I have spent the better part of the month of April living in hostels, in rooms anywhere in size from four to eight beds.
For the most part they were great... there was the normal complaint that many of the bathrooms weren't up to par (I can handle shower stalls, what I can't handle is literally a closet-sized shower off a hallway with nowhere to change or store your stuff so it doesn't get soaked), that the kitchen facilities were minimal, or that the pillows sucked.
But to me, what really makes a hostel good or bad is your hostel mates.
It is not cool to come into a communal bedroom at 3am, turn on the lights and start arguing. Sadly, the two times that this happened to me, it was a group of Spanish youth. Sadly, this has turned me off ever visiting Spain (which is one of the few Western European countries I have yet to visit).
Both groups were inconsiderate, rude and arrogant. In each situation, they outnumbered me 6 to 1, and I really had no recourse against them except telling them to shut the fuck up. I have quickly learned that Spanish cannot be spoken quietly, but the level of ignorance that these youth expressed to me was quite amazing.
Here's a few tips for hostel living for those that are new to the idea, or ones that need a few lessons on how to be a decent human...
- 10pm is a generally accepted time to quiet down. Same goes for keeping noise levels down before 8am.
- if you are going to be up early, pre-arrange your gear the night before... gather up your clothes for the next day, your toiletries and towel. Nobody likes anyone that rummages through their bag at 4am.
- if you're staying at a place with a communal kitchen, clean up after yourself. It is disgusting to have to cook/eat around a mess that someone else made. Kitchen sink sludge is the worst!
- realize that not everyone is travelling just to see how drunk they can get in each city. That being said, a certain level of understanding has to go to those that are... you are living with each other after all.
- don't hog the bathroom. Get in, shower, dress, brush your teeth and get out. You can do your hair in your room or the hallway if necessary.
- Lock up your valuables. I'm lucky that I've never had an issue with anything going missing, but I do make sure to lock up anything of value. I don't however lock up my clothes. If someone wants my dirty laundry they can have it.
And most of all... don't be the most annoying people in the hostel. As I've mentioned, my experiences with Spanish youth have completely deterred me from even visiting that country. While I understand that they only represent a small portion of the population, if everyone else is even remotely as arrogant and ignorant as these youth, I don't want to have anything to do with the lot.
In the end, hostels are a great (and cheap!) place to stay at as you travel. Do your research (tripadvisor.com, hostels.com and hostelbookers.com are great places to start), and be sure to read the reviews not just for price/cleanliness/size, but also for the vibe of the hostel.