I’m sick of hostels that don’t do the basic (and cheap) things that make an average hostel stay a really good one. I know that one of the prime draws to staying in a hostel is a cheap price and that you certainly should not expect the amenities of a three star hotel, but in this case, I am talking about the things that can and should be done in almost every location in the world that won’t cost much and will get you reviewed a lot more favorably in websites and guidebooks — at least I’ll review you a hell of a lot better.
I have had far, far more good hostel stays than bad ones, but I’ve had my fair share of horrible hostel experiences. I am certainly no expert, but after doing this for about two years now, I do think I can draw some general conclusions that most of us backpackers could agree on.
Here is the “Guide to Hostel Basics” that every hostel owner should commit to. If the hostel you are staying in doesn’t do these basic steps, give them the link and tell them to get on it.
And add your basic tips in the comments — these are the simple things that gnaw at me when I don’t see them, but I’m sure to have missed a few.
Provide secure lockers in the dorm rooms — I am shocked every time I go into a dorm room and there aren’t lockers for each bed. They are inexpensive to buy (or can be made simply with some 2x4s and plywood) and every traveler wants them. I have yet to meet a traveler that does not want the basic security of a locker. Added bonus that I know isn’t possible in many old buildings — a few of the newer hostels in Australia had a wall outlet in each locker. How perfect is that? You can charge up your laptop or iPod or phone while you sleep and not worry about anyone stealing it.
Free coffee — I get it if the hostel doesn’t have the resources or logistics to do a kitchen, but coffee is a simple item that every place should have. A morning freebie that goes a long way for many of us to thinking more highly of our stay in your place.
Free wifi — While we are on the free route, let’s talk about wifi. Inexpensive hostels are actually a hell of a lot better about providing free wifi than $200-a-room hotels, but free wifi is far from universal. In almost every part of the world (but don’t get me started in how bad Australia and New Zealand internet is), the hostel has wifi and is paying some flat monthly rate for it.
These days it seems well more than half of travelers are traveling with laptops or smart phones with wifi connections. It doesn’t cost anything extra to the hostel’s bottom line to provide wifi to all guests — it’s a fixed cost. Hell, add a dollar or two a night to everyone’s room rate if you want to make a little money off it. I’d rather pay slightly more for my room than have to pay a daily rate for wifi. Is that illogical? Perhaps a bit, but few things piss me off more than “$5 extra for daily wifi here.”
Provide a towel — Every traveler carries some sort of travel towel with them, but it is so much easier on us if you just provide us a towel when we check in. Then we don’t have to unpack and pack our towel or worry about losing it or having it stolen. The hostel is doing laundry for its sheets and such — adding some towels to the mix shouldn’t be a big deal.
Local map with basics — Have a local photocopied map at the front desk with the hostel’s location marked, along with some suggestions in the local area for places to eat, get a drink and perhaps a sight or two. Cheap, easy, shows you care about your city or town and is invaluable to show a cab driver when you need to get home and don’t know the local language.
Post up my “Hotel Rules” — I did up the hostel rules partly in jest and partly for real, but looking back, I think these rules are a pretty good guide for what sort of behavior from your guests you should expect. It doesn’t happen too often, but often enough, that I’m shocked at the lack of common decency shown by some hostel guests.
Enforce your rules — While we are talking about rules, a primary one should be something like ‘quiet after 1 a.m.,’ unless it is a crazy party hostel. If you’ve got the rules, damn it, enforce them. Perhaps kicking out the habitually drunk idiot(s) that stumble in and wake everyone up every night at 3 a.m. might, just might give them a clue to slightly modify their behavior in the future. At a minimum, its going to make the rest of us a lot happier with you and review your hostel a lot better on the various websites where you want us to gush over you.
Reasonable mattresses and pillows — A fairly good mattress and pillow is going to cost you a little more on the front end, but it is a cost that is going to be spread out over a long period of time. Please make the small investment on the front end to make the primary reason we pay you money — to sleep there — a slightly better experience.
Have a community area — Whether it is a bar (which hopefully closes at a reasonable hour) or a common TV room with couches and chairs or a breakfast room with a big table or an open courtyard with lots of places to sit, having some area where travelers congregate is one of the joys of staying in a hostel over a hotel. Those of us staying in hostels are usually all cut from roughly the same cloth and having the opportunity to meet other travelers is one of the joys of staying in a hostel; give us a room to make meeting people easier.
Hot showers/good plumbing – OK, this is one that I know does cost some money and might not be feasible at all times, but as ya’ll know, I really, really, really hate cold showers. The other side of the shower situation is when the plumbing just sucks and even though you have hot water, you have to constantly tweek around with the knobs and such to keep the temperature below scalding and above frigid. Unless you are out in the middle of nowhere, there likely is a good plumber or two in town — have him (or her) come out every couple months and just make sure everything is working properly. Thanks.
Toilet paper in all bathrooms — It’s sad that I have to mention it, but unfortunately, I do. And while we are at it, having someone empty the waste bin in there every day, in places where we can’t flush the toilet paper, would be great also. Shockingly, the bathroom does begin to stink under those circumstances pretty quickly.
Cute people working your front desk — OK, maybe not a serious request, but it never hurts to ask.
And while I am on to the dream requests….