Villa Camerata Hostel, Florence, Italy

When arriving in a new city, the sheer volume of accomodation options can be daunting. Where’s the best place to stay? Is it safe? Is it clean? Is it noisy? And then there’s the all important question: how much does it cost? Here’s a quick guide to choosing a hostel to help you along.

  1. Location. In order to reduce costs, many hostels are located on the outskirts of towns, where land is cheaper. Before deciding on a hostel, it’s worth determining how difficult it is going to be for you to get from the hostel to the areas that you’re most interested in seeing. In big cities, this is less likely to be a problem, as they will usually have frequent public transport. On the other hand, if you’re trying to save money, the added expense of a daily transport ticket may just be the difference in price between an inconvenient outer-suburbs hostel, and a well located inner city place.
  2. Facilities. Travel isn’t just about the places you go, it’s about the people that you meet. A hostel with a good social area, where you can relax, read, chat, perhaps play billiards or darts is going to be much more fun than a hostel where the only place you can kick-back is in your dorm-room, with the smell of your room-mates’ dirty towels to accompany you. A kitchen where you can prepare your own meals will go some way to saving you money, and you’ll stay healthy, too.
  3. Meals. Breakfast at a cafe in Melbourne or Sydney will set you back at least AU$10-$12 these days, and in Europe it could easily double that. Staying in hostels that include breakfast in the price of overnight stays can save you a fortune over a number of weeks. Be aware, however, that standards of breakfast vary from country to country; I’ve found breakfasts in Swiss, British and Scandinavian hostels to be excellent – a large variety of food to choose from, and plenty to eat. On the other hand, in almost every Italian hostel that I’ve been to, breakfast has been nothing short of abysmal – little more than a bread roll and a cup of cocoa. Also look out for hostels who provide lunches and dinner – another great way to save money, get a good meal and be able to socialise with your fellow travellers.
  4. Noise. Nothing makes your stay worse than a hostel where you can’t get any sleep. Look out for those located next to busy roads; in some countries – and here, Germany springs very prominently to mind – the traffic never seems to stop. Your fellow hostellers might be part of the problem, too. A hostel full of schoolgroups can be a nightmare, so watch out for these, especially if you’re staying in one of the Hostelling International hostels, as they tend to attract many schools at certain times of year. On the other hand, many low-cost backpacker places will attract the party crowd, and that can be a nightmare scenario too.
  5. Cost. The Hostelling International hostels tend to be at the upper end of the price scale, for dorm-style hotels, whereas many of the independent backpacker places can be cheaper. Nevertheless, you tend to get what you pay for, in terms of cleanliness, as the HI hostels are generally spotless and well kept.
  6. Security. It’s hard to tell in advance, unless you’ve got a good guidebook on hand or have access to the internet while you’re travelling, but try to stay in a hostel that provides secure lockers. While you shouldn’t ever leave anything valuable in your luggage, it does give you that extra peace-of-mind while you’re out for the day, or while you’re sleeping, that your possessions won’t simply disappear, causing you much inconvenience. Rooms that can be locked from the inside are a distinct advantage, too, especially if the hostel has a free-for-all policy on visitors.

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