The fact is that hostels differ not only from country to country and city to city, but within cities themselves. They’re all different, they’re all unique, and they all have varying degrees of comfort (or discomfort). In my opinion, that’s what makes hostels exciting. You know what you’re getting if you stay at any chain hotel around the world. Those hotels are all basically the same – but you never know what you’re going to get when you walk through the doors of a hostel (for better or worse).
If you arrive in a city with nowhere to stay, you wander around popping in and out of different accommodations asking the same questions. Can I see a room? Does it have a private bathroom? Does it include breakfast? Do you have a kitchen? Do you have a computer station or WiFi? Unfortunately, even if you get positive answers on the above questions, you never know if the water pressure in your private bathroom is any good (or if there is even any hot water), if that included breakfast is only bread, if that kitchen only has one stove despite having room for 60 guests, or if that computer is from 1986. It’s also possible that you won’t get a straight answer because the guy working the front desk of the hostel is still drinking vodka from the previous night and isn’t coherent (true story).
It wasn’t far into our year-long trip when I posed the question to my wife: “How cool would it be to open up our own hostel someday?” It was something we talked about throughout the course of our round the world trip, both by ourselves and with other travelers.
The list of possible amenities that would make a good hostel great could be a mile long.
I narrowed the list to eight services (in no particular order) that I would make priorities if I opened my own hostel.
A real bar – with real drink choices
Sometimes there’s a bartender; sometimes it’s the honor system (which is dangerous and eye-opening upon checkout when paying the bar bill). But the hostels that stand out against the others seem to have it all. A decent-sized bar, a bartender, and several different types of beer – both cheap, local beer and more expensive imports when you’re craving that taste of home. Some even come stacked with all types of liquor and serve fancy cocktails that you’re not used to drinking when hostelling on a budget.
>> Read about famous local drinks to taste around the world
A good chilling area and a place to connect with other travelers
Obviously a bar is a great place to hang out with other travelers, but contrary to popular belief, not every traveler is a big drinker. The hostels that went above and beyond had several different areas within the hostel to cater to all types of travelers.
It’s amazing how happy a simple $30 hammock can make a bunch of weary travelers.
>> Find out how to meet people on the road without hosteling
A Breakfast That Offers a Little Bit More
I’ll never forget that first morning staying in a hostel. As an American, I foolishly thought I would wake up to bacon, eggs, pancakes, hashbrowns, toast, juice, and coffee. Much to my dismay, I woke up to bread and butter and jam. No toaster either. Oops.
Pudu had homemade scones every morning instead of just toast, which was a very welcome change. Suk 11 in Bangkok served fresh fruit and a different local specialty each morning, along with the usual toast, juice, coffee, and tea.
It’s no surprise that these little things are the ones that you remember and talk about to other travelers.
A Computer Station and WiFi
There are internet cafes everywhere I’ve been – from Peru and Bolivia to Australia and New Zealand to Laos and Cambodia to India. Yes, it may be more expensive in developing countries where the infrastructure isn’t that great – but it’s still available, and it’s obviously not that expensive considering you can usually find a cybercafé on every corner.
In this day and age, it’s nice to be able to hop on a computer where you’re staying or get out your laptop and get online to send emails, Skype with family back home, blog, or check out travel information for where you’re going next. Get with the times.
Staff That Actually Cares
Or if you really want to be remembered, be like the worker at Destino Nomada in Bogota and invite travelers to your family’s beach house for the weekend.
Location, Location, Location
Now, I don’t need to be right in the thick of tourist mania like Khaosan Road in Bangkok, but I do think it’s necessary to have some nearby tourist options. As a budget traveler, you’re most likely not going to have a car, so you must rely on your own two feet. Buses, cabs, tuk-tuks, and rickshaws are certainly fine, but I shouldn’t have to take one every time I want to go anywhere.
Any great hostel needs to be within reasonable walking distance to all of the following – a restaurant or food stall, a market, a bar, and a pharmacy. If it doesn’t, then I’m sorry, but your hostel is just not a great one.
An Adequate Kitchen
We’ve all been there.
It’s dinner time. You just got into town, and you checked into your hostel an hour ago. You’re hungry and tired and want to save a few bucks. So you go to the nearby grocery store to pick up some pasta to cook in the hostel kitchen. Local markets and grocery stores are always interesting, so getting the few essential items takes longer than planned. By the time you get back to your hostel, you can’t even get in the kitchen door.
Despite the fact that your hostel sleeps 65 people, there’s only one stove with 4 burners (two of them small), one refrigerator with food spilling out of it, 2 pots, 3 pans, 1 dull knife, and 1 cutting board that has what looks like a small, furry creature growing on it.
While cooking in a kitchen jam-packed with other travelers can often be a fun and interesting time – with everyone having to do what it takes to get their meals cooked, sharing and laughing at the absurdity of 32 people sharing 2 pots – it can also be frustrating. I understand that it’s just not possible to have a bigger kitchen without remodeling the entire hostel, and that’s fine, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate hostels that have enormous cooking areas with an adequate amount of utensils, refrigerator space, and stovetops.
>> Discover traditional local dishes to learn to cook while traveling
A Good View
I know I’m getting a little greedy here. And many of you may be thinking about the bathrooms, or the bed, or the sheets and blankets, or the cleanliness, or any other myriad of amenities that would make your hostel great.
The seemingly insignificant moments of watching the sun set from your hostel are what make travel great, and I’ll take a great view from my room in order to deal with a little bit of dirt any day of the week.