13 Tips and Hacks For Booking A Hostel In 2024

13 Tips and Hacks For Booking A Hostel In 2024

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The first time I stayed in a hostel, I opened the door to my room to find three beautiful Swedish girls walking around in their underwear. They looked at me for a second, smiled and turned back to doing whatever they were doing. It was certainly one way to be introduced to what staying in a hostel is all about.

Over the years, I estimate that I’ve stayed in at least 200 different hostels around the world. I continue to do so, not because I enjoy trying to fall asleep while someone’s snoring or taking in the combined l’eau du jour of everyone staying in the room. I do it because I continue to meet some amazing people this way, some of whom I would end up traveling with for days and even weeks at a time, and stay in touch with long after we’ve parted ways.

Sharing a room in a game of strangers roulette is worth it for these experiences, but of course with the comforts of a hotel room or a hip Airbnb as options, I am more discerning about where I stay when I choose to stay in a hostel. These are the things I look for and dealbreakers to help me choose a good/great hostel every time.

#1 Narrow Down My Options

I start on Hostelworld.com and get a sense of what options are available in a city (but I don’t book there). In a place like Franz Josef, New Zealand, there’s only a handful of options. Bangkok, Thailand on the other hand has about hundreds of different hostels you can choose from. This takes a little longer to research, but it’s a good thing. You have choices and options (and I’ll get to that in just a bit). Although hostels are rated on a scale of 1-10, I don’t take this as an objective scale across the site. A 8.5 in one place, might be a 9.5 in another, or lower in a different city. I look at how the top hostels in a city score relative to each other and how many those hostels have at least a 8.5 rating.

TRAVEL HACK #1:  I don’t usually book on Hostelworld.com anymore. It’s not always the cheapest. Nowadays, I always find a better deal or even more hostel options using these links on Booking or Agoda. If you book enough with Booking, you can earn Genius Status and get more discounts, free breakfasts, or other perks. Agoda offers cash back and can sometimes have better prices than booking in some regions, especially asia. Sometimes I will book directly with the hostel, but only if it’s the cheapest option, I get better flexibility with cancellations and changes, or I can pay online in advance. I prefer paying with a credit card over having to pay with cash upon arrival.


Sometimes, they all have low scores, but that can be alright too. I don’t expect the same standard across everywhere I go, and I do take the prices into account. Someone paying $60 for a dorm bed in Amsterdam might expect more for their money and give it a lower score than a hostel in Vietnam where they paid $8 a night. So that’s where the next thing is important.

#2 Read The Negative Reviews

Sort the reviews by most recent and look through the not so glowing reviews. What is the person complaining about? Do they sound like someone who knows what they are talking about or just complaining because they suck as human beings and didn’t get invited to the pub crawl.

Figure out what’s important to you and see if any red flags are raised. If you plan to sleep early, look to see if people are complaining about the noise level past 10 pm. Did the showers work? Was it hot? Were there bed bugs? How recently? You’ll get more from the negative reviews than the glowing ones from people who just are reviewing with rose-colored glasses on.

#3 Look For Photos From Guests

One great thing is to see if there are user-uploaded photos. You can see how packed the common area might be or how close together the beds are. It’s almost impossible to socially-distance in a hostel, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Some are more spacious than others and some hostels have even written about their new cleaning protocols. User comments can attest to whether this is true or not, since almost everyone is on alert to the topic, whether they care or not.

Photos, even from phones and especially if they aren’t professional, can give you a better sense sometimes than the staged ones taken from when a hostel first opened.

#4 Don’t Always Choose The Cheaper Or the Most Expensive

This is obviously important. A lot of times I find the price range to be pretty tight across all my options in a particular city. Sometimes a couple might stand out on the either end. Cheap sounds great, but consider what makes it so cheap. What are you giving up on? Is located away from where you will want to visit. Will you spend more on buses and trains each day compared to another spot?

Likewise, if a place is much more expensive, consider what you are paying for? Is it because there are better beds, more amenities, better location, or are you just paying because it’s where everyone comes to party. Or because they were listed in Lonely Planet? It’s important to know what you’re paying for and that comes to my list of things that I look for and my dealbreakers.

I personally would spend a little more at places that, in turn, have committed more resources to keeping a place cleaned more regularly. Even if you think you are young and invincible, you don’t want to take the chance of getting sick abroad.

#5 Look For Lockers

Lockers are provided everywhere, even if it seems that way in nowadays. When I first started traveling, I’d be lucky to find a hostel with a private lockbox to keep my passport and money. You just kept your backpack at the foot of your bed and hope that there’s honor amongst travelers and no one steals your copy of Time Traveler’s Wife.

And then we started traveling with more expensive cameras, laptops, cell phones. While I don’t think thefts went up, there was value in the peace of mind in knowing your stuff was secured. Hostels started providing individuals lockers. Before I knew it, it was strange if you didn’t have a place to lock up all your possessions.

Look at the photos to see if there are lockers provided and check to see if you need to bring your own lock or if it’s provided. In any case, you should always travel with a couple of these types of locks.

#6 Does The Hot Water Run Out?

I’ve gone with bathing for over 8 days three times in my life. Once at Burning Man, and twice during my trip to Mongolia. Still, I prefer to stay clean and if I’m not in a tropical destination, I’d like a hot shower.

When I read the reviews, I want to see if people are complaining about hot water running out, if the showers are super dirty, or if there aren’t enough showers for the number of guests. Don’t forget to bring some sandals for the showers. Again, check to see if anyone comments on the regularity of cleaning.

#7 Is the Wifi Good And Does It Reach The Rooms?

Not all wifi is created equal. This is not a dealbreaker when you can pick up a local SIM for pretty cheap, but if you need wifi access, definitely check to see if it works everywhere and if it is good enough for you.

TRAVEL HACK #2: Install Airalo on your phone for instant data practically every country without having to purchase a local physical sim. Local sims can still be cheaper if your phone accepts a physical sim (newer iPhones 14 and onwards no longer support physical sim slots). Airalo is an eSIM that allows you to buy different data packages everywhere you go. It’s good to have options.

That being said, I don’t expect hostels, especially cheaper ones to be providing super fast internet access. It’s not always easy or cheap for them and they are in the business of providing accommodation, not being a work space for digital nomads.

#8 Is There A Common Area That Encourages Socializing?

The liveliest hostels are the ones where the common room is strategically placed in a way that forces people to interact. It could be in the form of a bar, a rooftop space, or just a bunch of cushions on the ground. If there’s something to do there and it’s comfortable, you’ll find more people choose to retreat back to this space after a day out on the town, instead of hiding in their rooms.

It’s hard to tell just from the photos, but you might get a sense of this in the reviews. Also note the time of year of the year and if it matches with when you’re traveling. For example, a lively hostel might be dead during the low season. I definitely take that into account when I read people’s comments.

Choosing a good hostel

#9 Does The Hostel Organize Activities Or Offer Tours

I know I can always go out on the town and look at different tour operators, but it’s nice when the hostel has already narrowed it down for me. I know they are earning a commission, but their reputation is on the line as well, so I hope that they have curated a list of activities that might be of interests to their guests. Sometimes, it’s even cheaper than booking it on your own elsewhere.

TRAVEL HACK #3: When booking activities, I check the prices first on GetYourGuide or Klook. I find that these sites usually give you the same if not better prices than booking directly or through a tour reseller. You don’t have to deal with haggling, and can usually pay in advance online with a credit card. At The very least, you can compare their prices with what’s being offered locally. If you want $5 off any activity on Klook, use this link to sign up.

Bonus points when the hostel organizes activities of their own that allows you to get to know the other people staying there. Pub crawls, BBQs, hiking trips are few options.

#10 Are The Beds Comfortable And Do They Have Privacy Curtains

This is not a dealbreaker, but it’s nice when the hostel has invested in some decent mattresses and sheets. More and more, I’ve been finding beds that are similar to ones I find in hotels. Even the sheets smell of lavender sometimes. This is not always necessary, because I usually carry one of these with me just in case.

Another thing becoming more common are capsule like beds. Though not a full on pod like the ones you find in Japan, each bed has it’s own built in locker, a privacy curtain that pulls across the entire length the bed, and your own outlets. This small offer of privacy is amazing and I’m glad that it’s catching on with newer hostels. Now it’s 10% less obvious that someone is having sex in the bed across from you.

You used to only get the cheapest metal bunk beds everywhere. Nowadays, staying in a hostel can be really comfortable and comparable to hostels costing far more.

#11 Is There A Kitchen To Cook?

I love to eat and I love to cook, so when I travel, I like a mix of both eating out and cooking my favorite dishes. Long term travel also means eating out all the time can get expensive, especially in Europe.

It’s nice to have a kitchen where I can cook up some of my favorite meals, make a quick breakfast or pack a lunch and even share a “home” meal with new friends. You’re not going to get restaurant quality pots/pans/knives, but having a decently stocked kitchen is nice. Bonus if they have things like salt and pepper, spices or oil, so I don’t have to carry my own from city to city or buy more than what I can use.

Travel Hack #4: Some places offer free breakfast. It’s not always going to be that great (though I’ve been surprised more than a few times), but It’s also one of the best time and place for socializing. Most travelers never turn down a free meal.

#12 Can I Store My Bag?

I’m a fan of places that allow you to check in when your bed is available. As travelers, you might show up at 6 am in desperate need of a place to lay down. I get it when the bed or room is not available, but it’s always nice when the places are a little flexible.

More importantly though, even if I can’t check in early, I’d like to know if I can securely store my bag somewhere before I check in. The same goes with checking out if my departure is later in the day or even in the evening. This isn’t always necessary, but make sure it works for you.

#13 Can I Check In Late Or Check Out Early?

To get the best deals on flights nowadays can mean super early or late departures. That means arriving really late at night or having to check out early. I want to make sure that I can do either or both if my travel plans require it. This is not something you can be careless about. You might end up arriving to find that you can’t check in. Similarly, if you leave early, you will want to make sure you know the procedure for doing so, especially if there’s a key deposit.

These are just a few things that have value to me. I don’t expect it all the time, but I will choose one hostel over another if it provides me with some of these comforts. At the end of the day, you’re on the road to see and experience things. A hostel is just a place where you can rest your head at night without paying too much. Temper your expectations, but know that you can still get good value for your money.

If you are ready to travel, assuming your destination will accept you, go see my checklist to find the cheapest flights to get that trip started. If you need some inspiration, check out my Bucket List for some cool places, adventures, and experiences.

Updated on October 20, 2023


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