It seems so strange to me now, but there was once a time when I wasn't a hostel person. It wasn't even all that long ago! At the start of my year abroad, an American friend and I were planning some trips and she asked if I was more of a hostel or hotel person. I replied, "Definitely a hotel person. Hostels freak me out. You stay in the same room as strangers. That's weird."
My, how things have changed!
My first experience in a hostel was on a 2013 EFCollegeBreak Trip to London (it's equally hard to believe there was once a time when I had never set foot in England!), Paris, and Barcelona. The other people on my tour were college students from all over America who just met for the trip. In Barcelona, we stayed in a hostel, but it was a room just with other girls on my tour. When I realized we were staying at a hostel, I expected it to be dirty, loud, and unsafe. The decor was actually quite nice, but I still declared that I would only stay in a hostel if I had a room only with people I knew.
I also noticed that a lot of people seemed to be travelling alone, which I also thought was weird and something I would never do (hah, I had no idea quickly my mind would change!) I also noticed that people talked to one another in the lobby. What was this hostel thing? Did people just sit around talking to strangers? That was also weird.
One night, by travel roommates convinced me to go down to lobby area with them. So I reluctantly sat beside them at the hostel bar and ordered a hot tea (also, hard to believe, but there was once a time when I was even more of a nerd than I am now. But some things never change.) I eventually found myself conversing with an Australian about how much we both loved London (about fifteen minutes after landing in London, I was declaring that I would study abroad there a semester...one semester turned into two and London turned into a gateway to 18 other countries in ten months). I remember talking to this Australian for so long that my friends eventually got bored and left. Suddenly, I was alone in the hostel, but actually having fun. And, wait, there are Australians in hostels!? Maybe this wasn't so bad after all...(Spoiler alert: there are ALWAYS Australians in hostels.)
My second hostel experience was similar, I was with a tour group of international students from London and our hostel in Sicily gave us a room to ourselves. It was only as the year went on that I started staying in the traditional hostel rooms, at first in female-only dorms with a friend and then solo in the cheaper, mixed-dorms.
Contrary to what I expected, hostels are clean, safe, and so much fun. There is no better way to meet other solo travellers! Most people I've met in hostels are adventurous, conscious of their budgets, and excited to see as much of the city and country as they can, on and off the beaten trail.
It was during my spontaneous trip to Italy, my first solo trip, that I really noticed how much I enjoyed the atmosphere of hostels and made friends to explore Rome. I toured the Vatican with a girl from Ukraine, went out to dinner with another American for his 21st birthday, and was constantly conversing with travellers from all over the world. Soon, I was taking budget flights all over Europe each weekend and staying in hostels in cities where I didn't know anyone else. I actually went back to this same hostel during my three-week trip throughout Italy, Croatia, and Switzerland in and out of Rome, a totally changed traveller. I don't like the thought of staying in an isolated, over-priced hotel room. Somehow I evolved into a "hostel person."
How do you choose a hostel?
I always use http://www.booking.com/, http://www.hostelworld.com/, and TripAdvisor before I book anything. I read the reviews and make sure it is well-rated for its safety and cleanliness. From there, I choose based on location and price. Usually I choose the cheapest one with the best rating.
Isn't it weird sharing a room with strangers?
Surprisingly, no. I expected it to be a larger issue than it was. Oftentimes, my travel schedule of take-the-cheapest train or bus regardless of whether it arrives at 3:30 AM or leaves at 5:10 AM and my tendency to have long conversations with my new friends, results in me being both the last person in the hostel at night and the first one up in the morning. I try to be as quiet as possible and don't mind when others wake me up because they too have weird travel schedules. I haven't ever felt unsafe in a hostel room, even the one time when I was the only girl in the room. I've met some really nice people as a result of rooming with them in the hostel. The weirdest experience I had was when an elderly woman sat on her top bunk for two days, cross-legged, facing forward, with no expression on her face. She was like that when I got the hostel, when I left for the day, when I came home at night, when I woke up at 3 AM, when I actually woke up at 6 AM. Anytime anyone tried to talk to her, she would shake her head. Maybe it was some sort of meditation, but this was a hostel in Oxford, England! Not exactly the sort of place for that!
What should I bring?
A towel and lock. Some hostels provide these, but many do not. Most hostels have lockers for you to store your belongings in the room, so be sure to bring a lock. Also, a bring a pair of flip flops to wear in the room and in the shower.
My Top Ten Favourite Hostels
1) Athens Quinta
Location: It is close to the all the major attractions of Athens.
Atmosphere: Brilliant! There is a lovely garden in the back complete with chairs and swings that everyone hangs out in at night or during the day when they aren't exploring Athens. I met some amazing people here from Switzerland, Poland, Korea, and Taiwan.
Staff: Really, really lovely. They made me feel like a family member rather than a hostel customer. Upon arrival, they immediately gave us water and cookies, served homemade breakfast for the guests each morning, and were there to help in anyway. I came with a torn tendon and they kindly made me an ice pack anytime I was home and not running around Athens, climbing hills, and doing other things one should not do with a torn tendon (word of advice, if the top of your foot in swollen, climbing St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, taking a night bus two nights in a row in Turkey, and doing a four hour walking tour in Berlin are all bad ideas. Worth it, but bad ideas nonetheless).
Wi Fi: Yes!
Price: ~$24 a night, including breakfast and use of a towel
2) Freedom Traveller
Location: Right by Roma Termini station, everywhere in Rome is walkable
Atmosphere: This is the mentioned hostel above. It has a vibrant, friendly atmosphere like no other. There is a garden and common area, with a socializing hour each night to meet the other travellers. I have so many great memories of this hostel and I spent more time here than any other hostel. I would never stay anywhere else in Rome!
Staff: They're great! They kindly put up with my obnoxious 3 AM arrivals and 4:30 AM departures as I travelled in and out of Rome for three weeks. I got to know the staff quite well and one of them even cooked me dinner on my last night in Rome.
Wi Fi: Yes! (though the owner confessed that he turns it off if he suspects people are just lying in their beds on their smartphones. So go downstairs and embrace the hostel culture!)
Price: ~$19-$20 a night, pastries and coffee in the morning are included
3) Hostel Archi Rossi
Location: Close to Santa Maria Novella train station and walkable to everywhere in Florence
Atmosphere: The hotel was clean, with a spacious outdoor area. It was decorated with lots of fountains and arches. This hostel didn't seem as conducive to meeting people, despite the large common area, but I only stayed here three nights so maybe it was an off time.
Staff: Helpful and friendly. They tried to help me when I arrived covered head-to-toe in hives after the Baby Brown Swiss Dairy Cow Incident
Wi Fi: Yes!
Price: ~$21 a night, buffet breakfast is included, probably the best hostel breakfast out there
4) Bivvi Hostel
Breckenridge, Colorado, USA
Location: Main street is a ten minute walk away, it is possible to get to Breckenridge, Keystone, and Arapahoe Basin Ski Areas by car and bus
Atmosphere: It has a very woodsy, Colorado feel with a large fireplace and chandeliers. It is popular with skiers and snowboarders from all over the world and embraces the European hostel vibe.
Staff: It seems that there is only one staff member on at a time who is responsible overnight for everything from check-ins at night to cleaning to making breakfast in the morning. Everyone I met was great.
Wi Fi: Yes!
Price: ~$59 per night, including breakfast and use of a towel (Yes, this is more than other hostels, but still less than what hotels in Breckenridge cost.)
5) Hlemmur Square
Location: Right by downtown, walkable to everything in Reykjavik.
Atmosphere: It is also a hotel, so the lobby has some gorgeous decorations and it is still enough of a hostel to embrace the traditional atmosphere.
Staff: Friendly and helpful
Price: ~$22 per night. Breakfast not included but available for an additional cost
6) Balmer's Hostel
Location: Close to downtown Interlaken
Atmosphere: It had lovely decorations and a delightful Swiss cabin vibe!
Staff: Friendly and helpful
Wi Fi: Yes
Price: ~$25 a night, breakfast included
7) YHA Hostel Oxford
Location: Right by the train station and a ten-minute walk from downtown
Atmosphere: I loved how this hostel embraced the city's intellectual and literary heritage, with posters of famous authors and intellectuals in all fields. I was especially excited about all the Narnia posters!
Staff: I barely interacted with them but they seemed fine!
Wi Fi: Yes
Price: ~$28 per night, breakfast not included but there is a cafe
8) Goli + Bosi Design Hostel
Location: Ideal, only a short walk to the beach, market, and downtown area.
Atmosphere: The design was interesting, the ambiance was mediocre
Staff: I didn't interact with them much, but there is a restaurant on-site and they specially made vegan/vegetarian dishes for my friend and me
Wi Fi: In theory, yes. In actuality, it barely worked
Price: ~$24 a night, including breakfast and use of a towel
9) Noah's Hotel
Location: It is located near the Galata Tower. All attractions are walkable though not close. It was a bit hard to find.
Atmosphere: It has a welcoming vibe. There is an outdoor garden where everyone talks amongst each other. The only complaint I had was that there were no lockers.
Staff: Knowledgable and friendly, plus a cat lives there! They let me store my suitcase there for an extra twelve hours past checkout free of charge.
Wi Fi: Yes, except one night a week when that part of Istanbul's power is turned off.
Price: ~$11 per night, including breakfast
10) Full Moon Design Hostel
Location: Rather hard to find, considering that the instructions on the website were wrong, but other than that it has a great location
Atmosphere: It had a fun atmosphere, but I was so sleep-deprived by the time I got to Budapest, I didn't engage much.
Staff: I didn't interact much but they seemed fine!
Wi Fi: Yes
Price: ~$18 a night, breakfast not included but available at an additional cost.
I should put a disclaimer here, that though I've researched these to the best of my ability, there may be inaccurate pricing or information.
All this talk of hostels is making me want to backpack again soon! Are you a hostel person or a hotel person? Where are your favourite hostels?
Adventures in Interlaken: Culture Tours, Mountain Climbing, Ropes Courses, and an Unfortunate Incident Involving Hives
I usually visit a destination, really like it, and hope to come back someday. Sometimes I visit a destination, fall in love with it, and hope to move there someday. Interlaken, Switzerland can join Iceland, Oxford, the Scottish Highlands, Majorca, and Ireland in the "hope to move there" category. As in, I was already asking locals about living costs and researching how to obtain a visa (it's apparently quite hard to get one as an American) before I had even left.
I am very much a creature of mountains didn't realize how much I missed the mountains in Colorado until I was surrounded by the Alps. The photo above features one of lakes in Interlaken. Interlaken itself means "between the lakes."
On my first day in Interlaken, I took the culture tour with Interlaken Free Walking Tours. We started at an adorable little farm which featured adorable baby cows as young as one week and three weeks old. I tried to emulate my selfie with an Icelandic pony with one of the baby cows. Of course, the cows were a whole lot cuter before I broke out in hives, but more on that later.
Then, it was time to sample raw, fresh milk and visit the cheese cellar. The farm was brilliant.
Immediately after drinking my sample of milk, a bunch of red spots appeared on my arm, but I thought it was just bug bits. But again, more on that later.
Next, we visited a wood carver. She was amazing! The store was full of a wide selection of wooden toys, cuckoo clocks, and Christmas ornaments.
Oh, the store also had this adorable little hedgehog. Which was too cute not to come on the rest of my adventures with me (hopefully it has not been crushed by the weight of my luggage yet).
Next stop was a Swiss chocolate shop, which was adorable as well. Hot chocolates with little Swiss flags in them were waiting for us upon our arrival.
The last stop was a cheese tasting stop, which of course was adorable as well.
After one day of full immersion to Swiss culture, I went to bed rather early. I woke up the next morning with hives all over my body. No longer were they just on my arm, but they had spread to my face, neck, legs, feet, and other arm. I spent a rather unexciting moment at a pharmacy where they told me it was bed bugs and gave me a prescription that was in German and I couldn't read. The hostel did an extensive bed bug search and found none. So I went back to the pharmacy and they said it was scabies, which is possibly even grosser. But, alas, it turned out not to be either, but more on that later.
A group of us from Bus2Alps hiked up Harder Klum. It took about an hour and a half and I once again was reminded of how out of shape I am! The summit is 4,337 feet, which is lower than Colorado Springs by about 2,000 feet. It is 10,000 feet lower than Pike's Peak. I don't know how I ever exercised in altitude or how people can do Fourteeners! The view was definitely worth the hike though!
I was excited to see the following on the map of my iPhone.
As if I hadn't exercised enough, I went to the Seilpark ropes course afterwards, complete with ziplines and obstacles. It was a lot of fun, but next time, I will definitely not climb up a mountain right beforehand.
I was pleasantly surprised to see a British telephone booth in Interlaken!
And of course, what is a trip to Switzerland without overpriced fondue?
But, seriously, look at how gorgeous my future home is. Now I need to work on that visa...
When I arrived back in Florence, the hives were getting worse instead of better. I nipped into a pharmacy where they said it looked like an allergic reaction and gave me tablets that were in Italian. So with two medications: one in German and one in Italian and hives all over my body, I wasn't all that thrilled. Fortunately, there was an American school group visiting, which included their nurse. She gave me American medication written in English, lots of advice, and said it was most likely an allergic reaction to something at the farm like the unpasteurized milk, something on the cows, or the hay. I've never had hives before so it has been a bit freaky, but hopefully it goes away soon. In the mean time, I'm not drinking any more milk or letting baby cows lick me, no matter how cute they are!
My next post will be about some more explorations of Italian cities. Thanks for reading!
Hi, I’m Crystal! Just like you, I love to travel. You’ll get all the best tips and insights from my experiences as a former ice-skating coach in Iceland and former study abroad student. Of the 24 countries I have visited, a type 1 diabetes diagnosis has been the strangest land yet. Type 1 has not slowed down my travels and you'll learn how to take type 1 with you on the road! You can connect with me further on Instagram @CrystalChilcott, or send me ideas of where I should travel next via email: email@example.comHappy Travels, Crystal
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