When travelling internationally, the budget traveller will generally have three practical options when time comes to select a hostel or someplace else to crash:
I highly recommend staying in hostels, though I’d like to add on the caveat that quality varies WILDLY between hostels. Thankfully it isn’t difficult to choose a great hostel that will quickly feel like a welcome home away from home.
One of the main perks of hostels is the fact they tend to be very inexpensive compared to hotels in most countries. Over an extended period of time, that’s real savings. Prices do vary depending on when you travel (slow season vs. busy season) and the city (the more expensive the city the more expensive its hostels). But I’ve been able to find high-quality hostels in major European cities for under $10 USD (€8, £4.50) a night.
That being said, just because hostels are generally inexpensive that doesn’t mean you should seek out the cheapest beds around. Staying at the cheapest hostel you can find is almost always a bad idea for some big reasons:
The good news is you don’t need to go to a city’s most expensive hostel to avoid all the above problems. If you want a great hostel experience you usually only need to rent a bed at a hostel charging just a little bit more than the city’s cheapest accommodations. It sounds like a small thing, but paying a couple extra bucks a night makes a HUGE difference in the quality of your hostel experience.
I generally recommend booking your first couple nights at a hostel at one of the large aggregate sites like Hostels.com as these sites make it easy to find available lodging for your travel dates. It’s also easy to find good prices and special prices using these sites.
But the BEST reason to check out large hostel aggregate sites is the fact they provide a home for user reviews. All of the big hostel aggregate sites provide a combination of written reviews and a numerical score for all of the hostels they represent.
When searching for a hostel only search for those that have received a rating of 90% or higher. Hostels with an average rating of 80%-90% tend to be alright as well, but if you’re travelling to a well-trafficked city you won’t have any difficulty finding plenty of affordable hostels with top scores.
Even if you plan on staying in a city for a month or two you should only pre-book 1-3 nights at your hostel of choice. No matter how well reviewed a hostel may be you don’t want to commit to a long stay anywhere until you’ve had the opportunity to spend a night or two there to evaluate it firsthand. Just because other travellers loved a place doesn’t mean it will tickle your fancy.
If you find you like the first hostel where you stay, feel free to book for an extended period of time (and make sure you ask the front desk if they have any discounts available for extended stays). But if the hostel doesn’t quite meet your needs leave after a couple days and try out a new set of beds, repeating the process until you find somewhere you’re happy to stay for weeks at a time.
Sometimes you’ll want to change hostels because:
That’s perfectly OK. The flexibility offered by hostels is one of the biggest benefits they have to offer, so take full advantage of this quality to make sure you’re always staying exactly where you want to rest your head at night.