So, you’ve decided to embrace your wanderlust. Great! You’ve made the decision to ‘just go.’
I’m going to humbly assume that my previous post gave you that little kick out the door you needed! Or perhaps you’re back home for the summer and are already so bored you’d even settle for a road trip to White Castle. No matter! Whether you’ve planned a simple road trip or a trek through Europe, the whole idea is to ‘just go.’ However, if you are planning a trip to Europe, then this article is for you! I’ll be discussing hostels... the most affordable and entertaining places to stay while traveling through Europe.
Last year, I backpacked my way through Europe for 4 weeks. I began in central Italy and moved northwest along the coast through France, Spain and Portugal - traveling over 2500 miles. I had an amazing experience and met some really cool people along the way, and I stayed in hostels the entire time - with the exception of one splurge night at a Westin hotel in Valencia. In my experience, hostels are the best, safest and most cost effective places to stay when traveling while you’re young. In fact, most hostels I’ve stayed in are actually nicer than some of the hotels I’ve booked. So don’t assume you’ll be spending precious Euros on some sketchy shithole — this is where reading reviews is key!
Here are a few tips for booking and staying in hostels in Europe:
1. Read reviews.
There are several websites dedicated to reviewing and booking hostels. These sites have great insight to what you’re getting yourself into. The reviews are key when it comes to figuring out the type of hostel you’re booking. Some are more ‘party’ than others; I spent a night in Faro, Portugal, during the off-season at the Rising Cock Party Hostel, which was voted as one of the top 10 Party Hostels in the world. (As far as the name goes...Portugal apparently has an odd obsession with roosters).
2. Most hostel rooms are bunk rooms.
Bunk rooms can be a fun and entertaining experience, and also a good way to meet people. They come in all different types and occupancies - from coed rooms of 12 bunks, to single sex rooms for 4. If you’re traveling for a longer duration the larger rooms may get a little tiring, but luckily most hostels have private rooms available to book as well. These can be a nice escape/luxury and often don’t cost much more than the bunk rooms.
3. Make sure to pack shower shoes (and use them).
And don’t forget to bring ear plugs - you'll thank me later. It’s amazing the log-sawing orchestra that can crescendo at 3am when you are staying in a room with 11 other people. (Oh, and if you’re worried about getting your stuff stolen, don’t be. Hostels come with lockers so you can keep your stuff safe - just be sure to bring your own lock).
4. Don’t forget that you’re visiting someone else’s country.
You’re not in the U.S. anymore (assuming that's where you started). Other nationalities often behave differently than Americans. For example, it’s not uncommon in Spain to be out at the bars until the sun comes up every weekend. This doesn’t mean you have to do the same, but this is where those ear plugs are critical. Your roommates could be getting back to the hostel at 4am and may or may not be the quietest. Patience and understanding is key.
5. Make new friends!
You’re already in another country, so step out of your comfort zone! Utilize the group activities that are planned. Join the pub crawls, happy hour parties and walking tours of the city. Even better, these activities can sometimes be free!
6. Utilize the front desk staff for ideas of fun local things to do and see.
Don’t be the typical traveler who sticks with the same destinations as every other tourist. The hostels are usually run by locals who will appreciate you taking an interest in diving deeper into their city and culture, and they will be happy to share some cool spots off the beaten path with you.
7. Take advantage of the hostel perks!
In Faro, Portugal, at the Rising Cock Party Hostel the owner - a self-proclaimed 'Portuguese Mama' - cooks up complimentary crepes and hangover-curing lemon rind tea every morning! Other hostels have happy hour specials, free welcome drinks, continental breakfasts, etc!
During my Eurotrip, I booked hostels only a day or two before heading to a new city. That way I could keep my plans loose and not lose my deposit on a previously booked hostel. I did travel towards the end of the season, so this might not be feasible during peak summer months. But in general, it is better to travel with a looser itinerary so that you have flexibility during your trip. Plans are made to be changed! A train may get cancelled, weather changes may dampen your plans, or you might meet some new friends and decide to travel to Madrid with them for the weekend. The point is, keep it flexible!
Enjoy your trip and make the most out of these new experiences! As cliché as the term YOLO has become, it has actually been around longer than you think! Years ago, Mae West pretty much summed up my philosophy: “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”
So, do it. Just go.