Europe by Hostel: 10 Tips
By Kayla “Clover” McKinney
Hostels are one of the quintessential aspects of backpacking through Europe. Hostels are typically great because they are cheap, convenient, social, and specifically designed with the backpacker in mind.
I have recently moved to Austria to live and work as an au pair for a year giving me ample time to travel throughout Europe. I have three day weekends, ample holiday and paid time off, and live in the most centrally located country on the continent. Because of this, hostels are quickly becoming a regular scene in my weekend life.
This is an essential “consideration” list for what to look for in hostels. It is certainly not a one size fits all list and most of the time you won’t be able to check off every aspect for each stay. In order to ensure that you have a safe, comfortable, convenient, and fun time here are several things you should consider before booking a hostel:
Just like in real estate, location is certainly the most important thing to consider in hostel backpacking. Ideally, your hostel is close to the train station and the main sights that you want to see. However, if you must choose between one or the other, pick the hostel that is closer to the train station. It is harder and more stressful to walk a far distance to your hostel with your luggage when tired after a train ride and in a new environment than it is to have a farther distance to your sights once settled in. Typically, a farther hostel also has a bus or tram stop on the same street, as well as connection maps. Arrive at your hostel, unload your bags, look at the map, then go see your sights.
This is something I just recently learned that was not obvious to me. Do a quick Google search of the holidays and major events that may be going on in the location of your upcoming trip. Oh, it’s the biggest holiday in the country that weekend? The hostels will all be booked in advance. When I stayed in Innsbruck for 4 days recently, I did not do my research. Turns out it was Fasching (think Mardi Gras) as well as the biggest snowboard competition of the year. All the good hostels were completely booked. Of course, this can work adversely as well if you’re looking to get some unique, authentic cultural experience. Either way, it is good to know what you’re getting into when traveling to a new town.
BOOK IN ADVANCE
Not only do you usually save some money, but it also ensures that you have a place to stay on your trip. I understand the appeal of just wandering into a new city and thinking you’ll stumble upon the perfect hostel, but this is a gamble that doesn’t always pan out. Also, some of the cooler locations aren’t as obvious from the street, so research upfront can help you have an amazing time.
Important. Pay attention beforehand to these essential questions: are they free? Do you need to bring your own lock? Do they even have lockers? Lockers are nice because you can safely store your belongings (possibly everything you own!) while you leave and adventure for the day. I know it’s romantic to think that you’ll get super strong lugging your pack through the streets, but take it from me: it’s just awkward taking your pack into restaurants, bathrooms, book stores, etc.
If you’re going on a long term backpacking tour you will eventually (hopefully) want to shower. Showers are almost never free and you either have to bring your own towel or pay extra to rent one. Also, the showers can be co-ed. Just a heads up.
Some hostels offer free WiFi throughout the hostel, some only in the lounge, some for a fee, and some not at all. WiFi is crucial for looking up train connections, important travel information, or if you need to leave your hostel and find another one for whatever reason. It is a safety net in my opinion and is not up for compromise.
Go for the hostel that offers free breakfast and coffee. Dinner is awesome too. As mentioned, WiFi and lockers are crucial. Other accommodations to consider are whether or not your hostel accepts credit cards. I personally would prefer to pay with a card because I don’t feel comfortable carrying around lots of cash on my person. But if this is unavoidable, make sure there is an ATM close by or get the money out in advance. Pay attention if there is a different currency. Laundry is a huge bonus, but most likely it comes with fees.
Ensure that your hostel has linens included or be prepared in advance. Don’t be surprised if there’s a deposit for linens.
A note on the linens: everyone seems to be afraid of bed bugs in hostels. I have not encountered this. In fact, I have usually been required to take my linens to the front desk when checking out so that they can be washed. But if you’re worried, then use your own sleeping bag.
Hostels with bars make it easier to meet people and possibly even new adventure buddies. At my hostel in Salzburg, I had dinner with a Korean girl, an Australian, and two girls who were from the same town as my grandparents in Pennsylvania. People are usually receptive to meeting new people in youth hostels; it seems to be an unwritten agreement. Don’t be shy. Take advantage of the social atmosphere. You’ll never know who you will meet!
PICK UP THE BROCHURES
I have learned about more hostels and cool opportunities around town, found coupons, and so on just from taking a moment to search the brochure rack at my hostels. This is free, relevant information – take advantage of it!
TYPES OF ROOMS
As a solo female traveler, this is very important to me. I prefer hostels that have female only dorm rooms. These rooms usually cost a little more than a co-ed dorm, but it is worth it for my sense of security. The all female rooms tend to be cleaner and smell better too. You can also request single rooms, two bedrooms, three bedrooms… it depends on the particular hostel.
Check out this link for good hostels:
So, why not AirBnB? Why not a hotel or couch-surfing?
This is mostly personal preference. For starters, AirBnB and hotels are more expensive than hostels. There are a few other things to consider as well, especially with AirBnB: AirBnB can sometimes actually be cheaper than a hostel because of the included accommodations. With AirBnB, you often times have access to a fully functional kitchen, which means that you can buy a few groceries instead of eating out for every meal, saving you lots of money (especially if you’re staying for a few days.) Also, an AirBnB host will often pick you up from the train station or airport if you arrange so in advance, which saves you a ticket. Showers and laundry are usually included as well. AirBnB is also comfortable and an adventure in itself. I recommend it if you’re looking for more privacy and personal space. To find a good AirBnB host, read the reviews. After the experience, always give your host a review for future guests.
I personally don’t see any reason why’d you get a hotel, but recognize that I have the particular bias of being pretty poor. Also, I am more interested in interacting with people who have a generally similar travel mindset as myself.
As for couch-surfing, it is certainly the cheapest (free), but is the least comfortable. You get what it advertises-a couch. But hey, it’s a free place to crash and another new way to meet people.
Overall, I recommend exploring multiple options to get an idea of what your preferences are. For example, for my upcoming trip to Amsterdam, I have learned that the hostels are a huge scene for party people and that, if you want any sleep, then you should pay for a single room. For this trip, I will likely stay one night in a hostel for the experience and the rest of the time in an AirBnB. I would rather be able to sleep soundly so that I can wake up early and have an adventurous, full day.
However, the places where you sleep on your grand adventure are not the most important aspect. Try not to spend too much time in your hostel. Go out and explore!
Oh, and if the movie Hostel has negatively influenced you in anyway, all I have to suggest is that you really should go out more.