On my previously mentioned conference trip to Spain, I was traveling on a more stringent lodging budget than I have in the past. Two things combined to cause this: I couldn't find a roommate to share a hotel room, and I'm between schools and advisers so I was scraping together funding from a variety of sources. Rather than spend at least $150/night to stay in a hotel, I decided to stay in a hostel for about $250 for the entire week. I got the idea from a postdoc who used to work at my undergrad who preferred to stay in hostels. I've stayed in one before, but it was back in high school on a school trip to Italy. So this was pretty much a brand new experience.
I searched online for hostels in the conference city. I read the reviews carefully, and I'm glad I did. Any hostel with more than one or two reviews complaining of noise got thrown out, as did any with bad cleanliness reviews. I didn't worry too much about reviewers complaining about the tourism aspects of the hostel (the lack of planned excursions or club trips, for example). Then I picked the highest-ranked hostel that was closest to the conference center.
My stay turned out well. I lucked out and my neighbor turned out to be another undergraduate attending the conference. Although I hadn't paid attention to details like breakfast or air conditioning, I was exceedingly glad that my hostel had both. Having breakfast included helped keep my food budget under control, and air conditioning made sleeping much more comfortable since it was hot and muggy in the city. Paying attention to noise reviews meant that I picked the hostel a few blocks away from the party quarter, rather than another otherwise-well-reviewed hostel in between two bars. The hostel also had good electronic security lockers, which I hadn't given a lot of thought to when I looked at reviews.
The best thing I took with me was good ear plugs. Even though the hostel overall was quiet, if my roommates (I had 3 all week) came back late they could be noisy. And soccer victory celebrations in the street are not muted affairs.
I do still wish I had done a few things differently. For one thing, I wish I had booked early enough to book an women-only room. I luckily had female roommates for most of the week, but my last night it was just me and three men I didn't know. Booking earlier would have allowed me a little more peace of mind. I still can't decide whether I would rather have booked a single room - I would have needed to look much earlier and maybe stay further from the convention center to avoid the party quarter. It would have cost about twice as much as the quad, but that's actually still cheaper than half of a hotel room.
I also wish I had taken shower shoes. Despite being pretty clean overall, the floors could be a bit questionable because I was waking up before the cleaning crew came in but after all the party-goers had come back.
So, in summary, hostels are more than just cheap lodgings for backpacking college students. When chosen carefully, they can be great ways to stretch your conference budget.