You can tell a lot about a destination by the quality of its budget accommodation. Good hostels? Good backpacker scene. Good nightlife. Good people. Good city.
There are exceptions to the rule, but I've found that most places where people put thought and care into their budget accommodation will tend to be welcoming and enjoyable for backpackers across the board. The entire travel experience will be a good one.
And that's what makes the "Hoscars", the annual awards by hostel booking site HostelWorld – decided by user reviews – worth taking note of. These aren't just a guide to good hostels, but a guide to the world's best budget travel destinations.
Obviously this is one of the world's great backpacking destinations. New Zealand just does tourism right, from its spectacular sights and amazing experiences to its friendly locals. So it's no surprise to find that some of the world's most popular hostels are located across the ditch. The entire top three in the Hoscar's "Best in Oceania" category was taken out by Kiwi hostels: Adventure Q2 Queenstown, Adventure Queenstown, and the Dwellington, in the nation's capital. Nothing from Australia at all. The Attic in Auckland was also the world's third most popular hostel.
This may not be a destination you immediately equate with backpacking: Russia is notoriously difficult to enter, with a laborious visa application process, and one in which the attractions are spread out over a stunningly vast area. However, Russia is surprisingly affordable for budget travellers, and it's the perfect frontier territory, where everything you think you know about the place is turned on its head. One of its most popular cities, St Petersburg, is home to 2019's best medium-sized hostel, Soul Kitchen.
We Love F Tourists.
Budget travellers have known for some time about the greatness of Portugal, in particular Lisbon and Porto. These are incredibly affordable destinations that are safe and friendly, with excellent food and drink, accessible local culture, and enviable good looks. Plus, the hostels are next-level. Unsurprisingly, Portuguese hostels feature heavily in the 2019 Hoscars, with We Love F. Tourists and Lost Inn – both in Lisbon – featuring as the best for solo female travellers, and the House of Sandeman in Porto being awarded best new hostel.
The Roadhouse Prague.
Solo travellers, think about booking your next trip to Prague. This is where you'll find the hostels that placed first and third in the Hoscars' "best for solo travellers" award: the Roadhouse Prague, and Hostel One Miru. That's no surprise, as the Czech capital is a great destination for those seeing the world on their own, a safe city to explore solo by day, and the perfect place to get together with a group of like-minded souls from the hostel for a night out.
Los Patios Hostel Boutique.
Colombia has shed its reputation as a notorious gangland to emerge as the country every backpacker in South America wants to visit. This is a colourful, vibrant place where locals tend to view the presence of foreign travellers as a sign that their country is getting back on track. The quality of the budget accommodation reflects the enthusiasm Colombia has for tourism: the top two hostels in South America – Los Patios in Medellin, and Casa Viejas in mountaintop Minca – are both Colombian.
Dalat Friendly Fun.
Spain isn't always cheap, but it is enjoyable, particularly for backpackers chasing great sights by day and great atmosphere by night. There's so much fun to be had in this multi-faceted country, so much to discover and appreciate and imbibe. Hostels in Spain range from the down and dirty to the design-heavy and flash, with plenty in between. You could do worse than go with a property owned by HostelOne, which placed second in the "best hostel chain" category, or check out Hostel One Paralelo in Barcelona, which won best hostel for solo male travellers.
Remember Greece? It used to be backpacker central, the place everyone wanted to go for island-bound debauchery and city-side culture. Then it seemed to fall out of favour as it was swamped by British stag groups and the likes of Croatia and Ibiza began grabbing the beachy limelight. But Greece is back, if its hostels are anything to go by. Athens Backpackers was the world's second most popular; Stay Hostel Rhodes placed second in the "best medium-sized hostels" category. Budget travellers, take note.
The world's most popular hostel, based on the number of bookings and average ratings? Clinknoord Amsterdam, a smart, modern property in Amsterdam Noord, just across the Ij River from Centraal station. This, to me, says a lot about the backpacking scene in Amsterdam. Yes, the city is still phenomenally popular, even though it's expensive and overrun with tourists. However, travellers are steering away from the red-light district and the coffee shops in favour of somewhere a little quieter, a little more grown-up. Amsterdam Noord is the perfect balance – and the Netherlands still reigns supreme.
What are your favourite backpacking destinations? Do you stay in hostels? Which countries have the best budget accommodation?
See also: The best bargain destinations for 2019