It’s the Hostel Way of Traveling

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If you’ve never seen or stayed in a hostel before, take a minute to close your eyes and picture what you think one might be like.

Ok, got an image?  It’s probably pretty awful, isn’t it?  I mean, the word “hostel” itself makes me cringe just a little bit.  Is the feeling the same for you?  I know it certainly is for my parents!  Not to mention, after seeing the movie, “Hostel,” I immediately have this vision in my head of people screaming while being killed with blood everywhere and oh God, I’ll just stop now.  I’m pretty sure my parents read this blog.  Is that my phone ringing?

Yes, Mom and Dad, we’re being safe. No, no, we don’t talk to strangers.  Of course I am watching out for Jaclyn.  No, don’t worry about us, really.  We’re sticking together and always being careful, just like you told us.  Ok gotta go now.  Love you, bye!

So sorry about that, how embarrassing!  Where was I?  Oh yes, hostels.  So my sister Jaclyn and I have done a fair share of traveling since we arrived in Rome, and because we’re on a serious budget, our only choice (when we travel to a place where we don’t have someone we can stay with) is to book a few nights in a hostel.  I had no idea what to actually expect from a hostel, but I can tell you I was envisioning the worst; dirty, stained sheets with bed bugs, yellowed walls and the smell of stale cigarettes, showers covered in mildew and dirt, horrible food and really weird foreign people.

A night out with our new British friends that we met at Sandy Hostel in Rome

Hostelworld.com has been our best friend for finding and booking hostels.  People who stay in these hostels are asked to review them afterward, and the website posts all the reviews.  Obviously, everyone is different, and each person has his own experience when traveling, but for the most part these reviews are accurate.  If you choose to stay in a place that has a rating lower than 70% and you get there and the place is horrendous—well, that’s what you get when you pick a place that got a C-.  If you choose to stay in a place that has a rating of 80% or better, you are likely to get your money’s worth.  To me, whenever you’re traveling, you’re not traveling just to sit around.  So as long as you have a half decent bed, a warm shower, and a place to keep your things safe, then everything’s groovy.

Our first hostel experience was actually right here in Rome.  We were in a bit of a pickle when we first arrived (Part One: http://bit.ly/c08Sk3 Part Two: http://bit.ly/c7ZkAS) and we needed a hostel for two nights.  Sandy hostel (just up the street from the Colosseum) really set the standard for what we continue to expect from a hostel.  Though you had to walk up about a dozen flights of stairs, it was clean, in a great location, had great security, clean sheets, hot showers, free (and working) internet and friendly staff.  Not to mention, we met a ton of really great people, including some people from the UK who we spent our first two evenings with in Rome.

A typical hostel bedroom

The next round of the hostel experience was during our fall break in Dublin, London and Paris.  In Dublin we stayed with a friend of mine in his nice apartment where we were spoiled rotten with a free, clean and comfortable place to stay.  In London we stayed in a hostel called St. Christopher’s Village, just down the street from the London Bridge.  Here, we were in what they call a “mixed dorm” that had bunk beds for ten people; 8 of which were occupied by guys.  I can’t even tell you how horrid the room smelled when we woke up each morning, and so fortunately the hostel was connected to this great little sports bar where we could hang out when we had a few hours of down time.  Minus the scent of our room, the beds and the showers were clean and the people were all very nice, but overall the location was what drew us to this hostel.

In Paris we stayed in a place called Woodstock Hostel, and when I hear the word Woodstock, I automatically think party.  This hostel, however, was located in a trendy and quiet neighborhood called Montmartre, just down the hill from the SacréCœur. We were fortunate to be in a room with four other girls this time (so the room smelled quite pleasant) but there was only one bathroom and one shower per floor for about 20 guests, so the wait to get ready in the morning was a total pain, especially because the bathroom was dirty and the sorry excuse for a shower was just altogether frustrating.

I can’t give Woodstock hostel a completely poor review, though, because I met a ton of really great people.  The staff was friendly and the girls we were rooming with were all wonderful.  I even met a 65-year-old woman, who after raising a family and going through a terrible divorce, was ready to travel the world and just wanted to do it on a budget.  She and I talked for more than an hour over our stale croissants and sour coffee the hostel served for free each morning.  I also met a young guy who moved from London to Paris for a year to take an acting class from a sort of guru in the technique of clowning.  Yes, you read it right, this guy was learning how to be a clown, and he was one of the most interesting and most hilarious guys I have ever met.  Our final night in Paris we switched hostels and ended up paying less to stay in Le Regent Hostel, and the place was ten times nicer.  In fact, it was the nicest hostel we’ve stayed in thus far.

This past weekend was spent in Barcelona, and I booked our hostel just a few hours before leaving for the airport.  Though our friends stayed in Ideal Youth Hostel during their time in Barcelona over fall break and said the place was horrible, I booked it anyway because they said we couldn’t beat the location.

Jaclyn and I must be pretty simple girls because we actually really liked the place.  They had clean beds and really hot showers and good security for our stuff; the three things we look for in a hostel.  Though the “breakfast” was really just oversized croutons (that was supposed to be toast) served with jelly and to drink they served bitter concentrate for orange juice and the most watered down coffee, our room had a balcony and the hostel itself was just off La Ramblas, a main street in Barcelona, and right next to a metro stop.

A decent bed, a warm shower and a place to secure our things are what we look for in a good hostel

Like I said earlier in this post, the reviews of the hostels on hostelworld.com are typically accurate, though sometimes you really just have to open your mind and step out of your comfort zone for some of these places.  What gets me by when I am standing on my tip toes in a dirty hostel shower because I forgot to bring flip flops or I’m laying in bed at night with the covers up to my eyes because Pierre—the creepy guy from France—won’t stop farting in his sleep, is that a hostel is always a heck of a lot cheaper than a hotel when you’re only staying a place for a few nights.  Also, everyone who stays in a hostel is really just doing the same thing we’re doing; trying to see the world.

Sure, there are some weird, gross or unfortunate things that come along with staying in a hostel, but ultimately we always check out having tons of hilarious stories and having met plenty of great people who made our stay at each hostel more enjoyable.  As long as I am traveling the world, staying a few nights in any new city, I’ll continue to stay in hostels.  What can I say; it’s the hostel way of traveling!

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