Alex on Camel, Egypt
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Dorota on Brighton Beach

Top Tips For Hostel Travel

Top Tips For Hostel Travel - feature photo

One of the most important things I’ve learned on my extensive travels is to make sure that you like the hostel that you’re staying at. I say ‘hostel’ because I know I’m cheap, and you probably are, too. Plus, hostels are a great way to meet new, interesting and occasionally strange people. I’ve stayed at everything from impersonal chain hostels in Europe with 50-bed dorms to house boats and family-run locations.

Perhaps more important that liking the place that you stay – make sure it’s safe and secure! You cannot overestimate security, especially for those of us who don’t want to look like obnoxious tourists with a money belt and your passport carried around with you at all times.

I have major respect for people who can just up and go, without knowing where they’re going or where they’re staying when they get there. I’m not that spur of the moment. I need to book my hotel before I get somewhere, that way I can plan the quickest route to the hostel from the airport (or train station, or bus station, or however I decide to get there) and crash into exhaustion with little thought in between.

I actually prefer hostels to hotels, even when I have the luxury of budget. Hostels tend to be more communal, and usually are much more interesting. And they are a great idea for solo travelers.

But, my trust in the goodness of my fellow man only ran so far. There were some things that I always looked out for when I was booking a hostel.

  • Lockers: Most often I stayed in dorms – a combination of wanting to meet people and price. But that also meant that I really never had any personal space to put important documents and extraneous money. So I always made sure that there were lockers in the dorm rooms to stash those critical things. The things that if I lost, I’d probably have to find an embassy, or call my parents and beg them to wire money.
  • 24 hour check in: You can’t plan everything. Sometimes trains get delayed or a flight gets cancelled – sometimes, people get sick and you need to stay at your previous location until they get well. Its the worst and the best of travel – the fact that you can’t (and don’t always want) to predict what is going to happen. Thus – when I had the opportunity, I always looked for hostels that had 24 hour check in, or more flexible check in requirements when making a booking.
  • Size of the hostel: Kind of the opposite of places that have 24 hour check in (which, oftentimes, are a bit larger and more buisness-ish) I also look for smaller hostels. I’ve stayed at some quirky, small hostels (think about 15 beds total) run by locals, and have had a great experience. Smaller places will take you in and make sure you have a great experience – many times by taking you out and showing you around town themselves.
  • Reviews: There are some people that will go out of their way to negatively review a hostel, perhaps because they were expecting more of a hotel experience, but other people’s opinions of a place are always something I would scan – if nothing else, recent reviews can tell you if there is any current construction going on at the location and other such sundries – usually guest reviews are more up-to-date than the hostel summary.

Those are some of the most important factors to me when I’m deciding where to stay when I travel. And of course, there are those places that I want to go back to over and over again, hostels that I’ve bookmarked in my brain that I’ll have to stay at again when I travel to that city next time. And there are the places where I get so many souvenirs I need a man and a van to pick me up at the airport, the places I have a thousand pictures of. Those are the places and experiences that stick with me, and staying at the right place, was, in many cases, an integral part of that perfect experience.

So when you’re traveling, don’t discount where you stay, and remember that your hostel is not your home, even if it may feel like it.

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