Hostels. Some love them. Some don’t. But if you’re travelling on a budget, they may be your “go-to” form of accommodation regardless of what you truly think about them.
They’re definitely mine.
If you’ve read some of my other posts, you’ll know that I’m a budget traveller. This year, I had the chance to visit a whole ton of European cities, such as Budapest, Ljubljana, and Munich, and I stayed in hostels nearly every night. As of today, I’ve stayed in 13 different hostels in 2017, and I will be able to add 3 more to the list by the end of October. With all sorts of unique little hostels constantly popping up in Europe, I actually get ridiculously excited about my hostel stays.
Now, I didn’t always feel this way. Once upon a time, the thought of staying in a hostel filled me with fear (#princess). However, the dread quickly melted away after my first few hostel experiences. I quickly became obsessed with all the opportunities I had to interact with other travellers, and I also became a huge fan of common hostel amenities, such as shared kitchens. (I’m always on a mission to find out how low my trip costs can go).
Of course, some of my hostel experiences have been better than others. So this week, I chose to reflect on some my favourite hostel stays in Europe and determine what made these hostels so great.
My list of 14 services and amenities you want your hostel to have so that you can have the ultimate hostel experience.
(FYI: Ultimate Hostel Experience according to Snow to Seas = safe place to rest + loads of of opportunities to meet other travellers + loads of opportunities to save money).
Without further ado, if you’re planning on making some hostel bookings soon, here are hostel facilities to check for in order to make sure that you can have the most awesome hostel stay!
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1. Basic Safety and Security Features
Regardless of where I sleep, whether it’s a hotel, a hostel, an AirBnb, or even my own home, I want to feel safe. It’s non-negotiable. When booking a hostel, keep your eyes peeled for what people have said about the building’s security features. Try to find out:
- Do doors to rooms/dorms have locks?
- How easy is it for anyone to walk into the building?
- Is there a front desk?
- How long is it open for?
FACT: I once stayed in a hostel in the countryside where the front desk was closed overnight and anyone could walk into the main building. Fortunately, the dorm doors had locks, but that didn’t stop me from feeling a tad anxious at night.
Nowadays, many of us tend to travel with a handful of valuables. It’s not always convenient to take them everywhere you go. (No, I’d prefer not to take my passport to the shower room). Therefore, I’m a huge fan of hostels that provide you with your own personal locker during your stay.
Packing Tip: even if hostels have guest lockers, it’s always handy to have your own lock on hand. Locks are not always provided.
3. A Shared Kitchen
If you’re travelling on a budget, having the ability to cook your own meals can help you save quite a bit of money. Hostel kitchens are also typically busy areas, so they’re great spots to meet other travellers. Smell something delicious? Simply ask: “What are you making? It smells amazing!” You just may end up quickly making a new travel friend!
4. A Common Area
In addition to shared kitchen spaces, I’m a huge fan of hostels with common areas. Like kitchens, they’re another great place to meet and interact with others. As well, if your hostel room happens to be a bit busy or cramped, common areas are a great place to get more space and relax.
Inhawi Boutique Hostel in Saint Julian’s, Malta had one of the nicest shared kitchens and common areas I have ever seen.
5. Reasonable Number of Washrooms
I never really thought too much about the availability of bathrooms in hostels until this summer. I stayed in a couple hostels that had 1 bathroom for around 10-12 people. I can tell you that it didn’t work out so well.
In addition to planning an exciting day of sightseeing when visiting someplace new, with limited bathrooms, you may also have to add in a plan to get up extra early in order to avoid pre-checkout washroom/shower queues.
Does your hostel serve breakfast? Is it already included in the hostel price? Awesome! You just saved some time and money.
While Garden House Bled served breakfast for an additional charge, herbs were free for the taking.
7. All Over Wifi
Having consistent wifi throughout an entire hostel building isn’t as critical as having basic security features throughout an entire hostel building, but it’s definitely useful. If you have to work online or have some last minute trip planning to get done, I know exactly how frustrating it get can with a poor wifi signal.
8. Information About Local Activities and Excursions
Despite how much travel research you do beforehand, it’s always great to get recommendations from locals. Maybe there’s something exciting and new that hasn’t been covered in your Google search’s top hits yet? Maybe the best walking tour in town doesn’t advertise online? If it hadn’t been for my hostel, I would have missed out on Ljubljana’s awesome and free walking tour. So I absolutely love it when hostels fill up bulletin boards, reception areas, or common areas with lists and brochures covering top must-sees and must-dos.
Information pamphlets on display at Garden House Bled.
9. Organizes Activities and Excursions
I totally understand that not all hostels may be big enough or have the resources to run their own activities and excursions, such as walking tours. Nevertheless, your travel planning can become a lot simpler and interacting with other travellers can become a lot easier when they do.
10. Availability of Power Outlets
I’d dare say that in this day and age, it’s pretty rare for someone travel without a single electronic device. I’ve usually got around 3 devices on my hands that need daily charging (#blogginglifeyo). However, not all facilities can keep up with the demand for outlets. I’ve stayed in my fair share of establishments that only have one outlet for 8 people. Alternatively, I’ve also stayed in many hostels that provide individuals with their own power sockets by their beds. That’s undeniably awesome.
Packing Tip: I travel with a portable power bank in case the supply of power outlets doesn’t meet the demand.
I wouldn’t say that not having access to rental equipment can make or break your hostel stay, but it’s definitely convenient if you can get your hands on what you need all in one place. It’s usually cheaper too. I’ve come across hostels that rent bikes to their guests, and the Lake Como Hostel in Menaggio, Italy even offers canoe rentals.
12. Access to Laundry Machines
Backpacking around Europe for a handful of weeks in the summertime can be one awesome adventure, but it can also be – um – a smelly one. I’m totally impressed if you can carry around 10 kg+ on your back in 30 degree (Celsius) heat without breaking a sweat.
If I have to pack ultra light (oh, you budget airlines) and I know that I’ll be travelling for more than 10 days, I’ll be booking at least 1 hostel with laundry services.
13. A Hostel Bar
Shared kitchens, common areas, and dorm rooms are all great places to meet other travellers in hostels. Hostel bars, if present, work wonders too. Moreover, since hostels cater to budget travellers, hostel bars are typically known for having awesome happy hour deals.
14. Linen Included
FACT: not all hostels provide you with free bed linen. Out of all the places I’ve travelled to, I frequently faced the “bed linen for an extra charge” issue in Sweden. (In most of these situations, sleeping bags are also unacceptable because you may be bringing bugs and dirt inside). Since I tend to travel light, I don’t have room to pack a quilt and sheets. I always try to book hostels that provide me with linen.
Are you on a mission to travel for less?
Check out some of my budget travel guides:
- Lucerne: How to Explore the Swiss City on a Budget
- Exploring Lake Como, Italy on a Budget
- How to go on a Norwegian Fjord Cruise for less
Other Factors to Consider When Booking a Hostel
In addition to feeling safe in a hostel, I’m also super picky about the cleanliness of a place. I don’t know about you, but unkempt places make me feel icky and uncomfortable.
One of the reasons I love booking hostels is that you can often stay in or close to city centres for a reasonable price. Depending on the size of the city you’re in, being in a central location can also help you cut back on transportation costs. When choosing a hostel, I always consider its location compared to the location of the city centre and the city’s main train or bus stations.
Not only was Marken Guesthouse in Bergen ultra clean, but it was also a 5-minute walk from the train station and a 10-minute walk from Bryggen, one of Bergen’s top downtown attractions.
Where to Check Hostel Services and Amenities
Alright. So I’ve just provided you with a whole list of hostel services and amenities that can help you have the perfect hostel stay. Now, you may be wondering: how do I go about checking which hostel offers what?
Most accommodation pages on booking sites, such as booking.com, will have a subsection describing their facilities. There, you can find out if you’ll have access to wifi, a shared kitchen, free bed linen, and more. Alternatively, if you can’t find the information you’re looking for there, take a look at the reviews and property photos. Still don’t have your answer? Send the property an email or give them a call.
Saint Julian’s Inhawi Boutique Hostel in Malta had an outdoor pool (#obsessed).
Where I Book Hostel Stays
Personally, I’m a huge fan of Booking.com. I probably make around 99% of my bookings on that site. (I’m crazy about some of those free cancellation policies).On the rare occasion, when a property has been all booked up on Booking, I’ll venture over to Hostelworld and make my reservation there. In the past, I have found better prices on Booking.com over Hostelworld. Of course, if a hostel has its own site, you can usually make your reservation there.
Despite travelling on a budget, some hostels, such as Menaggio’s Lake Como Hostel, offer some pretty incredible views.
Hostels. Some love them. Some don’t. But I definitely think that regardless of where you stand, with some careful planning and review reading, you can take one major stride towards having an incredibly awesome hostel experience.
Now, I would love to hear from you! Are hostels your first choice or your last resort? Are there any other hostel facilities that you need to truly enjoy your stay?
Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below!
Staying in a hostel soon?
- Check out what top 10 items you should pack in your Hostel Survival Kit.