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The bedbugs, the questionable hygiene, the noisy roommates who think it’s socially acceptable to cook a full meal at 3 AM…
I stayed at my fair share of bad hostels throughout the years – mostly because I wasn’t even aware of what I should look out for in the first place.
In this guide, we’ll dive into things you should consider when looking for a good hostel, helping you spot the warning signs of a bad hostel. However, take into consideration that everything I’m saying is very relative to the type of traveler you are!
Some people really care about sleep, others like partying the night away. Some people are sensitive to noise or cleanliness, others don’t really care as long as their beds are there.
It’s up to you to determine whether each point we’re going to take into account is important to you. I think the only generalization we can all make here is that everyone wants to at the very least be safe. So we’ll start with that.
What do we cover in this article? Here are our travel tips:
- How To Carefully Search For Reviews
- How To Avoid Hostels With a Bad Location
- How To Determine Hostel Safety
- How To Avoid Dirty Hostels
- What to Look out for in Common areas
- How to Determine The Social Atmosphere
- The Importance of Staff Friendliness and Reception
- How to Look Out for Hidden Fees and Fine Print
- How Important is Wi-Fi Reliability (to you)?
- Quiet Hours and Sleep Quality
- Using Reputable Booking Platforms
- What to do if you end up in a Bad Hostel
- Booking.Com or Hostelworld?
How to Carefully Search For Reviews
Throughout this article, I’m going to tell you to refer to reviews quite a lot, so here is a comprehensive way to check for detailed hostel reviews in the first place:
How to Check Reviews on Booking.com:
- Scroll down the hostel’s page until you find the “Reviews” section. Click on it to access guest feedback.
- Booking.com allows you to filter reviews based on different criteria. You can sort by traveler type (solo traveler, family, business, couples, etc…), review score (to understand why they gave low ratings), age, language, and more. You can also type in a specific key term like ‘bed bugs’ in their search box.
- Use these filters to find reviews most relevant to your preferences.
How to Check Reviews on Hostelworld:
Follow a similar process on Hostelworld as on Booking.com. Search for your desired hostel and navigate to the reviews section. But you can’t be as detailed in your search term as on Booking.com
Read: a step-by-step guide on how to book with Hostelworld
How to Check Reviews on Hostelz.com:
Visit the HostelZ website and search for your hostel. The platform aggregates reviews from multiple sources (including Hostelworld and Booking.com), providing a comprehensive overview of the hostel’s reputation.
How to Check Reviews on Google Reviews:
Perform a Google search of the hostel you’re looking for and look for the Google Maps listing. Reviews on Google tend to be more detailed, and users often share their experiences more in-depth. These reviews can provide valuable insights into various aspects of the hostel.
Read Guest Reviews:
Read through a variety of reviews to get a comprehensive understanding of the hostel’s strengths and weaknesses.
Pay attention to recent reviews, as they often reflect the current state of the hostel. Try to keep in mind that reviews before the end of the pandemic might no longer be relevant because hostel ownership and overall quality may have changed.
Look for Consistency in Feedback:
Check if there is consistency in the feedback provided by different guests. If multiple reviews highlight similar issues or positive aspects, it’s a good indicator of the hostel’s overall performance.
This article is part of our extensive Guide to Hostels.
In our guide to hostels, we cover all hostel-related topics and questions you may have. We dedicated a full article as well to showcase the different hostel room types.
We even wrote a detailed guide on the pros and cons of female-only dorms here.
How To Avoid Hostels With a Bad Location?
Is it important for a hostel to be central or not?
Where you want to stay depends on what you want to experience – the energetic center or the more laid-back neighborhoods.
It also depends on your predisposition to sound while sleeping.
Central locations in the middle of all the action tend to be noisier, for example. But whether it’s central or not doesn’t make or break a hostel.
This is pretty much a preference.
What is important is the location safety:
Regardless of what you pick, you should keep one thing in mind: location safety. If a hostel has an awful and unsafe location, then it’s obviously not a good pick for anyone. Your peace of mind isn’t worth a few saved-up bucks while traveling.
How to check if a hostel’s location is safe?
Check the safety stats of the area, and read location-related reviews of the hostel.
You can even search the location itself on Google and check out whether it’s considered a ‘bad’ neighborhood or not.
Make sure to read reviews of travelers who look like you if you can: not all genders or ethnicities feel equally safe everywhere.
You don’t need to be this thorough for all cities and countries you go to (some places are safer than others), but we recommend at least checking out location ratings for each hostel you’re considering.
Pro tip: you can search by traveler type (ex: solo group or family), age, and gender on booking.com
How To Determine Hostel Safety
Access Control and Key Card Systems:
When it comes to safety, a hostel’s entry points are the first line of defense. Check if the hostel employs access control measures like key card systems or security cameras (you can check for this in all booking platforms).
This not only keeps unwanted visitors at bay but also adds an extra layer of security for guests.
Not everyone will be this sophisticated: some family-owned hostels have family members sleeping in the reception, and others employ guard dogs while others don’t have safety points but the dorms themselves are inaccessible unless you have a card or key for example.
Just keep an eye out for overall safety: a good night’s sleep is even better when you know you’re resting in a secure environment.
Lockers and Secure Storage for Belongings:
No one wants to spend their vacation worrying about the safety of their belongings. A hostel that provides lockers or secure storage options shows they take your security seriously.
Before booking, ensure that the hostel offers a practical solution for safeguarding your valuables, giving you peace of mind as you explore the city.
How To Avoid Dirty Hostels?
Bed Linens, Pillows, and Mattresses:
Let’s talk basics: a clean bed is not too much to ask for. Check the condition of your potential resting place via pictures and reviews.
Are the linens fresh? Is the mattress on the verge of retiring? A clean bed is your sanctuary, and a hostel that skips on this front might not have your best interests at heart.
Bathroom and Shower Facilities:
Shared bathrooms go hand in hand with hostel life, but that doesn’t mean they should resemble a horror movie set.
Investigate the communal facilities – are they well-maintained? Is there hot water (some people don’t care, but if you do, read reviews regarding this – not all parts of the world have running 24/7 hot water), and is cleanliness a priority (to both you and the hostel)?
A hostel that keeps its bathrooms spotless is likely to have a better handle on overall hygiene.
Limiting Chances of Coming Face to Face with Bed Bugs:
The only bedmates you want are the ones you choose. You can scan reviews for ‘bed bugs’ on Booking.com or Google reviews, or check for them before unpacking if you’re already there.
What to Look out for in Common areas
The communal kitchen might be the heart of the hostel’s social life where you easily meet people, but it’s also a breeding ground for culinary chaos.
Here again, reviews and pictures will be your best friends: mysterious food stains, graveyard dishes, and the presence of non-human entities like cockroaches, mice, and rats are a good way to tell you might need to run away – search for these terms in the search box in booking.com or google reviews.
Lounge and Communal Space Tidiness:
Common areas should be inviting, and not resemble a tornado aftermath.
Take a stroll through the lounge before check-in if you can – are the couches more crumb than cushion? Is there a distinct lack of usable space due to scattered belongings?
I once stayed at a hostel so clustered with mess and leftover food that I could barely make my way through the reception and into my room.
Although the room was spotless, the debacle of having to go through a dirty and disgusting area every time I wanted to reach a clean space made it a pretty bad hostel experience.
How to Determine The Social Atmosphere
Importance of a Common Room:
The common room is more than just a space with a few worn-out sofas; it’s the beating heart of hostel life.
A common area can elevate your stay from boring to memorable.
Look for hostels that invest in creating a welcoming and lively communal space – it’s often a good indicator that the hostel values the overall experience of its guests.
I prefer communal spaces that are big enough to accommodate a few people, but not large enough to make it easy to sit alone. This makes it easier to socialize.
Opportunities for Socializing and Making New Friends:
Traveling solo? A hostel that fosters a social atmosphere provides opportunities for solo travelers to connect, share stories, and make lasting memories.
Look for hostels with cozy common rooms but also communal activities, or even a communal dinner – a perfect recipe for meeting fellow adventurers.
A hostel that goes the extra mile to organize tours and events is a gem. Whether it’s a city tour led by a local guide or a movie night in the common room, these activities can enhance your travel experience.
It’s a sign that the hostel is committed to creating a community and helping guests make the most of their time in the area.
But it’s also important to keep in mind how much you want to venture out of your safe space. If you’re very introverted, going to a party hostel might not be your cup of tea, you might want to opt for something social but less intense. It’s all up to you.
I recommend booking a hostel for only one night if you can, and then seeing if you want to continue staying at it or if the vibe just isn’t for you.
Traveling should get you out of your comfort zone and will make you a little anxious, but it shouldn’t trigger major anxiety. Everything is about balance!
The Importance of Staff Friendliness and Reception
Reputation of the Hostel Based on Online Reviews:
The attitude of hostel staff can make or break your sense of security. Are they approachable? Do they take safety concerns seriously?
Hostel reviews will show you whether a hostel has a responsive and attentive staff. Alternatively, if reviews don’t mention the staff they might just not be really present, which is fine too. The important thing is that there isn’t a sea of negative comments about them (one or two is fine, everyone can come across as unlikable).
Helpful and friendly staff can be essential if you’re traveling alone as you’ll have someone reliable who can help you with your problems. If you’re traveling in a group, or you speak the language of the country you’re going to, this might not be as important to you.
The Necessity of Round-the-Clock Support:
Life is unpredictable, and so is travel. A hostel with a 24/7 reception is like having a safety net for your journey.
Emergencies don’t follow a schedule, and having access to assistance at any hour can make all the difference.
However keep in mind that many smaller hostels don’t have 24/7 reception – this doesn’t mean they’re bad hostels, it just means that you might need to opt for another solution if you run into an issue at night (like buying a sim card and having a fellow traveler’s number at the hostel in case you get locked out).
Observing Staff Responsiveness to Guest Concerns:
Keep an eye on how staff respond to guest reviews on booking platforms.
Are they attentive and quick to address issues? Or do they often blame the guests?
A hostel that values guest feedback and takes swift action to resolve problems is likely to prioritize your comfort and well-being.
How to Look Out for Hidden Fees and Fine Print
Understanding the Full Cost of the Stay:
Before you commit to a hostel, make sure you’re crystal clear about the total cost of your stay.
Some hostels might advertise a tempting nightly rate, but hidden fees can quickly turn that budget-friendly choice into a financial headache.
Check for any additional charges, taxes, or fees that might sneak up on you at check-out.
Some hostels can also ask for a small deposit if they give you a key. Bigger hostel chains might ask for a bigger deposit, but that’s not really common. Just keep an eye out for it.
Awareness of Additional Charges and Fees:
Hostels, like surprise party crashers, can sometimes spring unexpected costs on you.
Whether it’s for Wi-Fi, bed linens, or some mysterious “service charge,” be proactive in understanding the fine print.
A hostel that is upfront about all potential charges not only respects your wallet but also earns your trust.
How Important is Wi-Fi Reliability (to you)?
Work and Communication Needs:
In the digital age, a stable Wi-Fi connection is not just a luxury; it’s a necessity. If you’re a digital nomad or need to stay connected, choosing a hostel with reliable Wi-Fi is crucial.
Obviously, this depends on your need for free wifi and whether or not you have data for yourself.
For me, Wi-Fi is a non-negotiable because I work online, so I always check whether or not the connection is good, and whether or not there are dead zones in the hostels: some have really bad wifi in dorms for example.
Quiet Hours and Sleep Quality
Ensuring a Peaceful Environment During Designated Times:
The concept of “quiet hours” is not just a suggestion; it’s a lifeline for tired travelers seeking a good night’s sleep.
Before booking, confirm that the hostel has established quiet hours, providing a window of tranquility for everyone to recharge.
A commitment to maintaining a peaceful environment during designated times is a nod to the hostel’s understanding of the importance of quality rest.
You obviously won’t care about this if you’re booking a party hostel – most of them don’t value sleep and that’s okay with their guests.
Evaluating the Hostel’s Commitment to Enforcing Noise Regulations:
Quiet hours are only effective if they’re enforced. Check reviews and inquire about the hostel’s commitment to keeping noise levels in check during quiet hours.
Comfort of Mattresses and Pillows:
Assess the comfort of mattresses and pillows before committing to a booking. A lot of guests sometimes complain about the stiffness or squeakiness of beds in reviews.
Room Design to Minimize Disturbances During Sleep:
Beyond the comfort of the bed, consider the overall room design.
Are beds strategically placed to minimize disturbances? Do they offer privacy in the form of curtains or a pod design? A thoughtful layout can make a significant difference in your sleep quality.
For example: if the room is too small, and it’s also where people put their luggage, you might end up waking up every time someone wants to access their bag.
The same thing goes for hostels that have their toilets/shower areas inside their dorms: if no ‘shower time’ is respected’ you might end up waking every time someone takes a shower, especially if your bed is closer to the shower area.
General Tips to make the nights better:
- If you’re a light sleeper, invest in a good pair of earplugs
- If light bothers you, invest in a good eye mask
- Although this is pretty uncommon, some hostels are great but their guests stink, and if you’re staying in the same dorm as them, the dorm will probably end up stinking too. For this, consider investing in some essential oils you can randomly spray on your bed.
Using Reputable Booking Platforms
Utilizing Platforms Like Hostelworld, HostelZ, and Booking.com:
When it comes to choosing a hostel, not all booking platforms are created equal.
Stick to reputable ones like Hostelworld, HostelZ, and Booking.com. These platforms not only offer a wide array of options but also provide a transparent space for guest reviews.
Opting for well-established booking platforms ensures you’re making an informed decision based on genuine feedback and that you’re not booking a hostel that doesn’t even exist or has closed down – this happened to me 4 times during the pandemic (2022) because I was booking through another platform that didn’t update its listings.
What to do if you end up in a Bad Hostel
Take Photos or videos as Proof:
If you encounter cleanliness issues, security concerns, or any other problems, document them with photos. Visual evidence can be crucial when addressing concerns with hostel management or when seeking a refund through your booking platform.
If You Do Not Feel Safe, Go Away:
Trust your instincts. If you feel unsafe or uncomfortable in any way, prioritize your well-being and leave the premises immediately.
Get in Touch with Your Booking Portal:
Reach out to the booking platform through which you made the reservation. Explain the issues you’ve encountered, providing details and supporting evidence.
Some booking platforms have customer support teams that can assist in resolving disputes or, in extreme cases, facilitate relocation to alternative accommodation.
Leave an Honest Review on Booking Platforms:
Share your experience through reviews on booking platforms. Be honest and specific about the issues you face.
Your review not only serves as a warning for future travelers but also provides valuable feedback to the hostel management, encouraging them to address and improve upon the highlighted issues. Alternatively, they might get hostile with you so be prepared for that…
Consult Travel Insurance:
If you have travel insurance, check the terms and conditions regarding accommodation issues. Some policies may cover costs associated with relocating to another hostel or hotel in case of severe problems.
Seek Assistance from Local Authorities:
In extreme situations, especially if you face legal or safety concerns, don’t hesitate to involve local authorities. They can mediate disputes, enforce safety regulations, and ensure that your rights as a guest are protected.
If local authorities don’t seem capable of helping you, you could also alternatively contact your local embassy.
Use Social Media to Share Your Experience:
Share your experience on social media platforms. Many hostels monitor their online reputation, and publicizing your experience may prompt a more immediate response from the management. But this is only an option for really extreme cases.
Consider Community Forums:
Join travel forums or communities to share your experience with fellow travelers. These platforms often provide a space for discussions, and your insights can be valuable in helping others make informed decisions about their accommodation choices.
Remember, being proactive and assertive in addressing issues is crucial. By taking these steps, you not only safeguard your own travel experience but also contribute to a collective effort to maintain standards within the hospitality industry.
Booking.Com or Hostelworld? You can choose both with Hostelz.com
Wondering how to find hostels in the first place?
On Hostelz, you can filter the hostels based on all your personal preferences and get reviews from different booking platforms at the same time.
You’ll get different prices comparing all the main booking platforms – it will show you which one, whether through Hostelworld, Booking.com, or the direct hostel website, is the cheapest for your dates and facilities of preference.
As I mentioned, this platform also aggregates reviews from both Booking.com and Hostelworld.
Here we share with you the most asked question:
Is it safe for a girl to stay in a hostel?
Absolutely! While it's natural to feel vulnerable, taking precautions and staying aware can lead to a fun and secure hostel experience for women.
What to do if you're uncomfortable in your hostel room due to other guests?
Check with the front desk; they might shift you to a different room. Keep in mind, this will depend on availability and on the reason to why you want to make the switch. They might also ask you to pay for a higher price if the room has a different rating.
When are you too old to stay in a hostel?
Age has no bearing on hostel stays. The older you get, the less likely you are to find people who are your age in a dorm room, but a lot of older travelers opt to stay in hostels with private rooms, for example. If you're on a budget, and you want to stick to dorms, there's nothing wrong with that. Some hostels have an upper age limit, but this is more a suggestion rather than anything else, you can call/email them to make sure.
Can introverts live in hostel?
Yes, I'm an introvert myself and I spent 1.5 years living in hostels. You can pick hostels that match your social mood, there are hostels for all types of travelers, whether you're a party animal, a digital nomad, a younger or older backpacker, or an extrovert or introvert.
How old are most people in hostels?
Hostel visitors are usually aged 18-28, but you'll also encounter much older guests and even entire families with kids.
We hope you found this guide useful! And I hope you never get to deal with a bad hostel in the first place.
I also hope I haven’t scared you off. We obviously focused on all the bad hostel stories, but if you take our tips into consideration, you’ll probably avoid booking bad hostels and have a good time.
I’ve stayed at 5-star resorts & hotels, and very luxurious Airbnbs but I still like staying in hostels.
Some of the hostels I’ve been to have served as the highlight of many of my trips due to the amazing people I met there whom I’m still friends with to this day. Some random hostel guests have become close friends with whom I plan trips to new countries.
Other hostels have been amazing because of how the staff began treating me like family. They still hold a special place in my heart because of how they took care of me when I was sick, brought me free food when they noticed what I liked, or simply talked and shared about their family and life with me.
Some hostels have been extremely comfortable to go back to after a day out trying to perpetually be outside of my comfort zone. I might not have interacted with staff or made new friends, but they allowed me to travel to amazing (and expensive) places like Tokyo and live a wonderful life without putting in my bank account as a sacrificial lamb.
So keep an eye out for the negative and embrace everything positive that can come out of staying in a hostel.
If you come across any bad experiences (or good ones), I’d love for you to share them with us in the comments below (or DM us on Instagram!).
What’s next? More useful info:
- Hostel Packing List – 23 items you have to pack
- Hostels from A to Z – A Fun Guide
- Exposing Bathrooms: Ensuite vs. Shared Facilities
- Tips for traveling alone as a woman
- Female Hostels: Everything you need to know
- Female Solo Travel Safety Tips
- Pros and cons of female-only dorms.
- New Solo System Hostelworld App Review
- Different types of Hostels
- Hostel rules and hostel etiquette
- Sex in hostels
- Hotels vs Hostels
- Hostel Room Types – What are the Differences?
- How to Travel on a Budget?
- How to Deal with Bed Bugs While Traveling
The Hostelgeeks team