There are so many amazing opportunities that you encounter as a study abroad student: meeting a multitude of new people, learning firsthand about a different culture, maybe even learning another language. However, one of the coolest opportunities, and perhaps the most important to take advantage of, is the ability to travel. Whether you grew up traveling with your family or studying abroad was your first time leaving the country, there are a lot of questions that come up when planning a trip. Since “must-see” lists are everywhere and never seem to come to a helpful consensus (especially to someone who just wants to see anything and everything but there is simply not enough time and also why does my bank account have a negative balance again??? … asking for a friend), I decided to focus this post on a relatively unknown travel accommodation option: hostels.
Coming abroad, I was the only one of my friends who had actual experience with hostels, and everyone that I talked to had really negative preconceptions about them. I totally understand, hostels are an odd concept. Sharing a room with total strangers? I mean, just over a month ago we all moved across the ocean into a new apartment in a new city in a new country with at least one complete stranger… but I get it. I’m not here to force you to be totally comfortable with the idea; I just want to explore some of the basics of hostel-staying, hopefully altering the picture in your mind telling you that all hostels are noisy and filthy and shady.
1. Not all hostels are noisy and filthy and shady. The end.
2. Hostels are ideal for solo travelers and groups of friends alike – not to mention they save you a ton of money. You can explore the city alone by day, then be surrounded by young travelers like yourself by night. Hostels tend to have bars and other common areas within them that encourage socialization with the other hostel-stayers. Most hostels also host a variety of different activities, such as organized pub crawls, free food and/or drinks, and even karaoke and game nights. Some even offer free walking tours or discounted tickets to tourist attractions for their guests.
3. I have three crucial words of advice on how to choose a hostel to stay in: Read. The. Reviews. I said before that not all hostels are those nightmare hostels you heard about, but some are. Luckily, nowadays we have the opportunity to know probably too much beforehand. Reviews upon reviews, photos upon photos… take advantage of it! Since prices are pretty low across the board for hostels, the key is looking at the reviews AND the location. Chances are you’re only staying in a certain city for a few days at most, so you don’t want to be stuck in the outskirts of the city, with travel time taking away from sightseeing or chill time. Both Hostelworld and Booking.com (both of which are amazing resources that are available both online and as apps) provide information on how far away the hostels are from the city center. I also always plug in the address of the hostel into Maps to see it directly in relation to the city and my plans. Sometimes, in the case of a late arrival or an early departure, proximity to public transportation is also a factor.
4. Something that worries a lot of people about hostels is sharing a room with strangers who may steal your stuff. While most of your roommates will be trustworthy people just like you, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. I recommend sleeping with your most valuable items (wallet, phone, laptop) in bed with you and/or finding a hostel that offers individual lockers in the room. That way, you can lock away your things, keep the key with you, and explore stress-free throughout the day. Also, pack light! Traveling is so much less of a hassle when you’re not fighting with a huge suitcase the whole time. Plus, it’s a lot easier to keep track of your belongings.
5. In a hostel, you will meet people from all over the world doing exactly as you are – exploring, growing, and expanding their worlds. I have made a few extraordinarily inspiring connections through my travels solely because of where I stayed. [Most notable: a young man, post-grad, backpacking for five months across the globe, and a young woman who learned practically flawless English simply through speaking with her guests.] The hostel environment (think hostile environment but the exact opposite) fosters a unique camaraderie between its guests: a community that is simply not accessible when staying in a hotel or an Airbnb.
Well, there you have it. My guide to hostels; take it or leave it. I sincerely hope you’ve changed your mind at least a bit about hostels, but if not, more room for me!
(P.S. Sometimes hostels can be loud, simply because sometimes young people can be loud. Just buy earplugs. You’ll thank me.)
Daisy is an SAI Florence fall 2018 student from The George Washington University.