A good hostel



For many travellers embarking on a round the world trip, budgetary requirements mean that spending every night in a luxury hotel is simply not an option. Keeping the costs down means that hostels are often the prime option – but quality varies greatly.


Some hostels can be filthy pits and others in less popular destinations are pretty much reserved for people on bail and idiots. At the other end of the scale, you end up with some that are ram-jammed with facilities and are kept in a far better condition than most hotels. Making a good hostel isn’t an exact science, but there are some key ingredients to look out for. Such as...





This should be an absolute given. A good hostel keeps rooms, common areas and – most importantly – bathrooms cleaner than I keep my own.





This may seem silly, but a good hostel needs to have staff other than the owner/ manager. When it’s just one bloke (and it’s always a bloke) doing everything, things can start to get a little, um, eccentric. The one man band hostels are always the one with lengthy lists of laborious rules and the overwhelming feeling that the chap is doing you a massive favour by allowing ghastly, filthy backpackers to stay there. This said, a hands-on owner/ manager is a good thing. Someone who cares enough to be there and monitor how things are going tends to make for a better hostel.


Manageable size


Some hostels – particularly in Australia and New Zealand – are enormous 200 to 300 bed beasts. They may have great facilities inside, but you don’t half feel like you’re on a production line. Curiously, there more people there are in a hostel, the harder it is to meet anyone. It becomes a never-ending sea of faces, whereas in smaller joints you’ll end up bumping into and sitting next to the same people all the time. That tends to facilitate conversation. To me, around 30 to 70 inmates is about right for a hostel. Much more and you’re just a number, but dip below the 30 mark and you’re in danger of not having enough drinking buddies to choose from.



No bar


A lot of hostels have their own bars that host all manner of drinks promotions. Counterintuitively, these don’t to be the best ones for either socialising or drinking cheaply. For a start, these are the ones that won’t allow you to bring your own booze in and drink it in the common areas – and this is when friendships tend to be struck. If a hostel has its own bar, that tends to become the social focus – people go there instead of hanging around in the TV room. But the bar is less open, less communal and less inviting for idle chat – or planning who’s going out where later that evening.


Service focus


Really good hostels will provide wireless internet for free to anyone travelling with a laptop, while they’ll also tend to have little touches such as board games and bookshelves where guests can exchange books. There will also be lots of helpful info, such as updated notice boards letting people know what’s happening in town or booklets suggesting good places to go and eat or drink.


Other hostels go for a more corporate, profiteering approach – with surprisingly expensive on-site cafés, internet computers that cost a bomb and a never-ending urge to shunt you towards the tour desk. Type A recognises that guests have a choice and opt to do the best they can, Type B sees every guest as someone to maximise income from.