Alright gang, I have said it before and I will say it again “youth hostels” were given the wrong name. A near homophone-call away from “hostile,” I understand if they conjure up visions of Harry Potter’s under the staircase shât-aeu, pardon my French. However, the typical environment found at youth hostels is anything but hostile. These budget accommodations beacons are more than just a spot to lay your head. Youth hostels are places to meet life-long friends, they are classrooms in which to learn bits of foreign languages (normally curse words and inappropriate phrases first.) They are the newfangled offices of millennial’s and generation Z’ers alike. They are spheres to discuss philosophy, religion, government, literature, and politics without judgment. They are safe-haven’s to share your most embarrassing moments with near strangers. They are spaces to grow confident and learn about yourself. Check out my post I am you as you are me (a traveler). In which I share a bit of the magic that comes with traveling alone and staying at “wanderlust hubs” (as I believe youth hostels should be called.) In an effort to leave no stone un-turned consider the post linked above as the philosophical twin to the practical guide I am about to divulge below.
At their core youth hostels are melting pots of culture, knowledge, and experience. In order to levitate any ill-framed notions y’all might have here are the fondues, don’ts and what to expect.
Research and Booking:
- Hostelworld.com or booking.com are great resource for finding budget accommodation
- Scavenge the reviews and you’ll get a feel for the particular hostel’s environment.
- Be mindful if the hostel is located above a bar or restaurant, it can get loud into the evening
- Be mindful to take reviews with a grain of sand because everyone’s standards differ on aspects such cleanliness, etc.
- For some, finding one grain of sand = A hog(warts) sty, whereas for others we realize sand is like glitter. Both are endowed with the mind-boggling capability of showing up long after you are in contact with it
- If you find a hostel that you like see if it has its own website and book direct through it because you might be able to save a few bucks
- If you click on my “Tips n’ Links” Tab under the “Tales & Tips” header you’ll find a list of my favorite places I have ever stayed
- In South East Asia I got to the point where I didn’t book ahead unless the place was recommended to me by someone I met
- In this region it is common practice to be able to Slytherin, and see the room before you decide to book
- Be mindful of holidays, prices will be more expensive and rooms fill up further in advance. If you wait too long you might have to Ravenclaw your way in
- Be your own sorting hat
- Most every hostel offers all female dorms, but finding a hostel that offers all male dorms is like catching a golden snitch. Booking an all-female dorm will be more expensive
- When it comes to dorms the more people you share with, the cheaper the room will be
- I have had a wide range of experiences. Such as sharing a four bed mixed dorm in London with 3 gents where the room was so compact I could have high-fived the dude sleeping in the bed across from me or sharing a 30 person mixed dorm in Indonesia that was simply rows of matrices on the ground and woke up in the middle of the night with (presumably) the hostel cat curled up beside me.
- I always go mixed dorm when available because I’m cheap, but I have never had a bad experience or been made to feel uncomfortable
- No matter how spectacular some places seem online, only book for one or two nights at first.
- You can always extend if you like a place, but if it’s not all it’s cracked up to be behind the front Gryffindor it’s better you only stayed one night rather than say five or six
- My exception to this rule is if you are given an in-person recommendation by someone who’s judgment you trust
- Ultimately booking a hostel is a “choose your own adventure” tale. I have thrown my name in many a goblet of fire.
- At times I have come out victorious and found myself sleeping under a plush blanket in a clean, air conditioned room where I met travel buddy/ life-long friends
- Other times got burned and found myself staying in dingy diggs, thus it’s best to hedge your bet (too soon?) and not lock into a hostel for too long before seeing it in person
Alright so you took a plane, took a car, took a train, either which way you’re flying high because you just got to town. Here’s what to know about checking in:
- You won’t be expected to answer a picture’s riddle, but you will be have to show a picture aka have your passport ready
- In Europe places will ask for a deposit fee IE a collateral fee to be paid in cash to make sure your key doesn’t fly away with you after you check out
- Most places have a storage room for bags if you arrive before the check in time or subsequently if you are not leaving town directly after you check out
- The hostel staff is your best resource about the city.
- Ask them questions about what to see, where to eat, transportation, insider tips, around what corners the best street art is lurking, etc. Consider them your professors of the street arts, they are the keepers of knowledge who love to share.
- The way to get the most out of your traveling experience is to be vocal. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, admit what you don’t know, or sit down with a stranger and just start talking
Ameni-teas will help shape your future bookings
- Most places have lockers in the rooms. You will need to provide your own lock. I recommend having at least two in various sizes
- Some lockers will be large enough to hold your whole bag, others just your valuables
- I have traveled with a laptop for a portion of time in Thailand and around Europe and know plenty of others who have done the same. A lot of hostels have decent security measures to make sure people who aren’t guests don’t come and go which is who I worry more about in terms of my personal belongings getting stolen.
- Still if you are sketch about the idea of your bag being out in the open or traveling with items like a laptop or ipad get a pad lock to lock the zippers of your bag together to minimize the risk of your items being stolen
- A word about shower shoes, I have never traveled with them. To each their own but I haven’t lost a toe yet!
- A shelf to put your things on, an outlet within arm’s reach of your bed, and a privacy curtain for your bunk is like achieving the (deathly) hollowed trifecta of living lush
- Places often have community kitchens, I’m not trying to troll y’all about meals but… do you’re dishes when your done
- Some hostels will offer family dinners for a small fee or a night out of bar crawling with an Azkaband of brothers who solemnly swear they are up to no good
- Myself and some fellow cohorts in late night noodle cravings learned in the cultural faux pas way; don’t cook late at night in Laos or any other predominately Buddhist based country.
- Don’t necessarily let free breakfast be your selling point. For me this is a second tier consideration when booking
- Yes, my dear Hufflepuffs free, especially when it comes to food, is spectacular however free breakfasts normally consist of little more than bread, schmear, and cereal. It’s generally not worth paying a little bit more per night for or to pass on a hostel that seems to be in a more attractive location
- My top boxes to check off are safety and location. It’s ideal to either be within walking distance of a cities attractions or walking distance of public transportation
- Nevil will I ever not be tempted by a rooftop. Another big selling point for me is when a hostel offers a nice community space such as a rooftop or an outdoor courtyard
Alright time to open the chamber of secrets here are some of the good, the bad, and the weird experiences I’ve had:
- Youth is what you make of it and some people drink the unicorn blood. Aka expect some adults as roommates at times
- I once shared a female dorm in Liverpool with a gaggle of mid 20-something ladies and one older women who had a true psychotic breakdown one night and was taken to the hospital. (A bit intense for my very first week on the road.)
- My first Christmas away I spent in Cambodia which still remains one of my fondest days on the road thanks to The Mad Monkey Hostel, Phnom Penh.
- I laughed n’ splashed, shared an apple, and played cards pool-side during the day. Then in the evening I feasted on a proper roast dinner and participated in secret Santa with a slew of other self-sufficient runaways. “Dessert” consisted of the sweet spoils of drinking games in the great hall. We all took turns stepping out of the room to call home and wish our family’s a Merry Christmas once the sun had finally risen over our respective homelands. The day’s activities concluded with a trip to Club Love for dancing to heart-pounding live music by the house band.
- I once “friend-poached” two guys in Cambodia I met by the receptional chance my bunk was next to theirs
- I went 2 whole days without making any new friends because I was in need of some quiet solo time. After my 48 hour sabbatical from socializing I decided it was time to make some new friends. Because I had, had a 20 second conversation with these particular guys about the hostel’s food the night before I decided these were the new friends for me when I saw them enjoying a beer by the pool. I figured I’d invite myself to have a beer with them and let fate take it from there. I invited myself to have a beer with them, we talked for a bit, they invited me to dinner which led to being invited to share the cost of a tuk-tuk to Angkor Wat the next morning, and after that the rest was history. We ended up traveling together for nearly three weeks and to this day they are still some of the best friends I have met while traveling.
- Keep in mind the time of year you travel can massively shape your experience.
- I stayed in St. Christopher’s Greenwich in London March 2017 and had a pleasant stay. 16 calendar face-lifts later it was July 2018 and I found myself in need of a bed in London again. I settled on St. Christopher’s Greenwich because I figured it would involve no settling at all. Well little did I realize this charming, old, brick, English building had no AC so in July it became a sweltering, body-melting, festering, sweat box. I was assigned the top level of a triple stack bunk bed. The room was comfortably big enough for maybe 8, but instead I was sharing it with 11 other mouth-breathers. Both nights I found myself in the outdoor courtyard from 2 am to sunrise sharing in conversation with an interesting cat named Daren who apparently was the only other guy in the joint who couldn’t sleep.
- In Singapore I kicked-pushed razor scooter style across the city, through art galleries, around street performers in their underground parking lot practice dome, on top of buildings, and whizzed through an electrifying park thanks to a splendidly social hostel that offered scooter tours
- It was also here I met a great buddy, ole, pal named Lars who I have since visited twice in his home-country of Germany. I have had the pleasure of; getting to know his parents, going on a camping trip with his scout troop, and enjoyed an afternoon of rock climbing with
- One night in Barcelona my cohorts of REM exploits and I were rudely awoken by a group of boys at 4 am after they got back from the clubs. Instead of entering the room and going to bed like decent humans these goons decided to loudly talk to each other about how one of them lost their phone then proceeded to ask all of their no longer sleeping roommates if any of us had any coke. Extremely less than ideal. The only silver lining of this experience was after I was not able to go back to sleep for two hours I decided to capitalize on the sunrise. I found my way to the Sagrada Familia and enjoyed its splendor without the hundreds of tourists that normally surround this architectural masterpiece.
- I once hit the jackpot in Madrid one Mid-Novembers night’s dream and scored a 6 bed dorm all to myself
Finally a Do / Don’t duel
Do: Go for a bottom bunk if given the choice
Don’t: Leave your bag and belongings sprawled out everywhere
Do: Pack your bag the night before your departure
Don’t: Be the person that zips and unzips their bag a billion times in the wee hours of the morning
Do: learn how to recognize everything in your bag by feel for those times the lights are out before you go to bed
Don’t: Turn on the lights late at night or super early morning
Do: Understand that if you are a light sleeper you should bring ear plugs, or if you’re a snorer it’s a nice courtesy to bring earplugs for the other people in the room
Don’t: Be the person who snoozes their alarm 17 times in the morning
Do: Respect others, remember everyone is traveling with a different purpose. Not everyone is down to party 25/8
Don’t: Come back late at night after a night out talking boisterously
Do: Keep an open mind to new experiences
Don’t: Be shocked if you see people walking around in their underwear
Do: Always double check if you have your room key with you before you walk out the door
Don’t: Be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and ask to pull up a chair with a group of people. Chances are most of them haven’t even known each other for 24 hours.
Do: Remember it is okay not to not go along with the crowd or be super social at times. No one is going to harbor a grudge if you turn down an offer to join in for a night on the town.
Don’t: Feel guilty when you are having a burrito in bed Netflix day. No one is judging you. Everyone is on their own time line, when you are on the road for an extended period of time it is important to take a mental health day
Alright, Overviewus-practicum-maximus complete.
To all my potter-heads if you find yourself in Edinburgh be sure to check out The Elephant House aka the restaurant, café where JK Rowling wrote most of her beloved series and apparently the inspiration of this post. More applicable while in Edinburgh, Castle Rock Hostel remains one of the best hostels I have ever stayed in.