Hostels — love them or hate them — most backpackers have to stay in them.
What makes a superfly hostel, D?
I’m glad you asked.
1. 24 hour reception for people who take the night train and arrive early in the morning … or late at night.
There is nothing worse than arriving to your hostel and finding you can’t even get in the front door until 9 or 10 a.m. That makes 4 a.m. arrivals miserable. And, there is nothing comfortable about sleeping on a front step of a hostel in a new city. For me, a hostel that doesn’t offer 24-hour reception is a deal-breaker. I am fine if I can’t get a bed right away, but at least let me in off the street so I can put my bag down and close my eyes in a safe environment.
2. Common rooms.
Meeting people isn’t too difficult in a hostel, especially if you are sleeping in a dorm … that just breeds conversation. But, a key factor for those not in a dorm, or just not ridiculously chatty is the common room. Most hostels have them. The good ones have them placed strategically near reception allowing new arrivals to peek their heads in and survey the guests. The great hostels not only have centrally located common rooms, but have them stocked with couches, tables, chairs, a TV, speakers, etc. to facilitate a friendly, interactive environment.
Backpackers have a budget (afterall, money spent on beer is a much better investment than on food, right??) so a kitchen is a necessity. Hostel kitchens have the staples — pots, pans, microwaves, stoves, utensils. The really good kitchens will even have salt, pepper and oil (bring your own olive oil, it’s too pricey to give away at most hostels). Hostels with big kitchens score more points for me. Even more points go to hostels with a table in it big enough for more than two people to sit and enjoy their food. And, a note to you backpackers — don’t steal food. It’s bad karma and a travel no-no. Buy your own, cook your own and when you leave, if you have leftovers you can’t take with you, mark it as “communal” so others can enjoy. I repeat — DO NOT STEAL (MY) FOOD.
4. Lounge for parties.
Aside from the common room, there needs to be a room for travelers to enjoy new friends and old in a place that won’t keep the entire hostel up until the wee hours of the morning. I like rooms like this in the basement. Even if a group is loud, it isn’t as bad as having it in an area where you can hear every word while trying to sleep.
5. BBQ for impromptu cook outs.
Cooking pasta day in and day out gets old. When you’ve got a group, a great, tasty and economical option for chowing down is the barbie. In Hvar, the BBQ was perfect — overlooking the Adriatic. Not every hostel has the killer views Green Lizard had, but a BBQ adds a different social element to the mix — cooking and drinking beers and enjoying the outdoors with friends, simultaneously.
6. Free wifi.
Staying in touch (and writing blog posts) is important so if a hostel doesn’t have wifi, it means having to haul your computer to a cafe, or wait for hours for the lone hostel computer to open up. So, free wifi is a must. Bonus points if the wifi is accessible throughout the hostel, it lends to more private Skype conversations and peaceful writing.
7. Free brekkie.
Again, budget-conscious travelers need some incentive to stay at a hostel. Free breakfast, even if it is just toast and jam, or cereal and coffee/tea can help keep the wallet fatter. Hostels, take note: not many of you offer fruit, and damn it, I would LOVE me a banana or orange. Or a hard-boiled egg.
8. Free drinks.
Even if it is only one drink when you check-in, free drinks are great to spark up an evening in the hostel, encourage people to interact and a nice way of saying “thank you for your business.” Bars are good to have, too. Activities, such as quizzes or games, also adds nicely to the mix.
It is a hassle to book tours. Hostels that offer low-cost tours (or just tours in general) score more points with me. Traveling isn’t always easy, so if a hostel has something already on the books and all you need to do is sign-up, then I’m in.
Free laundry is even better, but I will settle for cheap laundry service any day. It beats having to haul clothes to the laundromat or re-wear stuff that has no business being worn again.
11. Friendly staff.
Staff can make or break a hostel. The friendlier and more helpful the staff is, the better. Not being fluent in many languages makes it difficult to phone a car hire service or book a stay at another hostel. Staff that can help do this make a world of difference.
I am partial to the offer of staying extra nights at a discount or for free. In Brasov, I didn’t need to stay five nights, but the fifth was free, which was cheaper than leaving, so why not?
Please, don’t tell me to take one metro, one bus and five trams to get to your hostel. I won’t. Location is key — the closer to the center of town and public transportation, the better. As a rule, if it takes me more than 15 minutes to get to where the action is, I won’t stay there. Unless I want peace and quiet, but that’s a different story.
Special thanks to Kismet Dao Hostel in Brasov, Romania to having every one of these things.
Related note: For more on hostels, head over to Michael Hodon’s site, GoSeeWrite,¬†and read¬†his tips for hostel owners.
What else makes a hostel superfly? Share your comments below!