We'd like to welcome Traveler's newest intern, Carolyn Beeler to the mix. She'll be our go-to blog girl, so be sure to make her feel welcome.
Backpacking doesn’t need to be the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants endeavor it once was. Though true vagabonds might scoff at the notion of planning ahead, most of us like to know we have a clean, safe place to sleep when we arrive in a new city, even if we are of the more adventurous (read: cash-strapped) breed of traveler. Thanks to a slew of hostel search websites, travelers with an Internet connection and a credit card can easily book beds online before they leave or during an earlier leg of the trip. And perhaps more importantly, given the number of hostel horror stories that are out there (lice, anyone?), travelers can read user reviews and ratings for each property.
Most sites have databases of properties, searchable by city, price, and rating, and many provide a forum for users to post and answer questions. Many also allow users to limit by accommodation type—hostel, budget hotel, campground, etc. Europeanhostels.com, which, contrary to its name, includes listings from around the world, is my current favorite. With the most search criteria of any site I’ve found, the intuitive interface allows users to search by popularity, price, name, rating, and proximity to the city center. The results of your search are prescreened for availability based on your travel dates, and are accompanied by a Google map, which marks each property and features an embedded photo and address. But since it was relaunched just last week, the reviews and customer rankings are predictably lacking.
In the meantime, check out hostels.com, which has plenty of user reviews. It also remembers your locations and dates even after you close your browser, saving you a few seconds of typing if you’re shopping around. Hostelworld.com stands out for its “quick compare” feature, which allows you to view the details of several hostels in the same screen. Another handy feature: Both sites break the ratings down into six criteria, from cleanliness to character, so you have a better idea of what to expect from your temporary pad.
One catch: The sites tack on a booking fee for each reservation. Not very budget friendly, eh? Most of the charges are minimal, though (and hostels.com offers to forgo the booking fee if you sign up for their mailing list). While no amount of research will ensure that every place you bunk is clean, well-managed, and in a great location, the Internet (once again) has taken some of the guesswork out of travel. Happy surfing!
Photo: Travelers relax at a hostel in Genoa, by rivos