It has been the most hectic past few weeks and I'm so happy it's coming to a close! From assignments for my masters, my mother coming to visit, embassy appointments, and work, I've hardly had even time to breathe. So today, I finally get to catch up on crying to the new Adele album with the rest of the world, catch up on laundry, and sit down and crank out a few posts for the blog. How bout that?!
One of the concerns that I hear the most for solo female travelers is the issue of choosing the right hostel, or even deciding to stay in a hostel at all. Most people have seen the movie Taken (I refuse to see it) and immediately think of getting stolen and rescued by Liam Neeson when they think of hostels. However, hostels aren't nearly that scary. 3 years in, and I've only stayed at one hostel where I even felt remotely unsafe, and I've stayed in probably over 40 hostels. Your odds are good.
However, I won't just sleep anywhere. I have a list of dealbreakers in my head that I search for before booking a hostel. Here's a few tips and tricks on how to choose the best hostel.
1.) Research costs before jumping straight to hostels.
FlyingYak is a great resource for researching costs for accommodation (and everything else!) before you go. Find out what you'd expect to spend on hostels, AirBnb's (AirBnb shows the average prices on their website!), hotels, bed & breakfasts etc. If the prices between them aren't significantly different, perhaps staying in a hotel would be worth your while!
2.) So you've decided on a hostel. Check your websites.
I almost always use HostelWorld when booking hostels, mostly because I like the website interface a little bit better than other websites. However, there's HostelBookers, Lonely Planet, and Hostels.com that you can use as other resources.
3.) Decide on your top criteria.
You're scarcely going to find a luxurious hostel, but it's important to create a list of, say, your top 3 criteria for your hostel when searching. For example, I always look for somewhere that is 1.) Clean, 2.) Has lockers, 3.) Has wifi. But there are lots of criteria that may be important to you that perhaps aren't as important to me. Here's a list of things to consider:
- Male vs. Female vs. Unisex rooms
- Communal showers vs. private showers
- Breakfast included
- Private rooms
- Social vs. family hostel vs. party hostel
- Safety ratings
- Staff friendliness
- Free add-ons (dinner, walking tours, pub crawls)
- Rent sheets/towels?
- Restaurant/bar attached to the hostel?
Now, you're not going to find a hostel that has every single one of these things, but narrowing down your most important priorities will help you find the perfect hostel.
4.) Book in advance!
Book your room in advance online, or else you run the risk of not getting a room that you may want. On websites like HostelWorld, you pay a deposit online and then pay upon arrival.
5.) Remember that everyone else in the hostel is in the same boat as you.
Don't be afraid or get nervous before you go. Most people in the hostel are likely travelers, backpackers, or people of the like. Only once did I share a hostel room with a family (so bizarre). Most people I've met at hostels are friendly, like to chat, and have the most awesome travel stories to tell. And, take advantage of the AWESOME social opportunities that your hostel has. I always call myself the organized group pub crawl queen (I met my boyfriend on a pub crawl), and hostel ones are some of the most fun ones I've ever been on. There's hardly a time that you'll be with so many likeminded people in one place.
6.) Bring shower shoes!
So you're gearing up to go, now what? Well, you'll need shower shoes. That's for sure. You may want to bring a small hand towel just in case. Don't forget your toiletries, as hostels typically don't offer free toothbrushes like hotels do.
7.) You've arrived safely. Now what?
Be social. Especially if you've chosen a hostel that declares itself a social hostel. Remember that everyone there is in the same boat as you. Most are looking to make cool travel friends, so be chatty! You're not committing to being their best friend, but don't alienate yourself out of fear.
8.) Your hostel is horrible. Now what?
If you feel unsafe, uncomfortable, dirty, or whatever, do not be afraid to leave. Each hostel has different ways of handling cancellations, so make sure you read up on their cancellation policy before you leave. Most will charge a cancellation fee, but give you your money back. However, do not expect luxury. 9 times out of 10, you'll be sleeping on a bunkbed with a stranger nearby who snores so loud. It's part of the experience. Give it a chance. I ghosted a hostel ONCE and it was because it was filthy and I slept on the floor near the heater because it was November, freezing, and I was pretty sure the hostel had bedbugs. The next morning, I left. It's okay to go if you don't feel comfortable.
Just remember, don't be afraid. Thousands and thousands of young people stay in hostels every year, and they're fine. Be sensible, be aware, and narrow down your criteria before choosing. I promise, you'll be alright! xx