Though this is in some ways a subjective question, in my experience, there are aspects that make a great hostel. First, as I continue forward , I’ll specify that my thoughts on this subject are going to stick to longer stay hostels where backpackers get jobs and live in the hostel. As one might imagine there is some different criteria that comes into play when you stay three days in a hostel versus 6 months. With that said, when a few factors come into play a magical hostel experience can ensue. Those factors are:
The People: a good mixture guys and girl and different nationalities
I’ve stayed at hostels where it is almost all guys, or when there are to many people from one nation. In both circumstances it skews the vibe. Even guys and girls, means romantic hi-jinx and fun as compared to guys swarming any girl that stays there if the ratio is off. Also different nationalities doesn’t allow for one country to impose their social mores on the collective, rather everyone curiously amalgamating the traits from the other countries. Individual personalities obviously come into play too, but if you have these two larger factors the blue print is there for a good hostel.
Cleanliness versus fun continuum
Now this is an interesting one, because though I side personally with fun – which usually means laxer rules – I don’t want a completely filthy hostel that has a bed bugs and a kitchen that you will get salmonella poisoning using. Generally as one side I mentioned goes up the other goes down. Take for instance a YIH hostel, they are impeccable clean, but they also have so many rules it is hard to have fun. You need a laxness of rules, where accountability for cleanliness still forms, because the people like each other.
Central to a hostel being great are the people living there not being right on top of one another. You need a little space to move about and spread your wings a little. For myself personally, I always liked it when there were several different chill out areas in a single hostel. This would allow for different sub group formations, which is generally a healthy thing. Also, it gave me the chance to go in-between the groups and change up who I was around on a given night. I always appreciated that diversity.
Bring those factors three factors together in harmony, as it happened for me once in a hostel in Edinburgh Scotland, and you will almost assuredly have an amazing memorable time.