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What makes a good hostel?

Tuesday 3 January 2012 Wherever I travel, I tend to favour a hostel over a hotel. Part of this comes down to the aforementioned tightness. But mostly, hostels offer a greater sense of camaraderie, particularly to a solo traveller. In a b&b or hotel, you won't mingle with other guests. In a hostel, you often don't have the choice.

This isn't for everyone, of course. You may prefer privacy, peace and quiet. But you can also get this in a hostel. Private rooms are often a bargain, and not every hostel is a party house. Many are catering to families now, and upping their game in terms of design, service and value.

I've stayed in hostels all over the world, and know a little something about what makes one great. I'll be posting hostel reviews on Travel Pennies, starting with a San Francisco gem.

Until then, here is what I believe makes a good hostel...

1. Location
A little obvious, but well worth researching properly. Most places will make it seem like they're in a great spot, but the reality is a lot of hostels are in dodgy areas. Find the place on Google Maps and see what the 'city centre' location is really like. Check the review section of Hostelworld and see what previous guests say. Take these reviews with a pinch of salt though, and read a good few of them. One person's flea ridden cess pitt is another's budget paradise.

2. What's included
Look out for all of the hidden extras. In a decent hostel, I would expect the following to be included in the rate...
  • Bed linen
  • Breakfast
  • Towel (or rentable for around €1)
  • Internet access
  • Hot water
They all seem like basics, but it's worth double checking.

3. Staff
A tricky one to suss out before you arrive, but word of mouth or good reviews can come into play here. I've stayed in some places with truly horrible staff members, which is just baffling to me. A smile behind the desk and someone willing to help goes a long way.

4. Rooms
I tend to stay in private rooms, when my budget allows, but have seen a good few dorm rooms as well. Have a look at the photos on the hostel site, or on Hostelworld. If there are lots of bunks in a room, are the spread out well? Is there much space or are 16 beds crammed into a tiny area? Where are the bathrooms? How many bathrooms per head? You don't want to be queueing for the loo after scrambling down a bunkbed and navigating between a jumble of bodies. Choose a dorm with fewer people, or with plenty of space.

5. Safety
Again, something tricky to determine before arrival, and tricky to determine full stop. Reviews can be your friend here, as can common sense. Is there somewhere safe to put your belongings when you're out of the dorm room? Is there a locker for valuables?

6. The breakfast
As something of a glutton, this perhaps matters more to me than others. But with most hostels including a free breakfast, you can tell a lot about the place by what they offer in the morning. If you can't decide between two places, check what they include. I've seen some real crappy offerings in my time, which I will get to in my reviews. But here is what I think constitutes a good deal - a good variety of bread/bagels, fruit (not tinned, shudder), juice, cereals and tea/coffee. This will set you up for the day and eliminate the need for a feed as soon as you head out.

A private room in Wildebeest Camp hostel in Nairobi

What do you think makes a good hostel? Do you have any favourites?


  1. I've stayed in a fair few hostels myself - one of the most amazing I stayed in was in Mpumalanga in South Africa. There was a 2 course breakfast at that place!
    Another of my favourites was one in Ponsonby, Auckland - no breakfast, no sheets, no towels, only 1 toilet for girls, BUT the staff were brilliant, it was small and cosy which helped for everyone to become a family unit while staying there - everyone helped everyone.
    Sorry I forget what either of them are called - I look forward to your reviews!

  2. Don't staff make such a difference? They can get away with murder in my eyes, so long as there's a smile along the way.


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