You will pay a large amount of money for a hotel because of the facilities and staff-costs, but staying at a hostel does not resemble to a nice hotel. At a hostel, you pay a small amount for basic amenities, but never assume the $25 you pay for a bunk will live up to your expectations. Before giving the hostel any money, ask to see your room. Make a careful inspection and do not allow the front desk guy to intimidate you into a less than detailed examination.
Examine your room, ask questions, look what’s around the hostel. Here are some tips to keep in mind when booking a hostel:
Location, location, location
Lugging backpacks or spending too much time on local travel can hurt your wallet if your hostel is not in the city center. Sometimes being in the city center may not be a good option, if things-to-do and see are in the ‘Old Town’, which is a bus or cab ride from the city center. Make sure to check the location of the hostel before booking a bunk bed. What are the public transportation options from the hostel to the airport or bus station? How far is walking from the hostel to most of the sights? In case if a hostel is tucked in to one corner of a city just because it has great reviews and is cheap, check on the facilities nearby – basic groceries (if you prepare meals of your own to take them on the go), cafes (morning coffee anyone?), clubs/bars (it can get noisy!) or public transportation options to the main sights.
So you found this hostel right in the center of the town or close to all the sights, but that may cost more than what you have planned for. Although, that may save you money on public transportation or taxis, the price you may end up paying is more than what you’d spend on staying at a hostel in the end of the city plus public transportation combined. With so many deals on day-tickets or 7-day tickets of trams, trains and buses, it may be wise to stay in that peaceful corner of the city and save on daily price of the hostel room. If you are traveling solo and prefer to stay in a private room, you will end up paying for two people because most hostels charge per person, per room (a single private twin bed sleeps two).
Contact the hostel for any deals or specials before booking through websites like HostelWorld, HostelBookers, etc. Most hostels have their booking systems contracted to these websites, so even if you visit the hostel website, you’d be booking through one of these big brother sites. But the advantage of checking the hostel’s website if you may end up getting some deals that they may have listed there.
Cleanliness & rooms
Most hostels provide privates and dormitory rooms with bunk beds; and most hostels clean the carpet, bedsheets and pillow covers often, but it’s wise to check them. Take a close look and see if the sheets are clean. Some hostels are dirty and you should be able to tell if they wash their bedding. Next, examine the quantity of bed coverings. Is there a sheet fitted to the mattress? Is their an additional sheet you can cover up with? Is there a blanket? How long is the blanket, will it cover your body or will your feet be sticking out all night? Remember that most hostels do not regularly wash the blankets. The blanket you will be using tonight was used last night by the guy who only showers once a week. Having something between you and the blanket is just good hygiene. If you want to know what a hostel washes, take a look at the clothes line or what the cleaning person is taking in and out of rooms.
Don’t take off the pillow case. You really do not want to see if the pillow is clean or not. This will not help you sleep better. Check to see if the pillowcase is clean. In all likelihood, the pillow will be very flat. Get used to it.
Ask if guests are allowed to bring in their own bedding (blankets, pillows, sleeping bags, etc.) If guests are allowed to bring in their own bedding be very careful. Most hostels prevent guests from bringing in their own sheets and blankets because they are trying to prevent bedbugs. Hostels that do not practice good hygiene can easily pass their problems on to you. Bedbugs can get into your skin (seriously), your clothes, and your pack. If you pick them up, getting rid of bedbugs can be extremely difficult.
Does the hostel have free wifi, or will you be charged? Although most hostels have free wifi, it may not be available in the room you’re in. And you may have to go to the reception area for coverage. Is there a bar inside the hostel? A common kitchen area or a bar is a great place to meet fellow travelers. Having a television in the common area can be negative as it distracts discussions. Is there a kitchen where you can prepare meals? Is it clean? What kind of utensils do they have? What time does the kitchen close? What kind of breakfast do they serve? Most hostels serve basic continental breakfast – bread, butter, jam, coffee/tea, while some go a step ahead and serve local breakfast.
Is your room located near a bathroom? Does the bathroom door slam loudly every time someone enters? Is your room situated above a loud club or bar? Is your room next to the laundry facilities? Do the laundry facilities close at a specified time?
Is there a tradable book library? Can you borrow books? If yes, then is there a deposit or a ‘rental’ cost?
Is there a lock out? If you’re in a dorm, then can you secure your backpack? Most hostels have their check-out time around 11am, and if you’re planning to leave the city late in the evening, then can they store your baggage in a locker or in a common area? If it’s in a common area, then is that safe?
Face it, staying in a hostel doesn’t come with all the perks of staying in a hotel. But it does make a great experience meeting fellow backpackers and getting to know things that, perhaps, no travel guide will tell you.