14 Tips for Choosing the Right Hostel for Backpackers and Digital Nomads

Last Updated on 19/05/2022 by Edy Ragnoli

What to do and what mistakes to avoid to pick the right hostel for your needs and ensure the most memorable amazing travel experience either for fun or work.

Hostels are all around the world. They are perfect for young groups or those who want to travel on a budget or prefer a friendly environment, make new encounters and have fun together with the other guests. But there are thousands of hostels out there. They differ in many aspects: quality, space, style, culture, people, location and landscape, climate, guests' age, gender, etc. That's why the choice can be tricky. So, I decided to share 14 tips to help you choose the right hostel for your next trip.

What Is a Hostel

Hostels are well known for their budget accommodations consisting of four to 12 beds in the same room. The dorm rooms feature shared bathrooms and are separated by gender (hostels for girls/women or boys/men), even though you could also find mixed-gender hostels.

The beds are very basic cots, often arranged in bunk beds. Some hostels also offer single rooms or, more rarely, hybrid solutions of single rooms in apartments with shared bathrooms and kitchens. The best-equipped hostel accommodations also have common areas such as a kitchen, bar, reading and/or games room, and even a swimming pool.

But bear in mind that single rooms can be pricey and often cost as much as a hotel room (if not more). Do you know why? Generally, there are just a few single rooms available. Therefore, the hostel managers/owners keep the price tag high. So, if you wish to travel on a budget and find cheap accommodation, opt for a single bed in a dormitory. They represent 99% of inexpensive solutions besides being the true essence of a hostel.

I must confess I'm not a big fan of hostel accommodation as I prefer some room privacy, especially when I'm tired after a long day. For this reason, I better like renting an apartment or booking a cheap hotel room.

However, sometimes you have limited options available or no choice at all. That's when you are forced to spend your night in a hostel.

Let me tell you two of my experiences.

When I arrived in Malta in 2014, I immediately had a lot of difficulties finding a long-term apartment. Therefore, I was forced to stay in two hostels for two weeks. They were two completely different lodgings.

The Neglected Hostel

The first hostel—of which I don't remember the name—was located in Bugibba. It had dirty dorm rooms and bathrooms, an unusable kitchen, and a room furnished with antiquated objects. The owner was pretty absent: he used to come and visit the structure twice a day for just about fifteen minutes (or if called by the residents/guests). In a nutshell, it was a semi-abandoned accommodation. Today, that structure has a new owner and name (“Tarona Guesthouse”) and has been renovated.

The Luxury Yet Cheap Hostel

The second structure was the Sprachcaffe Village in Pembroke – ‘a hostel from another planet'. The Sprachcaffe is a renovated former military camp. It features dormitories arranged under huge loggias with an adjoining restaurant and a large swimming pool. Inside the structure, you can also attend English language courses.

In short, the Sprachcaffe Village is the equivalent of a tourist village at the cost of a hostel! My experience there was so amazing and memorable that I've been in this property again in 2015 for four days and rented a single room in a shared flat. What can I say? It was simply fantastic, a value for money, superior to many 2-star or even 3-star hotels, in some cases.

Do you know? These two accommodations were totally different from each other. But I spent the same amount of money: €10 per night. I'm telling you these stories to make you understand the importance of choosing the right hostel so that you can spend pleasant days at a low cost without running into unpleasant situations.

How to Choose the Best Hostel

What can make you want to stay in a hostel longer and come back again every time you visit the place? Contrary to belief, price and amenities are not the only key elements of a good hostel. In fact, you can stay in cheap locations with a few amenities but still have an extraordinary experience because of the people you meet there.

The key factors for a fantastic hostel

The elements that make an amazing stay in a hostel can be grouped into three categories:

  • The atmosphere hence the people (guests, staff, and managers)
  • Amenities
  • Facilities.

The right mix of these elements creates a perfect “travel cocktail”. But what to consider, exactly, in these categories? Read my suggestions to discover the right hostel for your trip.

Once you have a clear idea of what to look for, you can start searching for your hostel and purchase a room on the most popular hostel booking sites such as Hostelworld.com and Booking.com. Read the hostel accommodation details, amenities, services, conditions, pricing, location, and availability. Then, compare them with the 14 tips I explained below.

Tips for Picking the Best Hostel for Your Nomad Life

1. Good Value for the Price (cheap doesn't always mean the best hostel)

Avoid dirty dorms and bathrooms, thin mattresses, unclean pillows, and slow Wi-Fi. You can get more quality by spending just a few dollars more. And your trip won't turn into a nightmare. It's okay to save money and make your trip longer but make sure you can enjoy it.

2. Late Check-out (unless you hate sleeping)

It's not just about sleeping more. It's about living your travel without pressure. I really appreciate late check-out (at 11 am or even noon). In this way, when I have to move and run from place to place, I can pack all my things without leaving anything back and with peace of mind.

3. Flexible Check-in (sometimes earlier is better)

Conversely to the previous point, flexible and early hours for the check-in can be nice. Although I like taking it easy, sometimes I get to the place earlier. In such cases, accommodating in the room before the standard time (generally 2 pm) is very convenient. I save time and don't get too bored. Finding a hostel that does that is hard, but after a deep search, you can find one.

4. Diversified Breakfast (and other free food)

When I travel, I often get bored because the hostel breakfast is often limited to eggs, toast, and coffee, not to mention when it's only available for a few hours early in the morning. Therefore, I suggest you find a hostel that offers free rich breakfast until 10 am (at least). I like it when I can sleep enough, relax, and live the trip slowly for better enjoyment.

A rich breakfast is also a good occasion to try more local food and take something to eat during the day (which can let you save some money, too). In addition to that, I love hostels that include other free food perks available all day (e.g. snacks, good coffee and tea) and/or dinner with a kitchen space.

5. Lockers available (and free of charge)

Sometimes, I prefer hotels over hostels because I like keeping my stuff safe, mainly when I have electronic devices. I trust digital nomads can understand me very well. In fact, how would you feel if someone steals your bags, passport, wallet or working tools regardless of the location (New York downtown or a remote Chinese rural village)?

For that reason, I always choose hostels with lockers large enough to store my backpack and keep my documents, money, computer, smartphone, and camera safe. Having the locker included in the price is a plus that influences my choice. Actually, I tend to avoid hostels that offer lockers at an additional price (unless they are the only available choice).

You may be interested also in How To Find Cheap Travel Accommodation in 2021

6. Free Internet Connection (with security in mind)

Nowadays, depending on the type of traveller you are, a Wi-Fi Internet connection can be a must-have or very useful amenity. Do you work remotely? Wish you keep in contact with your friends and family while abroad? Do you use the Internet—like I do—to search for local attractions, restaurants, and bars?

Look for a hostel that offers free Wi-Fi with a good connection and coverage. But pay attention when you do private activities such as home banking and sending emails. This is more true when you use the hostel computer terminal (if any) due to possible viruses, malware, and spyware. Basic web surfing is safe, though.

7. Attention to Socialisation

What makes a hostel unique is the atmosphere and experience. One key factor for that is the social aspect. Here are four elements that can encourage interaction between guests and help you make new friends.

  • Bar/kitchen/dining area where people can hang out, cook and eat together, share food, and swap travel stories.
  • A common area (a big room in addition to the bar) with many things that can bring people together and let solo travellers meet new fellows (pool tables, billiards, foosball table, cards, board games, video games, instruments such as drums and guitars, TV/movies/streaming/Netflix/Prime Video).
  • Organised activities (BBQ events, walking tours, pub crawls, sangria parties, theme nights, beer testing, architecture tours, museum trips, yoga/workout/cocktail classes, workshops, quizzes, and many more).
  • Sports equipment (bikes, surfboards, snorkelling gear, and so on).

Before booking your hostel, check the list of activities and which ones are free or paid for.

8. Staff Who Makes You Feel Welcome

Here's another key factor for making the hostel nice and happy. When you stay at a hostel for the first time and don't have previous experience, this is a difficult thing to know in advance. Therefore, I suggest you read the user reviews. They can tell you whether the managers and assistants are knowledgeable, friendly, and helpful.

9. Hostel Located Near Your Points of Interest

If you wish to have a good holiday, avoid commuting most of the time, unless you like being in a rush and lacking sleep. I suggest you choose a hostel near your points of interest (the city centre, train or bus station, underground, heritage, mall, and so on). Remember you are there to have fun and relax—or work. So, the proper hostel location can save your day.

10. Hostel Matching Your Lifestyle (backpacker or remote worker?)

Different travellers mean different needs. For example, fast and reliable free Wi-Fi and a quiet working environment could be essential for digital nomads. Conversely, a workspace is not necessarily something backpackers are interested in because they are more focused on social activities and basic amenities.

You may also be interested in reading about How to Find the Cheapest Flights to Anywhere

11. Reasonably Comfortable Shower

When I stay in a hostel, I don't crave luxury amenities. Despite that, I also try to avoid annoying situations, and the shower can be one of them. And I'm telling you why.

When you choose a hostel, try your best to find information about things such as water pressure, hot water (it's frequent to find hostels with cold water only), and push-button showers that can make things quite irritating (even if my shower is quick and I agree with saving water, I hate remaining mid-soaping because the water turns off too early).

12. Additional Facilities and Services

Even though you decide to travel on a budget and focus more on experience and socialisation rather than pampering luxury, you still deserve a comfortable journey with basic yet handy facilities such as laundry and 24/7 reception.

13. Book in Advance During Peak Times

If you plan to visit a place during a popular event such as the Festival of Colours in India (aka Festival of Spring, Festival of Love, Holi in the Hindi language), the Cherry blossom festivals in Japan, or the Oktoberfest in Munich (to mention a few), places can be very requested and busy. Hence hostels can get booked up very quickly. So, advanced booking is a must-do if you don’t want to end up sleeping on the street.

14. Free Towels and Toiletries

I generally travel with my towels, pillow covers, and blankets (just in case), but when a hostel offers me them free of charge, that accommodation gets close to “winning the battle” and gaining my preference.

You may be interested also in discovering The Best Travel Insurance for Long-Term Travellers and Digital Nomads

The elements that make a good hostel depend on your habits, adaptation, and expectations. Anyway, I suggest you look for as many as possible to find the best hostel, whatever the type of accommodation and geographical area (for men, ladies, surfers, trekkers, youth, groups, solo travellers, students, digital nomads, located in Asia, America, Europe or Australia).

Before booking your dorm room, read the customer reviews, check the list of amenities, and look at the pictures and map. This will help you make the right decision when picking a good hostel.

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