It occurs to me that it’s time for a little contemplation. I’m in Nice, France and I wanted to go out and see the lights of Nice at night from somewhere elevated. The problem is that there is not a lot of public transportation late at night in Nice and I’m not familiar enough with the transportation system to go wandering out without more information. So, I thought I would go back to the hostel and do a little writing. I like to write. But, what should I write about? I decided to go and get a bottle of cheap Rose ($3) to help me with a little inspiration. The inspiration I had was to talk about how to rate a hostel. I am staying in a really good hostel and maybe I should outline some of the things you can do (and can’t) to make sure the hostel you stay in is good. Or at least tolerable.
(1) Check the rating and the number of reviews. The hostel I’m staying in in Nice has a 83.1% rating with 431 reviews at Hostelbookers and an 88% rating with 2,699 reviews at Hostelworld. That puts it at #3 at Hostelworld and #4 at Hostelbookers. That’s good enough, especially considering that I can get a bed cheaper at this hostel than at the others.
(2) How many beds are there in the room? When I have a choice between a 16 bed dorm room and an 8 bed dorm room at about the same price I always choose the 8 bed dorm room. The dorm room with 16 beds can turn into a circus really quickly. I don’t want to sleep in a circus. There’s too many animals.
(3) Location, location, location. If you don’t know, it’s a real estate adage. What I do know is you can’t really be sure if it’s a good location until you get there. Sure, you can tell if it’s close to public transportation, but is it close to a supermarket? Is it close to places to get food at good prices? Is it close to alcohol if alcohol is part of your game plan? Or hookers or drugs if that’s on your agenda although I should caution you that my own perception is that you really can have too much fun and you’ll know when that happens because you will need legal representation to help you deal with all the fun you’ve had and nothing causes you to need legal representation faster than hookers or drugs.
(4) Room mates. I wish I could tell you that you can do something about this, but the only thing I know of to help you deal with this issue is that you book a room that has a smaller number of beds in it. This is the only way I know of to solve the issue of the quality of room mates that you have. The ideal hostel room has zero room mates. You are the only one in the room. If that’s a problem, you’re probably schizophrenic and I suggest you get professional help as soon as possible. If you book a room with only four beds in it you are probably going to find out that your room mates booked the four bed dorm room to avoid having a lot of a&^%)#@)s in the room. Those are room mates you should cherish. Then again, there is no way to tell about the quality of room mates. There is only a probability. You may get some great ones, you may not. If you book hostels that are not popular with the party crowd, like IYHF hostels, you can wind up with room mates who are no fun at all but are not a&^%)#@)s. At best, it’s hard to know what kind of room mates you will get. However, if you book a hostel that is a “party” hostel and you are not a “party” person, just assume you are going to have a problem. If you are a “party” person, book a “party” hostel. MY advise: traveler – know thyself and book accordingly.
(5) Staff. They are people who work at hostels. They aren’t tour guides. They usually have no clue when you ask them questions about the areas they live in because the aren’t travelers and don’t know what travelers need or want to know. They don’t get paid a lot. Most of them work the job because it’s easy, they speak English, and they get to meet members of the opposite gender under positive circumstances. I’ve seen some great staff personnel. I’ve seen some that were’t so great. I’ve seen some really bad ones/ They run the gamut. Don’t expect a lot and be grateful for what you do get and you won’t have a problem with them. Someday, they may get good enough to be hotel clerks or Travel Information Center clerks.
(6) Common areas. You should expect them. Most hostels have at least one. Many have several. They are places where people can get together and communicate. If the hostel where you are staying doesn’t have them, things won’t be so good. It’s hard to tell how much common space is available when you book a hostel. When I read reviews I see a lot of comments about staff members. I take those comments with a grain of salt. I rarely have a problem with staff people and they rarely effect the quality of my stay one way or another..
(7) Security. Again, you never really know until you have been in the hostel. What I look for is lockers. What I want is to leave my PC in a safe place that doesn’t require me to do a lot to feel that it’s safe. I carry a PC for a reason. I don’t really feel the need to carry it around all day. I would always like to leave it at the hostel, but I have to feel it is secure. Lockers can go a long way to making me feel secure that I don’t have to carry several extra pounds of stuff with me when I leave the hostel each day. Other people, however, think that security means keeping people out of rooms who do not belong there. The issue of who belongs there is always questionable. How do you know whether a person belongs there or not? I’d say that people in a room who are not sleeping there would be a security issue but some people would disagree with me. They want their friends to be able to hang out with them. I think that’s what common areas are for but not everyone agrees. Different hostels have different rules for security. You have to make up your mind what makes a hostel secure.
(8) Toilets & Showers. Sometimes I forget things. Sometimes, situations come up that reminds me that there are somethings that are really important. I can remember a hostel in Cairo. It was a great hostel except for one thing. They only had one working toilet. There was a line every morning with people waiting to get into that one bathroom because people were showering and primping while other people just wanted to pee and poop. It was so bad that I left in the morning and walked to the Hilton, which was a few blocks away, to do my morning toilet duties. I could take a shower in the afternoon or any other time of the day but I couldn’t put off some of the things that make me feel that a hostel needs a minimum of two working toilets. It’s even more preferable if the toilets and the showers have different access points. That means that people can access the showers without accessing the toilets and vice versa. If I had a checklist of things to ask a hostel it would include the question: How many guests per WORKING toilet? If they can’t answer, and God help them if they can’t, it’s because they don’t want to or they have so many toilets and guests they can’t count them all or they haven’t learned how to use a calculator to do a math problem with division in it.
There are some thing you can do to help yourself find a good hostel. The best thing that you can do is to understand your own likes and dislikes about a hostel. Do you cook? That means a kitchen is important. Do you want a breakfast with your bed? Do you like to have a locker? The only way to find these things out is to read the information about the hostel and to read the reviews. For me, the best reviews are the bad ones. They’ll tell you more than all the good reviews combined. Make sure you notice the age of the bad reviews. If they are older than two years old, things may have changed. If in doubt, read the most recent reviews. If there are no bad reviews in the last year, that’s a good sign. Again, that does not mean that you will like the hostel, it just means there were no bad reviews in the last two years. Check both Hostelworld and Hostelbookers reviews. They have different people using them. You are looking for problems. You are looking for deal breakers. You are looking for things that bother you personally. There is no perfect hostel. I’ve been to plentyof them and none are perfect. Some, however, are better than others. At least as far as I’m concerned. Those are the ones I’m looking for.
In closing, the odds on finding a great hostel are not in your favor.You can, however, find a hostel that will meet your needs and not be the Hostel from Hell. To do that you need to find hostels in the area where you are going and compare them. Go to Hostelbookers and Hostelworld and do some research. Look at the reviews, being sure to read the bad ones as they will tell you much more than the good ones. Try to find a hostel that meets your need and is in a price range with which you are comfortable. Just understand that you’ll never really know about a hostel until you get there.