Ask Kate: How Do I Find Cool Hostels (Not Party Hostels)?

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How to find cool hostels (not party hostels) while traveling

Though I used to be all about the party hostels, today I’m all about the cool hostels — ones that aren’t about partying but relaxing, socializing, and having a great time. In this week’s question, I show a reader how to find those hostels.

Hi Kate (or Kate community),

I was reading your blog post about making friends while traveling, I’m doing a bit of solo traveling in europe this summer and while in the past i’ve stayed at hostels, I’m starting to feel a bit….old for them. I’m only 24!

And while I still like to have fun, I don’t necessarily want to stay at a place that feels like a frat house, where everyones goal is to get blacked out drunk. How do you choose hostels that are still fun and easy to meet people, but isn’t all 18 year olds on gap year?

I still want to meet people, and even though couchsurfing is great hostels expose you to a larger population.

The timing couldn’t be better. My good friend Kash Bhattacharya, better known as The Budget Traveller, has just released his free ebook: Luxury Hostels of Europe.

Yes — luxury hostels. Many hostels these days understand that budget lodging does not need to be low-quality lodging. Smart hostels these days are adding beautifully decorated private rooms, guest relations managers, rotating art installations, even swimming pools!

This project has been a labor of love for Kash. Last year he visited 50 luxury hostels all over Europe. Around 60 were reviewed, including reviews by others, and the 40 best luxury hostels in Europe made the cut for this book. In short, nobody knows luxury hostels better than Kash.

I was also Kash’s editor, so I have been living and breathing luxury hostels for the past few weeks, and I can tell you what a terrific product this is. I’ve stayed at several properties featured in this book — including my favorite hostel, Gallery Hostel in Porto — and can confirm that they are quality.

So please be sure to download the book for free here on the home page. The book downloads when you sign up for the newsletter.

As for hostels that aren’t contained in this book, these are the steps that I follow to finding cool hostels that aren’t party hostels:

1) Check reviews. Hostel booking sites are your best friend. You’ll find plenty of reviews on HostelWorld and HostelBookers, as well as TripAdvisor. Sort them by highest rating. Keep in mind that most people leave reviews either to rant or to rave, so take them with a grain of salt and look for patterns in the reviews.

2) Check the hostel website. See how they present themselves to the world. Is their site covered with pictures of people partying and ads for bar crawl specials? Or do they talk about it being a peaceful escape with chill-out areas?

3) See whether the hostel has a bar. Having a bar doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a party hostel — but you can’t be a party hostel without a bar. So if you definitely want to avoid party hostels, stay at hostels without a bar.

4) Spend more for a higher quality room. And not necessarily a private room. Spending an extra $5 to stay in a six-bed dorm rather than a sixteen-bed dorm is money well spent because it makes it feel even less like a frat house.

One last thing to keep in mind — I’ve found that hostel experiences tend to vary widely depending on the people you meet. Hanging out with a crowd of cool people can turn even the most boring hostel into the most memorable part of your trip. So say hi, be friendly, and take part in the hostel’s activities. Some of my good friends today are people who I’ve met in hostels around the world.

Good luck and have a fabulous time in Europe!

How do you find the best hostels?

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39 thoughts on “Ask Kate: How Do I Find Cool Hostels (Not Party Hostels)?”

  1. Great tips! I’d add to check the neighborhood where the hostel is, particularly in big European capital cities. If it’s in a “going out” area, chances are it will have a party vibe and booked by people looking for an easy place to stumble home.

  2. Thanks Kate! These are excellent tips. I’m looking forward to using them as I’ll be traveling all next year since I’ll be based out of Andalucia, Spain!

  3. Awesome tips! I think checking reviews is great, but when I was abroad I never looked at the actual hostel’s website. How they advertise themselves to the world is SO important, and I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before! Thanks for the advice!

    1. Hi Caroline, this is definitely true. I stayed at some Base hostels in New Zealand a few years ago and they were favourites for those on bus tours. It’s hard to make friends because everyone knows each other already and I was woken in the middle of the night every night when they came stumbling in.

  4. Our very first hostel experience was a 15-bed dorm; since then we’ve stuck to 4-8 bed dorms and they’ve been much, much better.

    But yes, so much of it is about the people – the hostel is only part of it!

  5. Reviews are really good indicators in my opinion. If I’m using a site like hostelbookers (which I use less and less nowadays), I always pick places with low ‘fun’ ratings. Also, if the same issue or point of praise pops up in multiple reviews, it’s probably true.

  6. Hi Kate,

    Nice piece on how to find cool hostels!

    I was wondering for young couples… late 20’s, early 30’s…. how do you find all your really neat budget hotels/hostels/b&b’s. My husband and I are traveling to Italy (Rome, Naples, Venice, Bologna, Florence/Tuscany) in October for a 2 weeks. This is our first trip to Europe. We are trying to stay on a budget of under $1,700-$2,000 for 12 nights of accommodation. But would like to find lodging we can leave our belongings in and not have to pack them around with us throughout the day. All the great B&B finds (high reviews, around or less than 100 euro) on TA and such websites seem to all be booked out. So I guess I’m wondering how you find all the secret places before the secret it out…. 🙂 Do you look online, go back to your same favorite spots, whats your secret?

    Ciao, Katie

    1. Hi Katie.
      I stayed at the BeeHIve in Rome a few years ago and it was fabulous. They are English speaking and so helpful. They have small dorm rooms, private rooms and off site apartments. A great little cafe in the “basement”. Villa Roma in Sorrento just outside of Naples was great too. I used it as a jumping off point for Capri, Pompeii and even Naples. It is on a bus route but you can walk if you are fit.The owner Anna Maria and her son Luigi were also often able to drive you down to the town or pick you up.

      I back packed for a month in Italy in 2006. It was great. There is a nice Hostel in Manarola in Cinque Terre too.

      Hope you have a great vacation.

    2. I’ve started getting into travel hacking and it’s very easy to collect hotel points. I’m going to Europe for 10 days this fall using Club Carlson points for accommodation and United points for flights. The easiest way to earn points is through credit card signup but not everyone feels comfortable with that. You can also earn points through online shopping portals and promotions. Read for ideas.

  7. I’ve only recently started staying at hostels again (bad experience in college). I had an inexpensive private room in Reykjavik, and it was great–though a bit too far from downtown. Even staying at the HI hostel in Boston was good–people went out at night, but it was never really loud.

  8. Thanks for sharing this Kate! I’m in the same boat right now, Im turning 24 and I while I like staying in hostels, i definitely do not like party hostels. I like my sleep 🙂

  9. I just wrote about this problem. I was used to calm, quiet, social hostels, and then I went to South America and it was just one big frat house after another.

    My favorite strategy is to look for a hostel with a single table in the common room, and a limited number of rooms. If the hostel is so small that everyone meets everyone else each morning around the only table for breakfast, there’s no way there’s going to be a party, but it’s probably going to be a good time.

  10. Great tips! and looking forward to checking out your friends’ book! One thing I always look for in a hostel is whether they have a kitchen or not.. cooking and eating with everyone is a great way to meet new people, without having to go on a pub crawl or partying in the bar!

      1. …and as you know, I have just the cookbook for people staying in hostels coming out soon called ‘The Backpacker Chef’! 🙂

        I’m also interested in the more ‘unique hostels’ and will definitely get your friend’s book. I’ve started a Pinterest Board of unique hostels if anyone is interested and I’ll also add his book on there too 🙂

        Thanks Kate, great article as I believe there are so many benefits to staying in a hostel but I think there is nothing worse than not getting enough sleep and then being too tired to explore!

  11. I’ve never stayed in a hostel. What do you usually see on the upper ages on people who stay there?

    1. It varies widely, GG. In some hostels I’ve seen people in their sixties. In some, I was the oldest. Again, less party-oriented hostels are the ones home to people of all ages.

  12. Great tips. I agree that reviews can be helpful – I usually check more than one site. Reviews can give a little insight into typical clientele, particularly age groups. If I see positive reviews from people in their 30s, 40s and up, the less likely the hostel will be one that caters to partiers. It’s also important to leave your own reviews to help fellow travelers – and not only if you you have a gripe!

  13. Some good tips here! I agree that the best thing to do is to read the reviews – people all look for different things in a hostel so looking at the overall rating isn’t going to tell you much about the vibe.

    And the pictures as well – it’s surprising how many hostels don’t have proper common rooms. I’ve stayed in hostels where the “common room” was a dining room or bar but I think a room with couches is a must when you are travelling for a long time.

    It’s too bad that hostel websites don’t sort hostels by size as I think the best hostels are the ones with 30 people or less – it’s much more easier to meet people in smaller places!

  14. Hey Kate,

    These are nice tips indeed. While checking the reviews or the official website of the hotel is important, I think the best would be to check out if any of your friends or family members have stayed there before and is aware about their service, because you will get the most honest and practical reviews only from people you know.

  15. It’s been a few years since I’ve stayed in hostels, but one thing I started doing at the end was springing for a full private room when I needed (relative) peace and quiet. Obviously your budget is the biggest factor in whether or not you can do this, but for me, the greatest luxury was being able to rest and recharge alone in my room, but still be in a socially-oriented place with plenty of bar access.

  16. Very helpful tips, although I spent nights in the cheapest dorms to save money, it is also worth to spend a bit more more comfort which is an inevitable part of a traveler, we change and I think I’m evolving from a hardcore backpacker to a little more comfier side of the traveler. Will keep your tips in mind.

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  18. It’s amazing how much hostels differ. I think you can detect the vibe of a place from the comments on HostelWorld. Sometimes the most sociable hostels aren’t the ones you’d expect. In New Zealand recently there was a hostel with musical instruments and an art corner, but no other entertainment. You might think that’s a bit corny but there was a real family feeling to it. Look for places that offer group meals or a free pudding, or anything else that aims to bring people together without the need for a pub crawl!

  19. My first time staying at a hostel was this year when I visited Roatan, Honduras in March. Before then, the only time I heard of the term ‘hostel’ was from Quentin Tarrantino’s crazy double series titled…yes, ‘Hostel.’

    I will definitely look for more of them in the future for my travels.

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