Booking Hostels: Where to Begin

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I have stayed in a lot of hostels while travelling. Booking hostels is such a cheap and simple process, but there are definitely a number of  important aspects to consider beforehand. 

What type of hostel to stay in 

Hostels can be found across the world and they all have something different to offer. Some are loud and fun with a buzzing bar, like the hostel I stayed at in Brisbane where I drank way too many jugs of Victoria Bitter and sang way too much karaoke (usually to win free jugs of Victoria Bitter!). 

Others can only be described as ‘rustic’. In Byron Bay, the hostel was literally right in the middle of a forest and the rooms were very much like shacks. There were beds, showers that worked and the place was clean enough – so this was fine. There was a massive gap under the door though, which made me slightly nervous as there were so many living things outside amid the trees. One morning,  I woke up to a commotion outside. It turned out to be a massive green snake outside somebody’s room. But, when you’re in the middle of the forest, this wasn’t too much of a surprise.

Hostels are sometimes more like hotels. When I was backpacking solo for a week in Sydney,  I decided to look for a touch of ‘budget luxury’. After a bit of research, I decided to book a room at a hostel near the Latin District area of the city. I stayed in a female dorm and on arrival there was a courtesy bag filled with cosmetics. The linen was crisp and clean and the bed was so comfortable. It still looked like a dorm, as there were bunk beds. But it was luxury dorm. This was a great week where I made some new friends and enjoyed the empowerment of taking some solo trips – my favourite being trekking in the Blue Mountains.

Check amenities and hidden extra costs

At the beginning of our trip, we arrived in Sydney in July. It was very cold. While we knew it would not be warm, we had no idea it would be this cold. There was no heating in the hostel and, like most places, you only get a sheet and a pillow case. They charged extra for a blanket, which I paid, but it was still way too cold. In the end, I went out to buy the cheapest and most snug-looking fleece I could find, and found myself sleeping in it.

If you are going somewhere during the cold season, check if there is any heating, blankets etc. Unless the hostel is a bit of a novelty, like the luxury one I mentioned before, you will probably need your own towels. It is often a policy for hostels not to allow sleeping bags.

Private rooms versus dorms

Because I was travelling along the east coast of Australia with two friends, we usually got the private rooms. This was good in the sense that we had our own space, didn’t have to worry about disturbing people, and, most of the time, had a decent bathroom, which we didn’t have to share with a whole floor of other people.

But we didn’t meet people as easily. While we met people in the kitchen area while cooking of an evening, in the hostel bars and also when we were working in Cairns, the fact is that you are naturally not as involved with the community of people living together in the dorms.

Because there’s the comfort of having your friends with you, there is no added push to get out of your shell and make an effort. But, when you’re on your own, you instinctively find yourself speaking to people more. I found this later on when travelling solo through Canada. I stayed mostly in small female dorms or 4-6 people and met lots of lovely travel friends. I only opted for a private room a couple of times when I was yearning for privacy and ‘proper’ rest.

Security in hostels

Hostels are generally safe and secure. But there are some extra precautions you can take to protect your belongings – especially when staying in the dorms.

  • Take a travel padlock with you. Most hostels have draws where you can put your valuables. Or this could just be used to secure your backpack.
  • Passports, money, cash cards and valuables can be kept in a safe, which are sometimes supplied in a hostel room, or behind the reception area. Lockers might be available as well.

Share Houses for Backpackers

When living in Cairns for a few months, we stayed in a share house specifically designed for backpackers. It actually worked out cheaper than staying in a hostel. There were around five rooms with a shared kitchen and a couple of bathrooms. It was actually quite swish and people who choose this option are usually looking to escape the party-hostel atmosphere.

We chose a share house because we were working for a hospitality agency and it was easier setting up a tax code etc. with a fixed address, rather than a hostel. There were some lovely people here. If you are staying put for a while to work, share houses are a good option. If you are moving on quickly, this might not be for you as there is usually a minimum stay allowance of around a month.

If you are going to be staying in one spot for six months, there is also the option of actually renting out a flat – a great option if you are with a group of friends.


Do you have any tips for booking hostels to add?