Here are my personal tips and advice when you are looking into choosing hostels to stay in. Most of them I have learnt during my experiences and I have shared them to help prevent you from making the same mistakes.
Hostels are such a good choice for travels, not only because they are so much cheaper but they can offer more than you would think, they're a popular choice amongst travellers, and just very sociable and friendly environments.
Where to look:
There are so many websites out there providing all the accommodation in the specific place you are looking into. I tend to stick to the following two:
Booking.com - You can't go wrong with this site. It gives you beyond the detail that you really need, including places around the accommodation, specific ratings, reviews from other travellers and pictures to get an idea of what the hostel looks like. For the past few places I have travelled to, I transferred to Booking.com from Hostel World, mainly because they give a wider range of accommodation, not just hostels, it seems a little more trustworthy and a lot of places you can cancel your booking for free before a certain date. Also, it gives you really useful travel guides to destinations. When you book through them 5 times, they have this reward called the Genius Reward which gives you 10% off your next booking and other travel perks.
Hostel world - Ever looking for hostels specifically? This is the website you need, providing hundreds ands thousands of hostels across the world, as well as a few hostels and B&B's. I have used this website plenty of times in my past and nothing has ever gone majorly wrong, and when it has they have managed to solve it without any hassling. Each hostel is given an average ranking created from reviews and personal ranks from other travellers, reading the reviews is crucial!
This is regarding my preference and what I tend to look for/think about when choosing a hostel.
Location - I like to know if the accommodation is close to the centre of the town, near amenities, easy to get to from the airport/bus station/train station etc. I tend to use google maps to help navigate myself around the area.
Ranking - I always choose hostels which are ranked 8+ and have plenty of reviews so the ranking is reliable.
Best Valued - Obviously the cheaper the hostel, the better so you have more money to spend on other activities on your travels. Think of it this way, you're only using this place to sleep in, that's it. I'd rather spend little on accommodation and more on adventures. It's the adventures you will remember, not the accommodation.
Facilities - Do they provide plenty of showers, wifi, breakfast, lockers, towels? Showers is quite important for me...for example, there was one hostel I was looking into in Ubud and it had one room with about 20 beds in it all sharing ONE bathroom between them (meaning one toilet, one shower and one sink), think about what a nightmare that would be! Also lockers are quite useful to have; although I trust hostels, having that little extra security makes you less worried about your belongings disappearing or being stolen.
Here are a few things to help you and I've learnt from personal experience.
Read reviews. This is so important to any hostel/hotel/bed and breakfast/villa that you are looking into. Other people's opinions on their stays can help you out an awful lot. The detail given by the hostel can sound like the perfect place and then be critiqued massively by reviewers due to certain aspects of the accommodation, which the hostel may have avoided to mention. I will never book accommodation without reading at least 10 reviews.
Check any individual prices. Sometimes they can catch you out and charge you extra for using certain services like a hair dryer or to borrow towels. Check the details thoroughly or email them with any enquiries you have, they always seem to be very responsive.
BED BUG WARNING?! This has happened twice now, luckily not to me, but to other friends or people staying at the hostel I've been in. The warnings were hidden in the reviews but clearly I missed them. Read through the reviews thoroughly to make sure the hostel is free of bed bugs. They are not nice and you don't want to have an interrupted night's sleep with these biting you and crawling through and into your belongings. If you ever have this problem, let the hostel know as they should change your bed, and may possibly give you a refund (my friend got all her money back after finding bed bugs in Japan!)
Blog posts to help you. There's thousands of travellers out there blogging about the hostels they have stayed at so use these to help you make your decision and get a thorough review.
Choose popular/sociable hostels - Unless you are wanting a quiet or completely solo trip, I'd advise you to choose the more popular and social hostels in the area. You're more likely to meet and bond with fellow travellers, be given advice or recommendations to places you should visit, and join forces with other people on tours or days out.
Reach out to friends/other travellers for recommendations - If you have friends or other travellers which have been to the place before, they must have some tips or suggestions on the locations you should avoid or stay at.
So these are a few tips I'm hoping will help you make firm choices in your hostels on your travels. I wish I had been given some of these tips when I found myself picking my first hostel, but hopefully this will help you out a little and make the most out of your hostel experience.