Youth Hostels. They’ve done so much for me during my time abroad, but oh my gosh I am so ready to never have to stay in one ever again. Hostels are known for being cheap, no nonsense ways to get a bed to sleep in and a shower to bathe in while you travel. They can be super hit or miss- the hits being a nice surprise and the misses making you want to you stay out until 3AM and leave again at 6AM. But when you’re ballin on a budget, like most study abroad students are, they’re oftentimes the only option that doesn’t break the bank.
Hostels are also great if you’re a solo traveler, because you get the chance to meet people just like you who are young travelers trying to get around Europe on the cheap. They’re typically very safe, but if you’re traveling alone definitely pay a little extra to stay somewhere you know is reputable.
Luckily, there are a few ways to make sure you’re getting decent, reputable hostels that will be at least somewhat comfortable and, most importantly, safe to stay in.
Where to Find Them
Hostel World is a really popular and reliable option that most everyone who studies abroad uses to find their hostels. They have a huge range of options in just about every city you would want to go to, and are very thorough with their amenity descriptions and encourage guests to leave reviews.
Booking.Com is good if you want a wide range of hotels and hostels, or if you’re going somewhere that’s smaller and doesn’t have as many options on Hostel World. For example, my friends and I went to a small town in the French countryside. It was really touristy, but there weren’t any youth hostels listed there on Hostel World. When we checked Booking.Com, we found a couple that were sort of a hostel/hotel hybrid but were just as cheap.
If you use this referral link, you’ll get £15 (or the equivalent in euro or dollars) in credit for your booking (and I will too!)
What to Look for When Booking One
Hidden fees are a big part of booking hostels. They’re somewhat easy to avoid if you check the included amenities section and read reviews, but some places will still get ya. Some typical fees to watch for are linens not included, towel not included, lockers available (seems free but sometimes they’ll charge to keep your stuff there), and the tourist tax. Tourist taxes are pretty unavoidable, but know that when you check in you’ll probably have to pay another $10-15, depending on the price of the room.
Ratings are potentially the most important part of the Hostel search. These are going to be the best way to find out if it’s a good place to stay, what the management is like, and whether or not its clean and safe. I will caution that most people don’t leave reviews, and usually you’re going to be looking at really polarized people who were either elated with their stay or absolutely enraged and repulsed by the place, so take it all with a grain of salt, but try your best to get places that at least average 4/5 stars.
Location, location, location. Its like we’re in an episode of house hunters. When it comes to hostels, I always try to get a place that’s at least right near or right in the main city center. Especially if you’re planning on staying out late, you’re not going to want to be wandering around far out of the main tourist areas after midnight in most places, so it’s best to stay somewhere that’s close to everything else. This will also keep travel time and costs down so that you can enjoy every possible minute of your trip.
Languages spoken. Every place I’ve stayed has had at least one person on staff who speaks English very well, so I’ve never had a problem with this. However, I have heard stories about girls showing up at hostels where the management only speaks the native language, so I figured I’d include that here.
Check-In and Check-Out Times. Usually it’s check in at 2:00PM and check out at 11:00PM, but sometimes it varies depending on the place. Make sure you make a note of this so you know when you can drop your stuff off and when you need to be out by, because some places will charge you to the minute if you check out late.
All-Girl Dorm, Mixed Dorm, or Private?
In an all-girl dorm, you can expect to have a room with (usually) up to 8 women in it. Sometimes they’ll fill up, sometimes it’ll be you, your friend, and one other person, it really just depends on how busy of a weekend you chose.
In a mixed dorm, you run the risk of having both men and women in your room. Sometimes it won’t matter, because by some chance everybody who booked that mixed room on your dates is a woman. Sometimes you’ll be the only woman. This might bother you (no shame- it bothers me) or it might not, but be sure to consider this before booking.
In a private room, you’ll have the place to yourself (or you and your friends if it’s a private double/triple/quad) but expect to pay extra for it.
What to Bring
A small microfiber towel. Regardless of if the hostel includes towels, I always just like to have my own. The microfiber towels absorb really well, dry quickly, and won’t take up a lot of room in your backpack which is a huge plus.
A lock. This one is sort of iffy- you may need it or you may not. Some hostels will charge you extra to lock your things up by the front desk (I’d just suck it up and pay the cost rather than leaving it in my dorm), some will offer it for free, and some will include lockers in the dorms (you’ll need your own lock usually if that’s the case). If you’re staying in a private, your stuff will be safe in the room as long as you remember to lock it.
Sheets (depending on the hostel). Your hostel should tell you on the website or booking site if you need sheets or not. If you do, and depending on the amount of space you have in your backpack, you can either bring your own or pay a fee to rent them from the hostel itself. They’ll have that as an option, it’s just one of the hidden fees that you have to look out for.
Shower shoes. You can usually plan out whether or not you’ll have to shower when you go on a trip (this isn’t gross, leave me alone- shower the morning before you leave and when you get back and it’s just like you skipped day). But on longer trips you can’t really avoid it. If you need to shower while you’re there, be warned that sometimes no matter how clean the hostel is the showers can be pretty grimy, so you’re going to want shower shoes.
Hopefully these tips help you get through the “rite of passage” that is staying in youth hostels when you study abroad. It’s really not that bad, and when you realize how much money you can save by choosing slightly crummy hostels over luxurious hotels you’ll be glad that you made the sacrifice!