How to (wisely!) choose your hostel or backpacker, a comprehensive guide for first-time travellers

How to choose your backpacker (wisely!)

Sleeping in a backpacker or an hostel can be an amazing way to travel on a budget, but it can also be quite daunting for first-time travellers. You don’t always know what to expect or how to pick the right place, and you might be weary of what will happen on the day.  This guide will help you to pick the best possible sleeping arrangements. Everything for a stress-free backpacker night!

Is it made for me?

Hostels are not made for everyone, and everyone is not made for hostels. Which is more than fine, unless you discover it on the day, with no other option!

Sleeping in a hostel has a lot of advantages, and not just about the price! It’s a nice way to meet other travelers and create new friendships, as well as getting advice from others. It also generally give you access to a kitchen, which can considerably help with your food budget. Not to mention the common room where to relax after a long day of exploring, or the easy access to activities and visits through the hostel’s reception.

If you are considering a hostel as your lodging option while traveling, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you fine with sharing a room with strangers?
  • Can you sleep despite the noise of other people (think snoring, people entering and leaving the room, thin walls, etc.)?
  • Is it okay for you to share common rooms with strangers, including the bathroom and the kitchen?
  • How comfortable are you to leave your backpack or suitcase in a room full of strangers?

If you don’t have any problem with any of those issues, then good news: hostel life might be perfect for you!

💡 Many hostels now also offer individual rooms at a higher cost. You will most likely still share the common areas with other travelers, but it has the advantage of giving you your own room on a budget. But be careful to compare the prices to local hotels and AirBnB to make sure you are getting the best price.

How to (wisely!) choose your hostel or backpacker, a comprehensive guide for first-time travellers

Location and facilities

Location, money, and time

You have your mind set on sleeping in a hostel during your trip. Awesome! Now comes the first step of your planning: deciding where you want to stay. By now, you must already have a city in mind, but it is not always easy to decide on a particular neighbourhood when you know nothing (yet!) of the place you are going to be exploring.

In those research stages of your planning, you should be careful about one particular aspect, which is the location of your hostel. Not all hostels are situated in the city centre, or you might not even be in a city at all! Still, you will be a certain distance away from the main attractions and activities, and you must plan accordingly.

Here are some factors to take into account when picking the location of your hostel:

  • The neighbourhood: what is its reputation, what kind of shops can you find, is it recommended for tourists and travelers? Would you rather an area where to go out and party, or a quieter place? Are there any groceries stores for you to buy food or restaurants where to eat? Numerous resources are available to you, so do not hesitate to dig in so you can make your choice.
  • Transportation: you may choose to stay away from the city centre to save some money on your hostel night. But you need to be careful about the hidden costs of transportation. A night in the suburbs might be less expensive, but paying for the bus or the subway might even it out. Is there any kind of public transportations at all you can use? How far from the station or bus stop will you be? How about if you go back to the hostel in the afternoon but decide to go back out at night?
  • Time also is an important factor. You may be saving money by living further away, but are you ready to sacrifice your time in transports every day? You will either need to wake up earlier, or to spend less time exploring the area, which might be daunting and exhausting. Or you might not feel comfortable traveling that much at night, or too tired to do so after a long day of walking.

My grandmother was one of those people to always say that time is money, and it is all the more important when traveling. Think about what your priorities are, and the sacrifices you are willing to make during your trip. Then choose accordingly.

Facilities and priorities

Not all hostels offer the same facilities, and every hostel is different. Your expectations and needs will help you decide on which hostel is best for you based on the facilities they offer as well as the reputation they have. (That is when reviews come into play, but more on that later.)

It is important for you to have a precise list of facilities you will want/need during your hostel stay, and those you can do without. To help you, here is a list of facilities to ponder on while making your choice of lodging:

  • Types of dorms offered: how many people per dorm, co-ed or female-only dorms, private rooms available?
  • Easy and free access to WiFi
  • Access to a kitchen and all it appliances
  • Access to a common room/game room
  • Laundry room
  • Visits and activities offered by the hostel
  • The atmosphere of the hostel: party hostel or quiet place where to rest? Family-friendly or only for young people?
  • Any other extras (free breakfast, access to a terrace

💡 Many hostels now offer free, reliable WiFi, but it might not always be the case. Be careful to double check, as to avoid additional costs or disappointment, especially if you can’t use your phone data internationally.

💡 Cooking your own food can allow you to save a lot of money through the day. You do not need to be a master chief to cook pasta and sauce at night, or to make yourself sandwiches for lunch before you start your day. Do not hesitate to make the most of a free breakfast too, if it is provided. It is particularly helpful in Western European countries where food in restaurants and cafés might be pricey, and adds up really quickly.

Making your final choice

You have reduced your research to one location and a handful of backpackers? Amazing! Now comes the trickiest part: making sure you will be sleeping in a place that lives up to your expectations. Which might not be an easy thing if nobody is there to recommend you one backpacker in particular. But fear not, for you will able to avoid ugly surprises as long as you are savvy enough during the booking process.

Make the best out of Google

Chances are you found the backpackers directly on Google or Google Maps, or through a booking website. Your first step from there should be to check if the backpacker has an official website. Judging a book by its cover comes in full play when you are checking out the website, especially if it looks like something straight out of the 90s. It is so easy to create a clean, effective website these days, after all, and the backpacker’s website should give you an idea of what the place looks like.

A clean, well-updated website, with bright and quality pictures, always puts you more at ease. It can also allow you to check if more extras are listed, and if the backpack offers activities. This way, you can weed out a few places from your list, so you reduce it to two or three backpackers to choose from.

How to (wisely!) choose your hostel or backpacker, a comprehensive guide for first-time travellers

Use reviews in a smart way

TripAdvisor is a goldmine to pick your backpacker, as long as you know how to use it smartly. Try only picking a backpacker that has four stars or more; living conditions can be rough enough as they are to add more complications to your trip, after all!

Start by looking up negative reviews, those with only one or two stars, and read through them. It usually isn’t all that hard to spot people who slept in a backpacker while expecting to find the comfort of a luxury hotel. Those reviews, you can ignore.

From there, look up the reasons for people’s complains. After all, someone’s complains might be exactly what you are looking for. If someone is complaining about the noise but you are looking for a party hostel, is it an actual negative argument for you? Or, on the contrary, if someone complains about the lack of activities and lively atmosphere but you are looking for a quiet place where to crash after a long day, should you really take the complain into consideration?

From there, it becomes easy to sort the reviews and get the bigger picture. Be careful about a few important criteria though, such as security, cleanliness and beds. Nobody wants to find themselves in a bedroom with no lock or sleeping in a room full of bedbugs. If you see a pattern of complains, chances are you will not escape it either, and should avoid the backpacker instead of trying your luck.

💡 Always trust your instincts. If a place looks too good to be true or if you have a bad feeling about it, just avoid it. Sometimes it is better to pay a little more in another backpacker than to regret going for a cheaper option.

How to book your hostel

Booking.com is a sure and secure website for booking your backpacker. Prices are the same than they would be on the backpacker’s official website, and Booking.com gives you the option to cancel 24 hours in advance without any additional cost. Perfect for last minute changes of itinerary!

💡 Most backpackers will make you pay during check-in instead of in advance. Do take it into account when budgeting for your travel.

💡 Not all backpackers accept bank card payments, especially smaller ones. Make sure to check before arrive to avoid bad surprises.

How to (wisely!) choose your hostel or backpacker, a comprehensive guide for first-time travellers

How to (wisely!) choose your hostel or backpacker, a comprehensive guide for first-time travellers

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