What Makes for the “Perfect” Hostel?

Backpacking invariably means staying in hostels, even if not exclusively. Here is a list, in no particular order, of what I think contributes to making the “perfect” hostel. Obviously not every item will be of equal importance to everyone and this list is a work in progress based on my continuing experiences and your feedback.

  • GREAT staff. I am amazed at how often the staff at a hostel is unfriendly and/or unhelpful. A hostel is a unique type of environment and one which requires real people persons to staff.
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  • A good selection of room types (private, double, triple, various bed count dorms).
  • Separate female dorms.
  • Plenty of space in the dorms for the beds, the ability to move around, and everyone’s things. Ideally, beds that accommodate luggage underneath (especially with baskets).
  • Good mattresses, good sheets, good pillows.
  • 24-hour access, preferably with actual reception staff.
  • Well maintained facilities, including regular cleaning staff.
  • Fans and/or air conditioning, depending on the conditions. Blankets (with extra available upon request) for cold-weather locations.
  • A central meeting place or rationale (e.g., the bonfire at Rossco’s in San Cristobal in Mexico) that encourages interaction amongst guests.
  • A COMPLETE kitchen, including: microwave (most hostels are lacking this), toaster oven (again most lack this), complete set of pots and pans, matches or lighter if needed to light the stove, a stove (most do have this), oven (many do not have this), ample supply of cutlery and dishes, bowls, basic kitchen “essentials” for all to use (e.g., cooking oil, salt, pepper, sugar, butter). I recently stayed at a hostel that didn’t provide free “essentials” but at least allowed you to buy a small bottle of cooking oil for about $0.5 which was useful.
  • Plenty of space in the kitchen to accommodate the typical number of guests.
  • Reasonable kitchen hours. I have often seen kitchens that aren’t officially open until 9 a.m. That is completely ridiculous.
  • Purified drinking water if in a country where water is not potable. Ideally free, but even if charging for bottle refills it is a good service and helps the environment.
  • Towels (free of charge, and replaceable for longer stays).
  • Lockers – ideally a part of the bed or at least in the room, although a central location for all lockers is certainly better than no lockers at all.
  • Locks to use, rent or buy.
  • Reading lights on each bed.
  • 24 hour hot water showers (yes, even if in a very warm locale).
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  • Free breakfast (ideally including fresh fruit).
  • Internet, including sufficient number of computers to satisfy demand and, of course, WiFi.
  • An entertainment room or rooms with large screen TV, ability to play DVDs, cable or satellite, and plenty of seating.
  • Plenty of electrical outlets, preferably the three-prong style.
  • A hammock area and/or a lounge with comfortable places to sit and/or lie down.
  • Tourist information (preferably in printed format with copies available to take) and the ability to book and/or find others who want to do things in and around town.
  • Map of the immediate area with points of interest
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  • A full local transportation schedule and helpful information for prices, where to catch a bus, etc.
  • Laundry service available with quick turnaround.
  • Book exchange. A good one. I have seen some hostels with two book exchanges. One is a one-for-one open to all and the other is a one-for-one based on the approval of staff to maintain quality standards.
  • Availability of current edition guide books for borrowing.
  • Free local phone calls and/or a book ahead service whereby the hostel will call to make a reservation for you at your next destination.
  • Ability to print or make photocopies.
  • Bicycles to use (ideally free, but rental is still a nice option).
  • Luggage storage (for when you want to use the hostel as a base camp while you take small side trips).
  • Ability to buy drinks (sodas, beers, etc.) at competitive prices (either for cash or to be added to your bill).
  • A bar on the premises. This is either the sign of a great hostel or a terrible one, depending on your personal taste. If you prefer a hostel with a lively bar, at the least, it should be located in a way that it doesn’t disturb those who want to sleep.
  • A gym or exercise equipment. OK, I haven’t yet come across a hostel with this, but since this is a “perfect” hostel list, I am including it.
  • A pool and/or sauna.
  • Flexible, guest-friendly policies. For example, if there is a bar, that shouldn’t mean a rule against bringing in alcohol. Likewise, the presence of a restaurant (a nice plus) shouldn’t mean there is no shared kitchen facility.
  • Organized hostel events or events primarily sponsored or run by the hostel. For example, the live music featured regularly at PocNa in Isla Mujeres (Mexico) the volcano boarding at Big Foot in León (Nicaragua), the surfing shuttles to the beaches run by one hostel in San Juan del Sur, etc.
  • Great staff! I know I already mentioned this, but it deserves two mentions. Great staff will make up for missing numerous other items on this list and crappy staff will cancel out having most of these items.

As I said, some of this is a question of personal taste. So, if you think I included something I shouldn’t have or left something out, please leave a comment.

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3 Comments

  1. …# Flexible, guest-friendly policies. For example, if there is a bar, that shouldn’t mean a rule against bringing in alcohol. Likewise, the presence of a restaurant (a nice plus) shouldn’t mean there is no shared kitchen facility…

    I have to disagree with this. We offer food at my B&B and do not offer a kitchen for guest cooking for several reasons.

    #1. We need to make money to stay in business. Our food is inexpensive, some meals costing less than $1.00US, the average costing around $4.00. We offer really inexpensive rates, so we can't afford to have guests making their own food.

    #2 In the early days after we started our B&B we allowed guest cooking. We have gas only. 3 times guests left the stove on and used up all of our gas, and twice, we had guests leave the gas on with no flame and nearly killed all of us.

    #3. We sell lots of alcohol and give a percentage to a local charity for kids. We do not allow alcohol because I think it's rude. I would never go into a restaurant and bring McDonalds hamburgers (just an example) and eat it at the restaurant's table. Likewise, I would never go to a hostel that sells alcohol and bring mine in to drink. It's in very poor form.

    #4 Since we have a restaurant license, we cannot allow guests in our kitchen.

    #5 Very often guests do not clean their dishes, or don't know how to. So, I would rather make the food for them, at a reasonable price, and clean my own dishes.

    Some things to think about. you also have to look at it from the hostel owners perspective, too.

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