Hostels 101

I’ve just recently come back from a trip to California (see my Coachella post here) and since I was travelling alone for most of it, I opted to once again stay in hostels. Obviously, when I went backpacking in Europe I also stayed in hostels, as it is a much cheaper option but also more conducive to travelling alone. I have met some of the best people at hostels and had some of my favourite stories come out of those nights. My trips in the last few years have been with my boyfriend and so we’ve been staying in hotels or AirBNB’s since that is often cheaper than hostels for couples. As such, it’s been about 6 years since I have stayed in a hostel and now approaching my mid-thirties I wondered if I’d feel the same as I did in my 20’s. The verdict? It was just as I remembered it and just as memorable and fun. I also got some great stories out of it and a few new friends! Here are my tips to navigating hostels.

1. Do your research.

Don’t just pick any old hostel off of any old site. There are a few platforms that offer loads of reviews, photographs, ratings and pricing options. My favourite is Hostelworld as I find it the most user-friendly. Nowadays you can also book with the peace of mind knowing you can change or cancel your reservation with ease due to their improved cancellation policies. Some hostels include this in their prices and others charge a small fee for the service but it is a useful addition, especially if you aren’t sure of your dates. They also offer many details in the description of the hostels for getting to and from the airport, parking, lockers, public transportation, wifi and amenities. These sites are also useful for comparing hostels to see which might be the right fit for you. Finally, be aware of check-in and check-out times, especially if you are depending on changing in your room upon arrival. All hostels should store your luggage in a secure place if you’re not able to check-in or if you have time between check-out and your flight. But it can be annoying to change, organize your luggage and re-pack if you are just arriving and want to change before heading out. Being aware just allows you to pack accordingly and anticipate not being able to get into your room right away.

2. Choose your dorm wisely.

Yes, the cost is usually a factor in picking a hostel in the first place, so choosing the cheapest dorm might be the best option for you, but it’s not always. Depending on the hostel rooms can vary from 4 person dorms up to 16 persons or more. Obviously, with more people, it can be much noisier, so if you are a light sleeper this can be an issue. That said, it often depends just on who your roommates are and even 4 person dorms can be noisy if you get people that snore or just are inconsiderate. As a female travelling alone, I often choose female only dorms when given the opportunity because of safety concerns and overall comfort. My best tip for choosing your dorm is to look at the bathroom facilities, private on-suites seem like a good idea but upwards of 4 people can be very difficult for everyone to use when getting ready in the morning or for bed. It’s also more difficult if you have a nervous bladder or issues with IBS, etc. because of the close proximity. I actually prefer floor washrooms, as long as you choose a place that is clean and well maintained. I also prefer beds that have curtains to block light from your eyes when sleeping. Not everyone arrives during daylight hours or goes to bed early and lights can often be more disturbing than noise. If unavailable definitely get yourself a sleep mask!

3. Choose a hostel with a bar or restaurant.

Firstly, this is helpful for travelling alone if you don’t feel like eating out or making something. Often you can take-out something to your room or common area and just relax a bit while eating. Why I always try to choose a place that has a bar though is for the friend factor. It is the absolute easiest thing to simply ask your roommates “Hey, you want to go get a drink?”. Boom, instant ice-breaker! On top of that, if you’re like me and you don’t want to be out by yourself too late, then it also gives you a place to be social but close to your room, so you’re not trying to get home in a strange city all alone.

4. Make sure there are lockers and bring two locks.

Lockers are your best friend. This is where any personal belongings you want to keep safe are locked up. Obviously, passports and bank cards, etc. should not be left out of your possession, keep these things with you in a safe place. But things like, shoes, bags, jackets, jewellery can all go in the locker and be kept safer. Some hostels have large spacious lockers while others can be very tiny and only for essentials. Decide what’s important to you and try to plan accordingly. Some photos can be deceiving so if you need clarification, email the hostel and they should be very helpful at giving you dimensions or size comparisons. Make sure to bring 2 locks with you as your luggage will often not fit in the locker and need to be left out, so one luggage lock and one for the locker. If you forget or don’t have a second, the hostel will usually have some for sale at the reception desk.

5. Be open to the experience.

It’s not just for the broke backpackers. Hostels are the perfect place for solo travellers to meet new people and feel safer when alone in a new place. Be open to meeting people, ask them questions, make friends and go with the flow. Obviously, it is your trip and you should do all the things you want to do but some of my best times have been going to a tourist site with my new friends. Not everyone will be a lifelong friend and some people can be weird for sure (trust your gut on that), but it can be very worth it to talk to someone new and make connections. We are all different but have so many similarities and it’s in meeting new people from different cultures, that you really start to experience the joys of travelling.

 

If you enjoy my writing style and want to follow my wellness and lifestyle blog, check out http://www.thesleepypineapple.com

xo Shawn

 

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My Coachella Experience

Where to begin…
Let me preface this post by saying Coachella was my FIRST festival experience EVER! I know, I know, it’s shocking given my love of music and the lineup of concerts I have attended. It’s true though.
The reason I have never attended a festival before is that I have some issues with claustrophobia (I’ve left subway trains and elevators due to panic attacks before) and I’ve just been afraid of what to expect with the crowds. I had always wanted to go to Coachella because, like most, I have followed the plethora of Instagram posts and fashion #ootd that circulate before, during and after the festival. I’m not going to lie, the hippie fashion and the idea of wearing glitter absolutely everywhere was my ultimate goal when I bought my tickets. #noshame
Originally, I was meant to go with someone else but after that fell through my cousin Jeni ended up signing on to go with me! Although I have kept in touch and spent some time with my cousin over the years, we have not spent time alone together like that since childhood and I can honestly say (I hope she will agree!) that we had the BEST time of our lives!
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We started our Coachella adventure by driving from Venice Beach to Palm Springs for lunch (and a photo op) before heading to Indio and our motel. We did make a pit stop at Target and I fully understand the hype in the US. Nearly $200 later, a couple of pool floats and a few bottles of wine, we finally made it to Palm Springs. We had a nice lunch at LuLu’s (although it took too long to get served initially) and I saved room for dessert which happened to be the biggest cotton candy I have ever seen! We then continued on to our motel.
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The Western Sands Motel was the most expensive shit hole I have ever stayed in, obviously because it was Coachella weekend and everything was exuberantly overpriced. But it did the job, the bed was clean and we were a mere 8 minute drive to the festival entrance. I’d do it all over again too, so that’s saying something.
We arrived around mid-afternoon and got to work getting glittered-up for day one! I opted for a classic high-waisted jean short and poncho combo with a silver silk tank top, on-trend bum bag and black boots. I loaded up on accessories, a crapload of glitter on every surface of my skin and hair and added every necklace and bracelet I own plus a scarf. The dust is real but for some reason, I never actually used the scarves I brought to cover my face; they looked darn cute though at least. My hair which had previously been a bit frizzy from the ocean air in Venice Beach, now magically became Insta-worthy waves from the mix of salt residue and desert heat. I’m still daydreaming about that hair…
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Since neither of us had been to Coachella before, getting around took a minute to get used to. We may have also entered the beer tent (a couple of times) thinking it was our VIP area and wondering why the lineups for drinks were so long… *facepalm* But eventually, we figured out our way around and took in some shows! Day 1 highlights for us were Diplo, Janelle Monae and Childish Gambino, the latter being absolutely incredible and unexpected in his musical brilliance.
Getting back to the motel was a lot harder to navigate then getting to the festival grounds (ps. Lyft was the best for that) and our first night we ended up walking all the way back, about 45 mins in total. But keep in mind a good 15 minutes of that is just exiting the grounds themselves. We didn’t have the hook up for any after parties and being that we both wake up regularly very early for our day jobs, we called it a night!
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Day 2 saw us blowing up our pool floats (I forgot how hard that was by mouth) and attempting to get cute shots in our not-so-cute motel pool. Thank you portrait mode! And once again we got ready in our Coachella-finest as we drank some more wine and Straw-ber-itas. This day I chose my new favourite leopard-print skirt with a low-back ribbed bodysuit and matching scarf. Once again my bum bag and boots made an appearance, as did the copious amounts of glitter and jewellery. We thankfully had a locker on-site, as this night we needed to go back for warmer layers as the evening wore on. We were warned the evenings got chilly but the first night had been so mild that the second night took us a bit off guard. This day we also ventured more around the festival and found a second VIP area, taking in more artists along the way. Highlights from this day included Maggie Rogers, Wiz Khalifa, Billie Eilish (who we admittedly had not heard of prior, somehow) and of course Weezer. I cannot believe it took me going to Coachella to finally see Weezer live but they did not disappoint!
Seeing as Kanye was set to host his Sunday service for Easter the following day (which we did not attend) and Kid Cudi was playing, I knew he’d make an appearance and thankfully I was right. This was the first time the whole festival that we both got a bit claustrophobic because the crowd was just crazy and we were in the thick of it. Now I’m not the biggest fan of Kanye but when he performs, you cheer and sing along, it’s what you do. It was a pretty epic experience for us both and I’m glad we braved the crowd! Tame Impala was the headliner this night but after a brief stopover at his performance, we moved on, definitely not our thing. #sorrynotsorry
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And just like that, it was Day 3. By now we both began getting some stuffy noses from allergies we thought but we were both excited and sad for our last day at Coachella. My hair was still on point though and that’s really what mattered most, let’s be honest. My outfit today consisted of a crochet crop top, black shorts topped with a long fringe wrap skirt and the same bum bag and boots previously worn. I had brought other shoes but the boots were so comfy I decided not to chance it with other footwear. This was the first day I tried on multiple outfit options but I wanted to really go all out! I did bring another outfit for later on but decided against the effort of changing as the night wore on. This was by far my favourite day at the festival as Jeni and I really got to have a heart-to-heart and bond a bit more. By now I also knew the pizza place was the best for food and we found a bartender who would make us lemon drop type cocktails (shots aren’t allowed technically). I haven’t touched on that yet but the food was pretty hit and miss inside the festival and drinks were ridiculously tiny. Although nothing was particularly awful, it was severely overpriced and even more so when you consider it was in US dollars ($16 US for a minuscule glass of wine? *another facepalm* Ok, give me two, thanks).
The highlights from the performances this day were Khalid, Dermot Kennedy, Zedd and of course, Ariana Grande. Zedd brought out both Maren Morris and Alessia Cara to perform their songs with him and I was again pleasantly surprised. He puts on a great show with remixes of everything from AC/DC to Queen! We danced the most to this show and couldn’t get enough. Fun fact, we both grew up in Brampton which is where Alessia Cara is from too and it occurred to me how lucky we all were to now be at Coachella!
The headliner was Ariana and by gosh did she ever deliver! The group of guys behind me kept screaming how much better she was live than on the radio and I couldn’t agree more. That woman can SING! She performed for about an hour and a bit in total and even brought out the Biebs himself (Justin Bieber) to an eruption of screams from the crowd. Again, love him or hate him, you cheer when he comes on stage. She was probably my favourite from the whole festival but I really didn’t see one bad performance, it was an incredible experience.
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Truly, I would do it all again in a heartbeat and desperately want to! This was by far one of the best experiences of my life and I think it was only made better by my cousin getting to attend with me.
I think she said it best, “nothing will ever be the same again after this”. #coachella2019
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xo Shawn Marie

Las Vegas, Nevada

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(Sunrise from our hotel room)

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(Fremont street)

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(Glitter Gulch)

As promised, here are my adventures in Vegas! My friend Vanessa and I arrived into McCarren International at approx. 10:30pm on the Friday before my birthday. After checking into the Hard Rock Hotel, where we were surprised by a complementary room upgrade, we decided to explore. Being huge classic rock fans (especially Vanessa), the Hard Rock was the perfect place to stay. It was very windy outside and we opted to see what our hotel had to offer. It was a fun first night with a late dinner at Pink Taco, drinks and lots of picture taking. We went to bed pretty early for Vegas standards so we could get a good start the next morning. Saturday was my birthday! We started the day with room service coffee (amazing) and ventured out to the strip for some shopping. In the first shopping centre we entered, we discovered Fat Tuesday. One of many such shops, at Fat Tuesday you can buy almost any kind of frozen drink your little heart desires! When you see photos of people in Vegas with giant drink cups, this is probably what they are drinking. They also have $1 Jell-O shots, which we gladly did. The best part is you get to take your cup and continue walking around and shopping. You’ve got to love the relaxed drinking laws! This is what we did for the rest of the afternoon, finally returning to the hotel in the early evening for a (pretty drunk) nap. Note: daiquiris contain a lot of sugar, which equals a hangover. After dragging ourselves out to dinner (a delicious steak dinner in the Wynn hotel) we decided to try our luck at Tao nightclub. We quickly got our second wind and just as quickly we made some friends. A bouncer called us over to join a bachelor party in the VIP area. Normally this would not appeal to me but they ended up being the nicest group of guys. All from Texas, they were the epitome of southern gentlemen. We danced into the wee hours of the morning with our new friends before heading back to our hotel. Just to give you an example of the character of these men; we took a taxi back to our hotel and as we tried to pay, we learned they had already pre-paid! That group of guys, along with Vanessa, gave me the best 30th birthday I ever could have asked for!

Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart.

Sunday was obviously a day of rest by the pool, which quickly turned into our third wind and we made some more friends with a couple from Orange County. We left just before sunset to head down to “old” Vegas also known as Fremont street. While I was in Ireland, I met a woman named Patti on a tour who actually lives in Las Vegas. We met up with her and she showed us all around Fremont street. It was so much fun and exactly what I thought Vegas would be like. The signs are all lit up everywhere you look. There is a different energy here too that’s hard to put into words, it really is the “Fremont Experience”. We saw all the landmarks that you associate to Vegas; including Binion’s, the Golden Nugget, Vegas Vic and Glitter Gulch (to name a few). We also saw the impressive canopy of lights and caught a Bon Jovi “concert”. Patti then drove us along the strip to show us all the sights we missed during our drunken daiquiri escapade. It was a perfect end to our Vegas adventure. I would like to return one day even if it’s just to eat! But really, there was just too much to do and see in such a short period of time. Still, I had the best time and I am beyond happy to have gotten to go and experience all we did see.
Happy Birthday to me!

October 24- 28, 2014

Montreux: Deux

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Some weeks are more difficult to choose my blog topic than others; this was one such week. Looking through my pictures often helps me when I’m feeling particularly stuck. Today my inspiration came from a video I stumbled upon from a boat tour I took in Montreux, Switzerland. Avid readers of my blog will know I’ve already done a post on this city, but I couldn’t help myself again. This is truly one of the most stunningly beautiful places I have ever been! These photos are all taken at dawn, which is when I both arrived and departed Montreux. It’s so peaceful that early, with just the odd person out jogging or walking their dog. The colours of the scenery beginning to come to life as the sun rises into the sky is utterly breathtaking. I’ve included the quintessential Freddie Mercury statue photography in this post as well (how could I not?). Below is also the aforementioned boat tour video, which clearly shows the twinkling turquoise waters of Lake Geneva. That particular shade of water, I have yet to see anywhere else. Montreux has an unparalleled beauty that must be seen to be understood.

June 20-22, 2013

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=VQp058VXpME

A World Record!

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This week was filled with friends, family, sun and fun; as a result, I wanted to keep the energy high for this post too. Probably the coolest moment this year was in Dubai at their record breaking fireworks display. In a previous post there is a detailed account of the entire trip, but I thought it would be fun to see the video I shot of the fireworks! This was taken at the Hilton hotel’s beach which faces the Palm and had a prime view of the whole display. This was an incredible way to ring in the new year and I’m so grateful to have gotten to witness it in person. I hope you like the video! Please follow the link below to view my Facebook video of the fireworks!

January 1, 2014

https://www.facebook.com/shawna.marie.503?ref=tn_tnmn

Start to Finish

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Today is a special day because it is exactly one year since I left Toronto for Paris, France! I wanted to tackle Paris this week but as it is with life, things come up. So I’ve decided to instead give you a list of everywhere I actually went on my trip. Until now I’ve only written about certain places I’ve gone, so I thought by giving the whole list then you could request a place to hear about. Sound good?
So here it is! In order from start to finish:
1. Paris, France
2. Giverny, France
3. Mont St. Michel, France
4. Geneva, Switzerland
5. Montreux, Switzerland
6. Verona, Italy
7. Rome, Italy
8. Florence, Italy
9. Positano, Italy
10. Cinque-Terre, Italy
11. Nice, France
12. Cannes, Italy
13. Eze, France
14. Monaco, France
15. Lyon, France
16. St. Tropez, France
17. Antibes, France
18. Munich, Germany
19. Prague, Czech Republic
20. Berlin, Germany
21. Copenhagen, Denmark
22. Amsterdam, Netherlands
23. Bruges, Belgium (stopover in Brussels)
24. London, England
25. Edinburgh, Scotland
26. Dublin, Ireland
27. Marbella, Spain
28. Seville, Spain
29. Barcelona, Spain
30. Bilbao, Spain
31. St. Julian’s, Malta (including Valletta and Gozo)
32. Athens, Greece
33. Santorini, Greece
34. Crete
35. Ayia Napa, Cyprus
C’est tous!
So let me know if there is anywhere specific you want to hear about next week! This truly was a once in a lifetime adventure filled with incredible experiences and amazing new friends. I lost my father almost 3 years ago and it hit me incredibly hard. I was just sort of floundering; at a loss for what was next. It sounds silly but this trip put me back together. I feel more like myself again; I feel joy again. Of course I still miss him terribly, that never goes away. June 4th was his birthday and with Father’s Day, it is tough. Today, at the one year mark, I am feeling sad and nostalgic. Right now I’m sitting at work and wishing I was on a plane instead, but I’ll be off again soon enough. Until then, I have my blog to keep my memories vivid and my photos to reminisce over. No matter where life takes me, this trip will always be one of the best times in my life. It could not have been any better if I had dreamt it, even the weather was perfect. I know how lucky I am and I hope I’m half as lucky in the future.

June 13, 2013- October 1, 2013

(Photos above: Eiffel Tower and me in Cyprus. The start and finish of my trip.)

The Palace of Versailles, France (Part 2)

I’ve decided to post another video this week (well, 2 actually) in honour of next week being the one year anniversary of me leaving on my travel journey. I know I’ve posted about Versailles before so please look at my previous post for more details. This time however, I’ve chosen to discuss the gardens, which are vast and stunning. The pale dirt paths are in stark contrast to the greenery and the fountains and statues are incredible. Definitely pay the extra cost to visit the entirety of the palace. There are maps available to navigate the grounds, which are divided into sections. Walking around it’s difficult to imagine people actually living there once upon a time and I think that lends to its appeal. The videos I chose are of the musical fountains, which until this visit; I had no idea even existed in this world. I was so in awe that I watched the whole show 2 full times. I got some fresh orange juice from a nearby cart and sat on one of the stone benches and just watched. It was a welcomed rest from the extensive walking but also really neat to see live. It was the first moment on my trip where I just took it all in and felt content and grateful to be where I was. I had many moments after this but sitting on that bench is a vivid memory for me that I cherish deeply.

June 16, 2013

Capri, Italy

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I took a boat tour to Capri on my fourth day in Postiano. The tides had been high and the waters were rough for days leading up to my tour but I got very lucky and we were able to go into the grotto! My tour boat was filled with a group of Americans from New Jersey about my age, and they were so unbelievably nice. Even offering me to continue on to Rome with them so I wouldn’t have to be alone; I didn’t take them up on it as I was going to Cinque-Terre next but it was a nice offer. They were a sister and her two brothers along with their significant others and they definitely got the party started early and we all had a great time listening to music and talking. I should note they looked nothing like the cast of Jersey Shore and they hate that show for ruining their city’s image. We stopped to swim in the open water before getting to the grotto. Swimming in the sea was the first thing I did to conquer my fears and it was terrifying but I was so proud after. The line up was long and it took us about an hour to get in plus approx. 15 Euros but it was so worth it! They say you can’t swim in the grotto but for 5-10 Euros extra (depending on your boat) they will let you. You are transferred to smaller boats in groups of 3-4 people and you have to lay flat to enter. Once inside we jumped into the water and swam a bit in the glowing blue water before getting back in and leaving. It’s a short time but breathtaking and amazing. It was probably one of my top 5 experiences on this trip and well worth it to anyone who has the opportunity. I should also tell you that it was the first time in my life I got sea sick and while it passed quickly thanks to some medicine, I was grateful to learn that early on before some other much longer boat rides later in the trip. I am telling you this because I grew up on boats with my dad and both him and I got sick on the waves of the seas, it’s a different beast so be warned. Afterwards we docked on Capri and had some lunch before they took a taxi to the top of the island for a birds-eye view. I opted for looking around the local shops and sending a post card home to my family. Lemoncello is a delicacy here and another must to try. Because of our long wait at the grotto we didn’t have much time in Capri and we were headed back to Positano before we knew it. It was short but sweet and I loved Positano so much I was happy to get back in time for dinner on my last night. If you can’t stay in Capri because of cost or time restraints, then a boat tour is a fun way to see the island and grotto without spending a fortune. If you’re lucky you might even meet some great people too, like I did.

June 27, 2013

I’m trying something different this week, click above to see my video of entering the Blue Grotto!