06/05/2012 05:10 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Tips for Improving Your Hostel Experience

Do you stay in hostels? If not, would you? Why or why not?

I recently posed this question to some of my readers and was surprised by the range of responses.  There were some who frequented hostels and espoused the benefits (cheap! great for those travelling alone! great way to meet people!) of staying in one.  There were those who absolutely abhorred the idea of sharing a room and toilet facilities (germy! smelly! lack of privacy!) with others. And of course, there were those who fell somewhere in between on the spectrum.

I, for one, often waffle when it comes to hostels.  In one of my blog posts, written last year, I wonder aloud whether or not at nearly 30 I am too old to be bunking with 6-8 strangers when I go on vacation. After loudly proclaiming that I work too hard and value my privacy too much to do such a thing, not even half a year later I stayed exclusively in hostels during my solo trip to Chile. Hypocrite much? Sorry.

The truth is that staying in hostels can be a great way to stretch your dollar (or euro/dirham/rupee) when you travel.

Sleeping in a hostel doesn't mean that my stringent requirements fly out the window, however.  I still am invested in ensuring that my hostel experience is the best possible, and I've been pretty successful at doing that so far.  Here are some of my tips for improving your hostel stay:  

Spick and span toilet facilities at one of my hostels in Chile

1. Regardless of rating, I always try stay in the NEWEST hostels available. I mean, if the facilities are only a year old they are probably still relatively decent unless buffaloes stomped through there.

2. I stay in the rooms with the LEAST amount of people. I don't mind paying an extra $2 dollars a night if it means there will be two less bodies in the room. I try to aim for rooms with 4 to 6 people where possible.

The ensuite bathroom at another hostel in Chile

3. I stay in the dorms that have an ENSUITE bathroom. This way, you know exactly how many people are sharing the washroom at any given time. The devil you know...

4. I try to stay in the SINGLE SEX dorm. This is not because I am afraid of boys (quite the contrary!) -- this is a strategy. The way I figure it, it's a numbers game. I'll pay a little bit more to stay in an all-female dorm; sometimes I end up having a whole room to myself because I'm the only girl staying in the hostel! #winning

5. I also try to do homestays/ b&b's instead of proper hostels, or alternatively stay in very small hostels (with only 3 rooms or so) as they tend to be cleaner. I also stay away from tried and true "backpacker/party" hostels because they tend to have the smelly, natty dreadlocked, heavy drinking, cigarette rolling, long-term travelling, "earthy" Australian/Kiwi/Spanish/French etc younger folk, and while I'm open to meeting people, I'm nearing my 30th year and don't want to be smelling other peoples feet and unwashed clothes while I sleep!

6. I opt for the private room in the hostel. This is a great option for the solo or squeamish traveller. For a few bucks more you can have a room all to yourself, but still benefit socially since staying in  hostels is an amazing way to meet other travellers. Best of both worlds!

My private room at a hostel in Chile last October

And voila! Some of my tips for improving your hostel experience.  Do you have any of your own tips to share? And I repose the question from above: have you ever stayed in a hostel? Would you? Why or why not?