I made it 30 days in an Eastern European Hostel and came out grinning like a fool!
Contrary to the psycho thriller “Hostel” and also to some people’s outdated opinion of hostels, they provide an excellent and safe option for those traveling on a budget. As far as accommodation goes, they are miles above camping, crashing in your car, or couch surfing. For those of you who aren’t familiar, couch surfing is an increasingly popular activity worldwide in which friendly locals host travelers on his or her couch or spare space for free. Both host and traveler will find each other on the website: http://www.couchsurfer.com where they can view profiles and reviews and decide if it’s a good match. Many people I met during my stay in Belgrade were avid couch surfers, and most of them had great experiences. From Australia to Bosnia to New York City, locals are opening their homes up for free to a traveler in need of a good nights sleep. Check it out!
For a stay longer than a few nights, hostels provide an excellent option, and can be found at a mere fraction of the price of a hotel or short term apartment. The first step is to do your research. I recommend starting on http://www.hostelworld.com where you can search by city, availability, and price point and you can compare hundreds of hostel reviews in one area. Feel free to contact the managers of a few hostels to bargain or ask specific questions regarding your stay. You should also inquire about the type of currency you will be expected to pay with. I came across an unexpected surprise in Budapest when the hostel owners wanted payment in Euros and I only had Hungarian Currency, USD, or Serbian Dinars, and couldn’t find an open exchange office on Sunday. Luckily at my “home” hostel in Belgrade, the management actually was extremely accommodating and offered for me to pay in American Dollars if it was more convenient.
Older generations of hostels were called “youth hostels”. Most people staying at a modern day hostel are “youthful”; however, you don’t need to be a college student to get a bed there. I saw several people in their 40s and 50s while hostelling in Europe, and no one blinked an eye. For today’s hostel; wifi, coffee and tea, bed linens, towels, a locker, and use of kitchen should be the norm free of charge. Anything less than this and you should shop around a bit more. If you’re lucky you can even find ones with laundry service, though in many countries this is still rare. If you don’t crave privacy, you can get a bed in a dorm style room for $10 or so in most large cities. I was even offered a discounted nights’ stay in Budapest in exchange for a positive review on a hostel website, which I was more than happy to provide. I stayed in a 12 bed dorm in a beautiful old, grand, building. The inside was renovated, clean, and decorated in matching Ikea furniture.
If you plan on staying a bit longer, as I did in my month long stay in Belgrade, you can opt for a private room. For $23 USD per night, I was able to get a clean, private, secure room, with all the amenities I could ask for in a perfect location – the heart of downtown. This is a steal compared to any hotel and was definitely worth it. The upside to staying at a hostel is getting able to meet all the zany folks that waltz through the place, staying a few days before heading off to another corner of the world. Perhaps you’ll meet a group of art students in town for an exhibition, or a young couple backpacking through Europe, or perhaps a group of professionals in town for the weekend from London, or a group of university students from Barcelona. I even met 1 American there, traveling with her friend from Seattle, who was a Balkan History major. Not only will you get to link up with all sorts of international adventure lovers and trade travel stories with free spirits, but you can also take advantage of the locals who work at the hostel. These people are generally well versed in the happenings of the city, and can be your best tour guide, offering suggestions for food, entertainment, and night life, and even pin pointing them all neatly on a local map. As for Belgrade, many expats from the country that now reside abroad were astonished when I informed them that Belgrade is now home to dozens of fantastic hostels in the city center. The city has really opened up recently, hosting young travelers and students from all over the world with top notch hostels and being extremely traveler friendly. So if you have doubts that your destination city won’t offer all of this, take a look first. Hostels are springing up all over the globe even in remote locations. Now this is all well and good, but keep in mind it’s a hostel and not a 1st class hotel, so take heed and follow these simple suggestions for ensuring a good time:
• Bring earplugs and wear them. With tens of young people vacationing in your hostel, you’re bound to hear a few rowdy guests returning home from late night debauchery.
• Bring flip flops for the shower! Roaming around barefoot is unacceptable in these types of public places unless you are fine with bringing home an infection.
• Bring a clock. Many cell phones don’t work internationally, and most hostels don’t have clocks in every room like hotels – so it’s a good idea to bring a small clock or watch to keep track of time.
• Lock up your belongings, even if you feel safe. There’s nothing worse than trusting your dorm mates only to find your camera missing the next day.
• Have realistic expectations based on your city. If you’re staying in a developing country, don’t expect 5 start Western style creature comforts.
• Get to know the others staying there, be open to meeting people and linking up for sightseeing and exploring, it’s a great place to make new friends.
• Please don’t be the ignorant American (Canadian, Foreigner, or whatever), by insisting on speaking English and having an arrogant bad attitude – remember, when traveling abroad, you are a guest in that country. Always be respectful and courteous.
• Befriend the people who work there – they will be your best asset in making the most out of your time there and gaining insight into the place you’re visiting.
• Follow the hostel rules, don’t ever forget your keys and clean up after yourself. After all, it’s not your momma’s house!
• If you store food in the community kitchen, be ready for it to go missing. It’s a “common” kitchen and who knows what hungry roommate might be eyeballing your stash of snacks!
• Overall, have fun, go with the flow, get out of your daily routine, and be social! Meeting people from all around the world is one of the most exciting things about staying in a hostel. It’s a good place to exchange ideas, stories, and cultural differences, and to learn about people from all parts of the globe.
At this point, I’d like to take a moment to give a shout out to the fabulous crews at Captain Hostel: Belgrade, Serbia, and the peeps at Maverick Hostel: Budapest, Hungary. You guys Rock! 🙂
Happy Travels to All!