If you've never lived in a hostel you'll find something out very quickly: life here reverts back to the collegiate dorm. If you never stayed in one of those, then... well, that's the only experience that mirrors it.
I spoke for hours with a Londoner who is adrift, without a degree or career, wondering what she wants out of life.
I spoke for hours with a German business start-up designer about Jared Diamond and cultural exceptionalism.
I spoke with Cuban underwater archaeologist, stopping over on his way to Indonesia for his next project.
These are three of the seven roommates I have. And I've only been here three full days.
But, while the delightful conversations are what I most cherish, the dormitory living doesn't end there. The shared sex bathrooms, the beanbag furniture, toast for breakfast, and the huddling in the common room: these are the hallmarks that make me feel ready to go register for classes tomorrow.
From San Francisco to Scotland to Singapore I've hosteled all over. The nicest I ever had was in Istanbul. The worst was Belfast. But they're basically the same. The marks of a good hostel:
Not too many in a room - blankets and bedding provided.
Breakfast, even a token, provided.
Sufficient showers for guests and clean bathrooms.
Nice staff and a nice place to hang out.
If your hostel has these things it's a good joint. Most backpacker's and student hostels will. If they don't have these basics then you should find a place that does. Some try and be buddy buddy - tours! trips! join us Tuesday night for ____ in the common room! Frankly I don't care for these. On the other hand I've been in places where 18 are in a room and no one talks to each other at any time. So happy mediums are worth looking into.
The best breakfasts were in the UK - Liverpool, particularly, had a great full breakfast. Unfortunately many hostels still don't have wi-fi, or internet is just free on the computers provided. This always leads to bottlenecking and unhappy techy hostelers, which is increasingly all of them. If it has neither of these then they're being stingy.
Laundry generally isn't provided, as a service or with machines. There are too many issues to deal with to also have to calm hostelers losing socks and fighting for the next free machine. Don't expect it.
I've heard of places that charge for bedding, which is ridiculous - you are paying for a bed, toast, and a little security. Speaking of which - expect in most to pay a key deposit for either a room or hostel front door key. If you want a locker they probably will charge if they have them.
My current arrangement, 'The Inn Crowd 2' has all of this. The only drawback is that power strips are in the common room, meaning that I can't do simple tasks like charging my phone or computer in my dorm room. Instead everyone sits around in the commons while their tech powers up. In this case it leads to a fairly sedentary group of backpackers. In my specific case it apparently leads to lengthy blog updates.