“Bed and Bike” two nights. “Hip Karma” five. “Urban Jungle” another three. “Granada Inn” the following four. Two nights at “Albergue Los Molinos”. “Lemon Garden” for my last 4. After three weeks of hostel hopping across Spain, I concluded my journey at the grungy Bushwick “NY Moore”.
Prior to this trip, I’d only ever stayed in one hostel. And those three nights at the HI Banff didn’t really expose me to much. It was shoulder season, so the place was empty. My friend and I had our own two bunk room. We did pay a visit to the bar one night, but aside from a few conversations about the mess of an election that had just occurred, we kept to ourselves. This time around I wanted to get the full experience. After three weeks of tossing and turning in hostels across Spain, I’ve decided to share what I learned.
How to choose a hostel:
Due to its longstanding backpacking culture, Europe offers a surplus of quality hostel options. So, when there are 15 pages of results in Barcelona alone, how do you choose?
1. Consider your goals
What are you trying to do or see? Is your goal to meet people and party? Or are you looking for a place to get some decent rest and enjoy the museums? Both? Give some thought to your goals in each location before you move on to Step 2.
2. Consider your Budget
How much do you want to spend? Are you looking for the social aspects of a hostel stay without the public quarters? A private room may be for you.
Looking for a place that includes food? Free breakfast can be a lifesaver for those with an eager stomach. European meals typically don’t start before noon. Although, if you’re just looking for something to hold you over ‘till tapas, you can get a cortado and a baguette for about 1 euro 50 at a café on any corner.
Is your hostel city center, or will you have to ride the metro to get where you want to go? Do they charge for locks? Do they rent towels? These are the hidden fees to consider when filtering by price. They may not seem important, but every bit adds up.
Don’t be deterred by cheap rooms. Hostels in the states are a different story. In Spain, I paid between 12 and 20 euro per night. Although, a Friday in Paris did cost me 45.
3. Read the Reviews
So, you’ve determined your goals, and you’ve locked in a price. You still have seven pages to sort through. Find the ones with a high percentage rating. Now, it’s time to read the reviews.
No matter how nice the place is, there are likely a few bad reviews. Find them. Read them. Decide. Is this just a grumpy sleep deprived traveler who forgot his ear plugs and had one unpleasant night? Or, does this person have a valid point?
What are your concerns? Do you struggle to sleep if it’s too warm? Look for reviews that mention a/c or heat. Look at the pictures. What do the beds look like?
Looking for privacy? You’d be surprised how much less exposed it feels with even a small curtain. But then again, as I found at “Hip karma Hostel” in Barcelona, even a thin piece of fabric is enough to hide behind. If you have more social ambitions, you might be better off at in a traditional bunk room.
4. Avoid the chains
Like your LaQuintas and Holiday Inns, chains exist with hostels too. I found these massive complexes like The Granada Inn, to be sterile warehouses void of character. If looking for an authentic experience, I recommend finding a place more local and unique. In my experience, not only will the accommodations be more interesting, but the conversations will too. Set at the bottom of a cascading waterfall bellow the cliff edged town of Ronda, “Albergue Los Molinos” was my favorite hostel of the trip.
Booking a hostel
Hostelworld.com was my go-to site for pre-booking research. The app is easy to use, offers useful reviews, extensive descriptions, and events calendars. But I found Booking.com to offer better rates. When it comes time to book, use Booking.
Also, important to note, unless traveling peak season or holidays, it’s usually not necessary to book more than your first night. Check the place out before deciding to extend your stay.
Making the most of your hostel stay
Hostel stays aren’t just about saving money, they’re about opportunities to socialize. But meeting people still requires effort. So, avoid any temptations to hide behind your bunk curtain.
Attend the free events. At “Lemon Garden” in Sevilla, every night, from 7-9, backpackers were invited to gather on the terrace for free Sangria. At Bed and Bike Barcelona, they offered free cycling tours. At both hostels, I made friends. In contrast, in five night at “Hip Karma”, a boring bunk room with no activities or social space, the only person I interacted with was the guy at the front desk.
While most activities and events at hostels are free, you should remember to tip the volunteers. It doesn’t have to be much, but keep in mind that many hostel employees are travelers just like you, who are volunteering their time for the experience. Who knows, you may find yourself on the other end one day.
Before my hostel journey, I expected to embark on sleepless nights and pub crawls. I found my hostel stays to be surprisingly mellow. In three weeks across Spain, I went out to the bars just once, as I found far more value in the conversations in the common rooms. If you’re looking for a place to sleep and socialize, I highly recommend giving hostels a try.