What makes a great hostel
In any decent hostel, there should always be lockers to put your valuables in. Most of the time they will be in the room, but sometimes they might be outside in the hallway or common area. You will have to bring your own lock or rent one from reception. Some hostels have high tech lockers that you can lock with your key card.
Wifi these days is a must. Staying connected with friends and family is something every traveler needs the option to do. Unless being device free is part of a hostels mission to provide a more social atmosphere or the hostel is located in the rainforest or some distant land where wifi would be harder to get, than having no wifi isn't such a bad thing. Most of the time though, hostels will provide it for free. I haven't stayed in very many places where it wasn't.
Social events are the best part of staying in a hostel. They provide travelers a chance to meet and get to know other travelers in a fun atmosphere. These events can include but are not limited to: Free walking tours, pub crawls, family dinners or taking you out to eat, cooking classes, BBQ's, and beer tours. I've been to a hostel in Lanquin, Guatemala called Hostel Oasis that took a group of us white water rafting or a hostel in Lisbon, Portugal called Goodmorning that had a free Sangria Night where they filled HUGE bathtub sized buckets with Sangria!
When researching what hostel to stay at, make sure to read reviews and see if other travelers mention if there are events or mention the easiness of meeting other travelers. Another way to check for events at a hostel is checking the hostel's website. Sometimes there will be a calendar showing events or they will have a list of events they plan.
Having a room that's dedicated to meeting other travelers is something all decent hostels have. Some common areas aren't necessarily set up to be social. I have found the most social hostels I have been to are set up with couches and chairs all facing each other, so you are kind of forced to get all cuddly with the people next to you and while you are close and personal with them you might as well start a conversation! Staying in a hostel isn't fun without that social aspect, so make sure any hostel you find has some sort of common area. This can sometimes even be the kitchen.
The great thing about most hostels is that they are centrally located! That's so important when choosing the right hostel. You don't want to commute 30 minutes or an hour to see all the touristy sites. You want it to be outside your door, or a close walk or metro ride away. Before deciding on a hostel, make sure you look at a map to see where it's located and if it's close to the sites you want to see. I once booked a hostel 45 min away from all the sites I wanted to visit. I had to take a commuter train into the city, which was quite expensive. After that experience, I don't book a hostel without researching where it is.
Don't you hate it when you're on a trip and you have a pile of dirty clothes sitting in your suitcase, waiting to be washed? The time it takes to do that is time, I am sure, rather spent exploring whatever city you are in. But alas, laundry is something we all have to do sooner or later, even if we really don't want to. There has been one incident where I stayed at a hostel without any laundry facilities. I had to walk down the street to a laundromat and waste 3 hours, waiting for my clothes to finish. Don't make the same mistake I did! Make sure the hostel your staying at has laundry facilities. Any decent hostel will have one, or if you are lucky, some hostels provide a washing service for you, so that you can go about your day and not even worry about it!
A kitchen is a crucial element that any adequate hostel should have. As travelers, we like to save money and that includes cooking our own food. Eating out every single day is expensive and can add up, not everyone has the budget for that. Many hostels will say if they have a kitchen, on their website, but if you are unsure, it never hurts to contact them and ask.
When staying at a hostel, security is important, especially since so many people are coming and going on a daily basis. Most places will have a form of security, whether it's a wristband that you show as you're entering the hostel or a keycard, there should ALWAYS be a way to check if whoever is entering the hostel, is actually staying there. I personally haven't stayed in too many hostels that didn't have a security system in place for their hostel guests.
Having amazing staff can either make or break a hostel experience and by amazing staff, I mean staff that actually care! I have stayed in countless hostels where as soon as I walk through the door, I am instantly greeted with an overwhelming amount of enthusiasm. One hostel, in particular, Madhouse in Prague, had some of the best people working there and they alone made my stay memorable. They really got involved with everyone staying there, by getting all of us to partake in drinking games, taking us out to some awesome bars, and just making sure everyone had the best possible time! I tell anyone planning a trip to Prague to stay at Madhouse!