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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Hostel booking in Europe: Useful 7 point checklist & tips

Hostels are cheapest way of spending a night in Europe, particularly when you are on a budget and all you need is a place to sleep for the night. Compared to hotels that offer exclusive rooms, hostels consist dormitories with multiple beds, with each bed rented to a guest on per night basis, at fraction of what it costs to rent a full hotel room. While this shared accommodation is cheap, it also has some drawbacks/challenges as you don't own the entire room and need to live with other guests respecting common rules.

During my weekend trips ex-Copenhagen, I stayed in 6 different hostels across Europe- in Brussels, Amsterdam, Bergen (Norway), Interlaken, Helsinki and Kaunas (Lithuania). Each hostel stay was different experience. Their layout, rules, rate structure etc had variations. I have already written detailed review of Monk’s Bunk Kaunas, Louise Hostel Brussels here and few more detailed reviews coming up.

In this post, I am sharing a list of my observations and things to look for, while booking hostels in Europe. These aspects if considered carefully can help you save some time, money and make your stay more convenient. Hope this helps

Checkpoint 1: Distance from city centre: Closer to city centre the better. Farther the hostel is from city centre, more will be your traveling time and cost. If not closer to city centre then ensure that hostel has a metro station or good public transportation (Use maps-if hostel is close to central station or if you see icons representing tram/bus/train adjacent to hostel then go for it). If not, a few euros you save on rent will be consumed in transport to and from the hostel.

Checkpoint 2: Locker options- Since you will be sharing the bed in a dorm, a safe place to keep your valuables while you’re away becomes important. Different hostels have different type of lockers with different fee structure.
  • Piano hostel in Bergen has a money operated locker, which costs 10 NOK (About INR 80 or 1 Euro) per opening. Each time you want to lock it, you need to put a new coin. Also this locker was very small and not big enough to take a backpack.
  • Monk’s bunk in Kaunas had a large size locker inside the room, free of cost (10 Euro deposit required)
  • A&O Zuidoost in Amsterdam had a free to use luggage room near reception and a small sized locker for extremely valuable stuff (like passport, wallet etc)- no locker in room
  • Stadion Hostel in Helsinki had two types of lockers- one big one, for which you need to have your own lock (or buy a lock at reception) and a smaller locker free for use (deposit required)
There is no clear way of knowing what kind of lockers are there in a hostel- you can either try reading the reviews of that hostel or if you are very particular about this (like you have some big bag or valuable you plan to leave in the room when you go out) then check with hostel via email or phone before booking.
Checkpoint 3: No of beds and open space: If you plan to spend lot of time in the room, Number of beds could be a factor. Some hostels stuff 10-15 beds in a room (like Piano hostel, Bergen) which can get congested and noisy when fully occupied. Check pictures of the hostel online, gives you an idea of how congested/spacious it is. Some hostels have private rooms for slightly extra money, which might be worth considering if you are in a group or if you are keen on privacy.

Checkpoint 4: Check-in Check-out timings: Some hostels have very inconvenient/restrictive check-in/check-out hours. For example, A&O Amsterdam Zuidoost hostel in Amsterdam- 3PM check in and 10 AM check out. Some hostels have a cut off time in the night beyond which there won’t be any staff. If your schedule doesn’t suit these timings then you may have to book an extra night or spend some time outside etc facing extra inconvenience. If you are arriving/leaving at odd hours, look for hostels with 24 hour reception, or ensure that they can accommodate you at odd hours.


Checkpoint 5: What is included/not included- Some hostels do not offer towel. You need to carry your own. Almost all hostels will have a small kitchen that you can use to cook some basic stuff-but be sure to carry ingredients.

Checkpoint 6: Shared rooms/shared bathrooms-
while some hostels will have separate dorms for men and women, few have mixed dorms. If you are not comfortable having someone from the other gender around you then be sure to select a dorm that is exclusive to your gender. Similarly few hostels will have a bathroom inside the dorm, but most will have common bathrooms outside. This means you need to leave your stuff around the bed and go out for a both- some times you may have to wait in queue if you try to use it in peak hour. While most hostels I stayed had exclusive bathroom, the Stadion hostel in Helsinki had a shower room which had 3 showers in one room (separate showers for men and women, but in one shower room expect 2-3 other guests (of same gender) to be bathing alongside. Again this information is not declared outright, but you can find out by reading reviews or mailing hostel staff, if you are very particular about privacy.

Checkpoint 7: Refund rules- Most hostels allow free cancellation/modifications up to a day or two prior to check in date. But few hostels will have cheaper rates but no cancellation allowed. Some charge yuour card in advance. These aspects matter if you are not 100% sure of your travel

Almost all hostels offer free WiFi, but in Stadion hostel, it was in reception area only. In general, if the hostel is closer to city centre you can easily find some cheap place to eat food, else you will have to spend more on food.

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