Hostels: Your Best Friend or Worst Nightmare

The hostel room I stayed in while in Edinburgh, Scotland.  This is a typical hostel room with bunk bends.  This room had 6 beds and a large window that is out of view.

The hostel room I stayed in while in Edinburgh, Scotland. This is a typical hostel room with bunk bends. This room had 6 beds and a large window that is out of view.

My funniest hostel story is from my weekend in Greece.  I had booked my room late so I wasn’t able to stay with my friends, so I was flying solo when it came to sleeping arrangements.  Once we arrived in Greece and everyone was settled, I informed my friends that I didn’t appear to have a roommate.  I was in a room for two people and had it all to myself…at least for now.  I joked that “wouldn’t it be funny if I get stuck with some creepy 40-year-old,” while never actually thinking this would happen.

Well, I was wrong, and it did.  I had returned to my room the following day from an ATV safari of Corfu and opened my door to see a pair of feet sticking out from the bed nearest the door.  The room was shaped like any traditional hotel room with the bathroom immediately to the left when you walk in and the left side of the room hidden from view.  I didn’t hear talking or see the feet making any movements, but I distinctly remember a foul, musty smell emanating from the interior of the room.

With confidence, I made my way to my side of the room while quickly making eye contact with my new roommate.  We exchanged awkward glances and greeted each other.  From his appearance he looked to be in his early to mid 40s, just as I had feared.  He was not sleeping as I had hoped, but reading a novel, the title of which currently escapes me.  I was not in any way looking to befriend this man, and perhaps this is anti-social of me.  I was just so shocked that my joke came true that I didn’t want to grip the reality that I had to sleep next to this man.

Right on cue, he strikes up a conversation with me, asking how long I had been at this hostel and what I thought of it.  “Is this the budget hotel in Corfu?”, the man asked.  “No,” I replied, “this is where college students who are studying abroad come on their spring breaks.”  While it was a fairly cheap hostel, I don’t think it was the type the man had thought.  He had some type of U.K. accent and from the looks of his clothes and belongings I could tell that he had been traveling for a while, possibly back-packing across Europe.  Then he asked me about the weather and I informed him that luckily it was supposed to reach 80 degrees Fahrenheit and would be perfect beach weather the following day, a Godsend in April.  Then he slept, appearing not to be bothered by the surrounding festivities of study abroad college students.

He left the next day and I never saw him again.  He didn’t rummage through my belongings and for that I was grateful and I suppose my worst fears hadn’t come true.  But this was nonetheless my first experience of sharing a room with someone who I knew absolutely nothing about, and it definitely made for a lot of laughs between my friends and I.

Before this experience, I remember being so nervous about the reality of having to stay in hostels during my weekend getaways while abroad.  I would likely be staying in rooms with people from all over the world who I obviously didn’t know and who could have wandering hands that could find their way into my luggage.  While it is exciting to be meeting new people, it is also daunting to consider that you know little to nothing about your hostel roommates yet you are expected to share a personal space with them for multiple nights, and sometimes you never actually get to converse with them since everyone is out during the day and only in the room to sleep at night.

I had a kitchenette in the hostel I stayed at in Prague, appropriately named "Cozy Homes Hostel"

I had a kitchenette in the hostel I stayed at in Prague, appropriately named “Cozy Homes Hostel”

What exactly is a “hostel,” you might ask?  I knew little about what they were before studying abroad besides the occasional rumors that float around such as “they’re dirty, keep your stuff locked up, and don’t go barefoot in the showers.”  Sounds like a typical college dorm, with a catch:  ANYONE can stay in these hostels.  There are no background checks and you could be with people of all ages (and I have been).  I found that some hostels are better with their security than others.  Some have several layers of security while others barely have any.  But a hostel is basically a place to rest your head after a long day of touring.  Some are MUCH nicer than others.  Some have kitchens, entertainment, and friendly staff willing to help you make the most of your trip.  Others are not helpful or even dismal.  You find out which hostels are safe and “nice” by talking to students and seeing where they have stayed or getting recommendations online.

There are many different sites to search to find cheap and reputable hostels in Europe and elsewhere, but the one that most students seemed to use in my program was HostelWorld.com.  You can search for what type of hostel you want to stay in and in what city you are staying in, and generally you can find inexpensive places.  The more private you want the room to be, the more you will pay.

One of my top suggestions when searching and booking hostels is to Google map the location of the hostel.  Even if it says that its “right in the historical center close to everything,” (which most of them claim) that doesn’t mean that that is completely accurate.  When you are traveling to a strange city and only spending a few days there, you do not want to be bothered by having to take taxis or other public transportation to get to all of the sites/museums/good restaurants/night life.  You want to make sure that you are staying within a reasonable WALKING distance to everything so that you can see everything you want to see and not have to spend hours getting to and from your hostel and the city center.  The key is to book as far in advance as possible as prices go up the longer you wait.

Unless you are traveling with a group of friends of four or more people, chances are that you will be stuck in a room with strangers, but this can be exciting!  You really never know who you will meet, and you may even become friends with them.  My top suggestions for finding the right hostel are:

1) Google Map the location to make sure its centrally-located and convenient!!!

2) Make sure that there is no lockout/curfew.  If there is, that means that you will have to be back in your room at a certain time at night and if you aren’t back by that time you will not be able to access your room until the morning.  You want to make sure the hostel has either 24 hour reception or 24 hour access to rooms.

3) Book early, especially with larger groups!

Also, if you are a broke college student, get used to the fact that you will not be staying in the Ritz Carlton on your weekend getaways.  But this is what is so exciting sometimes!  If the hostel was immaculate there might not be interesting stories to tell your friends back home.  Hostels are just as much a part of studying abroad as monuments and museums are; many times they are an adventure all on their own.

Bathroom in Prague hostel

Bathroom in Prague hostelOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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