What makes a good hostel?

They have the potential to make or break a trip and they can heavily influence how you feel about the city/town you’re staying. Hostels can form the bedrock of your stay wherever you are so what are the key ingredients of a good hostel?

1) Showers

Particularly important when staying in hot, sweat-inducing climates. Water pressure must be good, trickles are unacceptable as is the visibility of any electrical wiring. The ability to choose water temperature is a big plus. Proximity to room also important.

The Prince of Wales in Singapore

2) Dorm sizes

Depending on the experience you’re looking for, six to 12 bed dorms are wholly acceptable. Anything over that tends to lead to unpredictable nocturnal activities. Bunk beds are fine as long as joints are well-oiled to minimise squeakage. If there is space for a communal card game, this is a bonus.

3) Kitchen

Should be proportionate in size to the number of guests at the hostel. Adequate numbers of hobs, microwaves and sinks should be provided as well as surfaces for for food preparation. A sufficient amount of cutlery and crockery should be available including tin openers lest guests are forced to stab tins open with a big knife. Free tea and coffee is a bonus and if the area is well ventilated this is considered a plus.

4) Location

Dorm room in 1770, Australia

Should be in a safe area and within walking distance of nightlife, so as to facilitate not getting lost on the way back after a night out, and public transport so guests may easily find/get to attractions, etc.

6) Communal area

A pool table and/or table football and a book exchange are all good features of a communal area thus providing ample opportunity for increased guest interaction. Also important are comfortable sofas and a TV and DVD player. NB the book exchange must be book for book, not book plus money for book and must contain more seven books to qualify.

What’s crucial in a hostel for you?


Cash splashing on a budget

I’ve always done my travelling on a tight budget but every now and again I splash out on something a bit special.

For all it’s good qualities, travel can be exhausting, difficult and incredibly frustrating, and it’s at times like these when I like to treat myself.

Here are some of the things I find it’s totally worth extending my wallet to:


1) A hotel rather than a hostel (air-con optional)

When I was in Honduras, in some of the smaller towns which attracted little to no tourists, I had to stay in rooms that pretty much resembled prison cells. A creaky bed, an even creakier bed side table, no window and a light bulb of about

Bunk in a 48 bed dorm

ten watts. That’s it. Seriously, people on death row probably have better accommodation.

But hey, this is what you get for $2.50 per night and it’s all part of the backpacking experience, blah blah blah…

After several nights in these cells, when I crossed into El Salvador I found myself walking past a “proper hotel” in Perquin on my way to somewhere a bit more to my standard. I looked up at it longingly and then thought, ‘why the hell not? I think I’ve earned it’.

So for three nights at something like $15 per night (including breakfast) it was like living in a palace. As I entered my room, the first thing I noticed was the smell. Or rather, the complete absence of one. In fact, the entire room was spotless. The double bed was wonderfully mute, my ensuite (oh, yes) bathroom had hot AND cold water – I was actually in charge of what temperature I washed myself at. This was amazing.

Fresh towels provided, two bottles of water, soap, and the ceiling fan was not only quieter than a jet plane for once, but it did it’s job with aplomb.

Occasional luxury like this always gives me the perfect battery recharge.


2) A proper restaurant meal rather than street food

Don’t get me wrong, I love street food and I eat it wherever I go. It’s great because you know there will always be an opportunity to eat wherever you and whatever you doing. Whether it’s pineapple for breakfast on the bus or whatever meat on a stick for sale that you happen to walk past next.

Amazing food. Mmmm...

However, a nice sit down meal once in a while in a proper restaurant where you have a proper waiter/waitress, perhaps a pre-chilled glass for your beer, a starter, and maybe even a dessert, are so much more special and appreciated when you’ve been on the road for a while and necking pad thai or menu del dia every day.


3) First class rather than economy (excluding aeroplanes – I’m not mental)

You’ve slummed it with locals, you’ve sat shoulder to shoulder with chicken buses full of kids, you’ve stood arse to face with somebody’s grandmother on the back of pick-up truck so now it’s time for your reward.

If it’s a really long bus/train journey (or even if it’s not) and you can’t bear the thought of playing share the seat with another sweaty, dribbling drunk then

Chicken buses

making that step up to first class is well worth your consideration.

Give yourself a bit more leg room, entertain even the possibility of sleep, and the notion that you could actually make it through this journey in conditions that are neither arctic nor tropical.