As a college student who has lived the best and the worst of sharing a room with another person, the idea of staying in shared dorms with strangers when traveling around Europe may not always sound very appealing. Having to share a dorm with other travelers can be a little scary and you may have avoided hostels for a while because of the reputation they used to have or because of one substandard experience. The good news is that hostels have improved over recent years and they are scattered everywhere around Europe – even in some of the smallest towns – and there are so many to choose from.
The number one benefit and appeal of a hostel is the price. If you’re traveling with a large group of people, Airbnb is the way to go to have a private apartment for a lower cost. But when it’s just you or a couple of your friends, renting out an apartment can be quite expensive. The draw of a hostel is the amount of money you can save by paying for the bare minimum (a bed, shower, and personal locker) so you don’t break the budget on a weekend trip.
One of my personal favorite things about a hostel is the ability to meet new people. Whether you’re traveling in a small group or doing a solo trip, hostels provide the perfect social setting to meet other travelers from all over the world. People are always more than willing to share their experiences. Many hostels are very well set-up with comfortable accommodations and common spaces that you may not want to leave at the end of your trip. In the case of solo travel, this can be one of the best places to find company during your trip that often, in my experience, leads to lasting connections.
Picking the right kind of hostel can be the make or break point in ensuring a good experience. It can be challenging to narrow down which characteristics of each one will be a good fit for your trip. Not all hostels are created equal, and each caters to a certain kind of traveler.
The Party Hostel: Depending on what you’re looking for, the party hostel can be the best experience. For those who enjoy exploring nightlife and value a social experience above all else, the party hostel may be perfect. Usually, these places have an on-site bar, advertise pub crawls, curate evening events for their groups, and are popular with a younger crowd. All that being said, they can also be loud, sometimes prioritize the social nightlife experience over the cultural one if you get too caught up in it, and can make a good night’s sleep before a big trip challenging.I’ve had a great experience at a party hostel in Budapest, where they coordinated several evening activities for us but also balanced out with quiet hours in the hostel and very helpful information about exploring the cultural sights and history of the city. There is a balance that can be achieved in some party hostel settings between social life and cultural exploration - but research is key to making sure you’re staying at a good one.
The Budget Hostel: This doesn’t mean a dirty hostel with no facilities -- for me, this means a place that has all you need, but nothing more. These are often filled with small group travelers, experienced backpackers, and more local guests. They’re usually much calmer than the previously mentioned party hostel and you can easily rest here. Since they’re not wasting money on fancy paint jobs or free shots at the bar with wide-screen TVs, they can keep their prices low - which is great when you need to make your travel budget stretch further.
The Boutique Hostel: It almost seems like a contradiction, but this type of hostel has really began to spread worldwide. They don’t come cheap, but you get your money’s worth with pools, breakfasts, beautifully designed dorms and common areas, nice kitchens, and some even include more amenities on top of that. These may rival hotels in the amenities that are offered, but come at a fraction of the cost.
It’s important to consider the amenities offered at each hostel to make sure your choice from the types listed above has everything you need. From lockers, wifi, and towels, to a bar, kitchen, or laundry facilities, you should always look into what is offered at a hostel before you book. This way you can consider what you might want to pack with you or if a particular hostel is a good fit for you and your trip. I always recommend a lock for lockers as there is no guarantee that there will be some available there. In terms of getting a real grasp on what a hostel’s environment is like, the reviews are your best bet. These are usually a recent, up-to-date look into what the hostel is like and the experiences of those who stayed at it before.
As far as booking goes, there may be many like it, but HostelWorld provides what I’ve found to be the most comprehensive selection of hostels in Europe, along with easy booking and an app that tracks your trips. You pay a small fraction of the actual booking when you reserve through this site to act as a deposit, and then pay the remainder of the total bill when you arrive at the hostel. If this deposit isn’t appealing, Booking.com’s benefit is that no deposit is necessary to secure a reservation. Booking.com also includes a larger selection of budget accommodations than HostelWorld does, but between the two websites, you are sure to find the perfect hostel for your next weekend trip.