How to hostel hop without hating the experience

David Kelly

There’s a certain stigma attached to staying in a hostel, usually because the only criteria considered is how cheap it is. Everyone has a horror story from that one time in that one hostel, and that’s why it is important to upgrade your selection process from ‘the cheapest’ to ‘somewhat decent’.

The Irish Independent recently published an article detailing the top ten hostels in Ireland. This list comes from the online booking website, Hostelworld, which compiles the list based on roughly a million reviews of 35,000 hostels, styled as the ‘HOSCARS’.

At the top of this list, for the third year in a row, is Galway City Hostel in Galway. Their manager Mark Shaughnessy described what makes their hostel the best in the country.

“We figured out what makes a hostel work. We looked at the best hostels in the world, and applied what worked in those to our hostel,” he said. “We figured out what makes the facilities work, we’ve got the perfect staff … it’s simple, we just want to be the best at what we do.”

Unfortunately, not all hostels share this attitude, as is evident by some of the reviews given on sites such as TripAdvisor, and HostelWorld. One review of a hostel in Dublin on TripAdvisor highlights how negative a hostel experience can be.

What can I say? We were greeted by a person that came across as a goblin. He snapped at a general question; clearly was hangry. Stayed in a twin room the size of a telephone box. It smelled like someone had been murdered (even though you probably couldn’t fit a body into the room). There was one socket in the room which I could barely charge my phone to take many selfies – it was a hard time. The room was dirty, the bed sheets were covered in a layer of skin. Didn’t look like it was cleaned since the Easter rising. But overall to sum it up in one word it was EW. Next time I’ll bring a cardboard box. I’d say it would be cleaner and bigger.”

While not all of the reviews are accurate, it’s still valid to assume that some hostels are better than others. This is why students are encouraged to do their research before booking. While a low price may seem enticing, is it really worth ending your night in a filthy bed?

When asked on what advice Shaughnessy would give to students searching for a hostel, he said: “Do their research, look at the leading agencies such as ‘HostelWorld’. These sites provide an independent platform for review, which tend to be honest reviews. For example, we don’t ask people to leave reviews on ‘HostelWorld’, so you can take them at face value.”

Of course, you cannot depend entirely on these sites to decide for you, you also have to consider your individual needs, what you require of the hostel. Is it an overnight job? Merely a bed for the night?

If so, you may think that a cheap hostel is going to be bearable for the night. It’s only a night after all, what’s the worst that could happen? For one DCU student Hugh Farrell, it was a hostel stay from hell.

“The place was a hostel in all but name. We got there, and an Eastern European man comes out and stares sat us. He said “What do ye want?”, so we said we’re booked in and he just grunted, letting us in. We went in and waited till we’re told where our room was.

“We went up and weren’t given a key but the door didn’t lock anyway. We went to bed anyway and tried not to wake up some couple. About two hours later I’m woken up by another couple coming in. None of the three groups realised we were sharing.”

This is a perfect example of how toxic a terrible hostel can turn an otherwise terrific night. Hugh admits that his bad experience was due to a lack of research, and a commitment to cheapness instead of quality.

Final year DCU student Gavin Quinn, who worked in Sunrock Backpackers Hostel in Corfu last summer, and has been in many hostels around the world on his travels, shared some insight he garnered during his experience there.

“During the summer I worked in a hostel and at least twice a week you would see people make booking errors, and book just a night or even just one bed in a dorm and show up with five friends, it can be awkward.”

Sunrock Backpackers Hostel is an example of how fantastic a hostel can be. The scenery was picturesque, the atmosphere was sociable, with a common room to facilitate meeting fellow travellers to create surreal memories with.

These are the things you need to consider when booking a hostel. It may be cheap, but for a few extra quid, you could stay in a hostel that’s memorable because it was clean, well-facilitated, atmospheric and sociable, rather than because it smelled.

David Kelly

Image credit:Isaacs