When choosing a hostel what you are looking for will depend on your preferences and your budget. There were some things that I thought would come as standard but that is not the case.
Backpacking Australia for 4 months I know what is important for me to consider when booking a hostel. I thought it might help you when looking for your next place to stay. This focuses on hostels in Australia but could apply to hostels around the world.
For me, this is so important as I try to build a business online. I didn’t realise it would even be an issue until I stayed in some hostels. Free WiFi is not everywhere in Australia. In some of the larger cities, there is free public WiFi in specific areas.
When I was in Brisbane there was free wifi along the river so I could sit and work with some beautiful views. In Surfers Paradise there were also free WiFi spots throughout the city. But when it came to the hostels it was a very different story.
The holy grail of hostels has free unlimited WiFi in communal areas and in the bedrooms. If you find a hostel like this you are doing very well. Cape Byron YHA was a great one for WiFi I had access in my room and in communal areas with no limits.
Others have WiFi only in communal areas. This is annoying but manageable. It also means you are at least sitting with others while you are scrolling through Instagram.
Some hostels have only limited WiFi in communal areas and in the rooms. You may get a limit of only 500MB a day. Bunk in Surfers Paradise is an example of a lovely hostel but with a very poor internet offering. With only 2GB for a whole week, I used mine within the first few hours and spent a lot of extra money on data that week.
Be aware it’s not free everywhere. If this is something that is important to you then make sure the hostel has is, call ahead if needed. If no hostels in the area have the WiFi you need, look into the proximity of libraries and cafes.
Although this was not a deal-breaker for me it does come in very handy when you are on a budget. Also when you are staying somewhere for a short time and don’t want to buy ingredients that you will have to either donate or take on your travels.
The free breakfast in hostels varies in quality. In most cases, it’s cereals, milk, toast and some different spread options. Some hostels offer pancakes. There is the standard tea and coffee which I don’t pay any attention too so couldn’t tell you how good it is. I have heard rumour of a hostel that offers eggs, beans and a proper full breakfast for free but I am yet to stay in one like this.
I have stayed in a few hostels with free breakfasts. With my intolerances, the options on offer are not great but I take advantage of the free food.
This is a luxury rather than a necessity. Making sure you have everything you need for a shower and taking as little with you as possible due to lack of places to put your dry stuff is a faff. I have stayed in hostels where communal bathrooms are fine. They are clean, have shelves, hooks and there are many showers on offer so you don’t have to wait long for your turn.
However, I have stayed in hostels where the communal showers are gross. Dirty and impractical and it has made me consider not washing, ew!!
Having an ensuite does make life so much easier. Especially if you are staying for a few nights, you can leave your toiletries in the bathroom for a few days.
Number of Beds
There are a lot of options when it comes to the size of the bedrooms. There are private rooms available for couples but they are very expensive. I looked into this as after a few months of sharing with people I was ready for a private room. Unfortunately, it was not meant to be just yet.
4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 12, 14, 18 and even 20-bed dorms are on offer in different hostels across Australia. I have stayed in a 12-bed mixed dorm, luckily this was only for 2 nights and I didn’t spend much time in there. For me, a smaller room is better. There are a few people so it makes it easier to get to know them and their habits. There is also less chance there will be a snorer or lots of people coming back in the early hours.
I have found 4,5 or 6-bed rooms to be great. Not quite the dream of a private room but livable with for a long period of time.
Personal Plug and Reading Light
If you are a keen reader then this is an amazing bonus. You know you are in a good hostel when you get your very own plug and reading light. It seems to be the more expensive hostels, Wake Up and Bunk were 2 that had this facility. They often advertise this feature on the booking sites, so if this is important to you keep an eye out for it.
If you are arriving and departing at random times then choosing a hostel with a luggage secure luggage storage area is essential. This is usually a room or understair cupboard with a communal key. Other guests have access to this space so it is not 100% secure and the hostel take no responsibility for your belongings. But I have found most travellers to be trustworthy as we are all in the same boat. Ensure your backpack or case has its own lock and it should be fine.
Mixed or Female Only
This is a personal preference thing. As a solo female traveller who is older than other travellers and likes a good nights sleep, I have found female-only rooms to be more my thing. Many people prefer mixed rooms, for banter and diversity. I like a clean bathroom and the toilet seat left down so opt for female ensuites where possible. If I have to go for a mixed room, either due to price or avaiblility I would go for the smaller rooms.
This is particularly worth noting if you have a suitcase. During my travels, I transitioned from a backpack to a suitcase and it was the best decision I made. But now I have the space I have started to fill it meaning the suitcase is getting heavy. Lugging it up a few flights of stairs is hard. And unless there is a stronger person around to help then it takes ages to get to up to the room. I have now ended up in a hostel with a lift after being in one without and my goodness does it make life easier.
Location + Transport
This an obvious one but you might assume that all hostels are in a good location. Consider what it is important for you to be close to. Do you want to be in the centre of the city so you can walk to everything? Or do you want to be further out for the peace and quiet? If you are opting for further out then look at the transport links, timetables and pricing. This is especially important if you are thinking of looking for work in that area and you don’t have a car.
Nothing beats a recommendation from a real-life person when it comes to hostels. The pictures online never live up to the reality of the hostel. Ask other people on your travels if they have a preferred hostel. You can then ask the right questions about all the things that are most important to you.
I have found that recommendation from other travellers has been very useful. Make sure to note them down. I have forgotten a few times what people have said about the best hostels and ended up going with my gut. This does not always work out.
To Sum Up
There is a lot to consider when looking for a hostel and I have often gone on price alone. This has always resulted in a miserable experience. I highly recommend planning and having a good look at the reviews and features of a hostel before you book. There may not be a hostel that is within your budget that has everything you need. But if the essentials for you are in place then it can make your stay so much more bearable.
Don’t book in a week at a time. If you are tempted by the weekly rates don’t be blinkered by them. There are a couple of occasions where I have felt like I should book a week so I can feel settled and comfortable and get my bearings. But I have then arrived to discover the hostel is awful and they don’t always offer refunds. If you book for one or two nigths you can extend for a week when you get there and know you like it.