There are two factors that should decide whether or not you are a good candidate for a hostel:
1. How old are you?
2. How many people are you traveling with?
Now, let’s put aside factors of prissyness, insecurity with strangers, and other obnoxious qualities, and look at this objectively. We will revisit those issues at the end.
If you are between the ages of 18 and 24, then you probably still get all the youth discounts, you may not legally be able to drink in your home town, and this may be your first trip to Europe. This is when hosteling is ideal. Because you are young, you like to party and go out at night, and you don’t really care where you sleep as long as it is cheap and doesn’t smell too bad.
If you are over the age of 24ish…. then you are starting to enter the phase where you may have started a career, are a little more mature, don’t stay out till all hours of the night, and would really like a place to crash where no one will bother you… ever. Thus, I would advise against hostels. And suggest that you get a private room or stay in a hotel.
If you are traveling by yourself, hostels are cheaper than hotels by at least half. If you are traveling with someone else, than you both need to be up for it. Because, the two of you could end up in a room with great people, or really gross, annoying, or otherwise unfortunate roommates.
If you happen to be traveling in a large party, like four, six, or ten people, than you could more easily find a room to fill, or dominate the room you are in. This gives you some home turf advantage. Do try and be courteous to the other people. Nevertheless it is comforting to know that the people around you are all your friends, except for Javier in the corner.
Factors into choosing which hostel:
Space. If it’s a private room than space shouldn’t be an issue. You can cozy up to your friends easily. This is an ideal time to do something fun, like staying on a boat Hostel. We stayed on the Gustaf av Klint in Stockholm, and ideal spot if you like boats. The cabins are very small and cozy. Great if you know all the people around you. If there are strangers though…. it becomes uncomfortable. So be aware. When we stayed in the Circus Hostel in Berlin, the room was really large, and even had a table and chairs in the center for doing whatever. Clearly it felt less obtrusive than the boat, even though we now had a room of six instead of four.
Bathrooms. Do you share the bathroom? And with how many people? This really only becomes detrimental if you happen to want to use the facilities at the same time as everyone else, or if you find yourself stuck with less than cleanly people. This is also an ideal time to find a discount. If you have a private room in a hostel or cheap hotel, sometimes the bathroom is still shared. You can save a lot of money this way, and you will often have a private sink or shower in your room. In Nice at Les Camélias we had a bathroom shared by only four people versus St. Christopher’s Village Inn in London, which had bathrooms shared by the whole floor, but offered hair dryers.
Beds. What kind of bed are you sleeping on? Having a good nights sleep might be really important to you. You may also be a sound sleeper, and would never feel the pea under the mattress. When we stayed at St. Christopher’s Village Inn in London, the beds were soft and cushy and warm. It was the best nights rest we’d had in a while. When we stayed at Les Camélias in Nice the beds were rock solid and the room was unbearably hot.
Ambiance. The Flying Pig hostels of Amsterdam range from resembling an opium den to having a “smoking” bar that seems to waft into your room at a constant rate… The Hostel Archi Rossi in Florence offered a private villa in a courtyard that was quiet and tranquil… Wombat’s Hostel in Berlin had a bar that seemed to serve twelve-year olds. Need I say it was loud and constantly busy?
Location. Some hostels are ideally located, while comparably priced hotels are in the middle of nowhere. Decide if you’d rather be close to everything, or don’t mind the commute.
Attitude. Venturing back to the aforementioned prissyness.
Problem: Refusing to sleep in a room with strangers. Solution: Bring five friends, and get a six bed hostel room.
Problem: Refusing to bunk with boys. Solution: Stay in an all female dorm. Or vice versa.
Problem: Questionable cleanliness. Solution: Visit sites like traveladvisor, and see what people have to say about upkeep. Some hostels are cleaner than hotels.
Other benefits to hosteling: It can be a lot more social; there’s usually internet to use; the staff will most likely know of fun and exciting things for young people to do. Which brings me back to how old are you? Let’s be honest, if you are of a wiser and more sensible crowd, you’re unlikely to make friends at the hostel. Make friends at the pub crawl instead.