How to Find the Best Hostels While Traveling

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For most travelers, hostels are the central hubs of most towns and cities.

They’re the places where most travelers will seek out when first entering a new area, and they allow people to live and sleep reasonably comfortably for a fraction of the price of many hotels.

Because of this, hostels are understandably popular, but given the thousands of hostels all around the world, how do you know which ones to stay at (and more importantly, which ones to avoid)?

There are lots of ways to find the best hostels in each area, and on this page we’ll take a look some of the best. But first, here’s a cautionary tale that just goes to show why it’s a good idea to chose the right hostels:

A Cautionary Tale – Why I Wrote This Article
In the past, I thought that all hostels were pretty much the same, and that one could simply stay at the first one they came across without ever experiencing problems.

This was until I traveled to San Francisco. A friend of mine had mentioned something briefly about avoiding the ‘SOMA’ (South of Market Street Area), but (to my detriment) I took no notice.

I had picked out a hostel before arriving (it was the first one I could find the address for – I put no effort in) and had the directions.

As I walked to the hostel with my friend (carrying our large backpacks) we realized that there seemed to be a lot of homeless people (or at least people that looked like homeless people) around, and most of them (at least the ones that weren’t acting crazy and dancing like chickens in the road) were staring at us. This should have been our first clue that something was off.

The bars on the window of the hostel should’ve been a further clue, but we checked in regardless and went about our business.

After dumping our bags we decided to head out immediately and experience the wonders of San Francisco. On the walk back down the street we’d just came from we were subsequently threatened with a claw hammer by a homeless person and had several other people shouting “What the hell are you guys doing down here!? You’re asking for trouble!”

Shaken up, partly confused and mostly worried for our safety we decided to wait until night-time and then got a taxi back to the door of the hostel. In the morning we checked out early (even though we’d already paid for two more nights) and I vowed to be more careful of the hostels I chose in the future.

San Francisco

How to Find a Hostel In Advance

Online Hostel Booking Site
Perhaps the most popular method (and one of the best ways) of finding hostels to stay in is to use online hostel booking websites (such as Hostel Bookers and Hostel World).

These sites allow you to search for hostels within a certain area, rank them by rating, read customer reviews on each one and then book your stay online.

Travel Forums
Another way of finding accommodation is to ask on an online travel forum. There are two great online travel forums (Lonely Planet’s The Thorn Tree and BootsnAll), both with hundreds of helpful and insightful members.

Each forum has sections divided up by region (i.e. ‘The UK’, ‘Thailand’, The USA’, etc.), which you can go into an create a thread asking for hostel recommendations within a particular area.

If you’re familiar with the world of social media and you have a Facebook/Twitter account with lots of friends/followers, it’s easy to put a message out there asking anyone if they know a good place to stay at in the place you’re going to.

For example: “Does anyone know a good youth hostel in Barcelona, Span? I’m heading out there next week…”

People love to help out and show off their knowledge with things like this, so it can be a pretty good way of doing things.

How to Find a Hostel While on the Road

Look in Guide Books
GuidebooksGuide books such as the ‘Lonely Planet’ and ‘Rough Guides’ series’ are a great help for finding hostels on the go, as they’re often remarkably up-to-date and rate accommodation out of 5 stars (or a similar standard).

The problem with hostel booking websites is that the reviews you’ll read of different places will all be written by different people, so when someone writes ‘This is the worst/best hostel I’ve ever stayed in’ (or something similar), it’s hard to get any context (and therefore bring any meaning out of it). With guide books, however, you get the feeling that the ratings given are a lot more consistent across the board.

They can also provide you with valuable information on areas that are off the beaten track, as many hostel booking websites tend to stick to the large cities and well known areas.

Use the Knowledge of Other Backpackers
As I touched on earlier, one of the benefits of staying in hostels is that there’s often lots of other travelers who’ve just come from the place you’re traveling to next, and therefore they’ll be able to give you the lowdown on where’s good to stay and where isn’t.

Some of the best hostels I’ve ever stayed at were recommended to me by fellow travelers, so be sure to make the most of other people’s knowledge.

Have a Walk Around (If You Have Time)
If you’ve got plenty of time and fancy exploring a new town/city, why not have a walk around and search out different hostels, then pick the one you like most and check in there?

There may be times, however, when you don’t have the time or the inclination to walk around for hours looking at different hostels (like when you arrive in a cold city at 5am after a 16 hours coach journey and you just want to go to sleep) which is why it’s always good to have a place to stay in mind before you get there.

Do you have any other thoughts about finding hostels/hotels while traveling? Why not leave a comment below!

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