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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This picture was chosen strictly for it’s ability to make me smile. Today I looked through hundreds of pictures trying to find inspiration for this weeks post, but my brain just couldn’t focus. Work and schooling are becoming more stressful and are taking up all my time. Scrolling past this photo made me crack a smile and when I passed it for a second time I smiled just the same. Then I began remembering how happy I was in Barcelona. It was such a milestone visit on my trip and a huge reason I even went back to Europe. Yes, I miss it terribly; I’m also blessed to have experienced such a journey. This picture brought me happiness today, just as Barcelona brought me happiness then. That’s why pictures are so important, because even when your brain forgets, they are with you forever. And, if your really lucky, those photos will bring a smile to your face too.
September 9-12, 2013