I used to have a bad connotation about hostels. I had heard some had curfews, some had age restrictions, and images of dirty shared dormitory style bathrooms made me stick to budget hotels and B&Bs when I was travelling. But then I was planning a trip with some friends and decided to give it a try. It is now my preferred type of accommodation.
Hostels have come a long way. Most are for all ages, and some are even geared towards families. Depending on the hostel, you can choose from female only rooms, to co-ed, to private. You can find hostels that used to be an old castle or an old jail. Some even claim to be haunted. Most of the hostels I have been to were very clean and modern–only one or two have we had to walk away and find another place.
So how do you know what to look for when booking a hostel? I like to go to hostelworld.com. It gives a very comprehensive description and ratings and reviews from guests about hostels, B&Bs as well as budget hotels. You can get a sense if a hostel is a party place versus a small quiet hostel, as well as how friendly the staff are for helping guests book excursions/activities (or pointing you to the closest tourist office or best eateries). Sometimes hostels will claim to be a ‘short walk from the city centre,’ and the reviews will tell it is actually in fact a ways away. When you find a hostel that sounds appealing, you can then go directly to their website for more info and sometimes you may or may not find better rates. It never hurts to compare.
Some hostels also have organized events–BBQs once a week, a pub crawl, their own bar/restaurant, and some include breakfast. This makes it really easy to get to know other travellers. I’ve met some really cool people while staying in hostels. Just make sure not to get caught in that hostel bubble by only staying in the hostel bar and missing out on all the fun of exploring your new city!
What is your experience with hostels? I personally would never stay in a room that had 20 beds (I’ve seen it–some people just want a very cheap bed to sleep). But I do love the laid-back vibe that you don’t find in a hotel, sitting on a couch watching a movie with fellow travellers, drinking wine and playing games and just hanging out and making travel plans.