How to Find the Perfect Hostel: 14 Things to Look For

Finding the right hostel can make or break your stay in an area. This guide explains what to look for when choosing a hostel and it will teach you how to find the best hostel for you. 

This guide clearly breaks down 14 different things to think about when choosing a hostel. I use the term hostel, which is probably the most common term, but such places may be referred to as hotels, motels, guest houses, homestays, lodges, and pensions. The term and product varies by region, but basically, it’s a place to stay.

How to find the perfect hostel for you.
Photo by Helena Lopes, Unsplash.

14 things to consider when finding a hostel

Before reading any further, know that it’s rare to find a place that meets every single preference. These are things to look for, but know that you may have to compromise, a lot. But for this article, channel your inner Goldilocks and dream big:

Here are 14 things to consider while searching for your perfect accommodation:

  • Price

  • Location

  • Security

  • Lockers

  • Front Desk Staff

  • General Atmosphere

  • Common Area

  • Dorms

  • Singles/Doubles

  • Room Amenities

  • Bathrooms

  • Kitchen

  • Services

  • Word of Mouth Recommendations and Reviews


It is tempting to quickly book the cheapest option, but there is more to consider than the cost of a single night. If you ignore other factors, you can easily end up paying more at a ‘cheap’ hostel than a slightly more expensive one. 

What’s included for the price? Bottom line hostels, those with the cheapest cost per night, might add additional charges for every thing you use: such as linens and towels. 

  • Meals Hostels that serve (complimentary) breakfast are recommended, especially if you are on a tight schedule. Unless you know the area, it can take a long time to find a good meal. Staying somewhere with meal options can save a lot of time- which is arguably the most valuable resource. Prices at hostel restaurants may (but not always) be higher than average, but you are paying for the convenience. On rare occasions, such as in Sagarmatha Park, Nepal it is a requirement to have all meals in the hotel’s restaurant. Ask what the situation is before you book. It’s okay to ask to see a menu before you commit. 
  • Pickups Some hostels include airport/bus station pick up when you stay a set number of nights. This is a great way to save money and hassle after a long flight. Make sure the pickup is available for the time you will arrive and clear customs/security. You can always change hostels after a few nights if it’s otherwise too expensive. 

Ask what is included in a night’s stay. Don’t assume anything operates under the same principles as back home. 


A good location is key. But what that means depends on your situation. 

  • Proximity to Transportation Preference should go to hostels that are easy to get to by public transportation. It’s not uncommon to arrive at odd hours, either late at night or super early in the morning. In those cases, book your first night close to your arrival point. There are always places to stay around transportation hubs. But be careful when choosing. Many hub places are low quality, or are actual brothels. If you haven’t booked ahead of time, ask the locals for a safe, clean recommendation. 
  • Proximity to Sights In larger towns and cities, there are always options clustered around the “Tourist District” or “City Center”. They are usually slightly more expensive than remoter options, but save time and money by cutting out the cost of constantly commuting. 
  • Surroundings Look for options that are close to the convenience you want, such as restaurants, cafes, and grocery stores. Avoid options that are in bad neighborhoods, next to mosques (5am prayer calls) or churches (Sunday morning bells), or simply too far from any services. Make sure your hostel is not next to a bar or you will not sleep.

The better a location, the more expensive it will be, it’s up to you to decide which elements are important.


It’s important to feel safe and secure while at your hostel. A hostel should have at least some security measures. 

  • Keys At minimum, dorms should be locked so that only the guests can enter. Once you check in, you are issued a key that allows access. Don’t lose it, the fee can be high to replace it. 
  • Gates When more security is necessary, look for hostels that have entrance gates. 
  • Guards In some cases, security guards will walk the grounds or guard the gates. 
  • Cameras Usually, only the largest hostels have security cameras. Don’t expect it, but it is a factor when picking an option. 

Security varies greatly by area. Even within the same country, you may find totally different measures (or lack thereof) at a sleepy beach town vs in the capitol.


When you are travelling with everything you own on your back, it’s nice to know your bag will be there when you get back. Lockers come in many shapes and sizes, but whichever hostel you choose should at least have them.

  • Size Locker sizes vary from those large enough for your entire bag, to small cubbies for essentials and electronics only. Always carry a lock so you can secure your belongings. 
  • Location Lockers may be lined up in each dorm, under each bed, in the hall, behind the front desk, or in any other possible location. 

It’s not always possible to find your locker preference, but it should always be something you look for when searching hostels. 

Front Desk Staff

The point of contact to a hostel is the front desk staff. The front desk staff plays a major role in the hostel experience. Consider your options carefully. 

  • Languages This one is simple: do they speak your language? While it’s not essential to be able to communicate verbally, it is helpful. 
  • Hours Not all front desks are open 24 hours. Consider what hours the staff is available, and how (by phone or in person), when making your hostel selection. 

Front Desk Location Is it important to you that the front desk be in the same building as your room. It’s common for hostels to have several buildings around a central office or to be spaced out throughout the city.

General Atmosphere

When searching online, it’s harder to gauge the general appearance compared to when visiting a hostel in person. If there are no photos, it’s usually a bad sign. 

  • Aesthetics Your hostel is your home away from home. There are lots of styles, pick one that you will be comfortable in during your stay. Opt for places that look clean and well maintained.
  • Atmosphere Consider if you want a party hostel or some place quiet. Every hostel has its own personality, sometimes it’s hard to tell before your stay has begun, but you can usually get a good idea of the atmosphere from the reviews. 

There is nothing as disappointing as lying down after a long day only to find out the party is just getting started. It’s important to know what you are signing up for before you get there.

Common Area

Similar to the general atmosphere, consider the areas where you will be spending your time while at the hostel. 

  • Lounge Most hostels offer a lounge space for guests. Make sure it is someplace you would want to spend your time: look for comfortable furniture and good light. 
  • Tea/Coffee/Snacks A nice thing to find is complimentary tea, coffee, or even snacks (like bananas or local fruit). This is a generous offering by the hostel and is something to be enjoyed but not taken advantage of. 
  • Garden Many hostels, especially in warm climates, have a garden area. Look for hammocks or grassy areas where you could spread out a blanket and relax. 

A pleasant common area is a bonus when choosing a hostel. It’s not essential, but it’s nice to have.


The most important element to consider when selecting a hostel is the dormitories themselves. It is standard practice to ask to see a dorm room before checking in. You are never obligated to stay there simply because you viewed the dorm. 

  • Where are the dorms inside the building? It’s best to avoid dorms that abutt common areas or you could be in for a noisy night. The same goes for dorms overlooking a busy street. 
  • Male/Female Only Some hostels offer single gender rooms. Female dorms have a tendency to be cleaner and quieter. 
  • Number of Beds Dorms usually range in size from 4-12 beds. They can often be as large as 24 beds. Any size is possible. While size is a consideration, ask about occupancy: especially in low season you could get the place to yourself. 
  • Bunks The majority of dorms have bunk beds. If you cannot be on the top bunk, make sure the hostel can accommodate you. They may accept requests when you make a reservation, but don’t count on it. 
  • Personal Space Some dorm rooms are packed like sardine boxes. Opt form rooms with a few more inches between the bed so you’re not constantly tripping over your dorm mates. 
  • Smoking vs Nonsmoking Most dorms are nonsmoking, but not always. Ask ahead of time or you could be in for a nasty surprise. 
  • Cleanliness If the dorms do not appear satisfactorily clean, ask how frequently they are cleaned. It’s not worth saving a few bucks if where you stay makes you sick.

Dorm quality ranges drastically between place to place, and country to country. It’s important to have standards, but keep them realistic. Be flexible, dorm life is part of the adventure. 

Single/Double Rooms

Single and double rooms are standard for hotels and motels, but that is not the case everywhere else. Odds are about even that a hostel will have single/double room options. If you and a companion are travelling together, they may be less expensive than two dorm beds. Evaluate options just like you would a dorm room.

Room Amenities

Not all hostels are created equal. You should expect that added amenities come at extra cost. Worth it? That’s up to you. 

  • Lights The nicest dorms have lights at every bunk. The rest make due with a few lights spread throughout the dorm. Pick your bunk according to how much access you do or do not want to the dorm light. 
  • Power Outlets Most dorms have at least a few outlets. If you can, pick a bed next to one. Just know that your dorm mates get access to it too. 
  • Storage It’s nice to have storage in addition to lockers. Nicer dorms will have drawers assigned to each bed. 
  • Security Curtains Another amenity you can find in nicer hostels is security curtains. They are not widely available. If they are essential to you, bring a way to set up your own, such as extra sarongs. 
  • Mattress The mattresses get a lot of use. Make sure they are comfortable before you book 5 nights. While you are investigating, check for bed bugs. 
  • Heat/AC Heat and AC are a luxury. Ask if the rooms have it. If so, is it available 24hrs a day or only at night? Does it cost extra? 
  • Wifi Every hostel has wifi nowadays. But the degree and quality varies. Ask if the wifi signal reaches the dorms. Don’t expect it to, and enjoy it when it does. 

You get what you pay for. If you want to save money on accommodation, you will have to give up some amenities.


Bathroom. Toilet. Water closet. Head. Restroom. Can. John. Powder Room. There are a lot of ways to refer to the same thing. While it’s not nice to talk about, it’s something that everyone has to deal with. Consider the following:

  • Private vs Shared At some hostels, you can pay a premium for a room with a private bathroom. Otherwise, bathrooms are usually shared. Smaller hostels may have one or more bathrooms, like in a house. Larger hostels may have sets of stalls and showers on every floor. The luxury of a private bathroom usually comes at a price. 
  • Bathroom Location When opting for rooms with a shared bathroom, consider it’s locations. It’s not ideal to be directly next to the toilet because of the risk of unwanted smells and noises. But you don’t want to be so far that you risk losing your way at night. If you can, choose a room a few doors down from the bathroom. 
  • Cleaning Schedule A clean bathroom is a necessity. Even when the toilet is a hole in the ground,  you want to make sure that attention is paid to maintaining a sanitary environment. If a hostel’s bathroom is scary, find another one. 
  • Alternative Toilets In remote places or places like Eco Lodges, you are likely to encounter eco/composting toilets. They are not a bad thing, but it’s nice to know ahead of time what you will have to deal with. 

Everybody has to answer the call of nature. When looking at accomodation options, make sure to visit the loo too.


The availability of hostels with kitchen access varies widely. In some parts of the world, it’s standard, whereas in others it’s difficult to find. If cooking doesn’t interest you, skip this section. If it does, consider a few things when looking at a hostel kitchen.

  • Equipment When looking at a kitchen, look at the stove (ask if it works), the fridge (ask if it works), the sink (ask if it works), and so on. Also take a peek into any cabinets to check for pots, pans, knives, and cutlery. It’s easy to get duped by a beautiful set of appliances only to find out there is nothing to cook with. 
  • Communal Food Many kitchens have a shelf or bin where travellers cac leave behind supplies they don’t want. Usually it’s things like salt, pepper, oil, and stale pasta. Some kitchens, however, may have a somewhat impressive spice rack that is free for guests. Don’t use anything that isn’t clearly identifiable as free!
  • Cleanliness It goes without saying that if you use a kitchen, you must clean up after yourself. But not all backpackers have the same abilities in that regard. So over time, kitchens can get a bit icky. Does the staff regularly clean up the kitchen or is it a biohazard zone? 

Cooking can be a fun, challenging experience while travelling. It’s a great chance to experiment with unfamiliar flavors and ingredients. Have fun, but be respectful and tidy.


Many hostels offer more than just a bed. The additional services can be an important factor when facing multiple options. 

  • Restaurant Complimentary breakfasts are a great way to save money. But many hostel restaurants offer services for every meal. 
  • Computers As technology spreads, computer access is pretty much guaranteed in all but the most remote place. It’s usually possible to find computer cafes, but it’s nice to have access to a computer without the hassle of leaving the hostel. Sometimes computer use incurs a small fee, but many times, you can find a hostel that offers it for free. Like always, don’t expect it and appreciate it when it’s available. 
  • Laundry Laundry service is very common. But do not assume that it is being washed on sight. Always ask how long it will take before you start. Often hostels have a laundry area that you may use for hand washing. Always ask first and pay for any detergent you use, or use your own. 
  • Book Swap It’s nice to find a hostel that offers a book swap. It’s a great way to find something you wouldn’t normally read. 
  • Info Desk or Tour Office Backpacking requires travelling long distances; it can be exhausting. Sometimes it’s nice, and easy, to sign up with a tour offered directly by your hostel. They may provide anything from free walking tours to full on safaris. 

No matter what services they offer, your hostel is your best resource for information about the area. If they don’t have what you need, they can advise you on how to get it.

Word of Mouth Recommendations and Reviews

Before the internet, there were books. 

But the problem with those, was that they went out of date as soon as they were printed. I can’t count how many times I walked up to a spot that no longer existed, or were charging 5 times what the book quoted. So that left one reliable source of information: other travellers.

The best, most reliable advice you will get about where to stay, is from someone who was just there. Most backpackers love to talk about their travels and are more than happy to give you advice on where to stay. This is one of the reasons backpacking helps a lot of people “come out of their shell”- there is a real incentive to have a conversation with other backpackers. They may have information that hasn’t reached the internet yet.

As the internet takes over the world, more and more apps offer reviews and even photos. So if you can find online reviews for where you’re going, it’s worth your time to read a few. 

How to find the best hostel for you

The more you travel, the more you will discover your individual preferences for what you want in a hostel.  Before moving to a new city, take some time a day or two before you plan to leave and ask around or look at a few places online. Keep a checklist of what you want on your phone and compare options before picking your favorite. The popular hostels can fill up quickly, so you may have to book ahead.

There is more to choosing the perfect hostel than the cheapest price. It may seem complicated, but the more you do it, the easier it will get. Now go!

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission or compensation if you click through and/or make a purchase. The opinions and recommendations expressed here are my own. 

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At the end of the day, it isn’t where I came from. Maybe home is somewhere I’m going and never have been before.

― Warsan Shire

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