Having never booked one myself, how exactly do they work? Do I have to book them in advance or can I just turn up whenever and stay? Do you have to book them at any particular time of day? If I, say, visit Frankfurt and I arrive at 9:00am, should I immediately find a hostel and book it? If I arrive at 7:00pm, what are my chances of actually getting a bed?
Any advise would be great!
"It depends." What it depends on mostly is country and time of year; during the low season you can usually show up on the day itself and expect to get a bed, during the high season you might have to book weeks ahead. Getting a bed in a dorm room is always easier than getting a private room.
Hostels in European cities are usually booked solid during the weekends, especially from May through September, and if there's some kind of event going on (Oktoberfest, etc). The rest of time time you might still be okay with finding a bed if you show up at 19:00, but it might involve a lot of trekking from one hostel to the next, and you shouldn't be picky.
Booking a hostel can be done at any time (online, or by calling/visiting during reception opening hours). Check-in usually starts from 14:00-ish (though if they have cleaned already, they're usually very flexible with letting you in early, and otherwise there's generally luggage storage available), with check out being at 10:00.
Most (?) European hostels (at least those I've stayed at in Belgium, Germany, Finland and Norway) will take reservations made over the phone without needing a creditcard or anything, just as long as you show up before 18:00 (if you expect to arrive later, tell them so, otherwise they might assume you a "no-show" and give your bed to someone else). (Hostels in Australia/New Zealand always want a creditcard number to secure your booking, and if you don't show, they'll deduct one night's lodging from that creditcard. I like the European policy much better.)
Thanks for the reply.
I was concidering going to Oktoberfest this year, before I remembered the guy I was going to go with still wasn't 18 so were going to go next year now!
If I were to go Interrailing next year I probably couldn't book every single hostel I wanted to stay in ahead (it would be in the summer)...though I'm just guessing, but in more exotic countries like Latvia and the rest of the Baltics it would be easier to get a hostel?
Though I guess you could just book sleeper trains if you were on Interrail.
Though as you say, if you can book them whilst you're on your way over to a particular city (ie, on the train) then that would be easy...providing you had a book of hostels all over the place.
Scandanavian hostels look more like hotels judging by the quick search I just did!
It just depends. Usually you can book on the day, but be prepared for all hostels being booked up, if you can take a small tent with you then not a bad idea as a backup, i know people who, when staying in Edinburgh - which has loads of hostels - couldn't find a room, and camped on a hill in the middle of the city etc but the next day there were room to be found etc......... Weekends are the worst, or Friday and Saturday night....
I think someone on this forum said that the Oktoberfest causes all accom to be booked up months in advance, literally, its obviously that popular. If it was me i would book the first lot of accom 4 weeks in advance or so and then just travel and work it out along the way..