kind. Be Spongebob!
Feel free to share your own tips and advice in the comments.
That’s it, kids. Go forth and hostel!
This was written by Ray, in Sweden, while eating Brago chocolate bickies and listening to Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Nina Simone, Lankum (formerly known as Lynched), & John Grant.