Choosing which hostel to book when you go away on your travels can be a somewhat daunting experience; there are so many to choose from, and you of course want to find the one that will suit you the most. Even if you don't anticipate spending much time in your hostel, it is good to know that after a busy day sightseeing you are going back to a place where you feel comfortable, where you can get a good night's sleep, and have a decent shower in the morning.
Hostels are a great way to meet people, particularly when you are travelling alone as many other people will be travelling alone too. Common rooms, bars, breakfast areas and dormitories are full of new friends just waiting to be made; just a smile and a 'hello' in the appropriate language is all it takes, suddenly you're Facebook friends and exploring the city together (if you want company, that is).
There is a common misconception that hostels are for young people, late teens/early 20's wanting to party all night long; some hostels do aim for this market and have age restrictions in place, but most welcome visitors of all ages. Due to the quality and price of many hostels around the world, they attract people of all ages who are travelling on a budget; private rooms in hostels are much cheaper than rooms in a hotel, so if you don't fancy sharing a 12 bed mixed dorm, you can certainly enjoy a private room. Children are also welcomed in many hostels, as long as they are sharing their private room with the adult they are travelling with. People staying in hostels, are as a rule easy going and non-judgemental - travelling opens the mind, so being around people like this, no one should feel out of place, regardless of their age.
There are usually one of two hostels for each city that stand out against the others; raving reviews, perfect location, bargain price, pictures of bright airy rooms with panoramic views. Other times, there may be dozens of hostels that receive over 90% from reviews, and you may find it difficult to decide on one place to stay. Depending on the length of your trip, you may decide to stay in a couple of different hostels, this is a good option if you really can't decide, and don't mind packing and unpacking multiple times during your trip;
Here are some things to keep in mind when you are booking a hostel
Reviews: Always read other traveler reviews, they are honest, accurate and give you an idea of what to expect from the hostel.
Type of room: Dorm or private? If you're happy to share, you can choose whether to go for female/male only or a mixed dorm with between on average 6 and 14 beds; meaning up to 13 potential snorers and 13 potential friends.
Price: Pay a couple of pounds more, and receive a whole lot more - shop around!
Party or Peace and Quiet: Want somewhere where you can stay up late with an on-site nightclub, comedy nights, salsa lessons and quiz nights? Many hostels have nightly events taking place, which is great if you love that type of thing. If you prefer a quiet night in, and don't want to be awoken by people drunkenly returning at 3am, then avoid hostels advertised by pictures of groups of people holding shot glasses!
Location: It's always good to be near a metro/tram/train station, especially if you have an early/late plane/train to catch. It's also good to be in walking distance of the places you want to visit during your stay; using public transport daily is an additional cost.
Breakfast: Many hostels offer breakfast included in the price, often an all you can eat buffet; this is a good way to set yourself up for the day. If breakfast isn't included, it is probably still offered for a price, which will be less than in a local café.
Facilities: Kitchen/Book Exchange/Tours/WiFi/Laundry facilities/Luggage storage are all things to look out for when booking. Also check that bed linen is included, sometimes you have to hire it when you get there. Hairdryers can also be hired from many hostels, which saves you packing one! If you are arriving late at night, check the reception is open 24 hours, it's no fun arriving and being stuck outside as there's no one around to check you in!
Most importantly, go with your instinct. I booked one hostel based purely on its interesting name and it turned out to be one of the best hostelling decisions I have ever made.