Written by Jenny McWhirter on 27 / 10 / 2015
Gap Year Advice
You may have heard horror stories about hostels...
Hostels can be a great place to meet like-minded people without breaking the bank. But the excitement of setting off on a gap year to travel South-East Asia, the East Coast of Australia, or heading into the unexplored territory of the Amazonian Jungle can somewhat distract you from sorting out the right accommodation to put your head down for the night. Don't let that happen to you! Remember:
The type of hostel you choose can make or break your trip.
So make sure you put the necessary effort into planning where you'll stay, or expect some bad experiences. To help you get started, I've put together some top tips to ensure your trawl through the thousands of hostels on offer results in the best selection.
When it comes to choosing a hostel, cheaper isn’t always better. There may be a list of options at £15 and you ask yourself why pay an extra fiver. However, when you rock up and you realise you are in some sleepy neighbourhood miles from anything, and a bus or train ride into the main centre, that extra fiver starts to look a bit of a better deal.
Most sites should provide a map but if not, a quick search into Google Maps can help give you a sense of the area surrounding the hostel. Ideally, the hostel should be located near to public transport, entertainment and attractions. It is also worth making sure you know your city – the red light district certainly won’t be flashing warning signs on a map!
It’s good to decide what you want from your hostel before you book. The people really make the hostel – hostels should be places where like-minded people gather to share stories, experiences and meet new travelling buddies.
Are you a party lover? Do you spend the nights anywhere but your bed? If the answer is yes, then pick a party hostel (of which there are looooaads). If it’s no, then perhaps you’d prefer a sleepier hostel that has a common area, rather than a bar.
Do you like the receptionist to know who you are and strike up conversations with you? Or do you prefer to be more anonymous, where people won’t recognise that you’ve got in at 7am again? Depending on your preferences, you might want to be in a larger, more impersonal hostel, or a small one with a cosy family feel to it.
Do you mind sharing your bedroom with another 9 people, at least 1 of whom is guaranteed to snore? If yes, then perhaps you should opt for a 4-bed dorm, rather than the 16-bed dorms that some hostels promote.
The people who know most about the hostels are those people that have stayed there. That’s why it is important to read the reviews before booking any hostel. Once you’ve perused TripAdvisor, Hostelworld and Hostelcritic you will know what each hostel offers and what can be expected from a stay.
It can also help to peruse the pictures posted. Don’t get too drawn in by the glitz and glamour portrayed though, as the better rooms will normally be the ones on show.
Many hostels now include breakfast in some form – be sure to choose a decent one though, as not all of them are, believe me! There is nothing worse than waking up after your first heavy night in a new place excited for the FREE breakfast and realising that it is merely a cup of instant coffee and one slice of toast, served between the hours of 7 and 9am.
The best traveller hostels serve breakfast until 11am, with cereal, toast, coffee, tea and juice on offer. If you are lucky, you may be able to bag yourself a free breakfast that includes waffles, pancakes, bagels and freshly brewed coffee. In addition to the free breakfast, there are hostels out there that have other free food options, which can be great when you get in hungry or you’ve run out of money to afford snacks.
Don’t get caught out by not booking ahead, especially when you’re travelling to popular destinations. There is nothing worse than heading round hostel after hostel only to find that there are no spaces for the night in your chosen destination – the best case scenario here is you have a car that you can sleep in but if not, you may be looking at a cold night under the stars, or having to skip certain places all together.
Once you know the dates you want to be in a certain place, get hunting for the perfect hostel to put you up for the night. I would advise booking directly through the hostel’s website, rather than through Hostelworld or any other such sites, as they charge extra.
Wherever the destination, however long the trip, ensure you get the perfect hostel for you and your stay is guaranteed to be a blast.
Have you had a great stay in a hostel? Or maybe you have some funny stories you’d like to share? Let us know by posting in the comments box below.
Do you need some help deciding where to go, not just where to stay? Then download our comprehensive gap year advice guide: The Gap Adventure Blueprint, which contains several chapters that will help you get your head around all the options and offer advice on how to raise funds, plus much more.
on 27 / 10 / 2015