Once you realize that you can’t book all of your stays using rewards, the next best option for budget travels is staying at hostels.
If you’re like us, you’re going to look for the cheapest option, but how do you know that you are choosing a quality hostel and you won't be stuck with a smelly windowless room.
It’s not just the price factor that gets us checked into a hostel. They're one of the best ways to meet people while traveling and they can offer a great way to get in on some locals only secrets.
Plus, they’re usually located where we want to be, such as in a city center or other active part of the city. We've stayed in a countless hostels while traveling South America and we often turned to them during our trip in the Balkans this last August and September.
When you’re looking to save money while traveling, hostels are (most of the time) hands down the cheapest lodging option-- you can’t beat $9-$15 a night, but sometimes when you’re making a stop in a metropolitan city you can come across boutique hostels that range from $40 to $60 a night.
However, you do get what you pay for, meaning that if you’re paying a rock-bottom prices compared to other hostels in that area, find out why. It could be that your hostel is located outside of the city making it a trek to and from your hostel or your room is cramped with bunk beds close to each other. Reviews on any major hostel booking site can almost always provide a realist representation of the hostel quality.
I always start my hostel search by comparing three websites: Hostel World, Hostels.com and Hostel Bookers. They offer similar hostel accommodations so you can compare their prices and availability. I try to avoid using Hostel World because they charge a service fee, while hostels.com does not so whenever you can avoid paying a fee you should. I have found it very reliable to view hostels and reviews on the more popular Hostel World and book the exact room on Hostel Bookers to avoid paying a fee.
Most hostels will offer different types of rooms you can select: private ensuite, private shared bathroom, co-ed mix dorms and single gendered dorms. I prefer a private room when I’m booking a room if the options available because I do enjoy my privacy and it’s just a peace of mind not having to worry about my belongings even though I do lock up my valuables. Most of the time I can justify spending an extra couple of dollars to get a room to myself and have the peace of mind that I won't be kept up all night by someone snoring.
Some of our top tips for staying in hostels:
Bring flip-flops to wear in the shower. Staying in a hostel, you should pretend that you’re staying in a college dorm and you wouldn’t want to shower without flip-flops in one.
Bring essential toiletries like soap, shampoo, toothpaste, etc. because hostel don’t provide them.
Bring a towel with you. Even though I’ve often been provided a towel, I prefer to use my own. I was once given a hand towel which was insisted to me that it was a full body shower towel.
Sleep on the bottom bunk if you have the option. Bunk beds are a pain to get into and out of in the middle of the night and if you’re like me you’d feel horrible about accidentally waking up the person on the bottom bunk while finding your way down if you have to use the restroom.
Lock up your valuables! Whether or not you’re sharing a room, lock up all of your personal and valuable (passport, money, camera, etc) belongings in a locker.
Party vs. Quiet Hostel, choose wisely. If you want a very social hostel experience, then be considerate and stay at one that shares that sentiment because a lot of travelers are tired and exhausted by the time they get in at night and just want to sleep. If you want a quiet hostel experience, then you too must choose a hostel that shares that sentiment. If you end up at a very social hostel especially one that has a bar, you should not expect the other guests to simmer down when you hit the sack.
Stay close to town when you’re choosing a hostel so that you are not having to take taxis to the part of town you WANT to be in. This is one of the most important factors when I choose a hostel, I want to be able to walk to most of the sites I want to visit and feel safe doing it. Location is key.
Talk to your hostel neighbors. Meeting people who are staying at your hostel is one of the best ways to create great memories while traveling. When I was staying at the Rutan Cabinas hostel in Jaco, Costa Rica, I starting talking to a girl who is from the same town in Los Angeles and worked with one of my best friends. Small world! You would be surprised how many connections (friends, schools, sports, etc) you would have with travels you meet abroad.
Read hostel reviews on booking sites, they are there for your benefit. If there is a common thread of negative or positive points that guests have made, take them into consideration. This year I stayed at a handful of hostels and I only had one negative experience and that had more to do with us not reading the reviews more carefully.