Youth hostels are like little cities. You have private space and public space. There’s common infrastructure like kitchens and bathrooms.
If you don’t look after the common infrastructure, you get a hostel that’s like Calcutta. And if you design the public spaces wrong, you end up with a hostel that’s a bit like Canberra.
The reason to stay in a hostel (other than saving a few bucks) is that it creates a place where you can meet some people. The great thing about a shared room is that it forces interaction. Then, when you move to the common area, you can meet people from other rooms too.
But how to meet other people? It depends on ambience.
In Japan we stayed in one hostel that had a great public space with a few couches, an open fire and a beer vending machine. But the people who sat there barely spoke. The reason? A huge flat screen TV with hundreds of channels. Sitting there, you felt like you might be interrupting if you started talking.
If there must be a TV, it should be in a separate TV watching room. As this website says: “For some reason it is perfectly acceptable to go into a room and switch a TV on, but it is never acceptable to switch it off.”
Meeting people in a way that doesn’t look desperate is important. Long communal tables are better for breakfast than a series of tables for two or four. If someone is sitting in a common area that has a few magazines strewn around, its easy to take a seat, pick up some reading material, and allow a conversation to start. A bar is a good place to meet people.
A mix of different types of seating can be useful. Noone wants some desperate weirdo to sit down at their table, but if there is a couch near the bar, or an internet terminal near the seats near the fire, it allows interaction without forcing it in an awkward way.
The factors that cause satisfaction are different from the factors that cause dissatisfaction. The cleanliness spectrum is never going to make people love your hostel. Cleanliness can only affect dissatisfaction. Same with safety and security, decent mattresses, heating/cooling, and bunks that don’t make too much noise when people roll over. These are what Herzberg called hygiene factors. They must be in place.
The factors that make people satisfied are price, location, services, and above all, ambience. This is where the design of the hostel comes in. But it’s not just the physical space.
If they have breakfast included, that event throws you together with other travelers at a time when people are making plans. It allows you to possibly combine your agenda with someone elses in a way that is casual, and without seeming too desperate.
Maybe the hostel also offers cheap tours to local landmarks that are hard to reach. This throws you together with other tourists in a good way.
Most hostels recognise the importance of a central common area, but some take this too literally. If all the bedrooms have doors onto the common area, then the hostel has to make a lot of rules about noise that a) mean late night partying in the hostel is out b) limit booze sales at the bar c) create a bad vibe from the staff that enforce the rules.
It’s also important that the hostel has staff that are available but not in your space. One place in Japan, the manager was always sitting in the common area, and it made sitting round there shooting the breeze a bit uncomfortable.
- Free internet, but not wifi, cause that makes people hermits.
- Size? Too big = bad.
- No long-stay guests (>month), or the place starts to feel creepy.
- Kitchen? i’ve never really cooked in hostels. I feel like I’ve met more people by being in the hostel around 7pm and finding people to go out to dinner with. Local cuisine is a big part of travelling, and sometimes waiters are the local people you chat to the most.
Here’s (almost) every hostel I’ve ever stayed in:
In Beijing , China– Far East International Youth Hostel Number one with a bullet. I love this place.
Shanghai – Captain Youth Hostel I met some creepy old dudes who drank Bacardi breezers.
Tokyo – Asakusa Smile Good.
Hakuba, Japan – Snowbeds Good.
Kyoto – Ks House Kyoto Once voted the best hostel in Asia, and it’s easy to see why! Sooo clean, nice bar, staff all appear to be on happy pills.
Prague, Czech Republic – Travellers Hostel Prague
Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic – Travellers Hostel Cesky Best in-hostel bar I’ve ever had eleventeen drinks in. I left a shirt here and when a mate visited this hostel about six months later, he picked it up for me. Excellent service.
Jindabyne, Australia – Snowy Mountains Backpackers
Rome – Ottaviano – Near the Vatican. Has bedbugs.
Rome – YHA Rome Prejudiced me against YHAs for ever. So unfriendly, so institutional, so far from town.
Rome – Sandy Hostel
Rome – Roma Inn Stayed here after forgetting to prepay at Sandy hostel, and coming home to find someone sleeping in my bed.
Rome – Victorias Hostel Stayed here after forgetting to prepay at Roma Inn, and coming home to find someone in my bed. Not so much a hostel as a few bunkbeds in someone’s spare room.
Koper, Slovenia – Koper Hostel
Ulaan Bataar – UB guesthouse Mr Kim, best hotel owner in Central Asia!
Paris – MIJE Maubisson Meh
Vancouver – American Backpackers Hostel Ten buck beds! Pretty gross though.
Pompeii, Italy – Ostello di Pompeii
Athens – Pagration I strongly recommend the cheese pastries from the bakery round the corner
Aquileia, Italy – Domus Augusta
Been to any great hostels? Have any ideas on what makes a good hostel great? Share them all below!