This fall I spent a few weeks backpacking from Lisbon, Portugal, through southern Spain, then down to Casablanca, Morocco. I stayed in a hostel every one of my 19 nights on the road, and each of the properties brought something fresh and cool to the table. I should note, before I hit the road, I gave a major side eye to the very notion of laying my head in a hostel. But after a lot of research and a little leap of faith, I found the hostels I stayed in to be the sites of some of the best times I had on my trip. With some homework of your own and a clear idea of what you’re looking for (and the tips below of course), you’ll be well on your way to staying in very affordable comfort and style.

Tip 1: Read reviews from trusted sites.
This may seem like a no brainer, but I can’t stress it enough. My go-to choices are Hostelworld, TripAdvisor, and HostelBookers. If you’ve got the time, checking multiple sites is helpful because it gives you a solid overview of each property from a variety of perspectives. Also, you may catch a deal on one site that wasn’t available on another. Deals like “4 nights for the price of 3” start to sound pretty dreamy when your wallet starts to get a little light. A little extra time reading goes a long way in terms how comfortable you may find yourself at the end of each day.

Tip 2: Be confident in what you’re looking for on your trip.
I think everyone has to find their trip identity. If kicking back to read sounds like a perfect evening for you, that’s cool! If you don’t want the party to stop before sunrise, that’s cool too! You own your travel experience, so be very honest with yourself about what you want to get out of it. These days, there are hostels for so many types of travelers. When you’re clear about what you’d like to do and the types of interactions you’d like to have, you can better find a hostel that will help accommodate those goals.

Tip 3: Learn how to read reviews…based on YOUR tastes.
I promise this isn’t redundant! Knowing what you enjoy, and perhaps more importantly what you don’t enjoy, is going to help you sift through reviews in a much more productive manner. For example, my highest priorities in hostels were cleanliness, safety, and a good atmosphere. So, I prioritized places that featured reviews of places that were clean, had secure storage options, had a lively common space for socializing, and allowed guests to also get a quiet night’s rest. I suggest having some must haves up front, then refining your list as you continue to travel and better define your travel style.

Tip 4: Listen to advice/feedback you hear on the road.
You’re going to meet all sorts of cool characters when you’re out and about. On my trek, a lot of people I crossed paths had already been where I was going…so naturally I asked where they had stayed. If I vibed with someone I was a lot more likely to look into the hostels that they enjoyed, but I still did my own research. I quickly learned that everything’s not for everybody, but it’s always nice to get a little advice when you can.

Tip 5: Look for places with perks.
Most hostels worth your time are going to offer some extras to get you in the door. I’ve seen walking tours, bike tours, beach/mountain/desert excursions, cooking classes, dance lessons, bar crawls, and any other number of activities to help guests get to know the city better…for little to no money. My favorite hostel activity was the €10, 4 course meal (including bottomless wine) that went down every night at my hostel in Lisbon. Phenomenal food, interesting conversation, and great people, all within the comforts of my very temporary home.


Bonus Tip: Make sure you can find the joint!
Hostels are notorious for being in…interesting areas. I would strongly suggest looking into hostels that reviewers say are relatively easy to find, and in a safe part of town—especially if you’re traveling alone. Make sure you write down, print out, or screen capture the directions to your hostel before you head there!

No hostel is perfect, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find one that’s right for you. With a little time for some research, your hostel experience(s) can easily become one of the things that makes your trip great.

This story was curated by Njaimeh Njie.

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