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?
(Note: this is meant to be a joke. If you don't have a sense of humour about silly things tourists do abroad, then this post isn't for you).
The other day, I went to The Laundromat Cafe with a Danish and French friend. The cafe is known for having American pancakes, which are something of a novelty in Europe. When we sat down at the table, the Dane pointed at the syrup and ketchup bottles and said, "Do you feel at home? Look at all these American things." I then launched into an explanation about how I tried not to be a "loud, obnoxious American" and that I like to think of myself as a Briticized American, having lived in London for ten months.
Two people sitting at the next table turned to me and said (with American accents), "And then you also need to be careful about how loud you talk about 'loud, obnoxious' Americans because you never know when two Americans are sitting at the table next to you."
I went on to explain that not all Americans were loud and obnoxious and that they clearly weren't "obnoxious Americans" or else I would have heard them the second I walked in the door. The three of us Americans continued to converse off and on until they left the cafe. My Danish and French friends were amused and the one pointed out that it was obvious that the three of us Americans were Americans because we were, "very friendly and continued to talk to the people sitting at the table beside us and that no Dane or Parisian would do that." Okay, okay, yes I will always be an American, but I try not be an "obnoxious American."
In case you, on the other hand, would like to stand out as an obnoxious American, here are some tips for you.
1) Be Loud
Anywhere and everywhere. If you can't find the forks at a restuarant, don't calmly look or politely ask. Be like my mom and just go up to the counter and shout, "forks anywhere!?"
2) Be Geographically Illiterate
The following statements were said by a Canadian, but I've heard Americans say similar things. "So you're from Czechoslovakia?" "No, Czech Republic." "Oh, well my wife and I really want to go to Budapest! That's your capital right?" "No, our capital is Prague." "Prague. Hmm. Never heard of it."
3) Ask Stupid Questions
The following statements I've overheard asked by Americans abroad: (At the Colosseum in Rome) "This is where the first Olympics were held, right?" and "What is the Italian word for 'pizza?'" and, my personal favourite, "Do they speak English in England?"
4) Wear Clothing Representing Your Favourite Sports Team or College
Thanks for informing us where you're from.
5) Take a Million Photos of Everything
Okay, I'm guilty of this one.
6) Don't Learn Any Words in the Local Language
Just go around to people without any greeting in the local language and just shout, "forks anywhere!? Do you speak English!?"
7) Skip the Local Cuisine and Just Eat at McDonalds*
Good luck with that in Iceland. There are however, Taco Bell-KFC combo drive-thru's and Subways everywhere.
*At least the McDonalds I slept in in Prague had surprisingly posh tea and Parisian McDonalds have macarons.
8) Struggle With Walking
Okay, I struggle with walking. Okay, I really struggle with walking. But at least I walk, rather than take the bus or tube merely one stop!
9) Ask for Everything in Dollars
Don't download a handy conversion app or try to learn the local currency. Just beg people to tell you how much it is in dollars.
10) Struggle to Distinguish Accents
There is a great difference between all the accents of the world. If you'd like to offend as many people as people ask North Irish people if they're Irish, Australians if they're Scottish, etc.
Do you like my self-deprecating humour? See how Briticized I am!? What other traits did I miss that could be added to the list?
Hi, I’m Crystal! I love to travel and am currently a graduate student in Scotland. 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 27 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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