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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It’s hard to believe I have yet to post anything about Santorini, Greece! While stunningly beautiful, I actually had a rather unpleasant experience with my hotel owner. It was the end of the season and in (what I saw) as a last attempt to make extra money, I was taken advantage of and overcharged. It put a bad taste in my mouth but it did not define the whole of Santorini. I ended up meeting a lovely couple from London who took me under their wing and a very sweet taxi driver. Over all I ended up having a lovely time. What made Santorini a must visit for me was when I heard they had a black sand beach! I stayed in Perivolos which is on the south-east side of the island. Santorini actually has red sand and white sand beaches as well; the differences are due to volcanic eruptions. The black sand was absolutely spectacular to see in person. Like always I spent as much time as possible on the beach and since it was nearly off season, the beach was almost empty. It was on this beach that I took this self portrait. This is probably my favourite picture of myself, ever. To me it has a sort of haunting quality and if you look closely I look happy, but from a far it’s questionable. I love the composition of this photo as well, the placement of my hand in the foreground and the blurred effect. This blog is just as much about photography as it is about travel and I really loved this shot.
September 22-24, 2013
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
I know, I know… I’ve been delinquent with my posts. At least I have a good excuse! I recently celebrated my 30th birthday! My very good friend and I took off to Vegas for four days and it was incredible. Yes, I’m aware of the mantra of “What happens in Vegas..” But I fully intend to share the details of my experience. Not today though! That’s for next week. I’m starting off with the Grand Canyon because that’s the part of the trip we were both most excited to see. We started our day at the crack of dawn, having to pack before leaving to get our rental car. We left our road trip for the last day, I’m still not sure that was a wise decision. The sights are stunning for the majority of the drive, and the drive is fairly uneventful. Our rental car had satellite radio which was a blessing and we sang along to the hits of the 90’s as the desert flew by us. To say the sun is bright is an understatement, it is the brightest light I’ve ever witnessed in my life. There is no escape from the sun either, and the drive to the canyon is blinding in the morning (even with sunglasses and tinted windows). I’m not exaggerating in the slightest. The drive to the west rim of the canyon is actually only about two and a half hours from Las Vegas. Originally we thought it was around five hours, hence the super early start to the day. About half way there, we stopped at a little diner. It was your typical greasy spoon in the middle of nowhere and it was delicious! We took our breakfast to go and kept driving. We just wanted to get there. As the canyon started to come into our vision, we could hardy believe our eyes. It is magnificent! The colours, size… everything, it’s breathtaking. Pictures don’t begin to do it justice. There is a spiritual experience that occurs when you visit, that is unexplainable. We drove to the parking lot and paid for our tickets ($43 US approx.). We then boarded a bus that takes you to three stops along the rim. The first is Hualapai Ranch, which mostly for children. Our second stop was Eagle Point, that was my favourite. The rocks actually form an eagle with its wings spread. At this point I was still beyond terrified of the edge and was shaking like a leaf; but it was stunning nonetheless. After a bunch of photo op’s, we ventured over to Guano Point which is where they mined for guano beginning in the 1930’s and created a tram that went over the canyon 8,800 feet. There is an actual pointed rock formation that delivers 360 degree views and makes for really neat pictures, but it is treacherous in flip flops (I’m aware I’m an idiot for that fashion choice). We stayed for quite awhile here before heading back, stopping in town for a souvenir spoon (they were sold out at the canyon). We also took a little detour to the Hover Dam on our drive back to Vegas. Parking was a bit of a nightmare and we found a little place to stop for pictures on the way out. After that we got some dinner and then killed time at Starbucks until we could head to the airport. Being the only licensed driver, I was pretty exhausted and didn’t want to drive anymore, but we both were by this point. The flight home was cold and uncomfortable but I passed out once I got home! Over all it was an incredible trip with the perfect travel buddy; I couldn’t have asked for a better way to ring in the big thirty!
October 24-28, 2014