Finding the right hostel or guesthouse is like finding the right gynaecologist.  Laugh all you want, but it’s true! As a solo female traveller, it’s important to feel comfortable and safe, no matter where I am. Sure, it can affect my pocket book at times, but that’s not what’s important.

Booking online can be helpful to a degree. Usually, the hostel or guesthouse will provide photos and reviews of their property, but there are some things to keep in mind.

What you see on their website or through a booking agent like HostelWorld, is what they want you to see (with the exception of reviews, which are published as is). They’re not going to show you crappy photos. I’m not saying that ALL hostels or guesthouses are deceiving you, but some are.

What to look for BEFORE you agree to stay

When you arrive at the hostel you’ve booked, ask the desk agent to show you the room before you register and hand over money. You need to look for the following things.

  1. Is the door secure? Is it easily accessible to outsiders who may want to get in?

2. Sit on the bed. Is it comfortable? Does it squeak when you move?

3. Is there creepy crawlies hanging out and are you okay with that?

4. Is the room clean?

Once you’ve checked out the room, you really should give the property a once over. I cannot stress enough the importance of safety. I’m not trying to be scary here. Your personal comfort and safety zones need to be met though. If it doesn’t feel right, DON’T STAY! Yes, you may lose some money, but your comfort, safety and peace of mind are more important. Trust me!

Why I switched…

When I was preparing for my trip to Thailand, I booked a bed in a hostel in Chiang Mai through HostelWorld. The photos looked good and the reviews were pretty good as well. The hostel I chose was highly rated and I felt good about my choice -until I arrived.  This is why.

  • The iron fence around the building was roughly 4.5 feet tall and easily accessible for anyone agile enough who wants in.
  • The hostel’s location was in a quieter part of Chiang Mai. Which is not really a bad thing, but the combination of a quiet area and dark allies is never a good thing.
  • The door to my room was missing pieces. There was a hole in the door where the lock slid into place, which would be easy to manipulate.
  • The mattress was horrific. Nothing but big springs and covered in plastic. It crunched when I sat down and made tonnes of noise during the night.

I didn’t feel good when I checked in, but my cheap side suggested I suck it up and not be a princess. So, I gave it a go for a night. It was horrible. I hardly slept despite the fact that I had taken gravol just before bed to help me sleep better. When I finally decided to crawl out of my very uncomfortable bed I made a mental decision to go out and look for somewhere else to sleep, and I found a great guesthouse in a busier area of Chiang Mai, next to a Wat. This is why I LOVE it.

When I finally decided to crawl out of my very uncomfortable bed I made a mental decision to go out and look for somewhere else to sleep, and I found a great guesthouse in a busier area of Chiang Mai, next to a Wat. This is why I LOVE it.

  • It’s next door to a Wat and I can hear the monks ring the bells every day
  • The courtyard is crowded with trees and plants. I feel like I’ve walked into a jungle! It’s paradise.
  • The bed is comfortable and doesn’t squeak or crunch!
  • There are NO creepy crawlies in my room
  • The people running the guesthouse are really friendly and helpful
  • My room feels secure and there are places for me to lock up my valuables.
  • Lots of pets around (3 or 4 dogs and 2 cats –all very friendly and playful).
  • It’s quiet
  • The door to my room is secure
  • Breakfast is included and the common area is divine.
  • I’m in a private room with its own bathroom.

The cost difference between the two hostels/guesthouses is 230B a night, which is about $8. That’s not a lot of money when it comes to safety and peace of mind. Yes, there are cheaper options in Chiang Mai, but I really didn’t want to spend an entire day roaming through the city looking for them.

Travelling can be fun and exciting and so many more things. The way a person travels is a personal choice. We may not agree with their choice, but it’s really none of our business, is it? What’s good for the goose is not always good for the gander. Follow your gut. Listen to your inner voice.

About The Author

I'm a travel writer and photographer who specializes in bespoke travel experiences. I write about boutique, savvy and cultural travel. My writing has been featured in Outpost Magazine, Travel + Escape, and UP! Magazine.

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8 Responses

  1. Mary

    I’ve been thinking about trying a hostel to be able to travel more by saving $. Thanks for the thoughtful tips.

    Reply
    • Pamela

      Thanks for the comment Mary! Hostels are fantastic. Just know what your “musts” are in terms of safety etc and shop around 🙂

      Reply
  2. Alouise

    These are great suggestion. Even though things like wifi and free breakfast is great there’s 3 important criteria accommodations have to meet for me to stay there; is it safe, clean and relatively affordable? Everything else is a bonus. I’m like you I’d rather stay somewhere safe, than save a few dollars. Plus that 2nd hostel sounds pretty nice.

    Reply
  3. Alouise

    These are great suggestion. Even though things like wifi and free breakfast is great there’s 3 important criteria accommodations have to meet for me to stay there; is it safe, clean and relatively affordable? Everything else is a bonus. I’m like you I’d rather stay somewhere safe, than save a few dollars. Plus that 2nd hostel sounds pretty nice.

    Reply
  4. Gray

    This is such terrific advice, Pam. I think a lot of times we get so caught up in saving money when we travel, that we don’t think about comfort and safety, and how spending a little more per night really can radically change your experience. I’m glad you found a place you love!

    Reply
  5. Julie Ovenell-Carter

    This is great advice and I wish I’d seen it before my daughter headed off to China! Curious: do you think these same rules apply in all countries? Or do some require a heavier dose of vigilance than others?

    Cheers and safe travels!

    Julie

    Reply
  6. Vibeke

    haha, you’re SO right! Finding a good base, whether it’s for one or ten nights is essential. Your comparison with tracking down the ‘right’ gynecologist had me laughing out loud;-)I too have written a few pieces on travelling as a solo woman, and going with your gut feeling is never wrong!
    Happy travels!

    Reply

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