Monday, April 25, 2011

Essential Hostel Amenities for Poor Backpackers

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Backpacking on a budget means you will probably be staying in a lot of cheap hostels. While there are plenty with a fun environment and comfortable accommodations, many lack some basic traveler needs. An extra five minutes of planning ahead of time will save you from a miserable hostel experience. Knowing what you would like to have in a hostel ahead of time will give you a set of questions to ask and compare hostels with. That $8 hostel might not have hot water but the $9 one up the street does; does that $1 price difference change your decision? Here are 20 amenities hostels may or may not have that will make or break your backpacking experience.

20 Amenities to Qualify a Hostel
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  1. Free Breakfast: One of the best strategies for budget travelers is to stay at a hostel with free breakfast (and sometimes lunch/dinner snacks). Cheap bread and jelly is fine, but do they offer pancakes, eggs, or anything with actual substance? 
  2. Free Wifi: Are you a technomad traveling with an iPhone and laptop that need to stay connected? Free WiFi is an absolute necessity for you. Don’t get caught paying hourly/daily fees when the next door hostel has it for free. Also check to see if the WiFi signal reaches all the way to your room; an extra bonus if it does. 
  3. Free Internet: For those who don’t travel with a computer, do they offer computers with Internet for free? Easy question to ask in advance. 
  4. Location: Is the hostel in a dark alleyway one mile from downtown? That is something you need to know ahead of time. Find a hostel that is safe (with well lit streets) walking distance to all the sights you want to see. Paying for taxis everywhere will boost expenses quickly. 
  5. Power outlets: No one thinks to ask ahead of time about power outlets but everyone gets annoyed when there are none. Ask if they have outlets with a ground (that third prong), if one is next to your bed (to charge your electronics at night), and if there is more than one shared outlet for the entire hostel. 
  6. Hot water: Getting a brisk surprise early on a cold morning that there is no hot water is never fun. Unless you are extremely tight on budget, most hostels should offer hot showers. 
  7. Community Kitchen w/ Refrigerator: Traveling slowly and cooking your own meals is important for cutting costs and you will need a hostel equipped with a shared kitchen and fridge to store groceries. 
  8. Photo by Barnacles Hostels
  9. Clean Rooms: How often do they clean the rooms? Are there any reviews complaining about bed bugs? Just because it’s a hostel doesn't mean it will be dirty, check in advance for cleanliness. 
  10. Book Exchange: A great addition to hostels is a small book exchange program. When you are done reading your book, trade it in for a new one some other backpacker dropped off. It’s free and a great way to find new books. 
  11. On-site Bar: Some backpackers love an on-site bar and some hate it. An on-site bar will ensure a great community atmosphere and late night partying; but usually means you can’t bring in any outside alcohol. If you would rather buy beer at a grocery store and pre-game at the hostel, a bar isn’t for you. Some of the best hostels will actually sell beer for cheaper than you will find at any convenient store nearby. 
  12. Games: Hostels with the best community atmosphere will provide some sort of game on site. Whether you challenge a stranger to a game of foosball, ping pong, or billiards on a broken table, you are guaranteed to meet new friends playing games. 
  13. Toilet Seats: One often overlooked hostel amenity that will upset backpackers if it isn't provided is having a toilet seat. I think you can figure out why. 
  14. Lockers: Theft is an unfortunate problem at some hostels and having personal lockers for your valuables is a necessity. Better to be safe than sorry, lock up your stuff. 
  15. Individual Bed Lights: Not everyone goes to sleep at the same time in a shared room and private bed lights are great for reading a few pages or getting some work done before getting some shuteye without bothering others (or being bothered by others). 
  16. Free Towels/Linens: Some hostels still charge for towels and linens; double check before you pay a deposit. 
  17. Organized Activities/Events: Quality hostels will organize free community events and outings around the area. These are great for getting to know other backpackers and sightseeing on a budget. Free salsa lessons… yes please! 
  18. Fellow Travelers: Are you the only one staying at the hostel? Hostels are great for meeting new people so find out whether or not other backpackers actually stay there. 
  19. Laundry Service: Is there free or cheap laundry service? Depending on the last time you washed your clothes, this could be very important. 
  20. Movie Room: Although not necessary, it is nice to have a lounge room where you can relax and watch a movie with new friends. Even better if the TV has ESPN. 
  21. English speaking employee: Checking in, getting around, and asking for local advice will all be easier if the hostel staff speaks some English. Not a problem if you speak the local language, but a huge factor for everyone else. 
Not every amenity will make or break your decision to stay in a hostel, but several of them will be important to you. Email, call, or ask when you are wandering the streets to see if the hostel has the amenities you care about the most.


Hostels in India said...

I feel most of the hostels have everything except English speaking employee. you made right points.

Hansen Hunt said...

Thanks! English speaking is hard to come by. I think the best hostels have employees who all speak a few languages that way no matter what traveler shows up someone can help them.