The benefits are obvious: Hostels are generally inexpensive, conveniently located, and a great way to meet other travelers and share recommendations. As long as you don't mind sharing a bedroom and bathroom, they're the perfect place to stay when you're on vacation.
But hostels can range widely in quality. I would know — I've stayed in close to 100 hostels on four continents, from an uber-fancy, palace-like hostel in Paris to a R12 ($1)-a-night gem in Hanoi, Vietnam. I even spent one summer working at a hostel in New York City.
While most hostel experiences went off without a hitch, I've also learned the red flags that scream "avoid this place."Here are nine red flags to watch out for before you unpack your suitcase:
The same thing goes if you make your booking online, only to receive an email instructing you to go to a different address than the one listed.
Both of those things could be an indicator that the hostel isn't actually a legitimate business, and is trying to skirt authorities by concealing its name and location.
Safety is the most important factor in choosing a hostel, and you shouldn't settle for a hostel in a sketchy neighborhood just to save a few bucks. When you arrive to check in, it's not a bad idea to explore the neighborhood surrounding the hostel to make sure it's in a a well-lit, high-trafficked area. If you are getting bad vibes from the area, there's no shame in switching hostels.
It's important for hostels to secure their entrances in some way, like requiring a key to get in or having guests buzz a doorbell from outside the front gate. Bonus points if there are security cameras outside the front door and in the reception area. The hostel I worked at required guests to enter a combination on a push-button lock to enter the lobby. Even in good neighborhoods, hostels can be lucrative targets for criminals, and your hostel should take precautions to ensure the safety of its guests.
If you book your hostel through popular sites like HostelWorld or HostelBookers, you'll most likely be asked to pay a fraction of your bill online as a deposit and the rest when you check in. In other words, you should know exactly how much you owe by the time you're finished with your reservation. If you arrive at your hostel and the staff present you with hidden fees and an overly high bill, consult your reservation email and consider contacting your booking site.
In many parts of the world, hostels have business relationships with local tour companies and transportation services. It's not uncommon for hostel staff to urge you to book your future travel plans with those companies so they get a share of the profit. Such situations may be hard to avoid, and it's perfectly fine for you to say you'd prefer to make your own travel arrangements. But if staff are especially pushy, it could make you feel like they're taking advantage of you and looking out for their business interests ahead of the needs of their guests. Avoid places like that whenever possible.
In the world of lodging, bedbugs are an instant deal-breaker. Even the possibility of bedbugs should be enough to get you to switch hostels. Hopefully a hostel's online reviews will reveal whether it has a bedbug problem. Obviously, avoid those places at all costs. But if you arrive at your hostel and hear murmurs from other guests — even unconfirmed reports — stay in the lobby and book somewhere else.
If staff members at your hostel make inappropriate comments about your appearance, that's a clear sign you should pack your bags and book somewhere else. Not only is it unprofessional — it's dangerous, considering the staff have access to the bedrooms.
By nature, staying in a hostel means giving up some privacy. But you should never feel unsafe or exposed in the bathrooms. Upon arrival, make sure the showers have doors or curtains and that the stalls have some modicum of seclusion — functioning locks, for example. You'd be amazed at what some hostels get away with.
If you're staying at a hostel, there's a good chance you're on a strict travel budget. It should raise a red flag if you discover that your hostel isn't located near any public transportation options — no one wants to blow their vacation budget on taxis. And if your hostel urges you to call a particular taxi company, there may be some sketchiness afoot.
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