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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:

LOCATION

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.

TIMING

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.

LOCKERS

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.

SHOWERS

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.  unisex-bathroom-sign

WiFi

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.

ACCOMMODATIONS

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.

SOCIAL OPPORTUNITIES

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:

http://www.famoushostels.com/

So, why not AirBnB? Why not a hotel or couch-surfing?

airbnbThis 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.

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Road Trippin’

Road Trippin’
Written by: Louie Knolle

If there is one thing in my life that I am proud of, it is that I’ve stood with my toes in the Atlantic in Maine, danced in the splashing, roaring waves of the Pacific in Washington, endured arctic gusts atop some of Colorado’s tallest peaks, and never once have I ridden on an airplane.

Whether it is by necessity or by choice, the road is still the supreme way of travel.  Painted with pictures of gridlocked bumper to bumper traffic, seemingly endless fields of corn, and the ever feared seldom cleaned gas station bathrooms, driving does not have a positive image when it comes to traveling long distances.  But nothing compares to witnessing first hand literally every mile of your journey.  You aren’t plugged into your laptop or smartphone using airplane supplied wifi, there’s no in-flight movie, no attendants to assist at the first signs of discomfort.  In just the past four years alone, I have logged over 28,000 miles of road time driving to the many adventures I have been fortunate to experience.Roadtrip pic 2

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to invoke some anti-air travel movement and inspire a horde of tramping cross-country traveling troubadours armed to the teeth with road maps and mix CDs (as awesome as that would be), but simply making the recommendation to take the opportunity to travel via road if you are given the chance. You will not regret it. The people you meet, the time spent with friends and family, the spur of the moment road side attractions, witnessing people of other cultures out living the same dream, even the discovery of just how resilient you can be when you feel that urge to go in the middle of nowhere and the closest rest stop is still over 50 miles away. I am in no way a doctor, expert, professional travel guide, or anything of the like, I just know what I love. And I love the road.

Few realize these days simply how large our country is. In this “golden” age of near instantaneous communication from anywhere across the globe, it is easy to underestimate just how much country lies in a 3,000 mile span. Sure you can send a text to a friend in California asking how he is and he receives it a mere few seconds later, but to physically arrive there in person? In a modern automotive vehicle, you’re looking at a solid 36 hour drive from our neck of the woods depending on where in Cali they are located. It is in travelling with friends from Europe that I have realized just how alien a concept it is to them that one can drive for 2 straight days and remain in the same country. In their homelands, usually it would take less than half a day to traverse their nations’ borders. I remember in particular the reaction my French friend had when after arriving to Glacier National Park from a 27 hour drive, he was in disbelief having learned it was still another 12 hours or so until we would have actually been on the Pacific Coast. On my last trip in particular, while journeying more than 8,500 miles with 2 friends we encountered expansive grasslands, alpine tundra, arid desert, alpine forest, coastal bluffs, high plains desert, rain forest (yeah you heard me, go to Washington and see for yourself), and whatever you want to call the awesome scenery of the Badlands in South Dakota. All in all, the United States is huge and you should see as much of it as humanly possible while you are able.

Roadtrip pic 3One thing that remains is, how does one prepare for a road trip? The two polar opposite ends of the spectrum are ruthless planning and scrupulously following your itinerary to the “T”, and choosing to go the Bohemian route and go wherever your heart leads you. I usually shoot for a place in the middle with emphasis on freelancing as we go. For example with my most recent trip out west, the plan was easy: Drive to Washington by whatsoever routes we chose each day and arrive back in Cincinnati three weeks later.  By means of car camping and crashing on friends and families’ couches along the way, we spent no more than $5 per person for a night’s rest.  It doesn’t get much better than that if you ask me. We frequented ranger stations, local outfitters, even people we ran out to out on the trails, asking the best sights and hikes in the area, local food suggestions, and on a few occasions the best driving routes from point A to point B. That was actually how we ended up driving one of the most scenic routes of our lives through central Utah when traveling from Arches to Zion. Ask me about it next time you drop by the shop!

Roadtrip pic 4Therefore hence hither thusly in conclusion, drive. The road is and always will be my favorite way to travel. Some have even called it “king”. One of my favorite Jack Kerouac quotes about listless wandering is, “There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars.” I have so much appreciation for the time I spent traveling, both for all of the things I have seen and experienced, as well as the bits of myself I would have not seen otherwise had I not been traveling for long periods of time. I owe a large part of who I have become to the many opportunities I have been blessed with to be able to go out and experience so many different places in our country. Simply by writing this piece, so many positive emotions and memories have been brought back and I would not have changed a thing. I know my feet are certainly starting to get that familiar itchy feeling, and the only way to cure that is to stretch them out on a path to everywhere.

 

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