I feel like I’m almost too old for hostels these days. So before that time officially comes, I would like to do a little countdown of my top 8 favorite hostels I’ve visited in the world. And no, none of these were sponsored stays – this is all just my own opinion!
8. Gilligan’s Backpackers, Cairns, Australia
Unabashedly a huge crazy party hostel. The rooms were pretty nice if I remember, and there is an attached bar/club that is actually THE place to be in Cairns at night. I remember there being a pool too. It’s just a great place for meeting people. I want to say I booked my Great Barrier Reef diving out of their tour desk.
7. Jizo’s Hostel, Koh Tao, Thailand
People usually stay in bungalows when they travel in Thailand, but I find it’s easier to meet people in hostels if you’re traveling alone. PLUS Jizo’s has air-conditioned dorm rooms for the same price you would pay for fan-only bungalows. I can also recommend the Koh Tao bar crawl for meeting people.
6. Sant Jordi Mambo Tango, Barcelona, Spain
This hostel hosts nightly events like sangria night, dinners, and bar crawls making it easy to meet people in a laid back setting. There’s a guitar laying around and a pretty skilled staff member who plays it sometimes.
5. Lost Inn Lisbon, Lisbon, Portugal
Lisbon is like the capital of hostels; there are so many incredible hostels to choose from in this city, Lost Inn is just one of them! The inside is all white and clean, the location is great, and meeting people is a cinch with the nightly events like chorizo and sangria nights.
4. The Jolly Frog, Kanchanaburi, Thailand
I’ve been to the Jolly Frog many times and it never disappoints. Just make sure you get one of the rooms on the floating dock – they seem to have fewer bugs around than the ones up on the shore. The food at the attached restaurant is superb and well-priced. There’s a great laid-back atmosphere at night, when sometimes guests gather and mingle on the docks over a few Changs.
3. Coco Garden Resort, Koh Phangan, Thailand
This is another place I’ve been to more than once. It’s like staying at a resort but for hostel prices. It’s located in Ban Tai on Koh Phangan, so no, you won’t be in the center of the party on Haad Rin, but this is a good thing I promise. Ban Tai is super relaxed – you’re right on the beach (literally steps away!) and you don’t have to deal with the drunk/high/hooking up party-goers down on Haad Rin. I highly recommend the coconut banana smoothie at the Coco Garden restaurant.
2. Stone Free, Koh Chang, Thailand
This place!! Amazing. Seriously. From the crazy old Thai grandpa rockstars to the nightly blues during dinner, to the morning khao tom gai (rice and chicken soup) and coconut smoothies – Stone Free simply rocks. You feel like you’re living up in a tree house, and if you stick around long enough the grandpa rockstar owners will become your bff’s. There are two stages for blues performances, some hammocks for chilling, and of course the attached restaurant. Do be warned: If you’re really into sleeping at night, this might not be the right fit for you. It’s right next to Lonely Beach’s bar/dance club and you can definitely hear the music throughout the night. (But if you’re staying at Lonely Beach, you probably want to be at the dance club anyways 😉
1. World House Hostel, Istanbul, Turkey
Turkish breakfast is the BEST and you can get it for free when you stay here! I recommended this place to a friend visiting Turkey and I think she ended up staying for like 4 weeks. World House is a maze of staircases, dorm rooms, and randomly placed bathrooms, but the common area is what really makes it shine. It’s perfectly sized and shaped for meeting people. And did I say free Turkish breakfast yet??
So what makes a great hostel?
- Bathrooms that are not connected to dorms – It’s one thing to have ensuite bathrooms in a private room, but when it comes to dorms, trust me, you don’t want the bathrooms to be attached to the sleeping space. All kinds of weird things happen to/in hostel bathrooms and it’s really just better if you don’t have to deal with it when you’re trying to sleep.
- Friendly, fun, helpful staff – The staff can make all the difference. They are the ones who will be your first “friends” in a new city, so it’s great when they know the city really well and can provide you guidance, as well as welcome you back when you return to the hostel in the evening. Also a lot of the time the staff are the ones hosting hostel events or pub crawls so fun and social staff is a huge plus.
- Mid-sized – A hostel that is not to big and not too small is ideal. Too big makes it harder to meet people and means you will probably be kept up by the party downstairs, not a part of it. Too small means, again, harder to meet people (since you have a smaller pool to choose from).
- Free breakfast or attached restaurant with cheap and delicious food offerings – When you’re in a new city, you don’t want to spend your morning searching for breakfast.
- A cozy common area with amenities like a book exchange or a musical instrument – Vital to bringing people together
- Planned activities – group dinners for a discounted price, pub crawls, wine nights. Again, vital to bringing people together.
- A place to lock your stuff – I don’t need to explain this one
Worst places for hostels?
Brussels – Alright, Brussels, get it together. There are almost zero hostels in Brussels, and it’s a city with some sketchy areas so you don’t just wanna rest your head anywhere. I ended up staying in some giant industrial hotel/hostel thing (Meininger?) that felt cold and unfriendly and definitely wasn’t in an ideal location.
Baltimore (lol) – Alright so if you’re traveling in the States you’ve probably figured out by now that hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts, and Airbnb are far better choices than hostels. Well, knowing that, I still decided to give the singular hostel in Baltimore a try while I searched for permanent housing for the rest of the year. It was 100% weird, including a dorm-mate who was an ex-US army soldier and current traveling erotic dancer/prostitute (I got to observe her getting-ready routine every evening). If you’re visiting Baltimore, go for Airbnb. Seriously.