Travels Of Judge

Staying In Hostels

 I am always surprised at how few of my friends, coworkers and acquaintances have stayed in a hostel. Even some of the ones who have traveled abroad multiple times still have yet to stay in one.
Usually when talking about travel with a group of people here in the States I get the “you dare to stay in hostels?” line because of the movie Hostel. I know the premise of this movie but have yet to watch it. My guess is, the same people would probably not go into a swimming pool let alone the ocean after watching Jaws. The other comment I get is “aren’t hostels for young backpackers?” which for most Americans it seems is the stereotype of those who stay in hostels.
 
 Hostels are a great way to save money while traveling, instead of renting an entire room one is just renting a bed. This can cost as little as $10+/night and go up to $35+/night. For many people when they are traveling they only need a basic place to put their head down at night. The rest of the time they are out seeing the sights. Even here in the States hostels can be found in most of the major cities and tourist towns. In Europe they are all over the place. Some are really new and quite fancy, others can be very plane and rustic. Hosteling has changed a lot since I first started backpacking around Europe in 2005.

My first hostel stay was in Amsterdam 2005 at the International Budget Hostel. Back then there was no WiFi and we were lucky if the hostel even had a computer hooked up to the internet for guests to use.

International Budget Hostel: Amsterdam Netherlands

Some hostels and rooms will have million dollar views:

Hostel Brikette: Positano, Italy
The Swiss Alps Retreat Chalet Martin: Gryon, Switzerland

Other hostels, not so much:

Retro Hostel Shevchenko: Lviv, Ukraine
Hostel Ljubicica: Sarajevi, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Some will overlook embassies:

Overlooking The French Embassy
Midland Hostel: Bucharest, Romania

Others will be in a former consulate’s home:

Former Home Of The Consulate Of Venezuela
Embassie Hostel: Liverpool, England

Or in a former prison:

Hostel Celica: Ljubljana, Slovenia

One might even end up in a castle on a hilltop:

 
Burg Stahleck Castle: Bacharach, Germany
There are a lot of hostels out there to pick from. Knowing which one to pick can be quite the task. I do most of my research and booking on HOSTELS.COM here you can find a listing of hostels in the places you are traveling to, read reviews, see pictures, find the location and book. Not all hostels will be found on here, but a good majority will.
 
I have recently found an even more thorough website for booking hostels, HOSTELZ.COM

They state the following:

Hostelz.com is the only website that freely lists information on all hostels worldwide.

The site shows a price comparison of all the major booking websites for each hostel (including Hostelworld, HostelBookers, Booking.com, and others), so you can see

where to get the lowest price. But we also list the many other hostels that don’t use the booking websites, and we provide direct contact info for all hostels for free.

The goal of Hostelz.com is to provide all the hostel information anyone could
ever want, all in one place.

I look forward to utilizing HOSTELZ.COM for my future hostel bookings.

 

Reception:
Some hostels have very specific hours of when you can check in and when the reception desk will be open. Most hostels these days have either a 24/7 reception desk or one that is open quite early and stays open late. Best to have the contact info for the hostel just in case you run into any problems, late train, late flight. That way you can update them with your new estimated arrival time. This is very important if the hostel has limited reception hours.
The people working the reception desk are the best source for local information. I always ask for a local map and have them circle where the nearest market/grocery store is and ask for suggestions on places for dinner and sights or attractions if I am not familiar with the city/area.

Rooms:
Rooms range from dorm rooms with multiple beds accommodating both male and females to private rooms with single or multiple beds. Some will have an attached bathroom (en suite) and others will have a shared bathroom on the same floor. There are some hostels that have no mixed rooms, only male and female dorms. Most of the big hostels do offer female only dorm rooms. If you are traveling solo and want a private room you must pay for all beds that are in it. Hostels usually will have a private room for solo travelers, but they are limited. Usually there are more private rooms to accommodate two to four people that are traveling in a party.

Roommates: 
Depending on the type of room you booked there will be others staying with you. This also depends on the time of year too. I have stayed in 20+ bed rooms with every bunk occupied and I have stayed in a hostel where I am the only one in the entire place.

Common sense and courtesy goes a long way when sharing a room with complete strangers. Introduce yourself and ask your roommates where they are from, been and going. That usually gets the ball rolling, most travelers love to talk about their travels.

Don’t be surprised when you are staying in a hostel and a family with little kids walk into your room. Or an old timer that can tell you some great stories of what it was like backpacking around Europe in the 60’s and 70’s.

Hostelling International Youth Hostel: Solothurn, Switzerland

Without a doubt you are going to share the room with a snorer, or you just might be that dreaded snorer. So make sure to pack some earplugs and if you are the dreaded snorer you might want to pack a few extra pairs to hand out.

The night packer is another fun roomie, they are the ones who feel it is necessary to prepare for their early departure late the night before.

People tend to come into the room in waves. There are the ones who are in their bunks before ten, then the ones who come in around midnight and then the ones who stumble in the wee hours of the morning. If you are going to be out late having a good time be as quiet as you can when coming back to the room. Plan ahead and have what you need out of your lockers and bags already or have them in an easy to get to place. Don’t turn on the room light!! Besides being loud and a snorer, nothing else will turn an entire room against you faster than turning on the room light at 03:00 when coming back from the club. Keep the room door cracked a little for some of the hallway light to come in or better yet, pack a small flashlight. Just remember, some nights you are the one stumbling in and other nights you are the one sleeping.

Bed Types:
Most dorm rooms will have the ubiquitous metal IKEA bunk bed that squeaks every time one moves or even thinks about moving. Three of these bunks can be shoved into a small room to make a six bed room. Unfortunately this leaves very little room for anything else. Nicer hostels will have wood bunks that do not squeak and have plenty of space inside the room. The more beds the cheaper the nightly rate, most of the time.
Really nice hostels will have reading lights for each bed, little shelf and power outlets, some will even have privacy curtains.

York Backpackers Hostel: York England
The Squeakiest Bunks Ever!
This Place Has Been Remodeled And Is Now Called Safestay York
Willy Wallace Hostel: Stirling, Scotland
The Midland Hostel: Bucharest, Romania
 Twin vs. Double Bed; a twin bed is big enough for one traveler and a double bed is a bed that is meant to be shared. Sometimes this might be two separate twin beds that are shoved together, which is usually big enough for non-romantic travelers to share.
 
 
 
 
 

Storage:
Hostels are finally catching up with this and provide in room storage lockers that are big enough to store most large backpacks/luggage. Always pack a small travel padlock just in case one is needed for the lockers. Pacsafe makes such a lock: Prosafe 650
Many of the newer or recently remodeled hostels will have an electric key that will get one into the room and into their own storage locker.
I still pack my Pacsafe Backpack & Bag Protector just in case there is no storage lockers available in the hostel.
When checking in to the hostel if you are early or when checking out and you still have time to kill there is usually a storage room/closet that bags are allowed to be stored in for a few hours. These can be secured under lock & key, CCTV, with paper claim slips handed out for each bag. Or they can be just around the corner from the reception with no real security. Use your best judgment when leaving your bag/s in these rooms.

Pacsafe Bag Protector: Odyssey Hostel: Taormina, Sicily, Italy

Bathrooms/Showers:
Many of the new hostels or recently renovated hostels now offer attached bathroom (en suite) rooms as the standard room. Which has some benefits but in my opinion has many drawbacks. These bathrooms can only accommodate one person at a time and they often get tied up in the morning. Then there is the lovely aroma that can drift into the room from these bathrooms.

I much prefer the large bathrooms that is shared by the floor or several rooms. That way there is less of a chance you will have to queue up just to use the bathroom. Plus any lingering smells will be left in the bathroom and the hall and not in your room.

There usually is a large separate shower room which is usually gender specific. I have stayed in some hostels where there is one shower room but a male section and a female section. Some really rustic hostels are just a free for all.
Individual showers can be separated by curtains, walls or in their own little closet. The nice ones have a little area to undress and dress in that is separate from the shower. That way all your clothes don’t get wet.
Some showers have a small button that needs to be pushed every 30 seconds or so to keep the water running. I have found that if I want to soak for awhile I will just lean against this button to keep the water running. Those are found more frequently in the typical “youth” hostels where they tend to treat everyone as if they are a teenager.

I hate the bathroom/shower combo. I call them shitter-showers; great for multitasking but awful all around! Don’t take anything into the room that you don’t want wet when showering!

Shiiter-Shower: Retro Hostel Shevchenko: Lviv, Ukraine

The cleanliness of these vary from place to place. Some hostels are all about keeping everything clean and tidy, others not so much. Because of this I always pack a pair of flip flops that I wear in the showers. Although, this will not save you from the rising water due to a backed up drain from a large hairball.

I like to shower and shave at night because there is never a wait and I am ready for the next day as soon as I roll off the bunk.

Common Room/Lounge: 
The common room is usually the focal point for most hostels, music, couches and people. This is a great place to hang out and meet fellow travelers. Though these days it is hard to get people to unplug from their laptops, tablets, phones, and actually engage with other people. Also usually where one can find a communal bookshelf, WiFi, communal computers and TV’s. Look for flyers and pamphlets about local attractions and other hostels in neighboring cities/countries.

Bar:
Some of the best hostels have a bar attached to it which will offer happy hour specials. If there is no bar most hostels will arrange a pub crawl. These bars can really start hopping in the evening and stay that way into the early morning hours. If you are a light sleeper you may want to ask for a room away from the bar or look for a hostel that does not have a bar.

Kitchen:
Utilizing the kitchen in a hostel can really save yourself some money. Most hostels will have some sort of kitchen in them and they should have everything that is needed to prepare meals; ovens, stoves, microwaves, utensils, plates, cups, just about everything you will need to make a grand meal. I have often found a community shelf where other travelers will ditch extra food & drinks that is free for the taking. A bonus of making meals in the hostel gives you the opportunity to meet more travelers. Nothing brings people together faster in a hostel than a community meal with drinks.
When storing food in the fridge, make sure to put your name, room # and checkout date on any items.

Make sure you keep the kitchen clean and wash your dishes when done. I watched a very disgruntled hostel staff member clean up after a large group. Needless to say he was not very pleasant after that.

Some hostels will offer a free breakfast included with the price of the bed. Others will have a breakfast that can be purchased for extra money, or there will be none at all. The free breakfasts are usually nothing more than a continental breakfast, breads, jams, nutella, fruit, yogurt, hard boiled eggs, cereals (corn flakes, muesli), juice, tea and coffee. The paid breakfasts are that plus a little extra like meats, or scrambled eggs.

Laundry Room:
It is only a matter of time and we all have to do a load or two of wash while traveling. Usually when you notice no one wants to stand next to you on a crowded metro train, that is a good sign it is time to do a wash.
The big hostels will have multiple washers and dryers. Some will be coin operated and others will be token, in which you will purchase tokens and possibly detergent from the reception desk. If you are a night owl, the night hours can be some of the best times to use the machines since people are either out or sleeping.

Location, Location, Location:
It really is all about the location! Most backpackers are traveling by train which will dump you out in or near the city center. So hostels have wisely established themselves near the city center or near major train stations. Some will be a short walk, others will be a metro stop or two away.
Hostels located in the city center can quite frequently be on the first floor (European first floor is the floor above the ground floor, in the States we would call it the second floor) above a bar or shops. This is nice for being close to everything, but can also make it quite noisy at night.

I prefer hostels that are close to the city center, but are down a side street away from all the hustle and bustle. Sometimes finding a quieter place means a 10-20 minute walk away from the city center.

More Tips:
– During the peak travel season (summer) book ahead of time. Especially when visiting large popular cities.
– When booking the hostel make sure you either write down the detailed directions to the hostel, or save the location on your phone (since so many people now travel with smart phones that work abroad). Some hostels can be very difficult to find even with detailed directions.
– Stay away from the large Hostelling International hostels when possible. These tend to attract large school groups and treat you as a school kid.
– Always pack earplugs!
– If you are constantly being told you snore loud enough to wake the dead. Get a private room or a hotel room!
– You are staying in a hostel. If you want peace & quiet and be able to control the temperature to your liking, get a hotel room!
– Pack a sleeping bag liner. Some places charge for linens (these places have become less prevalent) and silk sleeping bag liners are light weight and take up very little room in your pack.
– Know the hostel’s policies. Some will only allow check-in during certain hours, some only accept cash, some have lockout periods for cleaning during the afternoons, and some (very few) even still have curfews.
– Anytime there is a breakfast, make yourself a good sandwich or two for lunch. Some hostels will have signs saying not to do so. I have found this is a rule quite overlooked, but best to keep things on the down low if you feel so inclined.
– If traveling with another traveler, always check hotel prices. I found in Northern Spain I could get a hotel room with my buddy for the same combined price we were paying at hostels.
– I like to always look up the hostels own website. Sometimes they might have a better price if you book with them directly and usually have more pictures of the place to check out.
– Don’t leave your valuable items sitting on your bunk or in the open. This is usually how things are stolen. I don’t believe career criminals stay in hostels to rip backpackers off. The crime that does happen is usually that of opportunity. Take away that opportunity and you greatly reduce your chances of being ripped off.

Got any hostel tips or have some favorite hostels? Let me know.

For more of my hostel pictures, check this LINK

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