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How to Choose a Hostel

Choosing a hostel can be daunting to any beginning backpacker or traveler.  In any given large city, hostels can range from a few to a nearly a hundred in number.  They vary  in quality, in style, in price, and even geographically as to where they are located in a city.  Do you go with the cheapest option? Most convenient? Well, it really depends upon several factors.  For instance, you need to ask yourself what your primary concerns?

My advice is before you being looking for a hostel make a mental checklist of your ideal place to stay.  Think about amenities that you seek, lifestyle that you hope for, and of course what you plan on accomplishing within the city.

Hosteling 101

What are hostels? Hostels are affordable and economical places to stay.  They are generally targeted at backpackers and budget travelers of all types. They vary in size, quality, and amenities and/or services offered.

Who stays at hostels?  In my experience, everyone.  I have seen young, old, black, white, student, teacher, group, individual, couple, you name it.

How much do they cost?  Hostels can vary quite significantly in price.  In less expensive areas, hostels can be as low as $3-4, whereas an expensive city can cost anywhere from $30-50.  I would say that an average figure would be $15-20 per night.

What is the setup like?  Hostels are typically split into dorm style rooms of 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12 beds.  A rule of thumb is that the more beds the lower the price.  Generally, you can get privates to dorm rooms. I’ve stayed in four bed dorms, 10 bed dorms, and even privates as well.

What to consider before signing up

Choosing a hostel comes down to a few major considerations.

First, what is your budget?  If you are looking to go the cheapest route, then choose the cheapest hostel that you can find.  It is important to note here, that sometimes a cheaper hostel really offers you only a place to rest your head at night, which is fundamentally and arguably all that you need.  At the same time, you can usually find something a step up from the lower for a similar price.  I will say though that pricing does not always correlate directly with the quality.  As we are used to with most things this is true, and sometimes it holds true for hostels as well.  However, I have stayed at cheap hostels that were better quality than some that I paid significantly more money for.

Second, the location of the hostel is mildly important.  The location where you will stay will inevitably affect your visit to some degree.  Let us say for example that you found a decently priced hostel that you want to stay at, which offers what you need and is in your price range.  It may in fact be far outside the city center, or an inconvenience to where you are trying to go.  In the long run, this cheaper price that you paid could end up costing you more than a closer hostel might have.  You may have to include the commuter price of transit trains and inner city buses, which can add up if you take multiple trips.  Find a hostel that is within your price range, offers what you need, and research its proximity to what you are looking to do.

Third, what amenities do you require?  This question is another consideration that you have to reflect upon.  We can use the example of a cyclist that has chosen to travel by cycling across the country.  When choosing a hostel, this person will need for one to ensure that there is a secure place to store his/her bicycle, among other things.  Otherwise, they will run the risk of losing their bike to a thief.  A person with special diet needs would want to look for a nice kitchen set up where they could prepare their food and store it.  Perhaps, you did not bring your computer, there are some hostels that offer free computer usage and internet access.  You should have a mental checklist about, which things you require from a hostel.  As you travel, you will improve and become more accustomed to looking for these things as you search.  Picking a hostel is not all that difficult.  Generally, you will have many options to choose from.

How do I book: Hostelworld vs. Hostelbookers vs. Hostelling International

Before beginning the comparison of these two sites, I first need to mention that it is quite common to book your hostels in advance before going to a city much like you would book a hotel.  People often book using one of several sites dedicated to the hostel market worldwide.  I would dare say that the most frequently used are Hostelworld, Hostelbookers, and Hostelling International.

Hostel World


– More options (as in hostel choices)

– Most trusted hostel booking site on the web

– More hostel oriented (less hotels and such)


– Booking fee of around $2.00 every time you book (Although sometimes vouchers are available)

– More expensive

– Occasionally deceptive pricing.  For example, a hostel will say that they have a 4 bed room for a low price, however, the price is per person.  Therefore, when you select 1 the price multiplies by 4.

Hostel Bookers


– No booking fee

– Often cheaper rates


– Less hostel options

– More hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, and such

Hostelling International

Hostelling International is a multi-national organization that was created from the founder of the first hostel. Today they focus on creating opportunities for youth to travel and stay in clean, safe, and affordable places. To stay in their hostels requires a membership card that can be purchased at their hostels or ordered online. This membership card is inexpensive and gets you access to a variety of discounts and connections. The major difference between Hostelling International and Hostel World, Hostel Bookers, Hostelz, or Hostel Club is that Hostelling International is an organization that has hostels all over the world. Essentially it is a brand. The other websites are booking sites, which link you to different private hostels by city.


– Well established

– Consistent

– Dependable


– Not always unique like private hostels.



Really, it is a matter of personal preference.  If you are looking for something quiet and consistent, then I would suggest that you look into Hostelling International and see if their plan works for you. If you seek private hostels and flexibility, I’d usually go with HostelWorld mainly because it was the first one that I used when I started traveling and it is functional.  Hostel Bookers is praised by many because it is cheaper and does not charge you a fee.  I’ve used all three with success.

Extra Tips:

– Sometimes there are discounts for people that stay for multiple nights, you should ask your hostel if it will work something out with you.

– Certain hostels post different bed prices on different sites.  Therefore, it is never a bad idea to look at multiple sites for a specific hostel that you are interested in staying in.

Additional Articles on Hostels

Hostel Etiquette

Looking for a hostel job? Check out my article and you should be well on your way to finding one.

Hostel Links

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