If you have traveled anywhere on a budget, you have likely experienced the joys of hostel living. I’ve been traveling for the last nine months, and in that time I’ve grown to love hostels. The friends that are made, the stories that are shared, the beers that are consumed, and the connections that are solidified.

But we all know there are two sides to a story, and hostels are not entirely sugar and spice. In fact, I have been stuck in situations that left me baffled, declaring that I will someday open the hostel to end all hostels. The big kahuna. I met many travelers who professed they have the same desire, and maybe at some point you said the same thing.

Hostel by Christine Benson
Hostel by Christine Benson

Perhaps it came while you were standing in the hostel’s common kitchen wondering what you can possibly do with access to one knife, two chipped plates, a cheese grater, and fourteen spoons. Or maybe while juggling your shampoo, soap, towel, and clothing in a shower stall with no hooks.

All these situations have led me to say. . . What the hell were they thinking??

So, as a result of my endless nights of research in sub-par accommodation, I have come up with a list of things I would make sure my “big kahuna” hostel has. We all know that in an ideal world the walls wouldn’t be thin, the showers would be spacious, and breakfast (a delicious one) would always be included, but the following is a list of must-haves for any hostel worth its salt.

Hooks. There MUST be hooks. They are cheap, easy to install, and infinitely useful. The most important is to have hooks in the shower (many hooks), but they aren’t useful if they are constantly falling off the wall. Bonus Points: Hooks near beds and in bathrooms.

Space to sit up. Bunk beds are fine, but if a hostel chooses to use bunk beds, they must consider that guests will not likely be midgets. One of my biggest pet peeves is when you cannot sit up on a bunk bed without hitting your head, despite slouching. If you are going to go through the trouble to acquire bunk beds, making sure that there is adequate space above (both!) beds is not too much to ask. Bonus Points: Sturdy bunk beds. Squeaky, wobbly beds = horrible.

Hostel by Christine Benson
Hostel by Christine Benson

Storage lockers. These are unfortunately a necessity these days. Travelers will not want to return or spread the good word if their stuff gets stolen. It is their responsibility to take precautions, but good hostels do their part to ensure security by providing lockers. The best hostels have roomy lockers, not the teeny ones that would only fit a credit card. Bonus Points: Lockers with electric sockets actually in them. More and more travelers are bringing along mp3 players, cameras, and computers that need to be charged as well as locked away. Why not kill two birds with one stone?

Personal lights by beds. People staying in dorms subscribe to the fact they may be woken in the middle of the night by their inconsiderate roommates coming home, but providing smaller lights for those who have forgotten (or are too drunk to find) their flashlights is a small step towards keeping the peace. Personal lights are also useful for minimizing disturbance when someone wants to stay up reading or working on things past everyone else’s bedtime. Bonus Points: A small ledge or shelf to keep essentials like phone, change, alarm, or wallet nearby.

Kitchen, but a fully stocked kitchen. Like I said before, there’s not much you can with a handful of broken odds and ends. Plates, bowls, cups, mugs, and a full set of silverware are necessities, as well as a sufficient amount of pots and pans for several meals to be cooking at once. Bonus Points: An oven. Most everyone has a microwave, but not many hostels have an oven. This is a key piece of equipment for any backpacker on a budget that wants to supplement his Cup O’ Noodles with frozen pizza.

Hostel by Christine Benson
Hostel by Christine Benson

Computers, but don’t advertise access to computers if they are always broken. Our society is clearly moving towards dependance on technology. The generation currently moving into hostels has been using computers since they could talk. Skype, email, and Facebook are a part of many people’s daily life. Whether or not travelers should be spending time on the computer as opposed to exploring the place they are visiting is a topic for another day. But considering the fact that most guests probably find their accommodation online, its the least a hostel can do. Bonus Points: Free WiFi.

Comfortable common areas. One might argue that a hostel should just be a place to lay your head at night. I beg to differ. Nowadays, the best hostels act as a place to meet other travelers, share ideas, and create long-lasting friendships. Providing a place to relax other than your bed is not a guarantee to this, but it’s a good start. Couches, bean bags, comfy chairs, pool tables, a deck of cards, book exchange, TV, vending machines. Take your pick. Bonus Points: Organized activities or outings to help get the communication going.

In the interest of full disclosure, I can tell you I’m not really going to open a hostel, at least not in this lifetime. So if anyone out there is reading this and is inspired, by all means, please take these guidelines and take the bull by the horns to get this place started! I can assure you that you will have a community of hostelers elated to know that someone has heard our pleas of mercy and responded with an answer: the world’s greatest hostel ever. Oh, and let me know about it so I can come stay at the Big Kahuna!

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Christine Benson

Christine Benson is originally from Chicago but is currently on a RTW trip with her husband, Mike. She quit her job as a personal trainer in order to fulfill a life long dream to see the world. This trip has only fueled the desire to see more, but at 17 countries it's a good start! You can follow her adventures at Checking Off "Everywhere"
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