The Hostel Owners’ Guide: The How-to’s… Please! 75

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I’m sick of hostels that don’t do the basic (and cheap) things that make an average hostel stay a really good one. ย 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.

hostelworld hostel world

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.

luna's castle panama city kitchen

good kitchen is a bonus, but note the coffee makers

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 ย 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 decencyย 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.

luna's castle hostel panama city community room

excellent community room

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….

gelato ice cream dispay

yet to find a hostel with a gelato bar.... but still hoping

My friend Diana also did a post on what every hostel should have. And another friend did his post on the seven habits of highly ineffective hostels also. Both great reads.


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About Michael Hodson

Iโ€™m an attorney that took off on my birthday in December of 2008 to circumnavigate the globe without ever getting on an airplane. After 16 months, 6 continents and 44 countries, I made it all the way back home. Right now, I am back on the road writing about it all.

75 thoughts on “The Hostel Owners’ Guide: The How-to’s… Please!

    • LIs- Midlifetraveler

      AFAIK there are no advertised unlimited broadband plans in NZ -not for individuals – so providing WIFI is certainly not cheap for a business – that’s why you find it rarely in NZ – its called economics. Don’t assume everyone has the same infrastructure! Also there are huge parts of Australia that are on satellite even for mobile – that is if you get off the coasts!

      • Michael Hodson Post author

        I wish I would have mentioned Australia and NZ as being different about internet…. wait…. I DID. Its almost like I anticipated someone saying they aren’t like everywhere else.

        Yes, I understand that there is very limited internet there, because there aren’t enough pipes running down there. It is one of the few crappy things about both great locations.

        • LIs- Midlifetraveler

          Its nothing to do with the pipes – its to do with a rather nasty near monopoly on the teleco side – stuff is improving – but its taking too long. I live here and earn a living online – I have all the fast broadband I need for NZ$100/month – but its tough for hostels and coffee shops. Meanwhile mobile data is getting a lot cheaper – I’d recommend someone spending a month or longer that they check out 2 degrees mobile

  • Lindsay aka @_thetraveller_

    Haha… your list slightly differs from mine
    A. Onsite bar
    B. Wifi that doesn’t suck balls
    C. Cozyness
    D. Smart people who know the answers to my redic questions and can direct me to where I would like to go so I don’t need to figure it out on my own. Independence is over rated. I’m just kidding, but seriously don’t have total morons working at your hostel.
    E. Lack of douchebags
    F. People who want to be my friend

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      (A) is shocking from you…. shocking!! As to (F), you hide your (E) tendencies, I hope. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Nomadic Chick

      I would add, if there are douchebags get Michael to dream up a revenge plan to teach em’ a lesson. In fact, ALL hostels should hire Michael for this purpose.

  • Rebecca

    Definitely going to second all these, but especially the “lockers” issue. It REALLY pissed me off when a hostel doesn’t have lockers, and then they say something like “don’t worry, it’s cool…” or “we’re all honest people here”. Yah, okay. I STILL want to lock up my shit buddy….

    But let me add one more thing that annoys me to no end: when you go to take a shower and they don’t have those hooks on the door, or anything else to put your clothes and towel on. What does a hook cost? $0.20? One of my biggest pet peeves!!!!

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      Damn it!! This was on my list of my notes, but I finished the fracking post whilst drinking beer and forgot to put it on. Kudos to you for pointing this one out. Hello hostel owners!! 20 cents for a hook, so our stuff doesn’t get nasty and wet. Hell, for that price, how about 3 hooks per stall?

      • Matt | ExpertVagabond

        Hooks, and shelves!

        Screwing a small wooden plank into the wall of the bathroom and at each bed to hold random shit (toiletries, eye glasses, flashlight, book, etc.)

    • Kelsey

      Yes! Hooks are a godsend, and can be something as simple as a nail, if necessary, but so many places don’t have them!

      As for lockers – when I run into a hostel that doesn’t have them, I ask them to keep my pack in a locked office room. I’ve never had a hostel refuse to do it, and I figure that it’s a big enough inconvenience to them that maybe it will make them think again about perhaps installing some lockers.

      • Michael Hodson Post author

        Agreed on the hooks totally. The locked office is one thing, but I’ve also been to hostels/hotels which basically don’t have anyone up front from like 8 pm to 8 am (or whatever), so having my bag up there with my computer and camera and such can suck in that deal.

  • Dalene - Hecktic Travels

    Awesome list. There is no excuse for no wi-fi. And the good pillow thing is so important to me, that I’d be willing to forgo hot showers and a gelato bar for it. That’s how reasonable I am.

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      if you are willing to give up hot showers AND gelato… that’s serious indeed.

  • Andrew

    Hey, Michael, just because it isn’t numbered, doesn’t make this not a top 10. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    BTW Rebecca mentioned my biggest issue with hostels. The lack of dry places in a shower stall to hang things. A row of hooks goes a long way to making me feel ok about taking a shower there. Having a tiny room with hot water and high pressure is still no fun if you have to wander the hostel naked or “dry off” with a wet towel.

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      I didn’t count how many points I had. Please tell me the number is 10…. cause that would crack my ass up.

  • Erin

    If only! The lack of many of these things has been annoying us lately. Hooks is another one definitely.

    I would also add a well equipped, clean kitchen that provides oil, salt, spices so you don’t have to buy them when you only need a small amount.

    • Matt | ExpertVagabond

      Yes! That’s good too.

      I was at one hostel that was boasting about their huge kitchen. It was great, with multiple burners and a large fridge.

      They forgot to mention there was only 1 pot, and 1 pan, for 30 people.

      And someone was using the pot to store their food in the fridge…


    • Akila

      We just carry that stuff with us in a small bag. We call it the spice kit and it’s come in super handy. I pack it all up in one place and then replenish as needed so we have it wherever we go. Maybe I should do a post about our mobile spice kit?

  • Akila

    Outlets to plug stuff in. And, do not place the outlets on the ceiling or near the ceiling. I know that costs money but seriously . . . every room should have an outlet. Otherwise, that’s just bad design.

    And, I’m totally with you on the hook or shelf in the showers. It costs no money at all and makes the showering experience so much better.

  • Andrea

    BRAVO! Wish there was a way to circulate this to every hostel (can we somehow nab HostelWorld’s database or something?) While some of the places we’ve stayed have been fantastic and the owners put sincere effort into making them so, others have been real shockers – and we aren’t even into the poorest countries on our itinerary yet. It’s interesting that some of the worst places have also been the most expensive…

    • Andrea

      …and I’ll add my requests as well (forgot)
      – cleaning out the fridge (not just throwing things away that aren’t labelled), like actually get in there and disinfect once in awhile
      – Thick curtains! On a long trip we like to sleep in and thick opaque curtains cost no more than the frou-frou looking ones you’ve selected trying to make the hostel all “pretty.”

      Hostels should put practical before pretty!

      Also agree on the hooks – put them in the rooms as well as the bathroom. Nothing screams homey like a place to hang your coat!

  • Roy

    You forgot to mention a hostel pub and complimentary breakfast! Makes the hostel so much more social.

  • Christine

    Couldn’t agree more! I think the outlet thing is getting more and more important with people having so many things to charge–even if you don’t have many outlets (i.e. an older building) a powerstrip is pretty cheap and super helpful! Lockers, kitchens, free wifi and free towels/sheets are my absolute must-haves!

  • MsNomadica

    Great list, and bathroom hooks definitely go right on there too. However, I have to object to the towels. While I would love to have one, it really is a HUGE difference in laundry for the owners. You’re talking about adding several batches a week, not to mention the time it takes to fold and put them away. I’m currently taking care of my invalid mother, who goes through a great many towels each week, and I can only imagine how much more a crowd of hostelers would use. It is one of my most hated chores, so I completely sympathize with hostel owners on this issue.

    Maybe have them available to rent for about a dollar per towel per stay? Not great if you’re only there for one night, but maybe in that case you could make do with the one you brought and only rent one in places you stay for multiple nights.

  • Nicolas

    I certainly have to agree with you about the common area. When sleeping in hostels, this is the best place to meet somebody, and you more or less know that people hanging out there are interested in meeting you too.
    The other points all have to do with what your standard of living and luxury is. Lockers are indeed a good thing to have, but if they aren’t there I just drop my “expensive” stuff at the reception. Coffee and wifi can most of the time easily be found in a nearby starbucks or other coffee house. Also for towels and pillows, it’s all about what you need and expect.

    I think that when the level of service of a hostel improves, it’ll get more guests, so it’ll raise the price and you and I will go to a cheaper place. With less service. And it starts all over again.

    My main expectation of a hostel is that it’s relatively clean and that I have freshly washed sheets and pillow.

    One last thing, I hate hostel rules. When I enter a hostel where a big rule list is exposed in the reception, telling you every single thing you should or should not do, chances are high that I’m not staying there. I think every traveler knows more or less how to act in a hostel, and if your guests happen to be a bunch of pigs I don’t think a rule list will shut them down…

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      you obviously haven’t had many bad hostel nights, if you think everyone knows how to act in a dorm room ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Christy @ Technosyncratic

    My favorite is the last one — cute people working the front desk. Life is just so much more pleasant (and I can more easily forget the other crap) when there’s someone cute to cheerfully flirt with. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Matt

    Ohhh New Zealand WiFi. So pathetic eh?!

    Love this line, “make the primary reason we pay you money โ€” to sleep there โ€” a slightly better experience.” Makes plenty of sense that a place you’re paying to sleep actually provide a comfortable surface for you to sleep on!!

    Good list … totally bringing this up the next time I’m in a hostel that strikes out on a couple of these.

  • Theodora

    How about, “having enough bathrooms for your dorm capacity”? I hate hostels, so I’m probably not your target for this, but having paid over $42 per night to share a room with five other people in Sydney, I did hope there’d be more than a coupla loos and three showers to a floor. Y’know?

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      True, ‘dat. Though I will say the lack of bathroom capacity bothers me less at a hostel, because of the cost. Adding another room with 4-6 showers and such is expensive. But point well taken.

    • Kelsey

      Agreed. The hostel I worked at in Switzerland had a grand total of 5 showers for the entire hostel, which had around 70 beds. Not only that, but the bathrooms were closed from 9am-11am for cleaning, so you had to get up super early to make sure you got a shower at all.

        • Kelsey

          It was weird, though bathrooms are always weird in Switzerland. Most hostels and even some hotels actually have coin-operated showers. Switzerland is big on environmental stuff and one of their ways to get people to cut down on water usage has been to strongly encourage businesses to go to a coin-operated model. Their national 11pm noise curfew is also meant not only to keep the country quiet after that hour but also to encourage businesses not to stay open into the wee hours of the morning, to reduce energy usage. Most travelers find both things really obnoxious. I don’t mind them and saw great evidence of their effectiveness.

        • Michael Hodson Post author

          Coin operated showers would annoy me, but what I saw in Germany I really liked. There you had to push the shower button to get the water to come out and it would go off after 60 seconds. You then had to push it again. It worked on me — my showers were shorter. Then again, the plumbing was excellent and I wasn’t worried about constantly tweeking the setting to avoid scalding myself or freezing.

        • Kelsey

          I like the button idea – I’ve seen that a couple times in France. It’s a good system.

          My years of sailing taught me how to soap, shampoo, and rinse in the course of a 3 minute shower, so I can keep things short if necessary (which was good, because it was about $1.25/5min). I think the button method would be good for not only saving water, but also reducing some of the folks in hostels who think that making someone wait 25 minutes for their chance at a shower is somehow okay.

  • LeslieTravel

    Hostels are not my thing, either, unless we get a private room (preferably with private bathroom). I think once you leave your early 20s or are traveling as a couple, the appeal is lost! I like roughing it, but I prefer staying at campsites or in family-run hotels where my main interaction isn’t with drunk, screaming gap year travelers…

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      I’ve had 95% good luck. You can tell a party hostel when you walk in (or from reviews). Most of mine have been great.

  • Jenn@mc700ll

    Hi Michael,

    I always forgot to check out the Wi-Fi thingy..

    To us, the priority is the bed because we always bring our two kids LOL

    So we must know whether the bed and other environment of the Hotel is comfy enough for us and our kids.

    Indeed Wi-Fi is very important especially since I blog!

    Thank you


  • John

    Michael see you managed to write “thirteen things to improve hostels” and included one of your reasons for carrying toilet paper when travelling. Your posts just keep getting better. ๐Ÿ˜‰
    On the serious side, there are some great ideas in here, disagree on the coffee as I don’t drink it but have had a free bottle of beer in one of my stays. It is good business as you drink it in the communal area that some hostels have and of course you are having so much fun you buy more.
    Have you stayed at the eco friendly Hans Brinker Hostel in Amsterdam?

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      1 — thanks for the complement (and the adding)
      2 — free bottle of beer??!! Where??!

      • John

        The Posh Backpackers in Riga 7 years ago. They offer free tea now but also many of the others things on your wish list.

        • Michael Hodson Post author

          I need to hit the Baltic Republics badly. Soooo many places to go!

  • Christy @ Ordinary Traveler

    If a place doesn’t have lockers in the dorm rooms or a decent shower, I definitely won’t stay there again or give them a great review.

  • Dina

    Right on, Mike! Agree on everything! Even though I can do without cute girl at front desk, haha! It’s bizarre for me for a hostel for not having a lockable locker for each bed. Anybody carry nothing?!
    Towel, yes of course we all need has towel. But we might leave in the morning after we shower, it’s very annoying to carry a wet towel. Once I’m too lazy to carry the wet travel towel outside the backpack. I just stuffed that travel towel to its pouch, and unfortunately forgot about it for about a week (from Australia, through Fiji, to California). It stank so much, we washed multiple times and couldn’t get rid of it, not kidding. It ended up in a garbage bin.

  • Sas

    Great list. The only thing I don’t always agree with are the lockers in the room. I have stayed at great smaller home-style hostels where lockers would be totally out of place. Of course there should be a safe at the reception then. The only valuables I carry easily fit in any safe and if people are that desperate for a t-shirt I’ll personally give it to them. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Josh

      I agree. My favorite hostel doesn’t have lockers, but it only works in some settings. Larger hostels and hostels in cities generally need free lockers.

  • Erica

    I’ll skip the gelato bar and go straight to the omelet/waffle bar please.

    But yes, I’m all for good mattresses. Sleeping on futons kill me… I can imagine how well this is going to end up. Great list!

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      Mmmmmm, omelet bar for the morning and gelato for the rest of the day??!!

  • Nikki H-D

    I agree with more showers/bathrooms I stayed in a hostel once with two all female dorms of twelve beds each that had one shower. Backpacking or not, twenty four girls sharing one shower is a recipe for disaster. Also the issue with plugs is that some people tend to leave things charging all day while they’re out and I always feel awkward unplugging someone else’s stuff.
    Finally, above all else I find common rooms are so key. Usually how much I like a hostel depends a lot on how much fun I had there, which is usually related to the people I meet.

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      Ummmm, wow. That many women. That few showers. Surprised there weren’t riots there.

  • Anita

    Here here! Brilliant list, Michael. Writing this from my dorm bed from which I charged my laptop overnight, I love the idea of a power outlet in the lockers!

    My only other request would be to meet more people who are as old as I am.

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      Hell, you think you want more people YOUR age… wait till you get up to my level…

  • Brendan van Son

    Hahaha… I love the last one. I agree with the towel thing. I don’t pack one, and I always have to rent one although a lot of places will lend me one. Thumbs up!

      • Kelsey

        Like Brendan, I usually don’t bring a towel. 95% of the time, I can rent one for pennies or the hostel will lend me one. On the rare occasion that it hasn’t been possible, I just use the cleaner pieces of my dirty laundry to dry off.

  • DTravelsRound

    AMEN!!! When booking hostels, I typically make sure they have these things (at least the ones they can advertise on booking sites like free wifi, common areas, coffee, etc.). Dealbreaker if they don’t!

  • Ted Nelson

    I stayed in a hostel in Nรฎmes, France that served free wine at night. They charged a little extra for each person (still cheap) and then took part of their proceeds and bought community wine. Not every hostel is going to be that awesome, but following these steps can make them very good.

  • Jeremy Branham

    Great list Michael! Definitely like enforcing the rules, mattress and pillows, and hot showers. However, can’t agree on the coffee – I don’t drink the stuff ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Europe on the cheap

    I have stayed many a night in lovely old hostels where the price was right (cheap) , internet cost extra, sheets were extra, any food left behind was free and available to all, no free coffee, towels are not included…..
    and had an absolutely fabulous time and would go back again and again, and recommend hostels to my friends.
    This is a frugal-less way to travel. I am there to sleep. And that is about it.
    If you want anything else…. go to a hotel

  • Ben Beard

    I might as well throw my thoughts into the ring….Windows, a dorm room should have windows, if it doesn’t its just a glorified closet with a few beds in it. Also sockets, I’m currently in a 5 bed dorm with 1 socket in the room. Now what’s that all about.

  • Mark

    I like it when they provide herbs and oil in the kitchen. If I want to cook something good I don’t want to have to buy a whole box of Oregano.


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