Open Letter to Hostel Owners

Without hostels, traveling wouldn’t nearly be the same and as convietnamt. Thank you hostel owners for opening and providing a global service to us backpackers and giving us a convietant and budget way of traveling around the world.

I’ve stayed in more hostels than I could possibly count in the last 2 1/2 years of mostly consistant travel. There’s a few things that I look for in every hostel that I think every hostel owner needs to keep in mind. I can understand there’s difficulties in meeting the fast changing standards of the traveling lifestyle. For example, wifi is now the norm while three years ago, it was a task to find a hostel that provided it. Still, there’s a few simple things that I’ve listed below that needs to be universal and provided to backpackers.

This is my open letter to you hostel owners so you can create a better environment for backpackers and make traveling more enjoyable.

Free and Accessible Wifi

None of the hostels I stayed in Australia provided free wifi. I was paying nearly $10 an hour. Having wifi is now becoming a standard just as much as having running water. Not only was I paying $10 an hour but half the time the wifi hardly even worked. I never had to pay for wifi in any country in Asia or South America and it was more reliable than Australia.

Tips for hostel owners:

  • Hire an IT guy to limit users usage on the wifi. You can limit users to one hour at a time then forced to re-login. Another option is capping internet speed so it’s equally distributed and block usage from downloading from torrents and certain activity that might suck up too much bandwidth.

Free Lockers

I can’t ever imagine staying in any hostel that didn’t have lockers. Now with so many people traveling with expensive cameras, laptops, and phones – why would you want to make your customers feel uncomfortable by providing an unsafe hostel? It’s quite simple. Just have a few big wooden boxes next to your customers beds with a hinge. The customer should have their own lock and if they don’t, you can sell locks at the front desk. You can potentially earn some extra cash while providing a secure environment to your customers. Make sure the containers are actually big enough too for the customer to fit all types of electronics. I especially love hostels that allow me to put my entire backpack in a draw under my bed which allows me to lock up.
City Hostel lockers

City Hostel lockers by eGuide Travel, on Flickr

Electric Outlets

I’d get annoyed if every other customer that comes up to me asked me where the plugs are. Save your breath and just install outlets in every possible location.
You know what would work really well? Embed the outlets on the side of all the tables in the common area. That way instead of spreading everybody out because your outlets are all over the place, you force your customers to be in the common area. They’ll interact, make some friends, and buy a drink while on the computer or charging their phone. I’ve also seen a few hostels put the outlets inside the locker for someone to be able to charge and lock up their electronics. That’s clever.

Shelf in the Shower

I hate walking into a shower with nowhere to put my clothes down. They end up getting wet before I can put the new clothes on. Hooks are not enough. Not all my clothes can be hooked. A shelf that’s AWAY from the shower head would be helpful. People need to be able to undress and dress in the same shower space.

Hooks IN the Room

I bet you never thought of this one before. I rarely come across a hostel that has this tiny feature. Not sure why either. When I come out of the shower, I need a place to hang up my towel or wet clothes from the rain. So the only place I could possibly find is on a ladder which is fine when I’m sleeping on the top bunk but it’s super annoying when someone else puts their towel on there and I’m not sure where I’m supposed to throw it. It’s especially annoying when I’m coming down the ladder and I notice a towel blocking all the steps down.

Handle to Climb to Top Bunk

I’m somehow supposed to climb to the top bunk with nothing to grab onto. Grabbing onto the ladder doesn’t work since most ladders are unstable and too short. I need a handle on the top so I can push myself up and onto the bed. This feature costs nearly nothing and it surprises me how many hostels forget to add this.
Hostel : Our Room

Hostel : Our Room by LoraxV, on Flickr

Enforce Quiet Hours

I understand that hostels can be loud and that it’s normal for people to come in and out at any time of the day. That’s not my complant. It’s the people outside of our rooms drinking and partying at 2:00am that annoys me. That’s what the common area is for. It should be enforced that customers must continue their partying past a certain hour in an area that’s separate from the dorm rooms. People will not know this unless you put signs that clearly mark where they are to go after a certain time. If your party/common area is located in the same area as the dorms, well you’ve picked a horrible layout for a hostel.
Drunks, please go elsewhere

Drunks, please go elsewhere by passiveaggressivenotes, on Flickr

Business Cards and a Map

Every hostel absolutely NEEDS a business card. There’s the obvious reason to pass your card along to travelers to pass along to other travelers but here’s another important one — if the traveler doesn’t speak the local language and wants to get back to your hostel, the traveler can show the business card to the taxi driver and get to the hostel safely. I’ve done this so many times and it has saved me multiple times. It was gold in China for me. It was especially useful when the business card had an easy to read map in the back so the taxi driver knew exactly where it was and myself if I decided to go for a walk.
Another thing though is to have a large map as well of the area to hand out. A full sheet size paper recommending places to go in your city with an easy to read map. Bonus points if you explain to your customer the map a tiny bit right as they check into your hostel.

Create a Facebook Page or Group – NOT a Facebook Account

I really wish Facebook could delete those company Facebook accounts. Pages and groups is where you showcase your business. You also risk being deleted by Facebook if they find your Facebook account. Pages and groups are much more interactive and allow you to display more information using tab applications.

Knowledgeable Staff

Backpackers are always looking for advice on where to go, what to do, and how to do it. Prepare your staff for every possible question backpackers are going to ask about your city and how to get around. Customer service is extremely important. If you’re going to hire other travelers to take care of reception, I’d recommend getting someone very knowledgeable of the area or always have local staff there with them at all times.

47 Comments

  1. Turtle on November 24, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    Such good advice! Every single of of those points is perfect! I came across a hostel the other day that that had power points in the lockers – I’d never seen it before and was really impressed!

  2. Turtle on November 24, 2011 at 4:57 pm

    Such good advice! Every single of of those points is perfect! I came across a hostel the other day that that had power points in the lockers – I’d never seen it before and was really impressed!

  3. Chris Walker-Bush on November 24, 2011 at 9:03 pm

    All very good tips. Mel from The Mellyboo Project, Annie from Wayward Traveller, and I are working on a business proposal to submit to some investors to potentially fund a hostel of our own. I hope you don’t mind me stealing each and every one of your ideas :-p

    • Michael on November 30, 2011 at 5:21 pm

      Really?! I want to hear more!

  4. Chris Walker-Bush on November 24, 2011 at 10:03 pm

    All very good tips. Mel from The Mellyboo Project, Annie from Wayward Traveller, and I are working on a business proposal to submit to some investors to potentially fund a hostel of our own. I hope you don’t mind me stealing each and every one of your ideas :-p

    • Michael on November 30, 2011 at 6:21 pm

      Really?! I want to hear more!

  5. camorose on November 24, 2011 at 9:35 pm

    Great advice for this day and age! The lockers and outlets are a really big deal for me now that I’m traveling with laptops, cameras, etc.–sometimes, all you need is a power strip with a few plugs to make life a LOT easier in a dorm room! I will say that I complained about the free Wifi in Australia too, and the hostel owner told me it’s mostly the Australian government to blame–they’ve made it prohibitively expensive to offer. I do like your idea of limiting usage time–just being able to hop on and check my Facebook/email for free would make me a lot happier, even if I did need to go somewhere else (i.e. a library) to actually work! 

    • Michael on November 30, 2011 at 5:06 pm

      That’s interesting. Didn’t think of that about the Australian government. Limiting usage in that case would be a good idea.

  6. camorose on November 24, 2011 at 10:35 pm

    Great advice for this day and age! The lockers and outlets are a really big deal for me now that I’m traveling with laptops, cameras, etc.–sometimes, all you need is a power strip with a few plugs to make life a LOT easier in a dorm room! I will say that I complained about the free Wifi in Australia too, and the hostel owner told me it’s mostly the Australian government to blame–they’ve made it prohibitively expensive to offer. I do like your idea of limiting usage time–just being able to hop on and check my Facebook/email for free would make me a lot happier, even if I did need to go somewhere else (i.e. a library) to actually work! 

    • Michael on November 30, 2011 at 6:06 pm

      That’s interesting. Didn’t think of that about the Australian government. Limiting usage in that case would be a good idea.

  7. Caroline Eubanks on November 24, 2011 at 10:34 pm

    Excellent post, I could not agree more, especially about the appalling state of WiFi in Australia. I’ve stayed in quite a few hostels in Australia this year and most of them were without complaint, but a few could have easily been improved with these features.

  8. Caroline Eubanks on November 24, 2011 at 11:34 pm

    Excellent post, I could not agree more, especially about the appalling state of WiFi in Australia. I’ve stayed in quite a few hostels in Australia this year and most of them were without complaint, but a few could have easily been improved with these features.

  9. Muzi Mohale on November 25, 2011 at 5:48 am

    Appreciate the topic Michael and have sent you a follow-up questions considering that am about to launch my own hostel here in South Africa…and getting input from backpackers is very important.

    • Michael on November 30, 2011 at 4:59 pm

      Good luck with your hostel! I sent you a reply 🙂

  10. Muzi Mohale on November 25, 2011 at 6:48 am

    Appreciate the topic Michael and have sent you a follow-up questions considering that am about to launch my own hostel here in South Africa…and getting input from backpackers is very important.

    • Michael on November 30, 2011 at 5:59 pm

      Good luck with your hostel! I sent you a reply 🙂

  11. [email protected] on November 25, 2011 at 9:50 pm

    A fine wish list for hostel dwelling, and g-knows I too have landed in my fair share in a lifetime of travel.  But I must say, anymore, I find that the constant mingling with other backpackers rather interferes with my main aim of traveling: to meet the locals on their own terms and meld into the culture as much as possible.

    Sure it’s far easier to get tips on which excursions are worth their mettle, and my native English goes a lot further in a hostel, but I find that a simple local guesthouse/hotel is often but a couple extra bucks, and the fact that the staff speaks but a modicum of my language only inspires me to learn a bit of the local tongue.  I also find that the entire staff breaks their collective necks to see that I have everything I need, and the entire local neighborhood swiftly seems to look out for me like a long lost daughter.

    • Michael on November 30, 2011 at 4:57 pm

      Hey Dyanne. I know what you mean. I guess it comes down to what someone is looking for when they travel. I like to mix it up a bit between hostels and hotel/guesthouses. Customer service is usually better when locals are behind the desk and are in charge rather than volunteers working there.

  12. [email protected] on November 25, 2011 at 10:50 pm

    A fine wish list for hostel dwelling, and g-knows I too have landed in my fair share in a lifetime of travel.  But I must say, anymore, I find that the constant mingling with other backpackers rather interferes with my main aim of traveling: to meet the locals on their own terms and meld into the culture as much as possible.

    Sure it’s far easier to get tips on which excursions are worth their mettle, and my native English goes a lot further in a hostel, but I find that a simple local guesthouse/hotel is often but a couple extra bucks, and the fact that the staff speaks but a modicum of my language only inspires me to learn a bit of the local tongue.  I also find that the entire staff breaks their collective necks to see that I have everything I need, and the entire local neighborhood swiftly seems to look out for me like a long lost daughter.

    • Michael on November 30, 2011 at 5:57 pm

      Hey Dyanne. I know what you mean. I guess it comes down to what someone is looking for when they travel. I like to mix it up a bit between hostels and hotel/guesthouses. Customer service is usually better when locals are behind the desk and are in charge rather than volunteers working there.

  13. Tom Bartel on November 27, 2011 at 7:45 am

    I’ve just spent 40 days staying in (mostly) hostels. Too bad so few of them had read something like this before I got there. One more suggestion: laundry sinks and a clothesline.

    • Michael on November 30, 2011 at 4:53 pm

      I wish more hostels would have laundry sinks and a clothesline but I found so many of them are now offering their own laundry service to get some extra money.

  14. Tom Bartel on November 27, 2011 at 8:45 am

    I’ve just spent 40 days staying in (mostly) hostels. Too bad so few of them had read something like this before I got there. One more suggestion: laundry sinks and a clothesline.

    • Michael on November 30, 2011 at 5:53 pm

      I wish more hostels would have laundry sinks and a clothesline but I found so many of them are now offering their own laundry service to get some extra money.

  15. eriksmithdotcom on November 27, 2011 at 1:59 pm

    These are great points. One of the biggest reasons I choose 1-star hotels over hostels is I never know what I am going to get from hostels. the best reviewed one are often the most popular due to the party scene, which is not a priority for me while I am on the road.

    • Michael on November 30, 2011 at 4:14 pm

      So many times I’ve stayed at top reviewed hostels and wonder why they’re so highly rated. Many of the highly rated hostels also have some great marketing skills and definitely have a lot of partying.

  16. eriksmithdotcom on November 27, 2011 at 2:59 pm

    These are great points. One of the biggest reasons I choose 1-star hotels over hostels is I never know what I am going to get from hostels. the best reviewed one are often the most popular due to the party scene, which is not a priority for me while I am on the road.

    • Michael on November 30, 2011 at 5:14 pm

      So many times I’ve stayed at top reviewed hostels and wonder why they’re so highly rated. Many of the highly rated hostels also have some great marketing skills and definitely have a lot of partying.

  17. EvanT on November 28, 2011 at 9:10 am

    Thanks – didn’t think about the handle for the top bunk. Will work on that one

  18. EvanT on November 28, 2011 at 10:10 am

    Thanks – didn’t think about the handle for the top bunk. Will work on that one

  19. Angie_main on November 29, 2011 at 11:44 am

    Great article! I spent most days bemoaning the lack of hooks!!!! actually wonder about buying some sticky hooks myself for bathrooms as my clothes, towel etc fall to the ground…as for electric cables..my own pet hate is the cables so high up on the wall that I have to build a tower system using myself and usually my mates’ Lonely Planets as well to plug in anything to charge at all! I love your ideas on this.  As to lockers…why not? Cannot understand why not provided as a matter of course. I loved some places where the lockers even had plug points to you could charge things inside!
    Again top article!
    Angie

    • Michael on November 30, 2011 at 4:11 pm

      That’s a good point on the plugs. I hate when the plug is so lose that I can’t use it because it keeps falling off.

  20. Angie_main on November 29, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    Great article! I spent most days bemoaning the lack of hooks!!!! actually wonder about buying some sticky hooks myself for bathrooms as my clothes, towel etc fall to the ground…as for electric cables..my own pet hate is the cables so high up on the wall that I have to build a tower system using myself and usually my mates’ Lonely Planets as well to plug in anything to charge at all! I love your ideas on this.  As to lockers…why not? Cannot understand why not provided as a matter of course. I loved some places where the lockers even had plug points to you could charge things inside!
    Again top article!
    Angie

    • Michael on November 30, 2011 at 5:11 pm

      That’s a good point on the plugs. I hate when the plug is so lose that I can’t use it because it keeps falling off.

  21. Wiktor on December 5, 2011 at 2:17 pm

    I found myself nodding profusely. Good points, all of them.
    Which is why the best hostels I’ve stayed in were actually run by ex-backpackers themselves.

  22. Wiktor on December 5, 2011 at 3:17 pm

    I found myself nodding profusely. Good points, all of them.
    Which is why the best hostels I’ve stayed in were actually run by ex-backpackers themselves.

  23. the Outage on December 5, 2011 at 2:37 pm

    I’d like to see more hostels take cleanliness seriously. A dirt-cheap hostel doesn’t have to be dirty.

    I’m not expecting immaculate accommodations, but it doesn’t take much to keep a bathroom or common space tidy. And the benefits (comfortable guests, impressed reviews) far outweigh the costs to the owner.

    • Michael on December 6, 2011 at 3:01 pm

      Awesome advice. I’ve definitely stayed in a number of dirty hostels. Seemed like they were just oblivious to it and didn’t care.

      • the Outage on December 7, 2011 at 9:09 am

        Are hostel owners just short-sighted? Wouldn’t cleanliness pay for itself–a dozen times over–since more guests would be willing to pay more money?

  24. the Outage on December 5, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    I’d like to see more hostels take cleanliness seriously. A dirt-cheap hostel doesn’t have to be dirty.

    I’m not expecting immaculate accommodations, but it doesn’t take much to keep a bathroom or common space tidy. And the benefits (comfortable guests, impressed reviews) far outweigh the costs to the owner.

    • Michael on December 6, 2011 at 4:01 pm

      Awesome advice. I’ve definitely stayed in a number of dirty hostels. Seemed like they were just oblivious to it and didn’t care.

      • the Outage on December 7, 2011 at 10:09 am

        Are hostel owners just short-sighted? Wouldn’t cleanliness pay for itself–a dozen times over–since more guests would be willing to pay more money?

  25. Vanessa on April 7, 2012 at 6:58 pm

    thank you!!:)

  26. Vanessa on April 7, 2012 at 7:58 pm

    thank you!!:)

  27. Scott Murphy on April 21, 2013 at 4:43 am

    They are some of the fundamentals every hostel needs. Very well said

  28. Scott Murphy on April 21, 2013 at 4:43 am

    They are some of the fundamentals every hostel needs. Very well said

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