Hostel Survival Guide

I recently came back from a three-month-long escapade throughout Europe. My home base was in the beautiful Seville, Spain, where I plan to return after graduation, but while there I took a few trips to different countries and cities and stayed in my fair share of nice and not-so-nice accommodations. While I am by no means an expert traveller, or even well-travelled for that matter, I learned a few things along the way about making a potentially crappy situation a whole lot better.

First off, hostels are great. They’re cheap, convenient, and many of them are even a lot nicer than some hotels I’ve stayed in. They can make a trip with friends into a fun adventure–like a big slumber party, hosted by the country you’re visiting. My friends and I used hostelworld.com to search for and book hostels all throughout Europe. It was super easy and convenient.

Another great option is Airbnb. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s basically renting out a room or an entire apartment from the owner for a decided amount of nights. It can be as cheap or almost as cheap as hostels, depending on location and how nice the setup is, and it’s great because you get to communicate with a resident of the city you’re visiting and receive suggestions for places to eat or check out during your stay. It’s a lot more personal, and can lead to some great memories (while visiting Lisbon with my boyfriend, we stayed with a member of a Portuguese street-percussion band. He had quite the group of friends). If you’re traveling alone or with one or two other people and don’t want to run the risk of being stuck in a hostel room with strangers, Airbnb is definitely a considerable alternative.

Back to hostels. My first experience was in a quaint, homey hostel in Faro, Portugal. I was in a two-bunk room with three of my friends, so I didn’t have to worry about strangers, but I wasn’t as lucky during my visits to more popular, larger cities such as Barcelona or Amsterdam. It is likely that you will have to share a room with strangers, so if you’re a light sleeper, definitely remember ear plugs and a sleep mask. When I found myself in a bunk bed in Amsterdam across from two massive snoring Scottish men, wide awake and dreading the fast-approaching sound of my 8am alarm, I would have done anything for a pair of squishy foam studs to shove in my ears. Also, realize that some of the people you will be staying with will be running on different schedules than you, and not all of them will be as considerate as to rummage around in the dark for their things while you sleep. Don’t let drunk people or early birds ruin your beauty rest.

Secondly, and I can’t stress this enough, shower shoes are a must. Just like freshman year of college, most bathrooms in hostels are communal, and just like college, the showers aren’t always the cleanest. I know a girl who caught a fungus for bare-footing it in a hostel shower. A cheap pair of Old Navy flip-flops will do the job. Trust me, it’s worth it. Along the same line, don’t forget to pack your own towel. Hostels don’t come with any for you to use, and if they do have them, they’ll charge you for it.

Speaking of charging, unless you want to be digging through the bottom of your bag for spare charge your entire visit, I would recommend bring a reusable water bottle. This is just a good travel tip in general. It saves you a ton of money that you could be spending elsewhere (ahem-at the bar), and it prevents a lot of unnecessary waste. Fill it up at restaurants, bars, water fountains at museums–anywhere. Also, it’s a lot more convenient to waddle to the bathroom to fill your water bottle when you wake up with drunk dry mouth in the middle of the night than it is to slink down the hall in your pajamas to the vending machine and risk running into the cute guy in room 125.

One last tip. When researching where to stay during your trip, be sure to keep in mind the distance of your hostel from public transportation outlets. Fifteen euros a night may sound like an awesome deal, until you realize that its a thirty minute walk from metro. I was grateful for my short walk to the bus station from my hostel in Rome when I had a 6:30am plane to catch and two heavy bags to lug through the street.

That’s all I got. Happy traveling!

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