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.


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xo Shawn



Bilbao, Spain

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Here’s another one for the dream come true category! The Guggenheim was another building I had studied for school and I desperately wanted to see it on that trip back in 2010. Unfortunately, Bilbao was too far out of the way so we were only able to do Barcelona. This time around, I made sure to get there! It was actually difficult to fit in because there were only 2 trains to Madrid per day, and my connecting flight out to Malta was set due to price. I ended up arriving at 10:00pm in Bilbao and had to walk 1km to my hostel. I also had to use my data to download a map because nothing was open and I had forgotten when I had WIFI, which cost me about $60 back home! Note to self: never again. EEK! I was probably asleep by midnight that night and was up the next day, dressed, packed and out the door, by 7:30am. I was so tired but excitement took over. I’m so happy I was so early though, because I got fantastic shots (like the one above) without any people in them. I really took my time and saw all the exhibits and art possible, including the outside. By the time I left, the whole place was buzzing and the sun had come out. It was so neat to see how the building changed and shimmered in the sunlight. It’s really an architectural masterpiece; it was amazing to see and to learn more about the construction. Afterwards, I found a delicious restaurant to have lunch that was an all you can eat salad bar, but with hot food and dessert too (sorry I forget the name, but if anyone knows it, please comment). I then city mapped nearby sites and found an adorable little park and courtyard, which I strolled around for awhile. I wish I could have stayed longer because I know Bilbao has so much more to offer. I’m content though; I set out to see the Guggenheim in Bilbao and I did. My train left at 5:00pm that evening and I spent the night in Madrid, so to say it was a whirlwind is accurate. The travelling probably caught up to me because I came down with a horrible cold that same night, but that’s a story for my Malta post.

September 12-13, 2013

Copenhagen, Denmark

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I was reminded of this place just today by the repost of one of my photos, not that I could ever forget it. I can honestly say I had the funniest experiences of my whole trip here and made a friend I hope to keep forever. Like I said before, people can make a place and the introduction of a certain Australian girl did that for me! We met on the bus heading to our hostel when we both asked for the same stop. After getting lost a bit, we found our hostel, checked in and decided to meet for happy hour; which started an inseparable few days and inspired numerous stories. This is also where I learned about City Maps offline app which saved me consistently the rest of my trip. Our first night we met two American boys and after a few drinks, decided we should go see this area called Christiania. This is not a place you should EVER go to at night; it’s governed by itself and basically is a free zone for drugs (during the day it’s fine). We did not know this going in, but after an intimidating moment of being circled by a very agitated woman we thought it best to leave. Of course we wanted beer for the road and wound up inside a building that can only be described as a mafia headquarters. After thanking them for not killing us and an incident with a man impersonating a zombie (not intentionally or for fun) in the bathroom we finally got the hell out of there. Later, we stumbled upon a young Italian guy singing on the street. We watched him for a long time (he was really good) and I even sang a bit of “Wonderwall” with him. Another musician came along and a bit of a jam session broke out, it was really fun. The random things you encounter are what make travelling so amazing!
The next day we made it to see famous “The Little Mermaid” statue commemorating Hans Christian Anderson and had a wonderfully delicious meal by the harbour. We also saw Amalienborg (the palace) and Tivoli Gardens. I love the ominous photo of Amalienborg with the dark clouds overhead, one of my very favourites. It was a relaxing day of sightseeing and shopping; something we both needed at this point (especially when we both came unprepared for the cold). Our hostel offered free dinner and you had to be early to get a seat, so we headed back and got cheap beers at the convenience store to kill time. This is where I learned to check the alcohol % on labels, because 4 beers later we were drunk! Honestly, it’s a blur but I remember playing darts with hardcore locals and getting schooled. Her brother came the last night and the three of us had a blast. I laughed so hard the whole time! Tip from our hostel and very accurate; the best view is from the top of Our Saviours Church, which spirals outside 360 degrees. Overall, it was one of the best places I visited and that is in large part to the people I met. I wouldn’t want to go back though; but only because it was too much fun the first time around!

August 18-21, 2013
Photos are of Nyhavn Harbour, Amalienborg and outside entrance of Christiania.