I stayed at my first hostel around the age of 22. Although I did not know exactly what to expect, I read enough to have a decent idea. I was a bit aprehensive about dorm style accomodations, but the price was fantastic and I liked the idea of meeting young people along the way.
One of the first hostels I stayed at was affiliated with Hostelling International. I was attracted to the organization, their worldwide network, and the minimum standards required of each place wishing to affiliate. Because it was my first experience, it became my “go to” experience—until I realized that minimum standards are just that—MINIMUM standards. Over the years, I realized that hostels come in all shapes and sizes. Although I once opted for the places boasting a “party atmosphere,” I now opt for the hostels boasting “quiet” “quaint” or “convenient.” Some hostels even have accommodations that are on par with (or better than) some budget hotels. (China, for example, has a network of hostels that are amazing. Most are located in remodeled hotels and feels more like a hotel stay than a hostel stay.)
I have also realized that a less expensive accommodation does not necessarily mean that you have to forego all quality. Here are just a few things that I suggest keeping in mind—particularly for those solo female travelers—when staying at a hostel.
- Cleanliness is a must.
I admit that I am a little germophobic, so my standards on cleanliness may be a little higher than most. But that being said, establishments must clean communal bathrooms daily. In fact, I do not think it’s too much to expect that private bathrooms in hostels or budget accommodations are cleaned daily. Common spaces must also be cleaned daily and the establishment should be free of insects and rodents. If these basic standards are not met, I would look for another accommodation.
- Expect to have some level of security.
Locking bathroom doors, working locks on room doors, and a secure front desk/hostel entry are a necessity. If staying in a dorm style room with others, you should have a place to lock and secure your personal items.
- Expect to have the basics.
The most reputable hostels will provide clean bed sheets, hot showers, toilets, and a place to secure personal belongings. In this day and age, I cannot imagine why these things would not be available. In this day and age, free internet (at least in common areas) is becoming the new norm at hostels.
- Expect Professionalism.
At the end of the day, a hostel is still a business. Rude staff is a no-no. Expect the hostel to deliver on its promises. So if the hostel promises breakfast, then it most certainly should be provided.
- Expect Some Level of Flexibility (with restrictions)
Admittedly, I try not to travel during peak season. Mostly because I think you find better deals. However, another bonus is that there is often flexibility with accommodations. I have definitely stayed someplace one night and switched locations the next. I often only make hostel or budget hotel accommodations for a night or two, regardless of whether I think I will stay longer. If it’s not busy, I can opt to stay longer. Many hostels now have online booking systems, so you may have a better idea of availability before you arrive.
While traveling in China, I booked my first place in Beijing with my tried and true Hostelling International. However, during my first night there, I just did not like it. People were wandering the halls aimlessly at all hours of the night. Some people I encountered just gave me the creeps. As it so happens, this same hostel helped me book a trip the next morning. On that trip, I met several other young travelers. I asked where they were staying and whether they liked their accommodations. They raved. And informed me that the hostel network in China had just been upgraded. They even had business cards printed with a small map and the address and contact information to help travelers remember where they were staying. I made a reservation that day and it was one of the best decisions I made while staying in Beijing. The amazing thing was that I could switch locations, at the last minute, with little to no loss of money.
All of that is to say that it is normal and even common to book your room for only a night or two at a time. If traveling during the off peak season, you can often extend your stay on the day of.
- You should expect to feel safe.
Trust your gut and if you don’t have a good feeling, move on. I was traveling with a friend in Amsterdam. We read about a hostel and both decided it sounded like a “fun” place to stay. We walked in, took one look at the owner, looked at each other, and both, simultaneously, walked out without saying a word. That was the sketchiest place I walked into in Amsterdam, which says a lot. The carpeting was gross (shoes sticking to the ground) and the owner had long, curly, greasy hair, a shirt straight from 1978 with only the bottom two buttons done, a massive amount of chest hair, and a thick gold chain around his neck. Don’t get me wrong. That may have been the best place to stay in all of Amsterdam. But my gut told me that I did not want to find out.
- Expect reduced privacy.
This, like several other aspects of staying in a budget accommodation, depends. Of course one would expect minimal privacy if staying in a dorm styled room. However, even if you decide on a private room, you may still need to share a bathroom. If staying at a guest house or bed and breakfast, expect that you may have interaction with the owner or someone coming into your room to clean.
These are just a few things that you can expect if staying at a hostel. Of course this list is not all inclusive. But it will give you a pretty basic idea of hostel life.