Where to stay is an important part of any travel decision. A good bed and a good night’s sleep keep you sane and give you time to digest all the new things you are doing and seeing each day, but an expensive hotel can quickly devour your budget. In this series, I’ll be talking about three low-cost lodging alternatives: Hostels, Airbnb, and Couch Surfing.
The first is the most traditional of the alternative lodging choices. Generations of young or budget travelers have backpacked the world and slept in hostels. With the connectivity of the web, our generation has the best opportunity to find the gems hidden in the stones. Websites like Hostelworld and Hostels.com offer an easily browsable database of hostels in your select city. When browsing hostels be sure to look for a few key things: ratings, reviews, services, location, and currency.
Some sites, like hostelworld.com, will ask users to rate their trip experience after their stay. Ratings are a way to judge a hostel at a quick glance. High ratings are better, but take a moment to really look at the numbers. A hostel with a 100% or 5-star rating might look great, but if it was only ranked by three guys over a year ago that might be a red flag. You might have a better experience in another hostel with an 86%, 4-star, rating that has been ranked by dozens of travelers.
This is the best place to go to get a good idea of what a hostel has to offer. Other guests are brutally honest, and generous with both compliments and complaints. Be sure to read a few of each hostel before making a choice.
Some hostels can be really bare bones. Be sure to check what services a hostel offers, and at what price. Do they have linens and blankets, lockers, internet stations or wi-fi, meals, or after check out baggage hold? Are the services free or for a fee? Is the fee one time, or nightly? Also important, how many beds are there to a room, and what is the bathroom to bed ratio? Will you be sharing one shower with two, four, or a dozen other travelers? While the hostel might look cheap, these services can add up. On the other hand, free meals can be a life saver if you’re on an extremely strict budget, but don’t expect much more than toast and jam and some coffee.
Also, some hostels are part of a larger organization (especially the Hostelling International Hostels). Staying at these hostels requires a membership, or the payment of an extra fee upon arrival. If you do a lot of backpacking it might be worthwhile to get the membership. Especially since, like any franchised organization, the Hostelling International hostels have a certain standard of cleanliness and safety that is maintained.
Is your hostel in the center of town or on the outskirts? How much time, energy, and money will you spend getting from your hostel to the things you want to do and see while in town?
Lastly, is currency. Just a warning about a mistake I know I’ve fallen into at least once. Check the currency on the price listed. The first hostel I booked while in Rome, I booked with the Euro currency listed, which at the time was much stronger than the Dollar. So when I arrived at the hostel ready to pay Thirty DOLLARS for the weekend, I found that instead I owed nearly $50. Not a deal breaker, just an unpleasant little surprise. There went my carafe of wine at dinner.
One more tip: check out what other freebies the hostel might have or partner with. They often have free maps of the city, or events calendars at the front desk, or posters of free walking tours on the walls. Many cities now offer free guided walking tours of the down town areas, provided you tip the tour guide what you can or what you think they’ve earned. These tours are actually often quite good, and the tour guides are young goofy kids with a funny take on their city. Pump them for information of other good free stuff, or cheap eats too.
Well, that looks like a good starter talk on Hostels. If you’ve never stayed in a hostel, I’d say give it a try on your next trip. They are a great place to meet other travelers, and pick up some companions for the weekend, or maybe even some friends for live.
Look back soon for the next alternative lodging in our series: the AirBNB.
Bye for now!