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Hostel Take Over

Posted on 15 September 2008

If you’re looking for cheap lodging, hostels are definitely the way to go. They’re available in over 60 countries worldwide, and they usually cost less than fifteen dollars a night. On the other hand, if you’re looking for privacy or luxurious amenities, a hostel is the last place on earth you’ll want to be. A hostel isn’t a hotel – you won’t get maid service, and you almost definitely won’t get your own room. The most common layout is that of a typical dormitory room. You’ll get a bed for the night, in a room with several other people, as well as access to common bathrooms and social areas.

Veterans of hostel travel all dispense the same advice: Be prepared to take care of yourself. If you’re going to be staying primarily in hostels, bring your own towel for use in the shared bathrooms; some hostels provide towels and some don’t. “I figured I’d have to have my own soap and toothpaste and stuff,” one friend of mine remembers from her first backpacking trip to Europe, “but no one told me that I’d need to bring my own towel. I was using t-shirts to dry off with.”

Clearly, hostelling isn’t the way to go if you’re looking for a cozy, romantic getaway–it’s common for hostels to have separate men’s and women’s quarters, and you’ll often have to be in the building before a certain “curfew” or “lockout” time.

You’re also going to want to be careful about your personal possessions. Staying in shared rooms means that your stuff isn’t going to be really secure. Some hostels will provide lockers or some other secure storage arrangement, but don’t depend on it. Keep things like your passport and wallet with you at all times, and leave your laptop at home.

If the hostelling experience is starting to sound a little intimidating, don’t worry too much. With a little bit of general awareness and common sense, you should be fine. And hostels have a lot in their favor to keep people coming back – and it’s not just the low prices. Veteran hostel travelers rave about the sense of community and companionship they’ve found in youth hostels. You’re pretty much guaranteed to find other young people traveling on a budget, as my friend Jeff found out. He spent a few months after college alone in Europe with a Eurail pass and a youth hostel membership. Jeff made friends (and traveling companions) in youth hostels in every city he visited and still keeps in touch with many of them.

Hostel Links

Here are some links to hostel directories and specific hostels in Europe, courtesy of our travel partner, Student Universe.

Hostelling International provides a wealth of information on all aspects of international hostel culture — from a history of hostelling, to travel tips, to volunteer opportunities.

Europe’s Famous Five Hostels lists hostels all over Europe, including such cities as Amsterdam, Barcelona, Bruges, Dublin, Edinburgh, Interlaken, London, Paris, and Salzburg.

Hans Brinker Budget Hotel is perhaps the best known student hostel in Amsterdam. They have a site that’s worth looking at, even if you’re not planning to go to Amsterdam.

C.H.E.A.P Hostels lists hostels situated in different parts of Paris. .

Even if you’re now convinced that hostelling is a good way to go, remember to be open to possibility. A good friend of mine loves to tell the story of the weekend she went to Montreal with her boyfriend: “We had almost no money but wanted to get away for the weekend, so we drove there, figuring that gas would be cheaper than bus fare, and decided to stay at a youth hostel. We showed up at the place and noticed that the building across the street had a little sign in the window advertising a vacancy. Turns out it was a bed and breakfast, run by this crazy old lady with twelve cats, that only cost $10 a night more than the hostel. It made the whole weekend so much nicer.”

Susan Marie Groppi hopes to someday stop living vicariously through her friends and travel on her own dime. As a dimeless PhD candidate at Berkeley, she will most likely be going the hostel route.

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