Today’s guest blogger is Neil from backpacksandbedbunks.com. He’s been travelling for years, hates pigeons, loves QPR footie team and was awarded HostelBookers’ blog post of the month in July for his post on the Harry Potter Studio Tour.
Last year I wrote creating the ultimate hostel bunk within which I… well I did what it says on the tin, I outlined my ideal yet reasonable ultimate hostel bunk bed. Now begins stage 2, my ultimate hostel.
Having stayed in lots and lots and lots of hostels, I have come to expect certain standards and feel like I’m fairly well equipped to be a decent judge of what makes both a good hostel and a not so good hostel.
Taking into account what’s been offered at the various hostels I’ve stayed in, and assuming I had enough budget and space to cover each item on the list below without being too outlandish, this is what I’d offer backpackers if I could create my ultimate hostel.
24-hour check in
As a result of typical backpacker budgets we generally take cheaper flights which generally arrive at crappy times. It’s not unusual to arrive at your chosen hostel at stupid o’clock in the morning, and the last thing you want to find at such an hour is the front door to your hostel locked. The staff at Urban Central Backpackers in Melbourne were ace when I rocked up at almost midnight having flown in from Fiji. I wanted sleep and they quickly got me checked in and into my room. No waiting around, no sleeping in the lobby, no grumpiness (on their part).
My ultimate hostel would have a friendly face willing to check you in at whatever time you arrive.
A key deposit I can deal with, but a deposit for cutlery was a step too far in Byron Bay. It was $5 a bowl and another $5 for a cup, seriously! The hostel in question shall remain nameless.
I think hostels that take your passport as a deposit have it spot on. Firstly it keeps the passport safe which keeps helps the backpackers. Secondly, it’s worth way more than $10 so the hostel can be safe in the knowledge that they hold the power when it comes to unruly guests. I’d call it a fair deal. If a guest does lose a key, deal with it once lost. Don’t take cash from a backpacker when they’ve not done anything wrong, even if you do plan on giving it back later.
Hostels like Central Hostel in Sopot, Poland, employ this deposit strategy and for that I commend them and will copy them with my own (sadly fictional) super hostel.
Different types of dorm rooms
I’ve never really seen this done, and I don’t know why. It’d probably save a lot of arguments between roommates, and in turn staff. It’s so annoying if all you want is a quiet couple of nights, but others in your dorm insist on returning to their beds at 3am and turn on all the lights in the process. Why not sleep in a dorm with like-minded people?
- Late and loud
- Quiet and peaceful
- Middle of the road
- Female only – find this at BASE hostel in Auckland
Another standard is hot water. The showers would also be cleaned and be power showers – none of this dribble nonsense. The Czech Inn Hostel in Prague might have been the scene of my best shower after a long journey ever – huge showerheads!
The Wake Up Hostel in Sydney had an amazing travel desk, which offered excellent backpacker discounts. Wombats hostels throughout Europe also offer a similar service. A travel desk with free maps is always well received by backpackers, and another great idea, which I’ve only seen once, is business cards with directions to the hostel in the local language. Handy for when getting a cab/tuk-tuk/donkey home.
A lift and stairs
This may sound stupid, but lugging your backpack up 7 flights of stairs is painful after a long journey. Similarly, waiting for a lift to go down a single floor because there’s no staircase is just as annoying. I understand the lift only thing because it’s supposed to regulate who goes up to the rooms i.e. key card holders only, but in reality people who aren’t staying in the hostel just ride up with their mates who are. It’s not foolproof.
Chill out area
A garden would be perfect. Failing that, any area with comfy chairs/bean bags would provide a great spot to chill/recover from a night out and maybe read a book or email someone. Check out this photo I took at the Wake Up Hostel in Sydney, just how comfy do all those beanbags look? Many a rainy day in Sydney was spent on those bags watching classic films such as Willow and Dark Chrystal.
This doesn’t necessarily have to be a bar; the Naughty Squirrel Hostel in Riga simply had a simple beer tap in the middle of a large sitting room with big comfy seats, a TV, foosball and a stereo. It made for a great social area where everyone chatted to each other over a cheap, cold beer.
I understand that a restaurant in a hostel is another way (and a good one) for the hostel making cash, but some backpackers just can’t afford to buy breakfast, lunch and dinner each day. They need a place to boil their water and cook their noodles. A clean, well stocked kitchen such as the one in the Malinbeg Hostel in West Donegal can go a long way to helping backpackers save a few pennies and therefore keep them that bit happier.
A free meal
If other hostels can afford this, so can my Ultimate Hostel. Examples …
- Free breaky – Urban Central, Melbourne, Australia or Vagabonds, Belfast, Ireland (top photo).
- Free dinner – Greg and Tom’s, Krakow, Poland
Thing is, not everyone is a morning person, so I’m proposing a choice of meals, you’d get 1 free a day, breakfast or dinner. I think a simple stamp or tick list would make sure that people aren’t scamming and getting two free meals. I appreciate that the bigger the hostel the harder this may be to track.
Other free stuff
Point for Budget Backpackers in Edinburgh for organising a free walking tour, and another point for the Wake Up Hostel in Sydney who organise free BBQ’s and walking tours of the city. Cost $0. Free maps of the area are also a must. I love a hostel which takes a minute to give you a map and highlight points of interest and the local bus station etc.
While we’re on the subject of free stuff, free Wi-Fi is an absolute must nowadays, especially for travel bloggers. We break out into cold sweats if we can’t check in on 4square or send a tweet.
Ideally the Wi-Fi would be throughout the hostel, not just certain rooms. Paddy’s Palace in Derry gives free Wi-Fi to its guests, a lifesaver when it comes to the deadly roaming charges.
Laundry was a major drain on my funds when travelling up the east coast of Australia. Powder was $10 a box, a wash $5 and dry another $5. So here’s the plan to cut that cost down.
- I’d buy washer dryer combos. I hated having to wait around for my wash to finish only then to have to move all my clothed into the dyer and have to wait for that too.
- For people who had booked in for 5 nights or more I’d give them a free small packet of washing powder.
While no hostel I’ve ever stay in has provided the above exactly, Sheila’s Hostel in Cork still gets a massive thumbs up for the laundry deal its currently offering in line with a full weeks stay.
Anything I’ve missed?
Like I said, this is all hypothetical and assumes that space, and money aren’t a major issue. I appreciate hostels have to work with what they’ve got – if you’re in a city centre you’re unlikely to have a garden. There are certain services and facilities though, that no matter the size of the hostel, backpackers will notice and appreciate if available and at minimal cost or free. These can do a long way to securing hostels a good score on HostelBookers.com.