Hostel Survival Guide

I recently returned to the United States from a three-month-long escapade around Europe. My home base was in beautiful Seville, Spain, where I plan to return after graduation to teach English as a foreign language. While there, I took a few excursions to different countries and stayed in my fair share of nice and not-so-nice accommodations. While I am by no means an expert traveler, I learned a few things along the way about making a potentially unpleasant boarding situation a whole lot better.

First off, hostels are great. They’re cheap, convenient, and many of them are a lot nicer than some hotels I’ve stayed in. They can make any trip with friends into a fun adventure; like a big slumber party, hosted by the country you’re visiting. Oftentimes, they offer dinners or bar crawls that allow you to interact with fellow travelers and meet new people from around the world. For all our trips, my friends and I used the website hostelworld.com to search for and book hostels. All you need to do is enter the city and dates of travel, and you’re given a list of well-reviewed hostels in the area to choose from. It’s super easy and user-friendly.

Another 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. It’s a great alternative because you get to communicate with a resident of the city you’re visiting and receive suggestions for places to eat or sightsee during your stay. It’s a lot more personal, and can lead to some great memories (while visiting Lisbon with my boyfriend, we housed with a member of a Portuguese street-percussion band. He had quite the interesting group of friends). If you’re traveling alone or with one other person and don’t want to run the risk of being stuck in a room with strangers, Airbnb is definitely a considerable alternative.

Back to hostels. My first experience was in a quaint hostel in Faro, Portugal. I was in a two-bunk room with three friends, so I didn’t have to worry about strangers. However, I wasn’t as lucky during my visits to larger, more popular cities such as Barcelona and Amsterdam. It is likely that you will have to share a room with people you don’t know, so if you’re a light sleeper, definitely remember ear plugs and a sleep mask. When I found myself in an eight-person bunk 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, 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 also 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). It also 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 go the bathroom to fill your water bottle when you wake up with 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 it’s a thirty-minute trek to the 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.

Okay, that’s all I have. Happy traveling!

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