When to book a hostel?
If this is your first time staying in a hostel, I highly recommend booking your hostels in advance, especially if its a shorter trip. Although more seasoned travelers like to travel without plans and rock up to a hostel when they arrive in the city as it allows more flexibility, you will feel much less stressed, lost and safer if you book a hostel ahead of time. If you will be gone for a few months, you can book your hostels a few cities ahead while on the road.
By booking a month or so in advance, especially if online, you can –
- read traveler reviews and make sure you are getting a hostel that fits your priorities (party hostel, more low key place, hostel that is easy to meet other travelers, etc)
- guarantee you are close to the main attractions
- make sure the hostel is within your price range or the best deal for your buck
- have cleaner facilities
- be bed bug free – being able to read reviews for hostels thoroughly is one of the best ways to prevent getting bed bugs, which can ruin a trip
- make sure you have a place to stay.
Some smaller towns have limited hostels and fill up quickly, or if an event is going on or it is during high season, you may not be able to get a room when you arrive. For example, if you are in Pamplona during the running of the bulls or Munich during Oktoberfest, rooms have to be booked months in advance and can be very pricey. Some people are ok with sleeping in a park, but it is not safe and illegal in a lot of places and it is better to be safe than sorry.
Get a good guidebook or start browsing through the various booking websites and you can start reserving.
Just like Expedia, Travelocity, and Orbitz all provide booking services for hotels, there are several competing websites that allow you to book hostels which are not available on the usual reservation websites. While hostel booking websites focus on hostels, some also display cheap hotels, campsites, B&Bs and other cheap accommodations. Below are just a few of the most popular hostel booking websites.
- Offer more than just hostel reservation services.
- As they are two of the most popular hostel booking websites, they have a lot of reviews and can be good to confirm a hostels rating from another website to make sure they have similar ratings.
- Hostels.com has the most user-friendly search function.
- Higher prices. Hostelworld.com has the highest prices out of all of these listed.
- Charges a service fee on every purchase of $2.
- Limitations in the number of hostels returned. These websites don’t have as many hostels listed, especially when searching in small cities.
- Cheapest prices. Hostelz.com uses a price comparison tool to ensure you the lowest price.
- No service charge. Period.
- Hostelz.com has the largest selection of hostels. In small cities that don’t have many options, Hostelz.com is usually the only one that will come up with results.
- Hostelz.com has a details section that breaks down everything you would want to know like if sheets are included, if there is a curfew, and other relevant info in a quick and easy format.
- Hostelz.com has limitations with its search function. It requires an exact match in the name of the city or hostel in order to return results.
I clearly prefer Hostelz.com out of all of these. The waived service fees, cheaper prices, and greater number of results when I am looking at a small town or for a specific hostel just can’t be beat. Then why list alternatives? When booking with little advance, some websites will have no availability for a specific hostel, while others may still have spaces free for that same hostel. A room at a more expensive price on one website is better than no room at all. Comparing the ratings from website to website is also something I like to do to make sure a hostel is as good as it seems.
Hostelling International, or HI Hostels, is a non-profit International Youth Hostel Federation focused on providing good quality budget accommodation. They are a chain of hostels that are found in many cities and countries throughout the world.
- Membership – Some countries require you to have a membership card to stay in HI hostels, while others don’t. You can purchase this when you book online or when you arrive at the hostels. Membership will give you a 10% discount, and if you are not a member, you just have to pay a small surcharge. This is a good idea if you plan on staying in more than one HI hostel on your trip.
- Due to the large number of HI hostels, you can usually find one of these in smaller cities where other hostels are not present.
- These hostels are clean facilities, but can often come across as very sterile and cookie cutter, lacking alot of the character other hostels try to create. I advise staying in a good local hostel if available.
- Large school groups and families with children usually stay in HI hostels.
- Some can have strict curfews or long lockout periods during the day.